News
The Power Of Light Works
July 2019
LightSail 2 is changing its orbit using only the power of sunlight. The Planetary Society announced this week that their LightSail 2 solar sail is working well, and actually raising the orbit of the spacecraft as it travels around the Earth. According to mission managers, they've been able to raise the orbit of the spacecraft by about 2 kilometers at the high point of its orbit. Unfortunately, they'll only be able to go for about a month before the sail dips into the atmosphere at the low point of its orbit and it crashes.
Sci-Fi Writers Include Religion
October 2018
At his appearance at the American Writers Museum in Chicago, John Scalzi said that it is important that science fiction writers include religion in their universes, "When 5 billion people out of 7 billion very strongly have professed religious belief of some sort or another, to ignore it, minimize it or just say it doesn't matter is foolish," he said.
A Good God?
James C. Rocks
In 2002 two young British girls went missing from the house of one of their parents. I followed the story to its inevitable conclusion with the girl's bodies being found in shallow graves near an airbase in Surrey and a couple in their home village being arrested for their murder.

A Good God? Throughout the whole, two-week-long, episode I was almost traumatised ... I am a father of two girls (they were very young then) and whenever the names of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells' were mentioned an ice-cold hand gripped my heart and my thoughts turned to safety of my own young children.

For a long time after, I read papers, followed news reports, listened to people discussing it and more. Some wanted people like these hanged for such things but I suspect they were just using it (albeit unconsciously) to justify the return of capital punishment. Capital punishment isn't a solution ... though it will stop known offenders re-offending it will not stop paedophiles as they are somehow convinced of the absolute correctness of the appalling acts, they carry out plus, as is always the way with capital punishment, what if we kill the wrong person?

I've tried to think of things that can help and the best I've been able to come up with is the formation of voluntary cyber patrols (in line with the concept of the voluntary police) who could be specially trained to "sniff out" such people in the chat rooms they frequent and pass that information along to the police who would then deal with it. I've tried to think of forms of punishment and all I could come up with is the concept of "Coventry" (being sent away from civilisation for a period of time and being denied, in this case, the benefits of society) for those who commit crimes of specific types.

Coventry, as a concept, has been the subject of a number of science fiction tales and I envisage such a "facility" as being a large island somewhere off the coast of Britain, put up fencing and towers around it for guards and consign to it all persons guilty of any murder (arguably regardless of the reason they carried out the act). I would allow all consignees to take one suitcase of possessions with them (no weapons or electronic goods) and it goes without saying that there would be no electricity, food or shelter or whatever within the area except what the consignees decided to build themselves.

But I digress ...

Three things have really got under my skin; the first is the media coverage, the tabloid press in particular ... it has been intrusive on the family's grief and nauseating in the way it has covered the issues but the most important point is that it was near impossible for the accused (found guilty) to get a fair trial. I fully support the concept of free speech for the press but surely that goes hand-in-hand with the assumption that they will act responsibly? As far as I can tell they are not, they are obstructing due process of law and should be appropriately penalised for it. The second thing that grates is the voyeurs ... are you a voyeur? If you visited the village of Soham or any of the places involved in the investigation or posed your children in front of the candles for a photograph (as it was reported some have) then you are no better than a sexual voyeur!

However, this is an atheism-oriented piece so the third one is the one I wish to concentrate on and that is the sickening garbage that comes from the more religious of our communities at times like this. Until recently I was surprisingly pleased not to be able to point the finger of accusation at the vicar of the community affected as he did nothing more than sympathise with the families instead of giving us the usual vacuous platitudes. Nevertheless, such platitudes have been offered!

Two girls are dead, brutally murdered at the hands of one of society's more callous and perverted individuals and what do the theists say?

Some say that "God" is in absolute control of all things and nothing happens against "His" will and/or that it's all our own fault for not praying enough! What a charming deity such a god must be ... remind me not to invite "Him" to dinner next time I have a party. Others say that "God" allows/causes evil to happen now because it will bring about some future, unspecified benefit? As I said above, I was quite impressed with the Vicar of Soham (Tim Alban Jones) until I read that he said "We are trying to emphasise all that's positive and good that has come out of this, as well as the hurt and loss."

I wonder what possible benefit the brutal slaying of two young girls could possibly bring us? Perhaps the girls were killed so that their parents could form an organization to keep this from happening to other children.

And of course, there are the usual meaningless blatherings from those who would try to have us believe that something good has come out of all of this (as indeed the good reverend hinted at) ... whichever way you look at it, "God" cannot lose!

If the girls had been found safe and sound (or at least, alive) we would hear about how prayers had been answered ("Praise the Lord") but the girls are dead ... no doubt we'll hear someone say that they're in a better place in heaven ("Praise the Lord").

Of course, we are told, "God" is not responsible for this atrocity, "God" is above such petty human abominations but hold on, there's a problem with that kind of logic. To believe in the Christian god you have to believe that "He" created everything (otherwise that god is something other than the Christian god) and that means that "He" created men and women with the capacity to kill little girls so "He" is absolutely responsible for the actions of his creations.

If "God" is all powerful, if "God" is perfect, if "God" loves us then why the hell didn't he intervene to strike down the sadistic bastards that did this in the first place? "Oh!" We are told, "The answer is simple, "God" doesn't get involved in human affairs!" Of course, "God" doesn't (except of course to blame us for not being godly enough) ... it really is enough to make one sick! The Abrahamic god can create a universe (our universe) & can prevent men from having babies through the use of physical laws yet somehow "He" can't use physical laws to keep people from raping and killing children.

If that's omnipotence then it's a very, very selective form ... so selective in fact, that one is led inescapably to one of two views: Either that deity does not exist or it is the most vicious, immoral creature possible.

Don't get me wrong I don't think Christians are inherently bad people but the faith they follow is seductive, it offers them a hope for the future and a place where they can stand and imagine they are in some way morally superior or better than everyone else.

Perhaps this is because they don't like to entertain the possibility that these two little girls might have been killed because that's what their god wanted. But who, it has to be asked, really wants to follow a deity that can allow such things to happen and it is (to me at any rate) comforting to know that the most realistic of the two options is the former, that "God" does not exist ... this is a far better option than being dominated by the ruthless, psychotic being that the Christian god must be if it is real as is claimed.

Personally, I don't believe there is a god but even if there was, I would not consider the worship of such a psychotic deity a reasonable option and particularly so, since none of the evidence we have gathered about the universe unambiguously points towards deity.

But the clergy are having a wonderful time ... as one person in a forum commented, "the cynic in me can't help thinking that the clergy secretly love it when such appalling tragedy strikes, as it helps fill up the pews for a few weeks and brings in heavy collection plates."

For the girls, fortunately I suppose, the pain is over ... to use the words of a friend I can only hope that the reason for the long delay in identifying the bodies is because they were burned or damaged after death and not damaged before death. It's bad enough that they died, it would be appalling to find that they had been tortured as well!

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I am not advocating a morality based on evolution. I am saying how things have evolved. I am not saying how we humans morally ought to behave.
Richard Dawkins