Charles Darwin and genocide – a rebuttal

A friend posted a link on Facebook to an article What Your Biology Teacher Didn’t Tell You About Charles Darwin.  He called it an “exposé of the implications of the evolutionary worldview.”

The article is here: http://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/what_your_biology_teacher_didnt_tell_you_about_charles_darwin

I’m all for challenging my beliefs and this is, on the face of it, a thought-provoking piece. I read it with consternation that one of my heroes could actually be “a very bad man indeed”. And then I did some research.

Below is my riposte to most of the points made in Moore’s article. I do not claim to be a biological expert and if there are any evolutionary biologists or indeed Creationists who want to put me right in the comments section, I am all for that!

So let’s begin…

‘…I feel I have to point out that he wasn’t a British hero but a British villain. You don’t have to be a bible-thumping evangelical to question whether Charles Darwin’s thinking deserves to be given a bit more thought.’

Woah, woah, woah! First up, what is meant by “Charles Darwin’s thinking”? Presumably this is an entry level into attacking Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, but science doesn’t work like that.

Whether Darwin was a stark raving mad white supremacist (which, as we shall see, he wasn’t), it still wouldn’t make the Theory of Evolution – supported, corroborated, bolstered and proven as it is by the following 150-odd years’ worth of scientific study and investigation, including by those seeking to disprove it – any less factual.

Indeed, no scientific claim in history has been more vigorously tested. Were anyone to disprove the Theory of Evolution or in some way ascertain that it is in any way false, that person would become as world-renowned as Darwin and would have riches and honours lavished upon them. It’s not happened.

Positing that Darwin was “a villain” as a means to refute the Theory is a clear fallacy.

“Whatever your views on origins and evolution, we can hopefully all agree that, at present, we give far too much honour to the British thinker who justified genocide.”

This is a big claim. And it doesn’t stand up. Darwin never ‘justified genocide’ and the examples made by the author in this piece can be explained.

‘Darwin didn’t hide his view that his evolutionary thinking applied to human races as well as to animal species. The full title of his seminal book in 1859 was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.’

Moore seems to use this full title of Origin as a GOTCHA! moment, but it’s disingenuous to claim this.

Humans are mentioned once in the book – and that’s mostly to say that he will discuss them in some point in the future.

Darwin used ‘races’ more generally, using the term in relation to plants and animals (which Origin is virtually solely about).

Elsewhere he talks about races and sub-races of cabbages, for example. This does not make him racist towards cabbages.

 ‘He followed this up more explicitly in his later book The Descent of Man by spelling out his racial theory: “The western nations of Europe … now so immeasurably surpass their former savage progenitors [that they] stand at the summit of civilisation … The civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace the savage races through the world.”’

‘Today, most British people are, thankfully, pretty embarrassed by the racist rhetoric which undergirded the late-Victorian British Empire. What is astonishing is how little they understand that Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution provided the doctrine behind its white supremacism.’

Firstly, in relation to that last sentence, it is clear to note that he is not advocating, nor justifying genocide. He is pointing out that genocide will happen. Looking at the way the Native Americans and Aborigines were wiped out by white colonial Europeans (largely Christians, I point out, apropos of nothing), we can see that he was right.

Again, it is disingenuous to say Darwin’s Theory of Evolution gave these people the idea that they were superior and should therefore eliminate the natives. Certain peoples were wiping out other peoples long before Darwin was around.

Indeed, in the Bible, God not only advocates genocide but orders it, giving the Jews precise instructions on how to do it: “When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you may nations…then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them and show them no mercy.” Deuteronomy 7:1-2.

There are issues with Darwin’s phrasing, for sure. “Civilised” and “savage” are not ‘nice’ terms for describing different races. However, it is important not to judge too harshly the words used by 19th Century people by comparing them with 21st Century values.

While it is still disconcerting to see someone describe different races in this way, it needs to be put into context. In Darwin’s time, with a burgeoning British Empire spreading as if contagious, the differences between biology and culture were largely unknown. It wasn’t until later in the 19th Century that the concept of “Nature and Nurture” was introduced.

Indeed, while Darwin seems to be disparaging of “savage races”, his Theory of Evolution, based as it is on the idea of common descent from shared ancestors, proves that human beings (Homo sapiens) are all equally evolved.

And yet culture plays its part in how humans live. So white Europeans moved ahead in terms of construction, medicine, writing, travel, weaponry etc, and therefore stole a march on their fellow humans who lived elsewhere.

As an example, an aborigine moved at birth to Western civilisation would be able to grow up perfectly normally, be able to be taught to read, be familiar with new inventions, and live longer and healthier than if they had remained in their “uncivilised” homeland.

This is because culture and biology are not related. Darwin never once suggested the white race was superior to other races due to biology.

If he was racist, then it was a cultural, not biological racism. I do not condone this in the slightest but, in mitigation, this was the overwhelming viewpoint of the time in Victorian England, wth its imperialistic haughtiness becoming stronger all the time.

‘Whereas the British Empire of the early nineteenth century had been dominated by Christian reformers such as William Wilberforce who sold badges of black slaves which proclaimed, “Am I not a man and a brother?”, Charles Darwin’s writings converted an empire with a conscience into an empire with a scientific philosophy instead. Four years after Darwin published his Origin of Species, James Hunt turned it into a justification for slavery. He argued in his paper ‘On the Negro’s Place in Nature’, published in 1863, that “Our Bristol and Liverpool merchants, perhaps, helped to benefit the race when they transported some of them to America.” Christian reformers had spent decades in the first half of the nineteenth century teaching Britain to view non-European races as their equals before God. In a matter of years, Darwin not only swept God off the table but also swept the value of people of every race in God’s eyes off the table with him.’

The author, as with the likes of James Hunt, confuses Darwinism with Social Darwinism. The latter, despite bearing Darwin’s name, has nothing to do with Darwin, nor the Theory of Evolution. Latching on to the phrase ‘the survival of the fittest’, and using it to support genocide and white supremacism just goes to show the lack of understanding these people have of the Theory and biology.

‘What has been forgotten is his contemptible attitude towards the Aborigines he also found there due to his beliefs about natural selection. When The Melbourne Review used his teachings to justify the genocide of the indigenous people of Australia in 1876, he didn’t try and stop them. Charles Darwin simply commented that “I do not know of a more striking instance of the comparative rate of increase of a civilised over a savage race”.

It’s certainly not untroubling that Darwin reacted in such a seemingly cold and detached way to the genocide.

‘Meanwhile, several thousand miles away, Cecil Rhodes was gleefully embracing Charles Darwin’s thinking as the justification for white expansion across Southern Africa. He was so inspired by the thinking of the Darwinian evolutionist Winwood Reade in his book ‘The Martyrdom of Man’ that he later confessed that “That book has made me what I am.” What it made him was the architect of one of the most brutal and immoral acts of European expansion and genocide in history. He wrote in 1877 that I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race … It is our duty to seize every opportunity of acquiring more territory and we should keep this one idea steadily before our eyes that more territory simply means more of the Anglo-Saxon race, more of the best, the most human, most honourable race the world possesses. (John Flint, Cecil Rhodes p. 24).

The very fact Rhodes used “Anglo-Saxon” race shows that he did not understand the Theory of Evolution and the atrocities he comitted cannot be put down to Darwinian thinking because, as stated, the Theory shows all Homo sapiens are equally evolved.

‘I could have pointed out the ways that Hitler and his Nazi philosophers used it to justify wars of expansion and horrific holocaust.’

Darwin often gets the blame for inspiring the Nazi eugenics and the Holocaust but the accusation is baseless. Indeed, the two links usually used as evidence are the fact that his half-cousin Francis Galton WAS a white supremacist who coined the word ‘eugenics’, and Darwin’s correspondence with Ernst Haeckel, a German biologist and champion of evolution.

However, it would be unfair to hold Darwin accountable for the sins of his half-cousin. And secondly, Haeckel was not the inspiration for the Nazis eugenics programme, as is regularly claimed. In fact, the Nazis dismissed his work entirely. Their atrocities were not done in the name of Darwinism at all.

‘The British example is enough to make us question whether Charles Darwin was truly a British hero at all. At the very least, we should strip him of his place on our £10 banknote and stop protecting his thinking from the scrutiny it deserves to receive in school classrooms, on TV documentaries and in the corridors of power.’

There are two arguments going on here. Should we venerate a man who said occasionally racist things in incredibly racist times?

And two, should his Theory of Evolution be dismissed as a result of these things?

Firstly, despite Darwin’s occasional lapses into cultural, Eurocentrist racist rhetoric, he was actually more progressive than most of his peers at the time. He was stridently anti-slavery, coming into conflict many times with the pro-slavery captain of HMS Beagle, Capt FitzRoy.

If we are to dismiss the work of everyone who lived in Imperial Britain, which was an inherently racist place in an inherently racist time, then we are to wipe out huge swathes of scientific discovery. The Theory of Evolution has enabled us to learn more about the world, and has been the catalyst driving every major medical advance in the past 150 years.

Again I shall point out, even if Charles Darwin ate babies for breakfast, it doesn’t make the science behind the Theory of Evolution any less solid.

‘Who would you rather discover was right all along? The Christian reformers of the early nineteenth century, like William Wilberforce and the Earl of Shaftesbury, who argued from belief in divine creation that slaves should be set free and that children should not be forced to work themselves to death in the factories for having been born to the wrong parents?

Pitting Christian reformers of slavery and the anti-slavery Darwin at polar opposites of the scale is misleading and insulting.

Were the likes of Wilberforce and Shaftesbury really driven by Christian beliefs? Their arguments for ending slavery seem more Humanist to me. They certainly don’t come from the Bible, which, as we know, has long lists of rules about how to buy and treat your slaves. I particularly like this beauty from Exodus 21:20-21… “When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money.”

‘Or Charles Darwin, who argued from his belief in a godless beginning to the universe that natural selection was a virtue and that, consequently, acts of genocide were part and parcel of the way the world was always supposed to be?’

This too is disingenuous claptrap, as the author is inferring that any biological scientist or anyone who even believes the Theory of Evolution to be true, automatically thinks that genocide is OK, even virtuous. This is insulting nonsense.

Firstly, natural selection, is not and has not been argued as being, a virtue as such. That it is just the way things are, is true.

However, this does not justify genocide and does not mean genocide is merely part and parcel of life.

For one of the the most incredibly interesting things about evolution I find, is how morality has evolved over time. Basic morals – like Do not kill; Do not steal etc were not handed down on stone tablets on Mount Sinai but rather have been ingrained in us through millions of years of biological evolution. Those weird little mammals you see on Walking With Dinosaurs soon discovered that if they were murderous or violent or unfaithful or showed signs of kleptomania, they’d likely be shunned from their society and would be less likely to survive long enough to pass on their genes. We have evolved along these lines.

However, biological evolution among big animals like us is soooo slow and sooooo imperceptible, that genocide is not an evolutionary thing. It is a cultural thing. And as a Brit, like the author, I realise we now live in a culture that should be more tolerant, more caring and, yes, more civilised, ironically, than the culture in Darwin’s England.

That means opposing genocide on moral grounds. Morals evolve quicker than biology in some cases, and they are different according to different cultures – for example treatment of women, gays etc.

We can argue against genocide. It is not something that is the way of the world. Morally today, the idea of genocide is repugnant and rightly punished severely under international law.

Darwin’s detached views on the topic are hard to take, sure, but he lived within a different culture. And he certainly didn’t advocate or justify it.

Godlessness does not mean we should embrace genocide. Yes, it seems more than likely that humans are generally meaningless in the context of the Universe. But it does not mean humans cannot and do not create their own meaning – that other people, nature, hobbies are not meaningful to us.
The premise that without a God for which there is no evidence and who doesn’t intervene in human affairs, we’d all be murdering on a massive scale, doesn’t hold up.

 ‘In the words of Jesus Christ himself: “By their fruits you will be able to judge their teaching.’”

Yes, but Darwin’s fruit is not that genocide is AOK. His teaching, in terms of the Theory of Evolution, is sound. And this would be the case even in the event that Darwin was “a British villain”.

Altogether now, boys and girls (The problem with feminism)

(A version of this column first appeared in the Herts & Essex Observer in August 2016)
IT may surprise some of you to hear that I don’t set out to antagonise anyone while writing this column. But even I can appreciate, as I sit in front of my laptop, that an article with the working title ‘The Problem With Feminism’ might raise a few hackles.
It begins, dear reader, with me getting involved in an online spat. (“No, Bromage,” I hear you yell, “that is soooo unlike you.”)
Well, it’s true – and it came in the wake of Team GB’s magnificent hockey gold medal in Rio.

Amidst the celebratory status updates and haliographic tweets came a complaint. Why were these women – and female athletes in general – being referred to so regularly as ‘girls’?
This nomenclature was being used not only by media dinosaurs such as the Inverdaleosaurus but also by Kate Richardson-Walsh, the captain of the Olympic champions.

“When sportswomen refer to themselves as girls,” moaned the self-appointed language police officer, “it gives interviewers licence to describe them in the same way.

“Referring to women as girls undermines what they achieve.”

Well, referring to female scientists or politicians as ‘girls’, perhaps. But sportswomen? No, it doesn’t – any more than Chris Hoy referring to the “team pursuit boys” undermines Bradley Wiggins and Co’s accomplishments.

Sportsmen and –women have always and will always refer to each other as ‘boys’ and ‘girls’. It’s a quirk of language, of human nature, that we use infantilisation to express friendship and camaraderie.

When I asked the complainant for an alternative, the reply was ‘women’. That’s it.

Calling British soldiers in the Middle East ‘Our Boys’ is not to belittle them. Nobody in history has ever gone on a “Women’s Night Out” – or if they have, it didn’t involve much letting down of hair.
When playing sport (playing – therefore inherently childish to some degree) it is even more understandable that the terms ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ are used.

Richardson-Walsh’s “I’m so proud of these girls” and Wayne Rooney’s “I’m so pleased for the lads” are being used in the exact same context. That’s equality right there, isn’t it?

Well, perhaps not. As sure as night follows day – or maybe knight follows dame – an accusation of “mansplaining” was made… by a man, ironically.
Now, I’m aware “mansplaining” exists. But, all too often, accusations of mansplaining are used as a tool to shut down debate.

“Even if a discriminated population occasionally over-reacts to language used in a non-discriminatory fashion,” the man mansplained, “it will be because that language CAN be and HAS been used in a discriminatory fashion and it’s not your place to tell them that it’s not so.”

Er, with respect, this is utter bilge.

Of course the word ‘girl’ can be used in a disaparaging way. Yet the same is true of virtually any word – ‘woman’ included. See ‘bloody women’, ‘women drivers’, ‘stop being such an old woman’. But nobody would advocate a moratorium on the word ‘women’ just because it features in certain undesirable phrases.

It is understandable that such over-reactions occur. But for the politically correct language prefects to forbid anyone from calling them out leads us down a dark path where context becomes irrelevant. And once words can be blacklisted (if, indeed, I’m allowed to say ‘blacklisted’) regardless of context, we paint ourselves into a corner, linguistically.

Context is everything. I’m all for pushing to make uttering the phrase ‘throw like a girl’ a more eyeroll-worthy offence. But greeting a group of female friends with a cheery ‘Hi, girls’ is not the same thing.
If there is a sexist stigma to words such as ‘girls’, then let’s work to destigmatise them rather than wrench them from the vocabulary altogether.
Otherwise, we’ll be able to call men ‘boys’, ‘blokes’, ‘lads’, ‘guys’, ‘geezers’, ‘dudes’ and ‘bros’ but we won’t be allowed to describe women as anything other than ‘women’, without being perceived as sexist. How terribly po-faced.
I’m not advocating a return to the commonplace use of ‘chicks’ or ‘birds’ (although, again, in context, it would be churlish for anyone to moan about calling GB goalie Maddie Hinch “one awesome chick” for her penalty shootout heroics). Yet ‘girls’, particularly when framed in the colloquial, friendly way it was during the Olympics, is innocuous. 

Social progression has come a long way in a short space of time. Not long ago, there would have been a lot more focus on the hockey players’ looks.

Finding offence where none is intended hampers the cause. That’s particularly true when you’re criticising a vocal feminist, openly gay, hard-as-nails double Olympic medallist for being unhelpful in the fight for equality.
In terms of role models for girls (actual, literal, under-18 girls) and minorities (hell, even majorities), it’s hard to imagine someone more inspirational than Richardson-Walsh.
And this is my gripe with the current state of the feminist movement.

Often, it goes after the wrong targets, picks the wrong battles, alienates those supportive of their cause.
This is not a trait limited to feminism, either. I see it across a lot of the Left and among minority groups battling for equality.
I’m regularly rendered agog by some of the more visceral attacks launched by trans-activists at their allies for some perceived minor trangression in terminology used, for example.
Of course, on a more public level, the Labour Party is taking this self-destructive behaviour to new lows. The viciousness of the rival factions on the Left is uncomfortable to witness and counterproductive. Those who cherish social progress and liberalism should unite as best they can, rather than descend into civil war.
I might not agree with the views of the Right, but I have to admit they know their enemy and target their foe with a ruthless efficiency that puts the Left to shame.

Those who see social justice and equality as desirable need to stop sniping at each other if they are to tackle those who wish to deny it. It’s time to band together – both boys and girls.

A Week In The Life Of Eddie Jones

(As imagined by DAVE BROMAGE)

SUNDAY

THE Vunipola brothers both have knee injuries. Well, carrying around that sort of weight has got to put a strain on the old joints.

It’s a blow. Mind you, it means there’ll be more food to go around at dinner time! Have you seen the rest of my squad? They’re positively malnourished.

We’re big favourites to win the Six Nations but I know to my cost how complacency can make you slip up. So I order rubber safety mats in the showers for all.

MONDAY

I’M getting a lot of flak for saying in an interview that I’ll be reincarnated as an otter. But I bloody love those little critters.

We’re quite similar. Otters might look cheeky, cute and chubby-cheeked… but rile us up and we’ll have your fricking fingers off in a heartbeat. 

Also, I’m quite elusive and the best way of tracking me down is by searching for the pungent, fishy faecal deposits I leave in my wake.   


TUESDAY

FORMER Scotland coach Jim Telfer says I’m arrogant and disrespectful like Donald Trump. 

Well, I HAVE made England great again. Bigly. 

Telfer’s problem is he’s just a loser. Sad.

He’s even called Twickenham fans ‘poshos’. It’s totally unfair and inaccurate. I tell the head of the England Supporters Club what Telfer’s said and he damned near chokes on his black-truffle caviar blini.

WEDNESDAY

MIKE BROWN reckons his designer girlfriend Eliza Woodcock has made him a fashion icon. Hmmm, your head still looks like a potato, son. Now it’s just in a more expensive jacket.

George Kruis is the latest injury in training, following Anthony Watson.

“Hey, you either go tough or go home. If you want non-contact, play volleyball,” I tell my players. An hour later, I’ve got a rebellion on my hands. Maro Itoje’s set up the net and the lads refuse to get off court.

THURSDAY

IT’S great that Joe Marler is available to play for us just three weeks after breaking a leg.

He’s put it all down to drinking two pints of milk a day, while I reckon it’s got something to do with all the sea air he gets down in East Sussex.

Certainly beats the usual rugby-player routine of drinking aftershave and breathing in the smoke from the farts you’ve just lit.

FRIDAY

RUMOURS abound of cocaine use in rugby but there’s nothing like that in our squad. Our uber aggression and inflated egos are all natural, I promise.

Not like those football wimps. I read about Saido Berahino testing positive for MDMA. Suspicions were first raised when he was sent on a three-month training camp to Ibiza.

Berahino grew up in Burundi, which is ranked as the second unhappiest place on the planet. Behind Stoke.  

SATURDAY

WE may get called arrogant but it’s hard to be modest when you’re as terrifyingly brutal as we are.
I’ve been building up talk of war this week, because I figured that was all I needed to do to make the French surrender.

Mind you, for a while it looks like we’re the kind of soldiers who shot themselves in the foot. Luckily, Ben Te’o wins it for us in the end.

Fifteen in a row! No one can beat us! And I mean that in a real sense, not the Jurgen Klopp sense.

A Week Of Daft Sports Opinions

In a departure from the usual service, DAVE BROMAGE reviews a week of sports-based opinions, which are – to be frank – utter nonsense…

SATURDAY

OPINION: The London Stadium should be demolished to stop crowd trouble
OPINION HELD BY: Paul Fletcher

IT’S been extra lairy down at the ‘Ammers this season. Why? The new stadium, obviously. It’s that athletics track, you see? You’d think being given one of the most iconic stadia in the world for free would make fans happy but no. Just the sight of that red tarmac strip makes beered-up yobs so full of rage that they can’t help throwing pint glasses and punching visiting – and often home – supporters in the face. In true East End fashion, they only hurts their own (and them’s what deserves it).
The evil, bewitching athletics track is the only conclusion we can draw for this. It’s not like West Ham have a history of violence so infamous that they made a Hollywood movie about it. Or that, as recently as May, they gave Manchester United’s team bus a ticker-tape reception – albeit using coins, bottles and masonry when they ran out of paper.
The only solution, so says former Burnley chief exec Fletcher, is to knock down the entire stadium and start again. I’m envisaging a chilled-out paradise, with the uncomfortable plastic seats replaced by massage chairs close enough so fans can stroke the wingers’ hair as they gambol down the flanks, while a panpipe version of I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles plays over the Tannoy.
Damn the Olympic legacy. Damn it to Hades. We all remember the London riots started in 2012 when shot put fans kicked off because their faves were out in that green bit in the middle.

SUNDAY

OPINION: Telling your boss to “F*** off” is fiiiiine
HELD BY: The FIA

SEBASTIAN VETTEL put the F back into F1 at the Mexican Grand Prix, with a mid-race, expletive-filled rant at cocky teenage upstart Max Verstappen.
It’s not uncommon for an 18-year-old lad, filled with the sense of invincibility which comes from passing his driving test, to drive like – to use Vettel’s words – “a c**t”. So I can fully imagine Verstappen, whose inflated ego has been further validated by being paid £25,000 a race, is a total nightmare.
Yet Vettel didn’t just vent his ire at the Belgian boy racer, he subsequently told race director Charlie Whiting to: “F*** off. Seriously, f*** off.”
FIA president Jean Todt launched an investigation into whether Vettel had brought the sport into disrepute… then decided the German shouldn’t face any punishment. At all.
It prompted all the other drivers to yell: “What the f***? Are you f***ing kidding us, you f***ing idiots?”
The precedent has been set, though, so there’s nothing the FIA can do.

MONDAY

OPINION: England and Scotland should not wear poppies
HELD BY: Fifa

THE FA rightly asked the question: “Why is the poppy banned as ‘a political symbol’, when Ireland were allowed to wear a badge commemorating the Easter Rising?”
“Were they?” responded Fifa, before looking into it and fining the hell out of Ireland. Well, that didn’t quite go to plan. Sorry, Ireland.
Of course, the poppy is not a political symbol. At least not until next year when anybody not wearing one can be jailed for six months.
The FA – showing hitherto undetectable ballsiness – is determined to defy the ban. England players will wear black armbands with a poppy insignia when they take on Scotland next Friday.
That doesn’t go far enough for me. If you really want to stick it to Fifa, go the whole hog and change the entire kit. Get Wayne Rooney sitting on the bench like this guy…

poppy-man-2

TUESDAY

OPINION: Religion is not to be mocked
HELD BY: British Gymnastics

LOUIS SMITH mocked Islamic prayer in a video. And everyone knows you mustn’t mock prayers because otherwise they won’t work.
Ahem.
Aaaanyway, despite apologising, putting up with daily death threats, going on a UK-wide tour or mosques and being publicly flogged on Loose Women (as June Sarpong rang a bell and shouted “Shame” repeatedly), Smith landed a two-month ban for blasphemy from British Gymnastics chiefs.
He broke their code of conduct, which is presumably chiselled on to a stone tablet from the 7th Century and states that: “No gymnast shall mock any religion, suggest praying is silly, laugh at the idea of suicide bombers receiving 72 virgins in the afterlife, or deny the existence of fairies, unicorns or flying reindeer.”
Conclusive, then – and definitely not a case of Islam receiving special protection. Definitely not.
After making their ruling, British Gymnastics chiefs probably went out to watch award-winning musical Book Of Mormon. Hahaha! Stoopid Mormons.
Depressingly, despite having the muscles of a daddy-long-legs, the agility of an ancient sycamore and an inelasticity which makes it impossible for me to touch my upper shins, let alone my toes, it’s my antitheistic columns which are most likely to stop me representing Team GB on the pommel horse.

WEDNESDAY

OPINION: Jamie Vardy is not a natural goalscorer
HELD BY: Michael Owen

BECAUSE lucky Vardy scored 28 goals last season by closing his eyes, hitting and hoping. It’s easily done, really.
It’s a bit embarrassing when someone labels a prolific scorer of goals as “not a natural goalscorer”. Just ask Glenn Hoddle, who once said the same thing about… erm… Michael Owen.
The notion of a naturally occurring goalscorer is an intriguing one. You either score goals or you don’t. If a player scores lots of goals over the course of his career, then suggesting he’s somehow done it unnaturally is just plain weird, Michael.

THURSDAY

OPINION: Ex-Olympic fencers shouldn’t make rules on Brexit
HELD BY: The Daily Mail

GENERALLY, this isn’t actually a bad rule. UNLESS, since their Olympic appearance, those fencers have spent nearly 30 years studying intently the minutiae of British constitutional law, as Sir Terence Etherton has. In which case, it’s fine.
The Mail didn’t seem sure we could trust fencers to be impartial on European matters. En garde? Épée? Flunge? All sounds very French…
Sir Terence and his two fellow wiggy mates ruled that the Government must consult Parliament before pushing the big red Article 50 button.
Theresa May is appealing against the ruling because she can’t accept that she lost, refuses to get over it, and is now hell bent on going down different avenues until she gets the result she wants. Brexiters back her fully.
Both May and Boris Johnson have said that the judges’ decision changes very little and that the emphasis is still very much on getting out of Europe as quickly as possible.
They have approached Jose Mourinho for advice. Hur hur hur.

FRIDAY

OPINION: David Moyes was actually pretty good as Man United boss
HELD BY: David Moyes

OH Moyesy, you can be forgiven a touch of schadenfreude at Mourinho’s United foundering in Europe and lying below Watford in the Prem table.
But you’d look less of a div expressing it if you hadn’t just set the record for the worst start in Premier League history.
Think it through, Davie, yeah?

Catholic Church 0 Bromage 1 (Catholic og)

POPE FRANCIS, Mother Teresa, Bloody Mary, Cardinal George Pell, the Borgias, Joseph Ratzinger, the Spanish Inquisition, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the Virgin Mary, the scary monk played by Paul Bettany in The Da Vinci Code, the Singing Nun, erm, God, Father Dougal… can you hear me? Father Dougal, your boys took one hell of a beating!

It’s an upset to end all upsets to be sure, but apparently in my last column I successfully managed to bully the Catholic Church – the largest denomination of the largest religion on the planet. Go little ol’ me!

According to David Morson’s letter to the Observer on February 11, my outpourings were “a chilling reminder of the worst form of inflammatory and bullying rants designed to galvanise opposition to minority groups by some 20th Century authoritarian regimes”.

And there I was, thinking I was merely arguing that religious institutions should not indoctrinate children in state-funded schools. In reality, I was coming over all Adolf Hitler. Remember him? The guy whose Roman Catholic upbringing forged his belief that the Jews should be punished for their Christ-killing ways?

What form did this alleged bullying take? Did I give the Pope a wedgie and steal his lunch money? Did I threaten Catholics with eternal torture in the fiery pits of Hell? That would have been out of order.

No, a little light mockery and calling out religious leaders for targeting the ductile minds of children was enough to get me chucked in with the likes of Pol Pot, Josef Stalin and the Kim dynasty.

It takes mere milliseconds these days for certain religious quarters to whip out the victim card in the face of criticism.

Firstly, I’m not apologising for having a dig at religious “fairy tales”. For example, the Catholic tenet of transubstantiation – the belief that wafers and wine literally transform into Christ’s flesh and blood inside your body – is clearly nonsense, should be rightfully mocked and has no place being taught to children as fact even outside of taxpayer-funded schools. If you don’t want your beliefs ridiculed, don’t hold ridiculous beliefs.

That Mr Morson went on to insist that the Catholic ethos is not only compatible with but also beneficial to science is laughable.

Tell that to Giordano Bruno. No, wait, you can’t, he was burnt at the stake by the Catholics for questioning transubstantiation and believing the Earth went round the Sun.

In the case of the Catholic Church, whose record on child welfare has in recent years been shown up to be (understatement alert) a bit iffy, the myth of a war on religion is a diversionary tactic, an example of DARVO (Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender).

Indeed, there was something peculiarly apt, if rather sobering, about the fact that Mr Morson’s letter was published on the same day the Vatican (possibly still punch-drunk from my withering, bullying attack)  issued guidance to its priests that the clergy were not obliged to report child abuse.

Now THAT’S a chilling reminder – that powerful institutions must be held to account and that people shouting “persecution” where no persecution exists should not make us feel cowed into giving these organisations a free pass.

After all, many religious people have reconciled themselves with the idea that the vast majority of humans will end up suffering for eternity.

To quote the fantastically forthright critic of religion Helen Pluckrose: “If your religion states an intention to do me horrific harm, how dare you claim you are the one being victimised by my verbally expressed disapprobation?

“If I were supporting a regime that intended to round you up and subject you to horrendous brutality for not sharing my worldview, I am sure you would have something to say about this.”

I don’t write my religious-bashing columns for the likes of Mr Morson, in any case. I write them for those who may be wavering in their faith, confused about why the stories they were taught in their childhood don’t hold up to any kind of scrutiny. I’ve been there.

I’m not arrogant enough to think I could deconvert anyone, but I hope I can offer some comfort to anyone worried about the consequences of losing their faith. It’s fine. Genuinely. In fact, it’s more than fine. After the initial, short-lived, feeling of embarrassment that you were taken in for so long, it’s great, freeing, and opens up a world of awe and opportunity.

The angry letters in response to my columns, however, replete with logical fallacies, occasional vitriol and repeated irrationality, do more to show up religion as an ill-thought-out human construct  than my writing could ever do.

I’ve spoken to a surprising number of readers about the confused word salads that my columns provoke and one phrase crops up over and over: “That letter was a bit of an own goal, wasn’t it?”

So, please, do keep responding. Here’s another through ball – feel free to boot it into the back of your own net.

Let’s ignore Bremain ‘experts’ and their shameful fact-based scare tactics

(This column was published in the Herts & Essex Observer on May 19, 2016)

PROJECT FEAR! Are you, like me, infuriated by the Bremain campaign’s strategy of trying to scare us into staying in the European Union?

Hardly a day goes by without us hearing dire warnings from the likes of Prime Minister David Cameron, Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, head of the IMF Christine Lagarde, US president Barack Obama and the heads of state of our other allies, former chiefs of Nato, the London School of Economics, MoneySavingExpert’s Martin Lewis, the RSPB, the National Trust and other leading environmental groups, Professor Stephen Hawking and other eminent scientists, top health professionals and researchers, travel firms and airlines… well, the list is endless.

These so-called ‘experts’ indulge in hyperbolic exhortations about how Brexit would have a detrimental, if not downright ruinous, effect on the UK in terms of the economy, the environment, our health, our standing in the world and our security, not to mention peace across the continent in general.

I am appalled at the fearmongering by people whose only right to talk about the subject on which they are pontificating seems to be years of research and study and a so-called ‘expertise’ in these matters.

Well, I’ve never been one to scare easily. I’m more willing to listen to Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan-Smith and Nigel Farage, who dismiss these doomy portents with a haughty exhalation and a dismissive flick of the wrist.

I’ll admit, I’d be more assured if they offered facts to support their rejection of the claims of these so-called ‘experts’ but, as one fellow Brexiteer opined wisely in conversation the other night: “You don’t need facts. It’s just common sense.”

Indeed, did we need facts when Britain owned half the planet? Rarely. The only fact one needed was that the British Empire was bally marvellous. Rule Britannia! Britannia rules the waves! We could have that again, you know, if we weren’t shackled to the anchor that is the EU.

How dare Cameron claim that a Leave vote on June 23 would plunge us immediately into World War III and a catastrophic nuclear holocaust from which the planet would never recover? Or words to that effect. I didn’t hear the speech first hand, merely read the analysis by Leave.EU – and it’s not like them to erect straw-man arguments just so they can tear them down.

Of course, Brexit could precipitate the break-up of the EU, as others decide to follow the UK’s lead. The worst that could happen then is that a bloc of countries – many with increasingly Far Right-leaning governments, with nationalist agendas rather than a co-operative, Europe-wide one – is left in its wake. And who’s to say that’s a bad thing? That type of scenario hasn’t caused an issue in Europe for 98 years (if you discount World War II).

Such tactics won’t put us off. Why should it?

It’s time we stopped being governed by fear. Everywhere you turn, there are signs warning of potential dangers. Our friends, our parents, our teachers and others in authority can’t stop themselves dispensing their cautionary pearls of wisdom, which come with the implication that disaster may follow if such advice is not heeded.  

What we need to do in these situations is seek counsel from elsewhere. From those who tell us everything’s going to be all right. So let’s ignore anti-Brexit, anti-Britain, half-Kenyan Obama. At least Donald Trump is very much in favour of the Leave campaign.

So, too, are Marine Le Pen – leader of Le Front National in France – and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

These are the folk we should be listening to.

I know I’ve always found it useful, when my friends warn me against doing something rash, to turn instead to a cabal of assorted bigots who reaffirm my pre-existing convictions.

If Trump doesn’t become President and the American electorate chooses Hillary Clinton – who agrees with Obama that the US would trade with the EU ahead of an isolated UK – then screw ’em.

We don’t need the USA, either. We’re quite capable of negotiating trade deals with the likes of China and Saudi Arabia. Russia, too, will certainly be more amenable to doing business with us in the event of Brexit. No issues there.
The fact that there is not one reputable study which concludes we will be better off out is irrelevant. But our allies and so-called ‘experts’ advising us against Brexit is troubling.
It goes without saying that the EU is 100 per cent bad. Even the Remain camp admits there are massive flaws with it, which proves the point.
So, what have the naysayers got to gain by us staying in? Far better not to take their consternation at face value and instead believe there is some sinister-yet-nebulous benefit for them that isn’t for the greater good.

It may appear that shouting “Project Fear”, “Scaremongering” or “Boogeymen” every time the Remain campaign raises a seemingly valid concern is merely a diversionary tactic – albeit one as effective as the whistling of a man at a busy urinal trough who remembers all too late that he had asparagus for lunch.
But this climate of trepidation needs to end. Ignore the pessimists and doom merchants.
Drink that one for the road, date that convicted wife beater, put all your chips on black, take out that pay-day loan, eat those prawns with the January use-by date, pet that hungry ocelot, stick that fork in the toaster and live your life.
Vote Brexit without fear. What’s the worst that could happen?

State-sanctioned life support for our dying church

(An edited version of this article was published in the Herts & Essex Observer in January 2016)

I’M always a little suspicious when a church leader is supremely confident about something against all the evidence.I know, I know. I shouldn’t be. This “faith in something being certain despite all available data pointing towards the contrary” is kinda their thang.

But still, we’re not talking about the concept of an ethereal creator controlling the lives of his human puppets here. What’s got my skepti-senses tingling is the Anglican church’s reaction to something for which the evidence against is even more damning: that the Church of England is not dying.

Figures released last month showed that CoE attendances had dipped below one million. Sunday attendances were down to 764,000 (take out the number of district councillors and it’d probably be double digits).

The demographic of church members is hardly rosy, either. The majority are old. Really old. Bruce Forsyth, Duke of Edinburgh, Mumm-Ra from Thundercats old. And a church made up mainly of ancient parishioners does not seem to have much cause for optimism – at least, not here on Earth.

Younger generations, particularly those between 18 and 40, are increasingly irreligious. And this atheism and agnosticism is sticky: A child raised in a non-religious household is far more likely to be non-religious in adulthood than a child raised in a religious family will continue to believe in God once they have grown up.

As the godless heathens breed, so the number of Christians will decrease. In fact, if the current downward spiral continues, UK-born Christians will be extinct by 2067.

Yet the Archbishop of Canterbury is not all doom and gloom. Yes, he admits, one per cent of his congregation dies off every year. Yes, he admits, things will continue to get worse before they improve. But, he claims, they will improve and more people will be drawn to the church in the next few years.

How is he so cocksure of this?

The Most Rev Justin Welby explained: “It is easy to paint a very gloomy picture. In this country, many talk of the post-Christian society but the CoE educates more than a million children in our schools…”

Ah, so this is the plan. Get ’em while they’re young. 

He may as well have said: “We can’t get grown-ups to believe our fairytales any more, so we have to indoctrinate them early.”

For the only adults of whom you hear turning to Christ tend to have been recently either incarcerated, intoxicated or bereaved. The Church does a grand job as a safety net for the vulnerable in society.

And there are none so vulnerable as children, with their pliable, Play-Doh minds. People can’t be forced to go to church but they do have to go to school – and this is increasingly the CoE’s only recourse of survival.

Let’s be blunt: If religious leaders (of all faiths) truly, TRULY believed their god was the right one, they would be confident enough to let children mix with those who thought otherwise.

Teaching children provably false stories (never let me sit through a Nativity play with a QI klaxon) at school is an artificial way of keeping the movement alive – a disingenuous life-support machine.

It was ever thus, of course. But it seems more sinister now, as the country’s population becomes demonstrably less religious, while efforts to inculcate kids double.

It could be seen as a drastic manoeuvre in its death throes – the last whip of the tail of Tolkien’s mortally wounded Balrog.

But, in this Conservative government, the Church has a State perfectly willing to go along with the plot.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, for example, seems to be delighting in her role as a Boudicca-style heroine, fighting off the secularists in their War on Christianity.

Last week, the resilient minister slapped a ban on “vexatious” campaigns aimed at stopping state-funded schools discriminating on religious grounds in their admissions criteria.

Oddly, of the 42 schools the Fair Admissions Campaign took to court, 41 were found to be acting illegally.

Yet rather than reform the system, Morgan wants to prevent these troublemakers from digging up any more dirt so that this educational apartheid can continue.

Full disclosure: My son attends a CoE school. As I discussed in a previous column, this may suggest hypocrisy on my part but also highlights the distinct paucity of provisions for non-believers. We’re lucky our school does not do as St Mary’s Catholic School in Stortford does, and select 100 per cent of pupils on a religious basis.

For St Joseph’s primary, “any other applications” (ie non-religious) is the 12th criterion of a very Catholic-heavy selection process.

Now, I don’t know why a non-religious parent would want to send their child to a school which states “Catholic doctrine and practice permeate every aspect of the school’s activity” (how’s that work for science, by the way? Or PE?). But nevertheless, its discriminatory nature is not becoming of a state-funded organisation.

That’s not to say St Joe’s is acting illegally. Hell no, Morgan wants more of these schools, of different religions, each teaching their faith, their denomination, as correct (with all others therefore wrong).

And the Government wonders why society isn’t as cohesive as it might be.

This isn’t the first time the evangelical Morgan has sided with religion over the wishes of parents and the findings of the courts.

In December, after humanist families won a High Court case, with the Government judged to have acted illegally by excluding non-religious worldviews from the curriculum, the Education Secretary issued guidance to schools in which she doubled down on her position.

High Court, Schmigh Court!

Schoolchildren, she asserted, should be taught that Britain is a Christian country, which is becoming something of a desperate mantra among the more fundamentalist members of the Tory party.

It’s a shame that only 1.7 per cent of the population agree with her enough to bother going to church.

And a shame that those of us who don’t believe in God are being told constantly that this nation is not our own.