Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Humans are "naturally nice"

So says Frans de Waal, a biologist at Emory University in Atlanta, and I'm inclined to agree. Click here to read more.

We don't need religion to tell us how to behave; most of us know. It's in our own interests to be good and kind, as such behaviour is likely to be reciprocated. 

Those who are forever fussing over our morality seem to me to be the least generous in their attitudes towards their fellow human beings, with the lowest expectations.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Lord Carey and the marriage preservation society

It's actually called the Coalition for Marriage, and what it's bothered about is the prospect of gay marriage, rather than just civil partnership. Their website says,
Throughout history and in virtually all human societies marriage has always been the union of a man and a woman. Marriage reflects the complementary natures of men and women. Although death and divorce may prevent it, the evidence shows that children do best with a married mother and a father.
This is a very rosy view of marriage in history. Until recently, marriage was mainly about forming family alliances, if you were rich and owned property, or forming a partnership based on shared skills and assets, if you were poor. Girls as young as fourteen would be betrothed to older men, to ensure a harmonious relationship between two powerful families. Men and women without power would look for partners who could help one another by growing and preserving food, and other important survival skills. This is an old nursery rhyme:
Sukey, you shall be my wife
And I will tell you why:
I have got a little pig,
And you have got a sty;
I have got a dun cow
And you can make good cheese;
Sukey, will you marry me –
Say Yes, if you please.
Until just over a century ago, only about 60% of the male population married, because many either couldn't afford to or couldn't find suitable partners - marriages were often arranged by families. If you had no skills or assets, you'd be considered unmarriageable. It wasn't at all romantic.

Attitudes towards marriage have changed a lot over the last century. Women gained the freedom to choose their partners and divorce became a lot easier, allowing them to escape loveless marriages. During and immediately after the Second World War, the illegitimacy rate shot up, demonstrating a shift in attitudes towards sex. The post-war establishment of the Welfare State, the National Health Service and a state education system made a huge difference to marriage, as did the provision of contraception. Labour-saving devices, especially the washing machine, liberated women too. 

The Coalition for Marriage (their version of marriage) say, "If marriage is redefined once, what is to stop it being redefined to allow polygamy?" That's hardly likely, but shows how their tiny prejudiced minds work. Still, since they raised the subject of polygamy, which was once common in different forms around the world (and still is)...

Polygyny (one husband having several wives) and polyandry (several husbands having one wife) have been practised in different societies according to the availability of land, livestock, etc. If a family lived in an area where there was an abundance of food because of easy growing conditions, a man might have several wives and raise lots of children. In other areas, such as remote mountain regions with poor grazing for livestock, several brothers might share a wife but they'd often be away for long periods, hunting or trading. In the pre-Judeo-Christian era, around the Mediterranean and Middle East, matriarchal societies didn't pay much attention to paternity; children were raised by a family group that was dominated by women. Lord Carey wouldn't like that, would he?

Marriage has been "redefined" often, and there's nothing that the Coalition can do to stop it. All this faff, because a few people are obsessed with other people's sexual practices, but then organised religion has always been obsessed with sex - other people's sex. That's rather unhealthy, isn't it?

Update: 22/1/12
Excellent piece about this by Martin Robbins in the Guardian - 'I'm happy to explore polygamy with the Christian Institute',

Monday, February 13, 2012

A guide to pseudo-science for the gullible

I've been ill for over 25 years with ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), so I've tended to attract well meant suggestions about "treatment" from a few friends and others. Since there isn't any cure or treatment for ME, and  no one has explained what causes it (though there are theories), ME patients are susceptible to the persuasive claims of quacks. I've been offered radionics, which involved someone directing healing radio waves at me from the other end of the country (for a "modest" fee of £100), and I know of people with ME who've spent £1000s on worthless treatments, some of which could do them a lot of harm.

As I'm also a sceptic (that's skeptic, if you're American), I've had no trouble rejecting all suspect claims, including homeopathy (one of the most popular) but if you're bothered by snake oil salesmen or their fans, just refer them to this invaluable guide to pseudo-science - click here to know more.