Almost missed this one.

From the article:

Hard-core global warming sceptics will descend on Canberra today for the release of a book claiming environmentalism is the new religion.

Well. This should be interesting.

“Environmentalism has largely superseded Christianity as the religion of the upper classes in Europe and to a lesser extent in the United States,” Mr Evans says in the publication.

Says who?

“It is a form of religious belief which fosters a sense of moral superiority in the believer, but which places no importance on telling the truth,” he says.

Since when has any religious belief been contingent on truth or evidence? But seriously, Environmentalism is manifestly not a religion and this is just an unsubstantiated ad hominem attack.

“The global warming scam has been, arguably, the most extraordinary example of scientific fraud in the postwar period.”

Interesting – are they accusing any specific researchers of fraud? Or is it just those nasty “scientists” in general?

The function is organised by the Lavoisier Group, founded in 2000 by Ray Evans and former mining executive Hugh Morgan to test claims that global warming is the result of human activity.

Ah, and suddenly it starts to become clear. You can find the Lavoisier Group’s official site here and their Source Watch profile here.

From their website:

Given the doubt and uncertainty about both the science and the economic consequences of Kyoto, a group of Australians, concerned that there has been very little ongoing public debate about these proposals, founded the Lavoisier Group. We are of the view that the science behind global warming policy is far less certain than its protagonists claim, and we also believe that the economic damage which Australia would suffer, if a carbon tax of the magnitude canvassed in AGO documents were imposed, would be far, far greater than is currently appreciated in Canberra.

It’s interesting the way that people with different agendas look at risk. To the average person, who’s only direct stake is in the general effect on their lives, the potential consequences of global warming are so dire that it is worth starting to address the claimed problems now, even if they are not convinced of the effect. However, to someone who has a vested interest in industries contributing to global warming, any shred of opposing evidence or differing opinion can be enough to outweigh existing evidence or scientific consensus, because to them the financial ramifications outweigh the potential harm to the environment.
It’s a bit like when evidence started to emerge that smoking might be harmful – even if you weren’t convinced, the seriousness of the potential outcome were so great that it was certainly in your best interests to err on the side of caution and act as though it was true until such a time (if ever) it might be proved otherwise.

But back to the article:

Mr Evans is a longstanding friend and colleague of Mr Morgan and a committed activist on issues such as workplace reform through the HR Nicholls Society, which he founded with federal Treasurer Peter Costello.

So the group is founded by people with a vested interest in debunking global warming, and no expertise in climate science? Well, what reason could you possibly have to think them biased?

In an interview with The Age last month, Mr Evans acknowledged that last September’s visit by former US vice-president Al Gore to promote his Oscar-winning global-warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth had helped generate a lot of publicity on climate change.

But he described Mr Gore’s film as “bullshit from beginning to end”.

Wow. Great technical criticism.

“The science from the anthropology point of view has collapsed. The carbon-dioxide link is increasingly recognised as irrelevant,” Mr Evans said.

By you maybe matey, but considering your interest in the industry, forgive me if I’d like to see some actual positive evidence about that before I take your word for it.

Considering his contributions to the accuracy of scientific methodology, I suspect that Antoine Lavoisier would not have considered himself well represented by the group that has taken his name.

Teach The Controversy!

February 28, 2007

Tip of the hat to Paul for (i) being my audience, and (ii) pointing out this evidence of irreducible (algorithmic) complexity.

Ha! Take that you random, tautological, amoral Darwinian sorting algorithms!

Monkeys packing heat

February 23, 2007

Evidence of monkey tool building skills.Monkey launcher

Sure, it’s just a stick – now. But the next thing you know it’ll be a bigger stick. Then two bigger sticks. Eventually it’ll be fully automatic gas cooled sticks with mother of pearl handles and matching clam-shell holsters.

Hopefully they’ll evolve mandatory background checks soon. You wouldn’t want any crazy old monkey getting his hands on that kind of hardware.

A big thumbs up for the Melbourne City Council’s attempt to set up a Relationships Declaration Register.

From the article:

The Melbourne City Council, however, is on the verge of striking out on its own, giving small recognition to same-sex couples. In November, deputy mayor Gary Singer and councillor Fraser Brindley successfully obtained in-principle support – albeit via a narrow 5-4 vote – for the council to set up a Relationships Declaration Register. A discussion model for the register was released last week. If it goes ahead, the register would be a Victorian first.
Brindley, who entered council in November 2004, was motivated to set up the register because of government inaction.

“It is entirely out of frustration with the state and federal governments that we are doing this,” he says. “I was hoping that in the ensuing two years we would get some action… It’s essentially an issue of equality: some members of the community are not being afforded the same rights and status as others, and that’s an injustice in my mind.”

Unfortunately, this is only a very small step forward. The council does not have the power to confer the same rights as married heterosexual couples, but the registration could be used as evidence of a relationship in legal proceedings. A similar scheme is already in practice in Sydney, and Tasmania (despite, or perhaps because of it’s acknowledged poor history on gay rights) which has a more comprehensive scheme that confers spousal rights on registrants.

Naturally, though, the scheme has drawn opposition from those who regard homosexuality as immoral. Christian group Salt Shakers has led the most high-profile campaign against the proposal, and also attended last week’s meeting.

Once again we have argument based on the unsubstantiated major premise that same sex relationships are immoral. This is poor logic at best, and at worst willful sleight-of-hand. (If you have a high threshold for dogmatic intolerance, you can read more about the for Salt Shakers here. Fair warning though – these guys are scary.)

“We oppose the normalisation of homosexuality,” Salt Shakers chief executive Peter Stokes explains, before drawing an analogy between prostitution laws and homosexuality laws.

I oppose the normalisation Creation Science and Intelligent Design, but unfortunately it turns out that sometimes other people with different ideas to you have rights as well. Stupid rights.

“Before they legalised prostitution, there were 50 brothels throughout Victoria. But now we have something like 500… When you legalise something, you automatically give it a stamp of approval. Therefore, any recognition of same-sex relationships, whether it be by councils or governments, is going to give that relationship type a stamp of approval.”

Woah! I think someone just took a leap of faith in their logic. When you legalise something you are saying that the state will not censure or punish you for it. A law is an explicit statement of unacceptable behaviour and as such it is a false dichotomy to consider that things not explicitly prohibited are somehow implicitly endorsed. This is just sloppy thinking.
But this is beside the point. It was once illegal in the United States for a black person to sit at the front of a public bus. It was once illegal for women to vote. Governments and laws aren’t always right – they tend to reflect the prevailing thought at the time of their inception, and don’t always keep up with a changing moral Zeitgeist.

Stokes also argues that few gay people are seeking recognition of their relationships, citing relatively low numbers of registrations in Sydney and Tasmania.

Well, quite frankly this argument is just stupid. This kind of scheme is about providing opportunity and rights for people to make a choice about what they want. The current system discriminates by obviating any such choice for a particular section of society based on what they do in the privacy of their bedrooms.

I think that if opponents of schemes like this cannot provide reasons for the premise that same sex relationships are in some way inherently wrong (because there isn’t one other than “because my god said so”), then their arguments based on it are inherently flawed, baseless and present no legal or ethical justification for this kind of discrimination.

Hooray for Justice Robert Benjamin:

The judgement was an emphatic statement by the Family Court that it will not tolerate the Exclusive Brethren continuing to flout court orders in pursuit of the sect’s policy of strict separation of its members from those who have left the church.

A little frightening however is this:

The mother also gave evidence that if according to her conscience the law of the land conflicted with God’s law, she would reject it.

Excuse me? Like what? Shooting an abortion doctor perhaps? I’m sorry lady, but the reason that we have laws is so that scary loons like you don’t get to decide what is right and wrong on the arbitrary basis of what you consider to be the moral edict of your personal god.

Lucky really.

Recently I was engaged in a discussion about the influence of various religions on government, during which Atheists were identified as one group amongst the many of religious interest groups exerting pressure to change government policy in support of their personal beliefs. I was surprised by this, as I have always seen Atheism as an absence of religion, rather than believing religion to be false. Unfortunately, people who identify as Atheists are not a homogeneous group, with many espousing beliefs very different from my own, and so I would like to clarify just what I mean when I say that I am an Atheist.

Firstly, I don’t want to get into a pedantic argument about the semantics of the term. What I mean when I say that I am an Atheist is likely something very different from what someone else who identifies as an Atheist might mean. There is no holy book or ultimate authority that defines what makes one an Atheist – it is largely a self adopted term, and as such is open to a certain amount of interpretation. I could probably identify as an agnostic or non-theist, but I think that the connotations of the label “Atheist” best reflect the strength of my conviction on the matter.

To address the most common misconception, while I cannot speak for anyone else who might identify as an Atheist, I personally do not believe that there is no god. I would consider belief in such an unfalsifiable premise to be profoundly hypocritical, implying that I have the same blind unquestioning belief that I distrust in religion. Rather, I would say that I am not satisfied that there is any scientifically verifiable evidence to support the existence of a god, and thus I consider it perfectly reasonable to live my life as though said god does not exist. Because this view is based on evidence, if I were to be presented with scientifically valid proof of the existence of a god, then I would have to change my view of the universe accordingly.

Ah, but surely if you acknowledge that there is no way of proving the non-existence of a god, it is intellectually dishonest to claim to be an Atheist? Surely the only tenable position to take is one of Agnosticism?

Well, does a Christian consider themselves to be agnostic about the existence of fairies? Or Zeus? Because by such logic they should. Despite what it may mean to others, to me Agnosticism is in danger of being perceived as being a middle ground where we advocate similar probabilities to existence and non-existence – and I am not at all comfortable with this perception. I think that the existence of the great Christian sky fairy is an extraordinary claim that goes against much of what we have come to know about the universe (so far), and as such, the burden of proof lies on the one making the claim, not the one who questions it.

(Yes, I do realise that it all depends on how you define an Agnostic – or for that matter an Atheist – and that is why I am going into so much contextual detail. It is also worth bearing in mind that not all definitions of the various flavours of non-theism are actually advocated by non-theists. The Straw Man logical fallacy is applied all to often.)

So, I think that my view of Atheism is not at all like a religion because there is no fundamental text or dogma which is believed without question – rather it is based on what we have so far learned about the universe we live in, leaving me vulnerable to new or contradictory evidence. This is how the scientific method should work (in practice agenda often to clouds this ideal) and how religious thinking most often does not.
I believe the neutral state of a representative government is secular, and by this I refer to an absence of religiosity and dogma of all kinds – including any kind of dogmatic Atheism. I do not begrudge people the comfort of their personal beliefs, and to be fair, we know so little about the universe that it always remains a possibility that some particular flavour of religious belief may one day be proved true – but while we lack evidence to support any such claim, surely the only equitable solution is to base laws and government on the foundation of what we know, rather than what we believe?

Flowchart-y goodness

February 18, 2007

Tip of the hat to Dr Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy for finding this science versus faith flow chart.

I wonder if it comes on a t-shirt?