Monday, June 29, 2009

Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah

The Timesonline informs us of a summer camp in England designed for atheist kids. The camp is funded by famous militant atheist Richard Dawkins whose book The God Delusion enjoyed the distinction of being perhaps the most poorly argued book ever to be a smash best-seller.

Here are some excerpts from the Times' article:

One parent said of his children, "I'm very keen on not indoctrinating them with religion or creeds," he said this weekend. "I would rather equip them with the tools to learn how to think, not what to think."

The emphasis on critical thinking is epitomised by a test called the Invisible Unicorn Challenge. Children will be told by camp leaders that the area around their tents is inhabited by two unicorns. The activities of these creatures, of which there will be no physical evidence, will be regularly discussed by organisers, yet the children will be asked to prove that the unicorns do not exist. Anyone who manages to prove this will win a �10 note - which features an image of Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory - signed by Dawkins, a former professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford University.

"The unicorns are not necessarily a metaphor for God, they are to show kids that you can't prove a negative," said Saman-tha Stein, who is leading next month's camp. "We are not trying to bash religion, but it encourages people to believe in a lot of things for which there is no evidence."

I have an idea for another activity Ms Stein might consider. Take the children to a garden where all the flowers are planted in the form of mathematical equations and then ask them to imagine a plausible way this could have come about purely by chance, wind, rain and erosion without the input of an intelligent agent. Offer the little nippers a million dollars if they can come up with a theory. She won't have to worry about paying the prize, of course, since no one else has been able to do it, either - not even the revered Dr. Dawkins.

Stein, 23, a postgraduate psychology student from London, was inspired to work at an atheist summer camp in America after reading The God Delusion, the bestselling book that sealed Dawkins's reputation as Britain's most prominent non-believer.

Camp Quest was founded in America, where Bible classes and Christian retreats are widespread, by Edwin Kagin, an atheist lawyer from Kentucky. Since launching in 1996, Camp Quest operates at six different US sites, with a new camp due to open in Florida at Christmas.

Amanda Metskas is currently supervising 71 children at a Camp Quest project in Clarkesville, Ohio. Her classes include a session called Socrates Cafe, which debates issues such as definitions of knowledge, art and justice.

I wonder what Ms Metskas' definition of justice is, or more to the point, what reasons she offers to the children as to why anyone, in a world without God, should be just if they can get away with being unjust. That would be a very interesting campfire talk to listen in on.

Moreover, at these camps campfire dialogues are sprinkled with jokes like this one: How many atheists does it take to change a light bulb? Two. One to change the bulb and the other to film the work being done so the fundamentalists won't claim that God did it.

What a hoot. I'll bet that has the tots doubled over in stitches.

The counsellors also teach the children that lots of famous people were atheists:

"We teach them that even people like Sir David Attenborough are religious sceptics," said Metskas.

Wow. David Attenborough an atheist? How inspiring that must be for the little ones. I wonder if Ms Metskas also mentions that Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Adolf Hitler, and most of the people who wind up in our jails were atheists at the time they committed their crimes.


Historical Irony

I'll bet you didn't know that the discoverer of evolution by natural selection was an intelligent design advocate. No, not Charles Darwin - Alfred Russel Wallace. David Klinghoffer provides us some of the relevant history:

To judge from previews, the new Darwin biographical movie Creation will emphasize the challenge Darwinian theory posed from the beginning to religious belief. Yet the life of evolution's co-discoverer, Alfred Russel Wallace, suggests that properly understood, and that's a major proviso, evolution needn't upset faith at all. On the contrary, Wallace reasoned from what he knew about life's history to a belief that an "Overruling Intelligence" guided life's development, much as intelligent design (ID) does today. Science historian Michael A. Flannery calls Wallace's evolutionary thinking a "preamble" to ID.

An opportunity to evaluate this provocative claim is now before us in the form of Flannery's new edition of Wallace's great work, A World of Life (1910), which slims the dense and massive volume down to a manageable size and includes an illuminating introduction by Flannery. His book is Alfred Russel Wallace's Theory of Intelligent Evolution: How Wallace's World of Life Challenged Darwinism (Erasmus Press).

Wallace famously arrived at his own version of evolutionary theory while Darwin was still sitting on his. When Wallace made contact and shared his thoughts, Darwin panicked and rushed to make his theory public so as not to be scooped. Yet the two men did not formulate their ideas in exactly the same way.

Read the rest of Klinghoffer's essay if this is a topic you're interested in. He packs a lot of very good information into it.

UPDATE: Part II of Klinghoffer's discussion with Flannery is even more interesting than Part I. It can be read here.



One might get the impression from the Reuters report of events in Honduras that right-wing military types have launched another coup to oust an innocent progressive president.

Before concluding that that's the whole story it might be helpful to read the explanation at Fausta's blog. What Reuters chose not to tell us is that apparently the Honduran president, Manuel Zelaya, was making an illegal, unconstitutional grab for power, and the entire governmental apparatus of the country opposed him. Zelaya was seeking to have a referendum on whether he should be allowed to serve another term as president, but the Honduran constitution cannot be changed by popular referendum. The Supreme Court ruled the referendum illegal and Zelaya went ahead with it anyway. The Court then issued an order for his arrest.

Left-wing leaders in the region - Daniel Ortega, the Castros, and Hugo Chavez, for instance - don't like it very much, presumably because lefties believe as an article of faith that a left-wing leader is entitled to keep power by any means necessary once he has it. Even so, this was a coup initiated by the Honduran judicial system to keep a man from acquiring almost dictatorial power and becoming another Hugo Chavez. It appears, at least as far as I can tell at this point, to be a step taken to preserve democracy and the rule of law, not one taken to circumvent them.

Maybe Reuters will print a clarification today.