Commandments 2.0

For this recent Palm Sunday Erika Hall published a single-serving Tumblr blog proposing an update to the Decalogue she titled ‘The Fresh Ten Commandments’:

Since the original ten commandments seem somewhat narrow and obsolete (too much focus on livestock, servants, and jealous god issues), here is a modest first draft of a fresh set.

Erika isn’t (by far!) the first to attempt to update these guidelines from on high, so I thought it would be interesting to collect a few here, starting with ‘The Fresh Ten’:

The Fresh Ten

  1. You shall treat all people with respect regardless of race, color, creed, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, age, or national origin.
  2. You shall not kill, assault, nor intimidate with threats of physical violence.
  3. You shall not rape, sexually coerce, nor intimidate with threats of sexual violence.
  4. You shall cultivate intellectual curiosity, be open to new ideas, and respect the scientific method.
  5. You shall not cheat, nor cheat others out of what is rightfully theirs.
  6. You shall not lie, deceive, nor spread lies about others.
  7. You shall not steal, that is to say take or use what rightfully belongs to another person in a manner that causes harm. (Stealing is a trickier concept than it once was. How do you say yes to Fair Use and no to software patents?)
  8. You shall keep your promises.
  9. You shall not waste natural resources nor pollute the shared environment.
  10. You shall take responsibility for your actions and their consequences.

Thou shalt read more →



Let’s kick of a #ScienceSunday hashtag. I’ve been doing this on and off for a couple of months now, and it seems like a very positive way of promoting rationalism.

Here’s the premise:

Find an interesting science story from the previous week and post a link to it, using the #ScienceSunday hashtag. Ideally the story should have a human interest angle, or inspire a sense of wonder. The idea is to highlight the very real miracles that happen (or are discovered) every day in this world thanks to the hard work of scientists everywhere. Continue reading

List of rhetological fallacies

Appeal to fear icon Here’s a great list for your debating toolkit. Some of the examples given could use refinement, but it’s still a handy reference.

I’ve pinched these definitions from the research doc for an infographic on Information is Beautiful. Even more interesting is the identification of these fallacies employed in Cardinal Keith O’Briens disgusting ‘tyranny of tolerance’ Telegraph article. Continue reading

Superstitious users and the FreeBSD logo


Beastie the BSD daemonAn amusing story from the FreeBSD mailing list:


I just got a call from the owner of a hotel for which we provide hotspot service. She says that a guest spotted the “Powered by FreeBSD” logo at the bottom of the login page, and was offended; the guest was convinced that either we or the hotel management “worshipped the Devil” and refused to stay at the hotel unless the logo was removed. The owner could make no headway by explaining that the besneakered mascot was a cartoon character and was a daemon, not the Devil. And she feared upsetting the guest even more if she said that large portions of the same software are inside every Mac and iPad. The hotel stands to lose more than $1000 if the guest, who had originally planned to stay for a long period, moves out.

One of our tech support people also got a call directly from the hotel guest, who claimed that having the logo on the page constituted “abuse.” The guest also claimed to be “losing money” because she wouldn’t use the hotspot if there was a “devil” on the splash page. He didn’t even realize what she was talking about at first…. He couldn’t imagine why on Earth this person was calling him and going on about devils.

Attempts at misguided religious censorship notwithstanding, I don’t want to see one of my ISP’s customers lose business. And I’d like to keep a FreeBSD logo on our hotspot page. Is there artwork that doesn’t include horned creatures that might offend the ignorant or superstitious?

–Brett Glass

Continue reading

Sentiment analysis of the Bible

Now this is how you make an infographic:

A sentiment analysis of the Bible

Things start off well with creation, turn negative with Job and the patriarchs, improve again with Moses, dip with the period of the judges, recover with David, and have a mixed record (especially negative when Samaria is around) during the monarchy. The exilic period isn’t as negative as you might expect, nor the return period as positive. In the New Testament, things start off fine with Jesus, then quickly turn negative as opposition to his message grows. The story of the early church, especially in the epistles, is largely positive.

Applying Sentiment Analysis to the Bible – (via FlowingData)

Continue reading

A call to abolish collective worship in schools

The National Assembly for Wales have put up an e-Petition to abolish collective worship in schools:

As it stands, the law requires all schools to hold an act of collective worship every day. Even in schools that aren’t ‘faith’ schools, this must be ‘broadly Christian’ in character. In a society which is increasingly diverse, this is an affront to the rights of young people to express their beliefs freely. Although there is the opportunity to opt out, this is reliant on parental permission and is not respected by all schools. The law is extremely unpopular, with opinion polls showing teachers don’t want it, parents don’t want it, and children don’t want it. As such, it is long past time for the daily act of collective worship to be replaced with inclusive assemblies that add to cohesion and a sense of community within the school. We petition the Government to repeal the requirement for compulsory collective worship in schools and to encourage schools to hold educational assemblies that will include all children, regardless of religion or non-religious belief.

Long overdue. One of my main memories of Torpoint School was of myself and a friend being punished by a particularly nasty geography teacher after failing to sing along in an assembly. He forced us to sing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ in front of his next (much more senior) class.

Continue reading

Pope Benedictus XVI, Pontifex Maximus and P2P Pirate

The Pope was one of 774,651 people caught by the insecurity outfit Avast’s sweep of illegal use of its software.

[…] Since Avast is dealing with the Vatican, Steckler did say that there had already been “some conversions” to the legitimate PC version.

(via The Vatican is a software pirate –

Too funny. And more proof (though no more is needed for the Catholic church) that the religious are no more moral or ethical than anyone else.

(via @glynmoody)

Unitarian Jihad


We are Unitarian Jihad. We are everywhere. We have not been born again, nor have we sworn a blood oath. We do not think that God cares what we read, what we eat or whom we sleep with. Brother Neutron Bomb of Serenity notes for the record that he does not have a moral code but is nevertheless a good person, and Unexalted Leader Garrote of Forgiveness stipulates that Brother Neutron Bomb of Serenity is a good person, and this is to be reflected in the minutes.

We are Unitarian Jihad, and our motto is: “Sincerity is not enough.” We have heard from enough sincere people to last a lifetime already. Just because you believe it’s true doesn’t make it true. Just because your motives are pure doesn’t mean you are not doing harm. Get a dog, or comfort someone in a nursing home, or just feed the birds in the park. Play basketball. Lighten up. The world is not out to get you, except in the sense that the world is out to get everyone.

by Jon Carroll

Hilarious, and worth reading in full. :)

(via @huwlynes)

Britons remain tolerant despite terror outrages

Okay, so I know the Metro isn’t exactly the bastion of great journalism or anything, but they ran a story today based on a Harris Interactive study, that bugged me: METRO: Britons remain tolerant despite terror outrages (the linked story lacks the infographics that accompanied the printed article).

Harris Interactive interviewed 1,296 people, who were asked to rank their strength of faith from 0-10, with zero being agnostic. I’m curious why the Metro used this label. Surely atheist is the correct definition for someone with 'zero faith'? To me, agnosticism implies that some doubt – trace amounts of faith – may remain.

The main issue the data raised for me was completely ignored by the article. Those surveyed were asked which religion was 'best' and which was 'worst'. Sensibly, 65% answered that no one religion was better or worse. Christianity stormed ahead in popular opinion however, with 26% voting it the 'best'. The 'worst', according to 24%, was Islam.

That result, in my view, contradicts the Metro's conclusion that we remain tolerant. Also, there is a very strong implication that it's the Christians that have the biggest problem with Islam. Sadly, the Harris Interactive data hasn’t been published on their site to elaborate on the Metro's assertions.

I left a (polite and reasonable) comment on the Metro post, but it wasn’t published.

Wikipedia list of misconceptions: Evolution

Non-avian dinosaurs died out in the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous period.

  • Evolution does not attempt to address the question of the origin of life: for that, see abiogenesis. The two are commonly conflated.
  • Evolution is not a random process but one guided by the process of natural selection. A common misconception is that the absence of conscious intervention means that the process becomes random.
  • Evolution does not need to be directed (although some believe it is). It is not accidental or random, but it is a process, like bouncing a ball, or generating a fractal, that appears to create an intelligent pattern, but which on inspection is very simple.
  • Humans never evolved from chimpanzees; instead they share a common ancestor (possibly Sahelanthropus tchadensis) that existed around 7 Ma in the late Miocene epoch. Some scientists think the split may have occurred several million years earlier.
  • Evolution says nothing about cosmology, the big bang, or where the universe, galaxy, solar system, or earth came from. Evolution is only about life.
  • Evolution does not need to be slow. Millions of years are not required to see evolution, or even speciation in action.
  • Evolution does not happen within a single creature: a chimp cannot be born a chimp and turn into a gorilla. You need at least one generation to observe evolution. To be provable evolution, you need quite a few generations, in order to establish that the changes remain in subsequent generations, though.
  • Evolution does not require an increase in complexity. A population can evolve to become simpler, and have a shorter genome – often called “devolve”, but that is a misnomer.
  • Evolution does posit “transitional forms”… but not “endpoint forms”. That is, every animal, plant, fossil that exists, is an example of a transitional form. Evolution is a constant process.
  • It is often claimed that there are no “transitional forms”. When people say “transitional forms” they generally mean “a common ancestor for two populations”: of which there are many.[5][6]
  • Evolution has been observed, countless times, in and out of the laboratory.[7][8]
  • Some believe that as Evolution is a “theory”, it is merely a hypothesis, rather than a proven fact of life. Evolution is a “theory” in the same way as the theories of gravity, thermodynamics, etc. The word “theory” has a different meaning in a scientific context than in a casual, which may have lead to this misunderstanding.
  • Evolution does not claim that phenotypic changes (changes caused by the environment, such as larger size due to better diet, amputations, etc) can be passed from generation to generation.
  • The claim that “all (or almost all) mutations are harmful” is false. One study gives the average number of mutations that arise in a human conception to be around 128, and an average number of harmful mutations per conception of 1.3.[9]
  • Evolution does not happen within just one creature: you need the entirety of a population to observe evolution. You need some of them to breed, and some not to.
  • Evolution is not progress from “lower” to “higher”. In that sense, “Evolution” is a misnomer.

EDITED 2011.09.18 to add obligatory XKCD link.