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Here’s a Picture of the Pope Blessing Uganda “Kill the Gays” Bill Proponent

Posted by Ethan Clow on December 14, 2012

Here’s a picture of the Pope blessing Uganda’s Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga who is also a “Kill the Gays” bill proponent, which she is trying to force through Uganda’s parliament.


Sick to your stomach yet?

In more hopeful news, it appears that the “Kill the gays” bill has been delayed until February 4th, 2013. More time to bring as much pressure on Uganda (and the fucking Pope) to stop this.

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When Dogma Kills

Posted by Ethan Clow on November 26, 2012

Here’s a sad example of the harm of religious dogma. By now you’ve probably heard of the death of Savita Halappanavar. We discussed this story on Radio Freethinker last week.

Savita was dentist who lived in Galway, Ireland and was 17 weeks pregnant, she went to the hospital after experiencing back pains, she was found to be miscarrying. After some time in agonizing pain, she asked for the pregnancy to be terminated,  she was refused because quote “because the foetal heartbeat was still present and they were told, “this is a Catholic country”.”

She had to suffer through 2 and a half more days of agony until the fetus died and was removed. Savita was then moved to high intensity care, where she later died of septicaemia.

What moves this beyond the realm of terrible tragedy is the statements from Savita’s husband, Praveen, who said that when they learned that the baby was dying as a result of the miscarriage and after being informed that there was nothing they could do to save the baby, Savita asked for an abortion. But the hospital staff refused, saying the baby would die naturally within a few hours.

But that’s not what happened, instead the trauma continued for days. Even when Savita became critically ill, the staff still refused to abort the pregnancy.

Because of Ireland’s anti-abortion laws, two lives were lost and a family was destroyed.

Not only is abortion illegal in Ireland, it’s illegal for doctors to tell patients about their abortion options in other countries, it’s also illegal for people to travel to another country for an abortion. The only way an abortion is legal in Ireland is if it’s necessary to save the mother’s life. However the wording of the laws have been kept intentionally vague to prevent doctors from administering abortions.

Despite the fact that in 2010 European Court of Human Rights judgment demanded Ireland clarify the status of abortion in Irish law.

The abortion laws in Ireland are directly tied to the nation being a stalwart “Catholic” and “Christian” nation. The regressive views of the Catholic church on abortion have been well documented in the past so we don’t need to spend too much time rehashing them. The implications of these abortion laws is a demonstrable affront on the autonomy of women in Ireland and access to medical treatment that the rest of the population enjoys. It should also be noted that the hospital was in fact, a Catholic hospital.

Getting back to the situation in Ireland, Savita’s death has sparked international outrage and protests in Dublin. One Indian newspaper went so far as to suggest that the hospital murdered Savita.

Large protests, occurring twice over the span of 3 days in Dublin have reignited the debate over abortion and according to some reports, have pushed the public opinion to having a more liberal view of abortion. Seeking to address international criticism, Ireland announced its fact-finding investigation would be led by Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, a Sri Lankan-born expert on maternal care who is head of obstetrics and gynecology at St. George’s Hospital in London

However, the reality is that any review could take months, and the Irish government is in no hurry to address its antiquated laws on abortion.

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Remembering Paul Kurtz 1925-2012

Posted by Ethan Clow on October 22, 2012

Yesterday I got the news of the passing of one of the founders of the modern skeptical and humanist movements. Paul Kurtz, who was instrumental in not only in leading the freethought movement, but of creating it, passed away on the 20th. He was 86.

Paul Kurtz was an impressive man. He was a renown philosopher who basically created much of the literature on secular humanism, his writing as an academic is considered to be some of the most important work ever written on the subject of secular humanism. The concept of humanism in general, which Kurtz wrote the most about, was in many ways modernized by him. He stripped out the superstition, the religious rhetoric and created a truly secular frame work to build an ethical and moral system of which our movement relies upon today.

One of the quotes I’ve heard recently that I rather like is that Kurtz was a feared name by religious apologists when names like Dawkins or Hitchens were unknown.

The Centre for Inquiry Transnational has a nice obituary for Kurtz up and I encourage you to check it out.

Kurtz was personally responsible for the founding of several important organizations over the years, including the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, known as CSICOP (currently known as the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) the Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism (currently known as the Council for Secular Humanism) and the Center for Inquiry.

Kurtz was also the founder of the free thought magazine Free Inquiry. He was also the founder of Prometheus Books, a publishing company that was the main supplier of humanist and skeptic literature long before the internet. Later in life, he founded the Institute for Science and Human Values.

I only met Kurtz a handful of times. The first time was at a CFI conference in Toronto. I remember it well, there was a pseudo-anthropologist giving a talk about how the Out-of-Africa theory of human migration was wrong; obviously a rather extreme claim given the amount of evidence that supports that theory. In addition, this fellow was also asserting that human culture was about 10,000 years older than mainstream science would have us believe. During the Q and A, Kurtz stood up and basically said “how can you say that the out of Africa theory is wrong given all the evidence that theory has?” Only he said it with more force and yes, even a little bit of derision. It was pretty cool.

When I introduced myself he was very friendly and told me how important skeptical activism was how he was happy to see me at the conference.

My next few encounters weren’t as fun. Shortly after that conference in Toronto, Kurtz left CFI under frustrating circumstances (for everyone involved) CFI appointed Ron Lindsay as CEO of CFI and Kurtz was asked to take on the role of Chair Emeritus for the three organizations of CFI, CSI, and CSH. However; on May 18, 2010 Kurtz resigned. What followed was something of a war of words between Kurtz and Lindsay, and it got pretty ugly at the time.

When I attended the CFI leadership conference in Amherst, which occurred in the middle of all this, there was palpable tension in the air. When Kurtz showed up, people held their breath in trepidation. Fortunately there weren’t any scenes and everything was okay. And at that conference Kurtz was his usual friendly self, I saw him talking with the student leaders, offering encouragement and thanking them for coming to the conference.

It was at the Secular Humanism Conference in Los Angeles that I attended where Kurtz and Lindsay had a public confrontation. In front of a crowded audience, Kurtz and Lindsay argued over the removal of Kurtz from his positions at CFI all the while the audience members groaned and booed. The panel, which included James Randi, Jennifer Michael Hecht and others, walked off the stage and Randi left the room. It was just a horrible moment and I sat there shaking my head.

During this difficult period Kurtz wrote articles attacking CFI and its direction under Lindsay and it seemed that Kurtz’ legacy was going to be rather depressing.

However, the next TAM that I attended, I was amazed by what I saw (no pun intended) It seemed that Kurtz and Lindsay had buried the hatchet. I saw them talking cordially and apparently they even shook hands.

Looking back on Kurtz and his impact on the skeptic/humanist movement, I hope all his work and accomplishments overshadow the brief time of difficulty he had with his removal from CFI. It’s important to keep in mind that everything that he did accomplish, he did in a time before the internet, he didn’t have the benefit of podcasts and blogs.

His efforts will be remembered and he will be missed.

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Myths about the Black Death

Posted by Ethan Clow on October 2, 2012

Last week on the show we talked a bit about the myths surrounding the Black Death. For those that haven’t heard of the black death, here’s a quick recap. The black death, or bubonic plague, was a pandemic that ravaged across Europe between 1348 and 1350, it is estimated to have killed between 30–60 percent of Europe’s population, reduced the world population from an estimated 450 million to between 350 and 375 million in the 14th century and it took Europe about 150 years for its population to return to pre-plague levels.

We’re going to discuss some of the on-going mysteries about the black death. First, where did it come from?

There are several different theories about where the bubonic (aka black death) plague came from. The most common explanation is that the disease was spread by Yersinia pestis bacterium. (and when I say most common – I mean scientifically proven) However the method of spreading the bacteria is subject to some debate. The generally accepted idea is that fleas spread the bacteria. The fleas would feed on an infected host,  which would cause the fleas’ mid guts to become obstructed by replicating Y. pestis. This blockage results in starvation and aggressive feeding behaviour by fleas that repeatedly attempt to clear their blockage by regurgitation, resulting in thousands of plague bacteria being flushed into the feeding site, infecting a new host.

An additional source of infection would also be the infected carcass – all the dead bodies laying around, which would also increase the chance of being infected.

At the time of the plague, the black death was believed to be caused by rats, specifically black rats which were introduced to Europe from Asia, what we can say with some certainty now is that it was the fleas on the rats which were the real culprits.

But what motivating factors made the plague enter Europe? We don’t know for sure but some of the theories are that: overpopulation of marmots in Asia (which spread the plague to fleas and to rats and to humans) and/or the movement of the Mongols (war is particularly good at spreading disease) or earthquakes that forced rodents out of their burrows (sending carrier rats into Europe)

The unconfirmed point of entry was when Italian soldiers defending the city of Caffa were infected and when they fled from the Muslim armies into Messina in Sicily and then Genoa, they brought the plague to Italy.

Once in Europe, the plague spread through Italy in 1347, by January 1348, it reached southern France, by June and August it traveled to Paris, and in early 1349 it crossed the channel to England. Scandinavia was devastated in 1350 and it reached the northern shores of Russia in 1352.

However, something interesting happened. While the plague spread through Europe like a hot knife through butter; it left some areas completely untouched.

Why would that be?

The areas spared by the plague included the city of Milan in northern Italy, Poland, between Cracow and Warsaw, and the city of Prague.

One rumor is that a statue of the baby Jesus in Prague kept the plague from the city.

But more likely, the answers are less magical. In the case of Milan, the government came up with a rather effective, if not gruesome method. At the first sign of infection, the rulers of Milan would have the house of the infected, along with the three houses next to it, completely walled up. With the people still inside it.

But what about Poland? Well, the truth is hard to come by. There are several theories however. One is that Poland closed its borders to Europe during the plague. Another is that Poland was so under populated and settlements spread apart that the plague couldn’t go through the country. Another idea is that many Jews, who were often blamed for the plague, fled to Poland, since Jews were often isolated from the rest of the populations, they had a much lower percentage of infected people.

Those might all seem plausible but a few of those theories don’t hold water. The idea that Poland closed its borders is unlikely. Nations in the medieval era didn’t really have the ability to “close borders” They didn’t have a wall around the whole country and couldn’t run along the border like they do in Texas. However, cities were able to wall themselves up and could enforce strict rules about who was allowed in and who wasn’t.

Poland also wasn’t that sparsely populated compared to other areas in Europe that were devastated by the black death. So it’s unlikely that theory is true either.

In reality the truth may never be found, records from that period are illusive and since there was no real idea of how the disease spread, finding the right information is very difficult to come by.

So what does the nursery rhyme “Ring around the Rosie” have to do with the black death? Let’s review, here is the rhyme we’re most familiar with:

A pocket full of posies;
Ashes! Ashes!
We all fall down.

The myth is that this creepy sounding nursery rhyme is a reference to the black death. It began around 1347. The “ring around the rosie” refers to the round red rash that is the first symptom of the disease. The practice of carrying flowers and placing them around the infected person for protection is described in the phrase “a pocket full of posies” and the words “ashes” is a corruption or imitation of the sneezing sound made by the infected person. And “we all fall down” is referring to the infected person dying.

Despite this explanation making the rhyme even more creepy and kind of cool, it’s not true. While the references are valid, the rash, sneezing and death were all attributed to the black death, the first recorded use of the rhyme is dated to 1881. For the plague origin to be true, we’d need to assume that children have been reciting this continuously for over five centuries. (meanwhile no one found the time to write down this incredible popular rhyme)

In addition, there are several more versions of this rhyme that appeared around 1881, including the version:

Ring a ring a Rosie,
A bottle full of posie,
All the girls in our town
Ring for little Josie.

Even if we assumed that the myth was true, how could we honestly say that the “plague” version is the real version and that the other variations are corruptions of that one and not the other way around?

Additionally, not only were children reciting this plague inspired nursery rhyme, but it took over six hundred years for someone to figure it out, because it wasn’t until 1961 in a book called Plague and Fire that a connection to the black death was even proposed. The myth has been repeated again and again. It’s one of those enduring stories that gets told and retold and no one along the way questions the veracity of the claims. After all, just some basic research, as I’ve done here, clearly shows the whole concept the plague origin of the rhyme is basically impossible.

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Neil Armstrong, Humanist Explorer?

Posted by Ethan Clow on October 1, 2012

When Neil Armstrong died, I began to wonder about his legacy.

For obvious reasons, he has an assured legacy that will no doubt be remembered for a long, long, time. Being the first human on another world is sort of a big deal. The interesting things about Armstrong were some of the lesser known items in his career. For example, the team at NASA that put together the leadership of Apollo 11 was very careful about picking a man who was humble and cool headed. What they did not want was an egotistical, “typical fighter pilot” type guy.

This level handedness of Armstrong could be seen in his nonchalant attitude to everything. When he, along with the rest of the crew of Apollo 11, found out that they would be the team to go to the moon, he reportedly didn’t react at all but just responded with an “okay, let’s get on with it.”

This humble guy image stuck with him throughout his whole life. He was soft spoken and didn’t get involved in politics. Of course, because of his fame, he was constantly approached to endorse political parties and such. His disinterest could even be seen as a recognition of not buying into his own hype. Also, he was deists.

One time he was involved in an accident where his wedding ring got stuck in the wheel of a grain truck and tore off the end of his finger. He picked up the severed finger and packed it in ice and (most likely) calmly walked into the hospital like nothing happened and had it reattached.

His death comes so soon after Curiosity’s successful landing on Mars that we can’t help but wonder about the future of space exploration by humans. Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted that the first human piloted craft to Mars should be called the Armstrong.

When we consider all of his accomplishments and his amazing legacy and the fact that he remained such a humble man his whole life, I don’t think I’m wrong in suggesting, Neil was in a class in his own as an explorer. What I mean by that is when you think of the other explorers in human history, Columbus, Cortez, Magellan, I mean, these are the people who really only come to close to Armstrong’s accomplishments, but you look at those men and what they stood for and arguably, the horrible things they did as explorers… Armstrong represented such a departure from that mold.

He was in many ways what I think we as skeptics and humanists would like in an explorer. Not there to conquer but truly to explore and advance the frontiers of humanity.

The Apollo missions were for the most part a race to the moon with the Soviets, an attempt to be the first to plant their flag and do a victory lap while the loser seethed quiet indignities. Armstrong, despite being the man at the front of the parade, seemed totally disinterested in the pageantry. At least based on what we know of the guy, Armstrong didn’t see the moon landing as a solely American accomplishment. It wasn’t about extending the reach of a nation into space or claiming territory, but an attempt to go somewhere humanity hadn’t been.

And unlike his predecessors like Columbus, he wasn’t there to conquer. I think it was a turning point in our history of exploration.

When removing Armstrong from the context of the Cold War and space race, what we are left with is a humble man who accomplished something that the whole world could share.

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We Feel Your Pain

Posted by Ethan Clow on August 24, 2012

Just a quick update regarding some of the recent podcast problems. Turns out there was a server crash over at CiTR which whipped out all the podcasts going back to June. Yeah, I know. That’s annoying. Fortunately we have back up copies of all the episodes and you can access them here. As for the most recent episode, we’ll have to re-upload it to CiTR’s servers. This may take a bit of time but don’t worry all that great skeptical content isn’t lost to the aether.

Our apologies (even though this isn’t our fault😉

In the meantime this pretty much sums it up.

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Let’s see…I’m a skeptic, humanist, atheist…

Posted by Ethan Clow on August 23, 2012

There’s been a lot of discussion lately regarding the new Atheism + group/ideology proposed by Jen McCreight, which I think is great. I wanted to throw in my two cents regarding this, Don has already started discussing the topic as well so you can see what he has to say about it. But to start with, let’s consider what’s on the table here. Jen’s new wave of atheism would expand the circle of previous atheist advocacy to include discussion of social justice issues like racism, homophobia, feminism, political issues and more.

To quote her:

“This new wave of atheism isn’t about declaring “We’ve already achieved something better” or “We’re not like those assholes.” You don’t just get your shiny membership pin and get to say you’re done. This is about saying “We want to work TOWARDS something better.” We need to recognize that there’s still room for self-improvement and to address the root of why we’ve been having these problems in atheism and skepticism. We need to focus on actual change instead of prematurely crowning ourselves victorious.”

I think this will be a great project and I really hope this expanded “big tent” wave of atheism activism takes hold of people and really energizes the movement. Of course I suspect there will be some who will dig in their heels and refuse to acknowledge that atheists can have a position on such “wishy washy” topics like politics or social justice.  Or point out the fatal flaw that you can’t take social justice under the microscope like you can with homeopathy.

That of course comes with a bit of irony since there are plenty of skeptics out there that feel the same about atheism in general. You can’t put God under the microscope.

I pretty much left that way of thinking behind years ago. In fact I’m still routinely face palming every time I see some skeptic/atheist/humanist wag their finger at someone because they are attempting to apply some avenue of free thought to a topic that said finger wagging -ist doesn’t think falls under the limited scope of their preferred -ism.

This debate, the question of what we should be skeptical of/what should we focus our resources on, has been going on since there was an organized free thought movement.

When I first joined in I took a look around to see what the pulse of the various groups and organizations was like. I was surveying the room so to speak. Trying to figure out which conversation I would have the most to say in, and coincidently, which conversation I wanted the most to be a part of.

I happen to love the term “skeptic.” I felt then and now, it most accurately describes what I am. Even though I also identify as an atheist, a humanist, a free thinker, a feminist, a progressive, a liberal and so forth.

See, my background, I was an atheist first, more in the teenage rebellion aspect, but I also had a huge love of critical thinking spurred on by reading books by Carl Sagan. This was all before I even knew there was a free thought movement. When I encountered the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast I had this great moment of realization “holy crap there are people who think like I do!”  That was my first clue that there was an organized effort out there to promote the values I saw as important; skepticism, science, atheism, critical thinking…

Perhaps that’s why I really like the term “skeptic” it was the first way of describing my thought process that I heard. Even though the SGU podcast rarely talked about religion or atheism, or dived into political or social justice issues, I felt that with a mandate like skepticism – vigorous rational inquiry into the world, how could you not being on the side of social justice?

Of course not everyone agrees with me. There are some skeptics who just as vigorously deny any connection between skepticism and atheism. Likewise with humanism. Meh. Fuck them I guess. Okay, that was harsh. No, in all seriousness, I wish them well with their chosen goals. Finger wagging aside, I have long said we need every voice possible promoting this rational movement. Those who do wag fingers… yes they can go fuck off because they are in fact hurting our movement. They push away allies and demoralize the rest of us.

I really have no problem with groups like the JREF not engaging in social justice issues because, well, they would suck at that. Who are the JREF’s experts? Magicians and scientists. These aren’t the kind of people who I want weighing in on social justice. Does that mean that when the JREF puts on a big skeptical conference they should avoid having speakers who are historians, sociologists, harm reduction drug activists, criminologists or whomever? No, because in that case those speakers would be experts on those topics and they there’s nothing anti-skeptical about those topics for a bunch of evidence loving folks to digest and debate.

Of course I do have a problem with groups make statements about the limits of our inquiry (it’s free inquiry for a reason, yes?) Obviously we need these groups to be aware of the effect of making events and conferences safe places and welcoming to people who don’t love to hear homeopathy debunked for the umpteenth time. That’s a given and I’m flabbergasted anyone anywhere actually doubts that.

What I like about this Atheism+ thing is that Jen and her other supporters seem keen on brining in the social justice experts, including them in the conversation, and that’s a great way to expand our diversity of topics. Making a point of talking about social justice is great. Having something intelligent to say on it is better.

Here on Radio Freethinker, we have unequivocally supported the “big tent” mentality. By our twentieth episode we had covered such “big tent” ideas like morality, religion, politics, racism and history. And we were just getting started. We’ve discussed everything from ‘how to debate ghost believers’ to harm reduction drug policy and corporal punishment. (Also for the record, we admit to not being experts on anything. We do research and invite people to disagree with us. Sometimes we’re wrong but we’re doing our best to apply our skepticism.)

I joked on Facebook that I was skeptical everything before being skeptical of everything was cool.

So will I identify as an Atheist+? Sure I guess so. I’ll add it to my list. Let me see if I can get this right, bear with me.

I’m a skeptic, I navigate the world around me with a skeptical method of inquiry, I gain my sense of morality and ethics from humanism and when possible, they are informed by science. I’m an atheist, I don’t believe in gods and this is informed by my scientific understanding of how the universe works. Plus(!) I extend my skepticism to my views of social justice; freedom, equality, and kindness. In that, I not only skeptically investigate what social justice policies work, but that I encourage those social justice policies in my skeptical activism.

There. A bit long for a button or logo but that’s what I think.

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Saturday Stub: Maybe Humans and Neanderthals Didn’t…you know…

Posted by Ethan Clow on August 18, 2012

So I’m doing Saturday Stub’s again. For a refresher, this is where I take a small item and write a bit about, not too much since it’s Saturday, but enough to get you thinking.

A while back there was an interesting news story that hinted that perhaps, long ago, our human ancestors interbreed with Neanderthals.

It was not something completely out of the question. Early humans were living areas where there were lots of Neanderthals. The question of course is how much interbreeding and what was the outcome? Not just in biological terms either. What did this mean when it came to human-Neanderthal diplomacy (if I can use that word) Because early humans were sharing space with these folk, it’s likely they were also competing for resources, shelter, and everything else. Did humans and Neanderthals try setting aside their tribalism and interbreeding was the result? Or was this the result of widespread contact that was not always consenting?

But here’s a news story suggesting that the initial idea might not even be true. Quote from The Guardian:

“When scientists discovered a few years ago that modern humans shared swaths of DNA with long-extinct Neanderthals, their best explanation was that at some point the two species must have interbred.

Now a study by scientists at the University of Cambridge has questioned this conclusion, hypothesising instead that the DNA overlap is a remnant of a common ancestor of both Neanderthals and modern humans.”

Basically it comes down to 4% of our genetic link to Neanderthals. One explanation for this connection that most people who lived outside of Africa had, was that their ancestors who left Africa in the past, interbreed with Neanderthals and the native African population, descended from people who didn’t leave the continent never interbreed and thus don’t that that shared 4% of DNA.

Scientists Andrea Manica and Anders Eriksson are suggesting that the so-called 4% is an over-estimation. Further, they suggest that it can be explained as an indicator of a common ancestor that humans and Neanderthals shared about 500,000 years ago.

So what about the fact that Africans don’t share the 4 (or less) percentage of DNA? Manica and Eriksson say that we need to take into account “substructuring” which is the variation of genetics among populations that are not homogeneous or well mixed, as Manica and Eriksson claim African populations were like during the time period in question.

A link to the actual study can be found here.

The folks championing the interbreeding hypothesis, aren’t taking this laying down either (no pun intended) Professor Svante Pääbo, who sequenced the Neanderthal genome, is quoted as saying that Manica and Eriksson’s hypothesis was viewed as “a less parsimonious explanation.”

Pääbo has a paper awaiting peer review that he believes will further support his conclusions.

I eagerly await more human-Neanderthal intrigue.


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BC Humanists to Christy Clark: The Bible is not a source of Wisdom

Posted by Ethan Clow on August 2, 2012

Earlier today the BC Humanist Association issued the following press release in response to BC Premiere and leader of the BC Liberals, Christy Clark who said that she finds the courage and inspiration to make tough decisions from the Bible.


Premier Clark’s Recent Comments Alarm Secularists

1 August 2012

Comments by BC Premier Christy Clark have members of the BC Humanist Association concerned that the separation of church and state may be eroded in Canada’s least religious province.

On a recent episode of 100 Huntley Street, an evangelical Christian talk show, Clark – a “devout Anglican” – stated that she bases some of her decisions on what she learns in the Bible.

The BC Humanists, a non-partisan charity, fear that by basing policy decisions on the Bible, the premier may exclude the views of roughly half of the province that does not identify as Christian, and may follow policies based on faith rather than pragmatic reality.

“Policies should be formed in the best interests of all the people of the province and based on the best available evidence,” says Ian Bushfield, Executive Director of the BC Humanists. “The Bible is of great literary value, but lacks the critical analysis necessary to deal with today’s exceptional challenges.”

Since 1984, the BC Humanist Association has represented atheists, agnostics, and secular humanists across the province. Its vision is a secular society based on the universal values of reason and compassion.

The number of people who identify as Christian in British Columbia was estimated from the 2001 Census.

If you would like more information about this topic or to schedule an interview with Ian Bushfield, please call 778-848-0656 or email

The statements made by Clark, including:

“So I think that’s the hard part, because many times as with many decisions that we face, and we learn this in the Bible, it’s much easier to make a short-term decision that will make everybody happy or that will make your life a little bit easier, than it is to make a long-term decision that’s good for the future but may be tough in the short run…”

and she was also quoted as saying how she was a “devote Anglican” and that it was important to raise children to be “moral.” Clark made these statements on the Christian right-wing TV show 100 Huntley Street.

So what? It’s not like Clark stated that she makes all her decisions based on Biblical scripture. And it’s not like drawing inspiration and faith from the bible is out of the ordinary or in of itself a threat to secularism, right?  Ian Bushfield, Executive Director of the BC Humanists published this letter in response to such thoughts.

” …Among [the] other goals [of the BCHA] is to advocate for secular values in the public sphere. One of these values is a commitment to secularism. […]  Ms. Clark may have intended her statement to be more about the generic courage to take controversial decisions, it can also be seen as using the Bible to defend traditional morality. For example, for the second year as premier, Ms. Clark will not be attending the Vancouver Pride Parade (while it will be the third year that the BCHA will be in attendance). Similarly, while she has pledged to work to fight bullying in schools, her plan is noticeably silent on LGBTQ-bullying – a leading cause of suicides among LGBTQ teenagers. Finally, her commitment to the Bible as a tool for decision making and her emphasis on raising “moral” children will undoubtedly leave her supporting BC’s discriminatory independent school system, where Catholic schools that have fired lesbian teachers receive 50% per-student funding from the government.

The fear that I, and many of our members, have is that if Ms. Clark bases some of her decisions on the Bible (the ability to undertake long term policy despite short term controversy), she may base other decisions on the Bible too. My point with the statement is that there are much better principles to derive public policy from than a book that many consider to be inerrant.

Regardless of the above arguments, it is further questionable for the premier of a province as diverse as BC to appear on a Christian talk show in the first place, unless she makes a habit of appearing on all faith and cultural talk shows.

My goal with the release was not to demonize Christianity or her right to read the Bible, but to draw attention to the dangers of an elected official basing their decisions on religion and ideology.

Finally, the BCHA is a democratically governed organization, and all members are entitled to their opinions, including dissenting ones. I believe that this statement falls within the majority view within our organization (as I have received a number of supportive emails since the release) but I am open to changes in the group. You are welcome to make your case among our members – either through the email list-serv (, a post on our blog ( …”

Well said, Ian.


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Who Killed the Avro Arrow?

Posted by Ethan Clow on July 4, 2012

Have you heard of the Avro Arrow?

The Avro Arrow was a fighter jet created by Avro Aircraft for the use of the Canadian air force. However it was a plan that never took off. Get it? Planes? Take off? Baw ha ha. Anyway.

More accurately called the CF-105 Arrow, and also more accurately referred to as an interceptor aircraft, designed specifically to prevent missions of enemy aircraft. However this role is largely obsolete these days as modern jets are already fast enough and other weaponry like surface-to-air missiles provide better defence.

But the big question is the fate of the Arrow. Not long after the 1958 start of its flight test program, the development of the Arrow (including its Orenda Iroquois jet engines) was abruptly and controversially halted before the project review had taken place, sparking a long and bitter political debate and many conspiracy theories.

We should provide some context as to why this particular jet was so important in the first place. The Arrow was one of the fastest jets ever built. During the 1950’s the Arrow was achieving speeds of mach 2, which for the time, made the Arrow one of the fastest jets ever.

Aviation experts were pretty amazed by the Arrow, and rightly so, it was sleek, fast, and a technological marvel. Obviously with all the excitement going around about the Arrow, Canadians were feeling a lot of pride at this new creation.

Why did Canada need such fast weapons? Well, keep in mind this was during the cold war and the USSR was right across the North Pole from Canada. Also in 1954 the USSR unveiled their long range Tupolev bombers, which worried a lot of Canadians. Back in those days the big concern was nuclear war. And part of the arms race was not just about building new and more powerful nuclear bombs but also developing a delivery system for those bombs.

Consider how far apart Russia and the US were. Launching missiles back and forth over the oceans and continents wasn’t exactly pragmatic. So of course they would need jets and boats and everything in between to get those bombs to their targets. Building jets that had the ability to fly higher and faster and farther meant that a nation had a much greater ability to deliver its nuclear weapons. And when the USSR developed long range bombers, something needed to be done.

The Royal Canadian Air Force believed they needed 600 fast jets to defend the north from the Soviets. Thus, the Arrow was built.

The Arrow also had some pretty cutting edge design, notably the delta-wings which allowed for more room for fuel and weapons while at the same time providing the same quality of speed and altitude.

The downside was that the Arrow was enormously expensive. The initial cost which was green lit by the St. Laurent Liberals was 190 million for 29 Arrows. Of course as Avro started to improve the design the cost went up, by the time Diefenbaker and the Conservatives took office, the Arrow was looking to cost about $12 million each. So if the government was going to purchase 600 Arrows, as the air force requested, the total price tag would have been around 7 billion and change.

Whereas purchasing an American jet that was comparable to the Arrow would have cost about 1/6th as much.

On February 20th 1959, the Arrow was canceled. The reasons being there was a recession and the cost of building the Arrow couldn’t be justified without foreign interest, so controversially, the program was scrapped. Nearly 30,000 employees of Avro were put out of work by the decision and the plans and blue prints were destroyed.

And that was the end of the story.

Or was it?

Enter the conspiracies.

There seems to be about 3 main conspiracies out there:

  1. Diefenbaker was in cahoots with the American Military complex and cancelled the Arrow because the jet threatened American dominance of jets or something.
  2. American politicians put pressure on Diefenbaker to cancel the Arrow and he caved to their pressure.
  3. Diefenbaker had a personal vendetta against the Arrow and those who made it and canceled it out of spite.

You’ll notice something similar about the conspiracies:

They all seem to focus on Diefenbaker – notice how he’s either a schemer, a push over, or petty. We should keep this in mind as we know that Diefenbaker was a rather unpopular Prime Minister, and he had just defeated the Liberals in an election and was under the microscope from a skeptical public.

But moving on, could any of these theories be true? They could, it’s not like they involve aliens or bigfoot or something. But are any of these likely? Well, not really. Let’s take a close look at the conspiracies.

1) Diefenbaker was in cahoots with the American military – part of this theory comes from the idea that after canceling the Arrow, Dief allowed the Americans to build Bomarc and SAGE (Semi-Automatic-Ground-Environment) installations in Canada. And this also led to Canada getting (more permanent) Nuclear weapons. And of course NORAD.

The idea of Dief in cahoots with Americans is rather silly. He was known as being somewhat anti-American. He wanted to shift trade from America to Britain, which was one of his more contentious political ambitions. And while he did have a friendly relationship with American President Dwight Eisenhower, a deal of that was probably motivated by their similar farm boy upbringing. But there was very little to suggest that Dief would be a friend to American industry and business.

This theory also places all the blame on Dief and ignores some serious facts of the world. During this time, the superpowers were racing to develop ICBM’s (Inter-Continental-Ballistic-Missiles) which would make bombers obsolete. As well as interceptors since the missiles were too small and fast for jets to catch them. Thus, NORAD and such military alliances were mostly reasonable things for Dief to consider.

2)  American politicians put pressure on Diefenbaker to cancel the Arrow? The Americans were also developing interceptors like the Arrow. The idea being that the Arrow was a threat to the American built jets and if developed would put pressure on the American control of the industry.

This ignores the fact that the Americans considered purchasing the Arrow but a simple cost-benefit analysis showed that they could build their own jets for less money. And this wasn’t unique to America. Britain and France both came to this conclusion independently. Combined with the change of technology mentioned earlier, the Americans probably realized that Interceptors weren’t worth the time and resources.

This also seems to imply that the Americans wanted Canada to be less militarily developed. However the Americans gained very little from such a scenario. With NORAD they would basically be defending two countries instead of one, how does that benefit America?

It also seems to place a lot guilt on the military industrial complex, which at this point in history was actually just beginning. There really wasn’t a complex in place yet for American politicians to protect.

3) Diefenbaker had a personal vendetta against the Arrow? Dief was known to be a rather grumpy person and difficult to get along with. There are reports of him having heated meetings with Crawford Gordon, the head of Avro. Could this be true?

It’s certainly possible that Dief didn’t like Avro. But to suggest that the reason he canceled the Arrow was because of this also ignores some important facts. First, it was actually the Liberals who first considered canceling the Arrow, however before they could there was an election which they lost. Also the cancelation wasn’t a surprise. The Conservatives sent several warnings to Avro that the program would be scrapped.

When the Arrow was canceled, Avro fired its workers the same day. Avro blamed Diefenbaker for the firings and then re-hired about 2500 employees to finish other projects.

It was Avro who fired employees, not the government, putting the blame on Dief isn’t really accurate, especially when the Arrow as already considered a cost over-run by the previous government and had been issued warnings before cancelation. It’s also fair game to put more the blame on Avro as well. Prior to gaining the military contract to build the Arrows, Avro had been heavily involved in civilian and commercial industry, but they switched all their focus to military and when they lost the Arrow they had nothing as a company to fall back on.

There are some bonus conspiracies to go along with ones I mentioned: After the Arrow as cancelled, all the plans and blue prints were destroyed. This has led some to infer that the conspiracies about Dief were true, why destroy the plans unless there was some conspiracy with America to snuff the Arrow?

The most reasonable conclusion was that they were worried about Soviet espionage. This may seem rather “extraordinary” to us now, but given the historic context, the cold war and fear of spies, it made a lot of sense.

Were all the Arrows destroyed? One theory suggests that one of the Arrows was kept hidden.  The rumours that an Arrow got away started the day of the cancellation. Some people reported hearing the Arrow with its Iroquois engine taking off. Others said that one night Avro was cordoned off and several covered flatbed trucks were seen leaving the plant. One source of the rumors has to do with the photos of the destruction. In one overhead shots of the Avro building, one can see five Arrows with one partially disassembled. In the side view, you see the same partially disassembled Arrow in the foreground but one Arrow is missing from the photo. Did it escape or was it simply in the hangar?

In Dec of 2011 an ejection seat was discovered in the UK and confirmed to have belonged to an Arrow. How did it get there? There is speculation that Air Marshal W.A. Curtis spirited away in an Arrow before it could be destroyed. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen. He did imply in an interview with the Toronto Star in 1968 that if he had stolen one, he wouldn’t admit to it, stating when asked “I don’t want to talk about that.”

Perhaps adding insult to injury, when the Arrow was canceled, a blow was struck to the Canadian aerospace industry that it never recovered from. Many of the engineers and scientists who were fired by Avro were immediately hired by NASA. This has led many to believe that the team of Avro scientists were also anticipating a Canadian Space Program and building a ship to go to the moon. However there is no evidence for such plans and the idea can probably be attributed to a fictional movie about the Arrow produced by the CBC.

The loss of the Arrow was an unfortunate turn of events for Canadian military pride, and the media of the time ran with it all the way to the bank. The outcry was so out of proportion and especially when you consider that given the circumstances, the Arrow as destined to be canceled, it just so happened that the government who did was Diefenbaker and the Conservatives.


Canada: From Empire to Umpire, Hillmer and Granatstein.


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