Derren Brown: Belief and Non-Belief

•3 March 2009 • 1 Comment

I hope this lazy linking doesn’t become a habit.

This brilliant piece by Derren Brown landed in my feed reader a moment ago, it is bloody good and well worth recommending it to everyone who ever faces stupid comments like “Well, atheism is based on faith also” and “You can’t prove that [insert supernatural hokum] doesn’t exist” and so on.

But why’re you still here? No amount of my blathering will do it any justice.

P.S. I almost missed this great piece of writing because it was slyly posted with a backdated byline – thanks be to the almighty Google Reader.

My Treffer: South Africa says “NO”

•26 February 2009 • Comments Off on My Treffer: South Africa says “NO”

I was so ecstatic this afternoon when my choice for 5fm’s My Treffer was played: An Cafe – Kakusei Heroism.

According to the results so far …
Continue reading ‘My Treffer: South Africa says “NO”’

Right to Life Supersedes Religious Rights

•19 February 2009 • 4 Comments

Today the Gauteng Department of Health announced the outcome of a crucial, yet brief, human rights case. Today, a twelve-year-old girl was saved from her death, a fate she was sure to meet partly due to the interference of her own parents in her emergency medical treatment. bloodThe Department of Health sought an urgent court interdict to overrule the parents’ wishes that the child should not have the medical care she needed. SABC news reported that the unnamed parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses but were unable to reach any church spokesperson to interview them on the matter. One of their core beliefs is that blood transfusions may not be given or received (it is seen an offence which can be used in evidence for excommunication from the church).

So why was this case concluded so quickly? How could it be that the very first court approached on the matter gave a binding ruling which was not challenged at the Supreme Court or the Constitutional Court? It is a matter of the battle of constitutional rights after all – the right to life versus the right to religious freedom.

The answer is that the constitution has a very useful caveat that goes with the right to religious expression. The relevant section is very clear and unambiguous so there are no grounds for constitutional challenge to the ruling. The relevant sections of the Bill of Rights within the South African Constitution are Section 11 and section 31.

Section 11 very simply states:

11. Life
Everyone has the right to life.

Whereas Section 31 allows the practice of religious rituals and customs as long as they don’t infringe on other rights.

31. Cultural, religious and linguistic communities

  1. Persons belonging to a cultural, religious or linguistic community may not be denied the right, with other members of that community ­
    1. to enjoy their culture, practise their religion and use their language; and
    2. to form, join and maintain cultural, religious and linguistic associations and other organs of civil society.
  2. The rights in subsection (1) may not be exercised in a manner inconsistent with any provision of the Bill of Rights.

It is also noticeable that the right to life is not dependant on whether or not other rights are infringed. From this we can clearly conclude that the right to life supersedes any religious rights. As it should be.

But I can’t help wonder if there will be a time when a person will die in the time that it takes to jump these legal hurdles. Is it not time to issue a statement that these dangerous beliefs should always be ignored because of the imminent threat to life?

YouTube mashup: O’Reilly and Bale

•12 February 2009 • 3 Comments

I’ve been spending waaay too much time on YouTube lately, but it has its advantages. I stumbled across this gem today (I think this is the best video mashup … errr … this … errr … month).

If you’re familiar with the venom-spitting and terminally ignorant Bill O’Reilly (this video has the best bits), if you’ve seen the internet phenomenon that has risen-up around his hateful rants, and if you heard about Christian Bale blowing his top then you’re well prepared. I love this. 😀

(It seems that the onsite player is broken, if you can’t see the video above, then click on this link).

Questionable facts

•7 February 2009 • 3 Comments

One of my friends sent me an eMail today, It’s one of those general trivia eMails dotted with animated cartoons and comical characters to emphasise the “facts” on offer. I started to read them and I immediately identified three of them as wrong right off the bat (first three below). On further investigation I found that fully one quarter of the “facts” were fallacies.

Goldfish AnimationIf you find trivia interesting here are the corrections extracted from my reply to my friend (I removed the whole intro bit, straight down to business)…

Continue reading ‘Questionable facts’

Sceptics in the Pub, February 2009

•6 February 2009 • 6 Comments

Yes, it happened on Monday night and I almost missed it. Phew, what a mission it was getting there but I was so glad that I did finally get there (after taking a terrible “short cut”, getting lost among the Gautrain construction detours and my car steering failing on me – sigh).

Unfortunately our hard-working organiser Angela was under the weather as was Heidi and they each sent apologies for not being able to make it. I hope you’re feeling better ladies, you were missed – in case you’re not yet on the path to recovery, try a homoeopathic flu cure of three drops per hour of pure distilled water containing absolutely no Gelsemium. No, but seriously, see a real doctor if you’re not well yet.

Owen has provided photographs of the event, Facebook users can see them here.

Attendance was down from the bumper attendance at last month’s Johannesburg Sceptics in the Pub meeting but I think that the 60-day average is still firmly in the positive! I didn’t expect such a huge turnout because Michael is something like six hundred k’s away and Ivan is some nine-and-a-half thousand k’s away!

The event is really starting to grow in popularity and I have become a go-to-guy of sorts since the website has chosen my first blog post about our first meeting as the link for anyone who wants to know more about meetings in Johannesburg. I think that we might look into getting a proper dedicated page for that which we can update with a full event calendar to make it easier for people to find us and join us in future. I know that there are some of you out there (I have your names!!) who are still tentatively considering joining us, please do so, and speak up if you find that the event locations are difficult to get to or the dates aren’t convenient.

There is also a rumbling in the underground about a “Skeptics in the Pub” Pub Quiz team. Interested? Let us know. I think that it’s only really viable with four or more members so if we can get that many together who’d like to, then we can start looking for a monthly quiz at a pub that is convenient for everyone.

And just a quick note in closing: I don’t know if I felt all that welcome at Ogilvy’s; there was a stuffed cheetah on display – I felt quite … endangered. 😉

UPDATE: 2011
For news of all future Sceptics in the Pub events in Johannesburg and Pretoria, please go to the Gauteng Skeptics Announcements page.

Awesome animation – Speciation and the tree of life

•3 February 2009 • 5 Comments

The BBC, the Wellcome Trust and Open University have released a video as part of the 150 year celebrations commemorating the publication of “On the Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin. In this video they explain one of the central ideas of Darwinian Evolution; the tree of life.

It is a simplified view of the tree but it still works very well. If they had included everything that we know about the tree of life it would run for many hours and would be too complicated to follow, so this introduction to the idea is detailed enough to get the concept across and is easy enough to use as an educational resource for children.


(Thanks to Coops at the Derren Brown Blog.)