Thursday, 31 March 2011

Might religion go extinct?

A surprising new paper was presented at the recent meeting of the American Physical Society.  I know a lot of engineers and physicists, but none of them are studying the decline of religious affiliation in 85 regions around the world.  However Daniel Abrams, Haley Yaple and Richard Wiener have been using techniques from the field of statistical mechanics to do just that.

They start with the observation that people claiming no religious affiliation constitute the fastest growing religious minority in many countries throughout the world. Americans without religious affiliation comprise the only religious group growing in all 50 states.  They claim their model predicts that for societies in which the perceived utility of not adhering is greater than the utility of adhering, religion will be driven toward extinction.

It is not hard to believe that this could apply to some of the better-known secular countries such as The Netherlands, but it seems more surprising that the trend in Ireland indicates that it is going the same way.

Meanwhile, during a lunchtime discussion with two Portuguese colleagues recently, they assured me that Portugal is a Catholic country, but that it hardly mattered as they largely ignored the teachings of the church.  I had to disagree about whether it mattered, but that news is not altogether discouraging.

Here is a link to their paper.  Sadly it fails to pass the 'two equation test' and reminds me that I earned my physics degree in spite of my lack of expertise in statistical mechanics!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Another £25 billion lost to us?

"Some £25bn every year is thought to be lost to the public purse by wealthy tax avoiders. This money needs to be recouped to help save our essential public services."

This is the claim of the 'demonised' UK Uncut organisation which occupied Fortnum and Mason last Saturday, 26th March.

Whether this figure is exactly correct or not, it is perfectly clear that the wealthiest people pay the least tax in UK.  If they accidentally paid as much tax as I do (in £, not in %) I suspect they would probably sack their accountants.

(Am I ranting too much on a single topic this week?  Leave a comment if you think I should return to my usual rants - or indeed if you think this stuff matters a lot.)

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Obscene wealth

This picture from the march in London says it all.

Of course out millionaire ministers wouldn't want to do anything to make this fairer.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Tax is for the little people

Its only fair to ask that the wealthiest people in UK pay their share of taxes.  Isn't it?  Nobody is asking for anything punitive - or at least not more punitive than the rest of us have to put up with. But how can Phillip Green be allowed to get away totally tax free with a UK income like his?  It is just not fair!

This picture is from the 26th March protest in London.  Does it remind you about the quotation from Cardinal Ratzinger that I posted a few days ago?

We seem to be left with a few options:
  • Do nothing at all and ask people why they think it is worth doing anything. i.e. Just give in!
  • Do something - like attending the protest as a lot of us did - i.e. Exercise our democratic right to protest!
  • Sympathise with those who are indulging in a campaign against the likes of Vodafone and Top Shop.  i.e. Conspire to commit a crime if only a thought-crime.
  • Take action with them because the first two items on this list clearly make too little difference.  i.e. Criminal activity albeit maybe for a just cause.

Now I personally feel my opinion to be right in the middle of this list, somewhere in between attending protests and supporting direct action.  I don't like the idea of criminal damage being caused but I do recognise that even 4 to 500,000 people parading through London can simply be ignored by our barely-elected government.  (It is still claimed by BBC to be only 'quarter of a million'.  I'm pretty sure that is an under-estimate.)

There was something just slightly satisfying, even to law-abiding professional me to see this mess on the windows of De Beers in Picadilly.  I have no idea of their tax status (although I think I could guess) but they are clearly associated with a certain part of our society.  I would like them to be made to feel the outrage that I am feeling now.

"23 of our ministers are millionaires" I read yesterday.  Snouts in the trough eh?  If we 'little people' don't start to make our voices heard more clearly they will continue to get off scot-free.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

On the performance of the BBC

With regard to the march in central London today:

  • It is my impression that the BBC downplays any criticism of the government
  • I feel that they dwell on the sensational stuff in Trafalgar Square last night
  • 399,700 people are back at home peacefully - vs 300 left in Trafalgar Square
Who gets on the late-night news?  Answer - the 300.

Let's hope for cutbacks that eliminate the BBC!  Spokesperson for the UK government or what??

Saturday, 26 March 2011

March for the alternative

March 26th - the march for the alternative to the government cuts in London.  Estimates of the number of people attending vary but my colleagues and I side with the Guardian's estimate of 400,000, (based on various evidence from the number of coaches and trains to the sheer time it took to move along the march).  I can tell you one thing for certain.  The centre of London had traffic problems!

OK - say 100 people got excited and attacked some shops - shops that arguably deserved it as their owners pay effectively NO tax in UK.  But that leaves 399,900 people - all the people I actually saw in 6 hours included - who were there because they care what happens to the UK.  The atmosphere was uplifting.  There really is hope for humanity.

Just imagine - the cost of bailing out the banks recently is actually greater than the total amount that the government has spent on science since WW2!!  And we continue to pay bonuses to the bankers because they are ??good?? at it?

How do I choose just one photo from today?  The answer is that I just can't choose one.  The two that I have chosen show the good natured humour of an excellent day in London.

Now - regular readers will understand that I do not normally worship the police.  But today I can't offer enough praise for the soft touch that I observed.  The officers I spoke to were polite and sympathetic, guiding the protesters along the correct route but allowing tourists to go about their visit to London.  Well done to 'the Met'*!

* For readers outside UK - 'the Met' means "The Metropolitan Police", in London.

Christian terrorists all around us?

One aspect of terrorism has been defined as "use of threats of violence for the purpose of creating fear in order to achieve a religious goal".

This sounds like Christianity - "Believe this or burn for eternity!"

On this opinion I do agree with the great Hitch!

Friday, 25 March 2011

Was hell 'invented' by gentle Jesus?

What are the origins of the concept of hell? Christopher Hitchens claims that in the Old Testament there is effectively no concept of hell in the modern sense. The idea of eternal suffering was only brought to us by 'gentle Jesus meek and mild'.

Of course Islam also has a concept similar to that of the christian hell, and it is called Jahannam. The origin of this word is thought to be from the same root as the Hebrew name Gehenna which was originally the name of a valley near Jerusalem. It was a place more like the Catholic concept of 'purgatory', and in Jewish tradition nobody would stay in Gehenna for a period longer than twelve months.

Gehenna is often translated into English as hell. However the King James version of the bible also translates the words 'sheol' and 'hades' as hell.

The Jewish meme of 'sheol' is sometimes translated to Greek as 'hades'. All the dead go there, regardless of their moral choices in life. Sheol predates all christian and muslim ideas of judgement and it is considered to be totally different from heaven and hell.

Even within one faith there are disagreements. For example, in Acts 23, verses 6-8 the Pharisees and Sadducees were unable to agree whether angels and spirits even exist, let alone where the spirits go after death.

Confusion reigns. If theologians cannot agree about the subject then surely it is futile to worry about it. Even within the three great mono-theistic religions followers are required to take different actions to avoid eternal damnation, so on the basis of this it is clear that the majority of people will be wrong and suffer the consequences.

Much as I hate to disagree with the great Hitch, I think his explanation might be a little simplistic.  But its a good story and vaguely true.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Simple christianity

“The Christian believer is a simple person: Bishops should protect the faith of their little people against the power of intellectuals”  -  Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now the pope of course).

If this offensive quotation had come from one of the new atheists I suspect that few christians would have been surprised. 

Perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe his meaning was lost in translation?  (Well OK, maybe not.)  Ratzinger wouldn't want to confuse his 'little people' with actual facts would he?

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Peace of Cod

An American christian friend has just bravely launched a new blog and I was reading the first few entries.  I was so glad to read the moving story of her daughter's first conversation and feel very happy for her.

However, her post "At his feet" described the peace of submitting yourself entirely to Jesus, and was less moving to me.  Gospel music like the linked song always did make me feel uncomfortable too - part of my de-conversion I think.

As I think she was effectively inviting me to comment, I posted a description of finding peace by escaping from the absolute tyranny of the 'less cuddly' aspects of a god like hers.  Hopefully it was polite - just as her comments here have always been courteous.  I feel I can be slightly more direct here on my own blog and can drop the capital letters for deities and religions.

I was reminded of that lovely prayer that begins "The Peace of God that passeth all understanding . . .".  I always liked it - but now I wonder whether that is partly because it indicated that the end of the service was imminent.  Those words describe my thoughts more vividly now than they ever did when I was a christian. (small c!)

Now on the other hand, the 'piece of cod' that I had for dinner this evening with chips and tartar sauce was quite delicious.

Small link: On a slightly less controversial note - see Authentic Fish and Chips - an English delicacy!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Vexed by demons

According to Carl Sagan, in his great book "The Demon Haunted World", 1996 (p116), St Augustine was 'much vexed with demons', which prey on the 'captive and outwitted minds of men'.  These demons have a striking similarity to the activities of the aliens who seem to abduct so many Americans in these times.

Augustine believed that witches were the offspring of the forbidden unions between demons and women.  Demonic seducers of women were known as incubi, and of men succubi.

"There are cases in which nuns reported, in some befuddlement, a striking resemblance between the incubus and the priest confessor, or the bishop, and awoke the next morning to find themselves polluted just as if they had commingled with a man".

There is nothing new in the World!  Ask Pope Benedict about it.  No seriously, ask him!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Facebook's 'A' week event

Atheists in Facebook have been invited to change their profile picture for this weekend join an event that you can find by clicking on this link.

Strangely enough I found that a lot of my contacts there have changed theirs.  Wonder why.  The idea of 'A' Week seems to be going down well with over 17,000 people liking it so far.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

The Forer Effect

The Forer Effect, (or as it is sometimes known, the Barnum Effect) gives a little insight into one of the tools used by psychics in 'cold reading' where they can convince their 'victims' that they know more than they really do, and use that knowledge to gain even more knowledge from the victim's reaction. See how appropriate this seems as a description of yourself.

"You have a great need for other people to like and admire you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. Security is one of your major goals in life."

Forer's example seems to apply to most of us, and in his experiment people were asked to rate how accurately they felt it described them. The average score was more than 4 out of 5. The Forer effect is the observation that individuals will give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to almost anyone.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Probability taken personally

A rationalist view is that 'luck is just probability taken personally'.

Sadly I can't attribute this as the author has remained somewhat elusive.

Friday, 18 March 2011

A couple of quotations

There have been no anti-religious posts here recently, so these go a little way to make up for that.

"The lion may lay down with the lamb, but the lamb won't get much sleep" - Woody Allan

"Just because you're offended doesn't mean you are right." - Ricky Gervais

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Not ghostly spirits - just proof!

Until 1 January 1980, the United Kingdom defined alcohol content in terms of “proof spirit”, which was defined as the most dilute spirit that would sustain combustion of gunpowder.  It was found that gunpowder would not burn in rum that contained less than 57.15% abv.

Therefore, rum that contained this percentage of alcohol was defined to have "100 degrees proof".  Spirits with a lower alcohol content were described in terms of percentage proof or degrees proof.

More than 30 years later (in these days of standardised alcohol percentages) you still hear people talking about  spirits in terms of the proof spirit definition.  How many of them know what it means?

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Gallows humour

When William Palmer, English 19th century doctor and convicted poisoner, stood on the trap door of the gallows in 1886, his last words were "Are you sure this is safe?"

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Why are wrist watches so accurate?

Wrist watches only contain standard quartz crystals but many people observe that they seem much more accurate than clocks in other environments (like the car).  The answer is probably temperature control.  It is close to your skin which has a very constant temperature compared with other places.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Fire Walking

Fire walking is a remarkable spectacle and looks very dangerous. So how does it work when it is obviously not a case of mind over matter or anything paranormal?

The key lies in the very poor thermal conductivity of the charcoal.  As long as you only touch the charcoal, however hot it is, the surface cools so quickly that it does not burn you, and the heat is not conducted from inside the charcoal to the surface quickly enough to be a problem.

By analogy it is like a cake in a tin in the oven.  You can touch the cake with your fingers to see whether it is cooked, but even touching the tin for the briefest possible moment you will be burnt.  Haven't we all done that?

Mind you - even understanding all that I'm not sure I want to try fire walking.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

The UK census 2011

The time for the national census is nearly upon us, and nobody living in the UK can be unaware of the furore about a few of the questions.  A sentence containing 'storm' and 'teacup' comes to mind. 

Do I care whether the Welsh are being asked whether they speak Welsh or not.  Not a jot!  (Nor even a tittle.)  I smile as I wonder how many people in England actually speak English though.

The religion question is a little more interesting, but still hardly earth-shattering.  An article in The Guardian's series called 'Face to Faith' nicely summarises this week's 'fuss' about some posters being banned from railway stations .  You can find all three posters here.

I loved one of the comments on the Guardian page above.  Asterixorb said:

"I find signs outside churches that say things like 'Jesus saves' 
nonsensical and offensive.  Who do I report it to?".

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Japanese earthquake

Speaking of quacks, I hear that people are blaming a so-called 'supermoon' for the dreadful earthquake.

I had the pleasure of visiting Sendai a few of years ago and found the people there very hospitable.  If any country in the world can deal with this catastrophe calmly and efficiently then I am sure it is Japan.

This supermoon idea is just nonsense.  The moon and sun together exert a greater force on the Earth at full moon and new moon. The evidence for this is that you get 'spring tides' at those times.

Just at the moment we are a few days from new moon and I just checked the tide tables and see that the tides are not unusually high due to this impending 'supermoon'. Even if they were, they would have been higher a few days ago, at new moon.

Incidentally, the next full moon will bring tides among the highest in the year as the equinoctial spring tides are always the highest - and a great time to see the Severn Bore if you live near enough.

Tidal forces on the oceans can't be different from tidal forces on the Earth's crust. That means that according to the hypothesis of the Daily Mail the earthquake was several days too late.

In other words - the hypothesis is demonstrably hopeless.

Friday, 11 March 2011

The Quackometer - passed!

Just finished reading Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst's excellent book 'Trick or Treatment' and enjoyed it.  Somehow they managed to say that it is irrational to believe in most forms of alternative medicine without making me feel stupid for having fallen for a few homeopathic scams in the past.  I am now fully converted to the anti-homeopathy brigade.

Its funny how you can read a book like that, find a name you know, and realise that you have recently made the acquaintance of someone who is quite famous.  This came in the form of a reference to Andy Lewis's website 'The Quackometer' which claims to be a contribution to the automatic debunking of quack medicine on the net.

So - did it work?  I tested it on this blog and on my other technical web site and was relieved to find that I got a score of zero quacks on the international scale of quackery for both.  Phew!

Just to convince myself it worked I tried the British Chiropractic Association too.  They score 8 quacks.

Going to read Richard Wiseman's new book 'Paramormality' next.  The first few pages have been gripping.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

JREF's million dollar challenge just got easier

The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) has for many years offered a large cash prize for anyone who can prove that they can use paranormal skills.  At present the prize is $1 million. 

The claimant has to agree the terms of the test in advance.  Of course all of them fail (so far at least) and then some of them claim that the test was unfair after all.

The qualifications for entry into the testing process have just been changed to make it easier as you can see at  JREF’s $1,000,000 Paranormal Challenge Now Easier Than Ever

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Douglas Adams on the Scientific method

"Now, the invention of the scientific method and science is, I'm sure we'll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and that it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked and if it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn't withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn't seem to work like that; it has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. That's an idea we're so familiar with, whether we subscribe to it or not, that it's kind of odd to think what it actually means, because really what it means is 'Here is an idea or a notion that you're not allowed to say anything bad about; you're just not. Why not? - because you're not!"  - Douglas Adams

He wrote long sentences didn't he!
Thanks to the Pod Delusion special about Douglas Adams for the first half of this, which led me to find the entire quotation.  I liked the last part and have heard Richard Dawkins quote it on videos on Youtube but had forgotten where it came from.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Identity theft for real

A colleague of mine was surprised last Friday when a brand new Iphone 4 (worth about £700) was delivered to his house by DHL.  Later in the day there was a phone call from someone claiming to be from DHL, informing him that they had delivered it in error and that they would send a representative to collect it.  This 'representative' turned out to be a man in a white 1999 registered van with no form of identification to link him with DHL.  (Yes the registration number has been recorded.)

My colleague should be congratulated on spotting a potential scam and he refused to hand the package over.  Instead he called the mobile phone company, O2, who were unhelpful.  Apparently he had to be able to answer his security question - that being the one that had clearly been set up for him by someone else, using his bank account details.  He has not had any dealing with O2 for several years.

Similarly his bank(s) have all been unhelpful and rather uninterested in the event.  Admittedly none of them have yet seen any transactions, but one might have hoped that they would be keen to spot potential fraud and take appropriate actions.  The police have also taken the details and said that they would send an officer around to collect the phone.  My colleague (I think reasonably) has declined to hand it over.   What would be the point when it has never been in the possession of the fraudsters.

The best help he has received so far is from DHL who apparently have to deal with this kind of thing on a regular basis.  At least they were able to reassure him that his case is not without precedent.  That must be some relief to him at least.

It is assumed that this has been perpetrated by someone with access to my colleague's address and bank account details, that they would have collected the phone and then sold the stolen goods.  Not an especially clever scam!  But a worrying case of identity theft!  I could easily imagine many people falling for it - even if as intelligent as my readers. Watch out for it. 

This is not one of those stories that is 'nth hand' with an unattributable source, although of course as soon as I tell anyone else it becomes like that.  Just beware. 

Monday, 7 March 2011


As promised yesterday . . .

A tittle is the dot on a lower case i or j. It first appeared in the 11th century. Some languages (e.g. Irish) omit the tittle from the i.

[My mother used to use it as a term of derision if she didn't believe a story that was being told to her.  "Tittle" she would exclaim.  Haven't heard her use the term for a while now.]

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Do Old Testament laws still count?

So often when you quote an inconvenient part of the Old Testament to a christian, they will tell you that it has been replaced by the teachings of Jesus and that Jesus came as saviour for us all etc.

If the OT really has been superseded then surely the ten commandments are also superseded, and the evidence suggests that this is not at all what they want. That is not to say that the 10 commandments have much to do with today's laws or morality when looked at critically. More of that another day soon - a post on that topic is at the planning stage.

Why is the Old Testament still there in the bible? Because it foretold the coming of Christ. (Or maybe the whole Jesus story was built up to fulfill the prophecies. More on that another day perhaps.)

So, how do we know that this is true that the OT has been superseded? Is it true that its inconvenient laws no longer apply? Maybe it is in the words of Jesus himself. Let's look at the book of Matthew.

5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. [So the context is OK then? If in doubt you can look it up yourself. It is just after the bit about everyone being 'Blessed' that was mocked so well in Monty Python's 'Life of Brian'.]

5:18 For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. [Not much doubt then. Not one jot to be changed. Presumably this applies to all the 613 commandments in the Torah, which are represented in the Jewish 'Halacha'. Incidentally what is a tittle? See tomorrow for the answer.  Here's a link added later!]

5:19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Note to self! Must remember not to boil any goat kids in their own mother's milk then. (This is the tenth commandment if you read the version in Ex. 34:26 and you can also find it in Deut. 14:21)

Saturday, 5 March 2011

The 'Four Jokes'

It is said that ALL jokes can be broken down into a combination of the following.

1/ Incongruous or surprising
2/ Puns and plays on words
3/ Exageration
4/ In jokes

Can you find one that does not?

Ok - I can't resist trying to give a one line example from memory of each.  I challenge my readers to come up with four better one liners (which shouldn't be difficult

1/  How does it change many dyslexics to take a light bulb?
2/  Famous football result - East Fife 4 - Forfar 5!
3/  I've told you a million times not to exagerate!
4/  Fusion power is 30 years away and always has been.

(Incidentally, there is a credible answer to the last one!  Must post it in the next week or so.)

Friday, 4 March 2011

Aid for emerging nuclear powers?

Should we, as UK tax payers, really be sending aid donations to Pakistan, a country where it seems to mean inevitable death to be a public figure who is not Islamic?  The 'religion of peace' strikes again, with the murder of the only christian in their cabinet, apparently for trying to change the country's blasphemy laws.

The thing that annoys me is that by paying my taxes I am partly subsidising a country where barbaric acts like this seem to be acceptable.  I am no happier that we are also giving aid to India.  Sorry folks, but if you can afford to develop nuclear weapons then surely you can afford to feed, clothe and even educate your people.  Of course they both could afford it but they choose not to.

Meanwhile in UK, the government is cutting back on everything except overseas aid which is ring-fenced.  Isn't it time we took a serious look at this policy?

Thursday, 3 March 2011

David Colquhoun in Oxford

A good crowd (50 or 60 ish) gathered at the Oxford Skeptics in the Pub event last night, to hear Professor David Colquhoun, but I would estimate that about 25% quietly left at the interval.  Tempted to do so myself, I'm glad I stayed as the questions and answers were a little more interesting than the talk.

Although I would say that I agree with his campaign against Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), and agree with his consistent campaigning on the subject, I found the accounts of the events a little more disparaging than might have been necessary.  (Of course he was describing his hard won victories and wanted to describe them in detail.)

The slides contained a lot of text and the audience had little chance to read some of them, and I would just say that his method of presentation was 'unusual' for a professional speaker and member of the Royal Society.  I admit that there were a few giggles, including the surprising inclusion of the National Health Service's formal job specification for a 'Spiritual Healer'.

After last week's excellent event, (Paula Kirby), tonight was more than a little disappointing.  Hopefully the April event with Trystan Swale from the Righteous Indignation podcast will be more fun.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Wisdom of Dennett

When asked "Don't you believe in a transcendent force that governs everything", the ever-incisive Professor Daniel Dennett replied "Yes I do.  Gravity"

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The 'arrogance' of the New Atheists? What arrogance?

I have taken a little flak in the last week about attending a series of meetings in Oxford.  One of the accusations was along the lines of "how can these people have the arrogance to tell others what to think" followed by the almost inevitable "I'm offended that you seem not to have any respect for my beliefs".  There was more, but this conveys the flavour of the conversation.  The fact that my accuser had not attended any of the said meetings was apparently not relevant.

And yes, I did say 'conversation', even that that sounds quite one-sided.  I have found in recent years that it is best to hold my tongue because my few attempts to reply have made matters even worse.  (The accidental use of the expression 'bronze age myths' a few months ago did not go down too well!)  I didn't even think quickly enough to use the defence that we were not hearing about what to think, but more how to think.

I'm not sure whether my developing thoughts are the result of listening to inspiring speakers this week, and meeting some of them in person, or whether I am beginning to recite the new atheist mantra without realising it.  I am definitely getting fed up of my idealogical heroes being called arrogant though.

So . . . thinking out loud . . . what about:

1/ The clergy-man standing up in the pulpit every Sunday and preaching what to think?  Is that somehow better than what I have been hearing?  If this sermonising is not arrogance what is it?

2/  Prayer groups meet every day within a few minutes drive of my home.  I don't go round knocking on the doors of the participants and telling them how offended I am by their gatherings.

3/  Bible studies take place in our parish regularly.  And yet they only seem to study the 'nice' verses in the old and new testaments.  Isn't that telling each other what to think?  (Or teaching each other which bits not to read?) It is definitely not about how to think.

4/  Finally for now - bible reading notes have been a pet hate of mine for many years, even when I was still a Christian.  Whenever I have picked up a copy of 'Guidelines' or another of those platitudinous little booklets I find phrases that make my flesh crawl.  Picking one up now, and opening it at random I read "It is the duty of every Christian, like a lawyer in a court room, to be able to respond to the questions of non-believers coherently and persuasively".  I hope none of them ever have to represent me in court then!

So which side is the greater purveyor of arrogance?  OK, some of the New Atheists are more outspoken than others.  But this week I have heard no ranting from the pulpit (and certainly I have heard that in churches).  I have just enjoyed the reasonable and well presented opinions of reasonable women and men.