Religion

Bugger

There wasn’t much else I could say this morning, I must confess, better eloquence simply was not forthcoming when I saw the results of yesterday’s referendum. For those who are blissfully unaware of the current goings-on in the United Kingdom, a referendum was held yesterday on Britain’s membership of the European Union and the result was in favour of the UK leaving.

By a margin of 52% to 48%, the UK voted for Brexit and, as such, has cast the whole of Britain and the European Union into complete chaos. European leaders are calling for ‘consequences’ for this result and Germany and France specifically say that the UK cannot be allowed to cherry-pick the bits it wants and doesn’t. The attitude on the continent, therefore, is very much a case of cheery-bye but don’t expect any favours from us later. Meanwhile the FTSE has taken a substantial dip and Sterling has hit its lowest level since 1985… It is, quite frankly, not looking good.

And why should it? The EU provides the UK with so much; access to the world’s largest common market, protection of workers’ rights, protection of civil liberties, the free movement of people, goods, and labour. As it stands, an EU citizen can establish a company in any EU country and begin trading in any EU country, employing people from any EU country… etc.

At the moment, there are millions of EU citizens resident in Britain who work here and make great contributions to our country through things like our NHS, scientific R&D, industry, schools, universities and so on. There are also 2.2 million British nationals living elsewhere in the EU, what is going to happen to them?

No, the EU is not perfect, but if you honestly think that the United Kingdom will fare better on its own, you are deluding yourself. What we have done now is to open the doors to allow the far right of the Tory party to do whatever they like with the country without Europe to tell them when they’ve gone too far. All those nice laws protecting workers’ rights and civil liberties, ensuring equal work for equal pay, outlawing discrimination in the workplace, etc… came from Europe.

If you also think that leaving the EU will allow the left to overturn capitalism and create a glorious socialist utopia, you’re also kidding yourself. Just remember what country you’re living in – the U.K. has led the way for capitalism from the very beginning and, if anything, Europe held us back on that one.

We are now in a position where the far right is set to take over governance of our splintered country. The whole idea of voting out to bring public services back into direct public ownership is set up to backfire wonderfully as Boris and his pals look to set about the total dismantling of the NHS.

So what for the UK now? Well, it looks pretty much set to fall apart itself. England and Wales will be pretty happy with the result, so short of Tunbridge Wells declaring independence, I don’t think there’s too much to worry about there. But Northern Ireland has been interesting to say the least, due to it’s net benefit from EU funding. Europe was instrumental in securing peace in the North and, as such, NI has some very strong feelings towards the EU, as noted by it’s strong majority Remain vote. However, it looks set to be dragged kicking and screaming away with the rest of the UK.

Northern Ireland also provides an interesting situation as it is the only part of the UK that shares a land border with the EU – through the Republic of Ireland. At the moment that border is open, but there has already been speculation as to what might happen on that border now. There have even been calls from within Northern Ireland’s legislative assembly leaders to seek reunification with the ROI. Whilst this has to be taken with a rather large pinch (tablespoon) of salt, it’s likely these calls will reverberate as people begin to come to terms with what the future may hold.

And then, of course, Scotland. In 2014 we were told that the only way to guarantee our EU membership (which the majority of Scots favour) was to vote No to independence. A year later and we are plunged into uncertainty over that too as an In-Out referendum is announced. So, in Scotland the vote reflected the Scottish favour of EU membership with a 62% majority in favour of remaining within the EU.

As Scotland voted No to independence, and in favour of the EU, whose membership we were told was guaranteed by staying with the UK, we’d rightly expect to see the UK remain in the EU, yes? Nope. Sorry Scotland, Big brother England has made the decision and you’re coming with us. Nevermind the subsidies for farming, fishing science, education, renewable energy, conservation, cultural preservation, etc… nope, we can’t have Johnny Foreigner coming here anymore so we’re dragging you out.

Understandably, the Scottish electorate is a bit pissed off (could you tell) that we have, in effect, been cheated and deceived. As such, the Scottish electorate, including many previous No voters are calling for Scottish independence, indeed, the First Minister is expected to make a statement later today on the result.

It has always been clear that Scotland and the rest of the UK have had differing political views, but this can be seen no clearer than today with Scotland showing a clean sweep for Remain, with every counting area having a clear Remain majority. Today, Scotland has shown itself to be a nation open to working with the rest of the world to create a better place for all of us to live and work, rather than a closed off island, hiding from progress.

It is no secret that I am a supporter of Scottish Independence and I will campaign tirelessly for it should we come to another referendum, but to see it come about in this way is not something I ever wanted. I did not want to see Britain, ravaged by xenophobic populism, be torn apart, with England and Wales thrust into obscurity and a Northern Ireland with divides opening up anew. I did not want to see Scotland thrust into political turmoil again as it fights to keep its people from being dragged out of a union they wanted to be a part of for the sake of staying in one they were never asked about.

At the moment, things look very uncertain and quite bleak, but life goes on and we must remain optimistic.

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Holyrood Passes Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill

Hello once again, it’s been a long week but worth it. The kids at the primary school we visited absolutely loved our shows and were perhaps more keen than some professional astronomers I have seen to learn more about outer space. I think we may have made some astrophysicists and perhaps even an astrobiologist or two. It really is great seeing kids getting so into science at such an early age.

LGBT rights group Stonewall’s campaign for equal marriage received high praise in the chamber this evening.

The eagerness of the kids was quite a way away from our session at the observatory this afternoon. Solar observations really don’t work too well in Scotland, and we got a real sense of that today as we were rained off, leaving us with only one decent image of the sun and no usable flat field images through the telescope. Still, there is plenty of time yet, so fingers crossed that the weather can stay onside for at least one of the next seven weeks.

However, today was not all gloomy, as you can maybe see by the title. I got home from the lab, and out of the rain I might add, just in time to catch the closing few speeches of the debate on the Marriage and Civil Partnership bill in the Scottish Parliament this evening. It was quite a wonderful debate to watch, as the overwhelming support of the bill in the chamber really spoke volumes about the progressive nature of Scottish politicians across all parties.

Many members spoke of personal experiences, of friends and family members, of the attitudes of the past and those of today. Yes, there were a number of members opposed to the bill, some on religious grounds, but the majority of the chamber spoke out in a resounding chorus of acceptance.

The bill passed through its first stages back in November by a resounding majority before moving to the committee stages for further scrutiny and debate. This evening it entered the chamber for its final reading and vote, and across the chamber party barriers were dissolved. Members from different parties congratulated members from other parties on their actions, campaigning and their speeches, Jackie Baillie (Lab) even complimenting Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil (SNP), a moment, even she said, “he should savour”.

Even members of the Conservative party who had not offered their support to the introduction of civil partnerships, back in 2004, stood today behind the bill legalising same sex marriages. It just goes to show how far Scotland as a country and as a people have come in 10 years. In fact, for a country that only decriminalised homosexuality in 1980, we have come an exceptionally long way in terms of equality. At just after half past six, the bill was passed by a clear majority of 105 for to just 18 against.

Today really has seen a land mark decision made in the name of equality, as Scotland becomes the 17th country in the world to legalise same sex marriage. I know that we are a long way from true equality in this country; discrimination still exists in many places, support can sometimes be hard to find, and education on the subject is far from comprehensive. However, today has definitely seen a real landmark passed, and today truly is a day for celebration, a day that I can quite sincerely say that I am proud to be Scottish.

Thanks for reading.

Data Analysis, Curling and Other Such Frivolities.

Well, by Jove, it’s been quite the busy couple of weeks here. Aside from meeting and entertaining various relatives and friends I have been utterly snowed under with various pieces of uni work which are gradually piling up to become just a little too much for comfort. That’s not to mention the endless data analysis that has come with my latest experiment in the lab, in which the properties, namely the g-factor, of electrons in DPPH are examined using ESR techniques along with the g-factor of Hydrogen-1 and Fluorine-19 are investigated using NMR techniques. It’s an incredibly interesting experiment as it allows you to play with the properties of individual atoms and sub-atomic particles in the lab, but the amount of analysis – endless computations both by hand and on Excel/MATLAB and the never ending quantifying and qualification of the sources of errors – is quite upsetting.

Then of course there is the curling, with the season well and truly underway I am curling a little more often now, with the University’s team and with my other club. I have also begun doing volunteer coaching work at a new junior club being set up at my local rink, a thoroughly rewarding experience, which saw me up at five this morning to make it to the rink for the quarter past eight start. The Scottish Universities League is also now underway, the first session having taken place on Wednesday. Our Glasgow team won both games, beating Aberdeen II 14-1 in six and Dundee 7-1 in seven, putting us at the top of the league table. A good strong start to the league in anyone’s books. I am also planning on doing some more volunteer coaching work with my old school’s team, so I should be kept busy this season, indeed.

Back onto the university side of things, I have recently become part of the Astronomy Outreach Program, a program whereby Astronomy students in their honours years go out to schools, events or work with youth groups to teach people, old and young, about astronomy and what it is all about. This does mean filling out some forms for Disclosure Scotland to become a registered STEMNET ambassador, but I am quite sure it will be worth it.

On a more “Weegie Worker” note, I attended a talk held by the Glasgow University Marxists Society where socialist and author John Pickard  discussed his new book “Behind the Myths: The Foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam”. The talk, based around the book, raised some interesting points regarding the foundations of the major “western” religions and the historical accuracy of many religious texts.

He tangled with the foundations of Christianity, questioning the very existence of Christ and many other prophets and messiahs. Whilst the book and Pickard’s points appear to be sound in places and do raise a lot of interesting ideas, many of which gave cause for contention at the meeting, I didn’t leave feeling that anything particularly earth shattering had been raised regarding religion or indeed the cause of atheism.

The book essentially tells you what most atheists, agnostics and even deists already accept; that the holy books are nothing more than collections of stories, written by men, with little historical accuracy, books written by others who claim to have witnessed certain events and books that should not be taken as fact, rather as an ancient attempt at making a moral code.

The talk was interesting, but I didn’t come out with new opinions or new ideas in my head, in fact everything there was either old news or built on shaky, circumstantial evidence at best. The most interesting part of the talk was the question and answer session, during which a couple of religious fellows wanted a few questions asked and a couple of points made right.

Still, a reasonable evening and a bit of food for thought… and then we got drunk.

So yes, it has been quite the couple of weeks. As usual, please feel free to get involved in the comments, I shall also endeavour to put up a real political post soon. Thanks for reading.

Why I’m an Atheist

Hello once again everyone, so it’s been a bit of a slow weekend, a little madness about the house, but that’s just normal operating procedures, nothing too exciting. Hopefully then, if all goes to plan, I should have another vlog entry up tomorrow, probably either on this topic or on Scottish Independence. Unfortunately, I am sticking to Windows Movie Maker just now, as I am currently still trying to figure out just what I have to do to get Jahshaka to work for me – perhaps I haven’t yet sacrificed enough children to it yet?

How can so many confident religions be correct? – Image Credit: the UK Human Rights Blog

It dawned on me quite recently, that I have go on about religion in a couple of posts, some more coherent than others, but I haven’t actually covered my own views on religion itself, not as a body that organises itself or that gets involved in places it shouldn’t, but as personal belief. You see whilst I am quite opposed to religion as an apparatus of the state, to me, personal belief is a different matter, and it’s something I thought I’d talk about this evening.

As a child, my parents worked full time, so I was brought up for most of my formative years by my Grandmother for most of the time. My Gran was a member of the Church of Scotland, her husband had been an army chaplain, a missionary and a minister; needless to say, my Gran was quite Christian and, as such, I was brought up being quite immersed in the Protestant Christian faith. I attended services with my Gran, went to Sunday school on occasion and helped out a lot round the Church – Gran was the Church’s secretary, so I kind of became a runner for her about the Church.

In fact, my primary school, whilst being officially a non-denominational, state-run school, was tied to the United Free Church of Scotland, fuck knows what they actually were, but sufficed to say, there was a heavy church presence in my primary school. However, at home with my parents, there was no mention of religion; my father was brought up without religion and has never been particularly religious, and my mother, has never been particularly religious either. As I got older, I started to ask questions of religion, as any child does and that’s when I began to sense it wasn’t doing it for me.

We were being taught about the Romans and other ancient cultures in our classes at school, cultures that we were taught existed five thousand years ago or more, however when the minister came around he told us of the floods and of the creation stories, with the Earth apparently only being six thousand years old. I asked about the ancient people, who we had been taught lived longer ago than this. Now he didn’t stick completely to the creation story as some would, and was able to tell us that some things in the bible maybe weren’t right, or were simply symbolic and not to be taken literally.

Whilst some people may find that a comforting response, for me it just opened everything up even more – the bible, as I had been told, was the word of God and was infallible, how then could it be wrong? By the time I was coming to the end of my time at that school, I had begun to question the existence of God, the truth of the bible and the Christian faith. What also perplexed me was that there being so many other religions we were now being taught about, how could all of them be right? I had asked questions of the ministers of the churches I knew, they hadn’t been able to tell me much, my teachers, I soon discovered, were quite useless too. In fact, one of them pulled me out of a class and shouted at me, after word got out that I had said I didn’t believe in God. Apparently, those are the kinds of opinions we are to keep to ourselves, despite the school being supposedly secular.

I couldn’t bring myself to believe in any kind of supernatural creator or god, but I had nothing else I could fill the gap with. I had heard tales of the “big bang” theory and “evolution”, but as a ten year old child, I didn’t know what these were. Near the end of primary six, I moved from the state primary to a private school in the west end of the city. Whilst the school had a dedicated chaplain and was tied to a church, it was reasonably lax on religion, with the church only being used for Christmas and Easter services, as well as the Service of Remembrance every year. The teachers at the school were also more up for discussion and were quite open about their views.

To my surprise, so were my peers, I found it quite different, this school seemed to be full of more intelligent people up for a debate. As I progressed into secondary school, at the same school, my interest with Physics and Chemistry began to grow, and I became more interested with how the world and the universe actually worked. As I found out more in physics about the workings of the world and universe, I began to fill those gaps that had previously been filled with religious dogma. Chemistry and Biology began to teach me about the formation of life, about evolution, Physics taught me how to interpret the universe and how it works. Slowly I became more confident in my idea that religion was not the way for me.

As I have gone through university, studying Astrophysics, it now has become apparent to me, that the existence of a god, at least in the sense that religions preach, seems quite absurd and improbable. With every passing century, we have uncovered more and more information that disproves creation stories, we are not the only world in this universe, we evolved from different species, etc.

To me then, the idea of some kind of supernatural creator seems quite improbable, there is no need for it in our understanding of how the universe works. It also strikes me as somewhat insulting, that we as humans can accomplish so much in the way of science, only to belittle ourselves by making claims that the universe was created by some kind of higher being. When we know so much, why is it that we seek to pick holes in our theories and then say, “look, this doesn’t match up, therefore God!”

It also seems quite egocentric to have the mighty creator of the universe have simply created our planet, created us in his image and given us some kind of privileged position in the universe. Yet, our science tells us otherwise. We do not have any kind of privileged position, we are in fact a small planet, orbiting a fairly ordinary G class star, on the edge of fairly bog-standard spiral galaxy, whirling through the universe among billions of other galaxies, each with billions of other stars and planets. We are of no consequence to the universe in the grand scheme of things, yet our religions tell us otherwise. In that way, religion to me seems slightly silly, I find it strange to think that others believe in such things.

For that reason, I spent a little while as, what Dara O’ Briain would refer to as, an “Angry Atheist”. Now this wasn’t for long, but I did have a period of time where I belittled religion, I belittled people for believing in their Gods. To me, I had seen what religion had done throughout history, I had seen that science debunked a lot of religious claims, and so I saw it as my job to bash religious people.

However, I quickly came to realise that by doing this, I was no better than those who had tried to force religion upon me before. Whilst I am still an atheist, I no longer take people down simply for attending church or the like. I have come to respect it as a personal belief, whether one chooses to believe in a god or not, and which religion they choose to conform to if they do. I have no place to question peoples’ rights to believe. Whilst I do sometimes like to debate religion, especially when it is present in schools and the state, in an institutionalised form and indoctrinating people. I respect the rights of people to believe what they want, but teach them to think for themselves first.

As a scientist, I now class myself as an atheist-agnostic; I don’t rule out the possibility of a creator as a means by which the universe may have come about, but I am severely skeptical and the idea that such a creator, should it exist, is anything like those depicted by any of our religions is absurd. However, once again, that is my personal view; religion to me is something personal, and should really be kept that way. I will respect your beliefs if you can respect mine.

So, please feel free to share your thoughts below, I know this has been a bit of a life story, but feel free to share your personal story too. Thanks for reading.

Ew! Keep Your Religion Away from Me!

Hello once more, friends and readers. So as I said earlier, I have been having fun with exams, yesterday was Mulitvariable Calculus and next week is Linear Algebra. However, in my ongoing quest to avoid looking at maths for too long, I have been ranting and getting angry about various things that are going on in the world, as you do. The thing that really got me going recently, and indeed has been doing so for quite some time, is the matter of religion becoming ever more present in some of the states around the world.

Now I am usually a fairly tolerant kind of guy, hell I’ve even been known to have friends who vote Conservative, but there is something about religious people that really gets to me. Don’t get me wrong, most religious people are fine and keep their personal beliefs to themselves, but there are those who don’t seem to understand just what personal beliefs actually are. These people are generally in a minority, but their outspoken nature and their positions of power, in some circumstances, make them a real threat to the lives of ordinary people.

The most notable form this takes is state endorsed religion, when religion essentially becomes part of the government, with religious doctrine being present in the legislative process. For some reason, even though we saw it as wrong and the number of states with a state religion was decreasing, recently we have seen a rise in influential countries around the world letting religion take a higher and higher stance in our governments.

The most notable example of late has been the Russian Federation, with the Russian Orthodox Church becoming more and more involved in Russian Politics. This doesn’t really come as a surprise anymore, with Russia simply exuding corruption on a scale not fathomed by mankind previously, however that does not make it right. Most recently the Orthodox church has pushed bills through the Russian Government that place greater and greater restrictions on the rights and liberties of LGBT individuals, I did an article about this earlier on.

However it is not only the restrictions on the freedoms of LGBT individuals and the demeaning of their relationships, but the fact that the state is not turning a blind eye to blatant crimes being committed against these people. Gangs of right-wing individuals have been luring gay men into traps, torturing and humiliating them whilst, in many circumstances, recording the whole thing on video. There have been numerous cases of attacks like these and so far no prosecutions. Why? Because they are doing the church’s work.

The simple fact is that the Orthodox Church is targeting a group of people for the sole reason that they don’t like them, the fact that they’re different confuses the church. This blatant disregard for human rights is not only being ignored by the government, but downright supported by it; the Church sticks its nose into government to gain more power, and who knows what sort of nonsense goes on in return. Baseless claims I know, but something stinks. And do you know what it stinks of? It stinks of fascism. The persecution of a group of people based on their beliefs and life style choices. Great Mother Russia, who is so proud of having rid the world of fascism, is now bowing to that way of thinking herself.

The thing about religion is that it is a personal belief, a personal choice, one which you have no rights to thrust upon other members of society. If your church or synagogue or mosque or what ever has multiple members with the same faith and beliefs as you, great, but do not go forcing them on others who think differently. If anything, it’s just common fucking courtesy. And on that note, it is completely unacceptable for an entire state to force its beliefs on the people. In this day and age, with so many different cultures around and mixing, religion has no place in government. You wouldn’t give the local Bridge Club a say in the affairs of government, so why the local church?

Anyway, I know this has been a bit of a rant, but I have been terribly busy. I’m away now to continue my linear algebra work, but I shall see you all soon. Thanks for reading.

Egypt Reaching the Boil?

Hello once again,

So as you know I just got back from my holiday yesterday and I have been working furiously to get myself back into the loop, with access to a television for the first time in days too. One situation that has been ongoing is the situation in Egypt, regarding the pro-Morsi supporters’ continued protests in Cairo. In case you missed it, on July the 5th, President Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president was ousted by the military after mass demonstrations against his rule, namely his constitutional reforms.

Mr. Morsi was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood party, present in many other middle eastern states, which advocates Islamic laws and the use of the Muslim religion as a basis for the running of the state. His constitutional reforms that he proposed upon gaining his position threw a new spark into an already unstable cauldron of troubles. The constitution that he proposed gave more power to religious bodies and made Islamic law a fundamental part of the country’s legal framework.

The country split in two over the matter, the large number of muslims in Egypt supported the measures, however an equally sized camp of secularists believed that it was a step backwards and would infringe upon basic rights of non-muslim people in Egypt. Much of the international community seemed to support the idea of maintaining a secular Egypt, even if they kept their mouths firmly shut about the matter.

However, mass demonstrations against the new measures shook Egypt, only weeks after its historical revolution against the dictatorship government. Morsi’s supporters came out in response and once again clashes in the streets between pro-government and anti-government groups raged. In response to the mass unrest and the president’s seeming inability to control it, the Army once again took power, deposing and arresting Morsi, along with several senior officials within the Muslim Brotherhood.

However, as you can imagine that didn’t really help things much out on the street. Pro-Morsi groups have been staging a sit in at Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque. In response the interim government called on its supporters to give a mandate by themselves taking to the streets, with thousands once more pouring into Tahrir square. Clashes between the two groups, as well as between the army and the pro-Morsi group have left large numbers of people killed.

The interim government has called for an end to the protests and have pledged to give the army the power to arrest civilians. Interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim also warned that protesters’ camps would be dispersed “soon”.

For me, it’s quite hard to see where to go with this; on the one hand we have a president who was going to throw any ideas of a free, equal and secular society out of the window; on the other hand he was democratically elected and removed by the armed forces. The armed forces now seem to be trying to quell Islamic fundamentalism within Egypt’s borders, but have also opened fire on what is, largely, a peaceful demonstration. The demonstrators have assembled peacefully, but call for change that would be of detriment to living conditions of much of Egypt’s population.

In these cases I would generally say, go with the people, but they seem to be split half and half just now, and Morsi was, after all, elected democratically. However, I cannot bring myself to support Morsi for two reasons, firstly, he seems content to ignore the wants of roughly half of his people, and secondly he seems intent on putting religion into government. For that second reason mostly, I am sort of with the army, but I cannot condone the shooting of civilians. US Secretary of State, John Kerry, remarked that the new government needed to “respect the right to peaceful assembly…” Get out your cameras, I am quoting and agreeing with a US politician. (It also brings up the interesting point about religion and secularism which I think I may also ramble on about at some point in time too.)

If the Interim Government can lay in place the foundations for a democratic and secular government of Egypt, I will applaud them, but given the circumstances, I can’t see that happening any time soon. For now, I suppose all we can do is watch and see what the Egyptian people choose to do, for me, it’s almost too early to formulate an extensive opinion of the situation or of whom, if anyone, to support. All I really hope for is an end to the violence and for a speedy and peaceful resolution, but that may be wishful thinking, nothing ever seems to go so smoothly. For now then, I wait.

As usual, if you have any comments or perhaps something you want to add to what I’ve said or even disagree, please do continue the debate in the comments section. Thanks for reading.