Sunday, 5 May 2013

This Week in Atheism, Religion and Scepticism – 05/05/2013


It's not often you get to hear good news coming out from the 'ex-gay' movement (the guys who claim that homosexuality is some sort of illness curable by Jesus, or what have you), so this story is one I'm happy to be writing about. John Paulk, the poster boy for this particularly noxious movement and founder of the Love Won Out ministry, has issued a formal statement revealing that he is still gay and denouncing the idea of gay reparative therapy. His statement doesn't pull any punches: Paulk seems keen to distance himself from the movement he was once so closely associated with and is quoted as saying “I do not believe that reparative therapy changes sexual orientation; in fact, it does great harm to many people.”

To come out like this, to admit you were wrong about something you once defined yourself by so strongly, takes a lot of courage, so hats off to Mister Paulk. Gay reparative advocates will be going full damage control on this one, but this revelation has struck a serious blow to their credibility.

Not that they had much to begin with.


If only all friends were as awesome as the one featured in this story. Alexis Smith is suing the Northwest Rankin High School on behalf of a friend, whose age means that she has to sue through someone who is legally an adult. The school, through the influence of a large evangelical Baptist Church called Pinelake that has managed to gain a lot of sway in the Rankin County School District, brought about an assembly that What Would JT Do? describes:

“The school did not tell students in advance what the purpose of the assemblies were, nor did it allow them to opt out. All three assemblies consisted of the same Christian video and presentation. The focus of the assembly was how the students could find “hope” in Jesus, since they couldn’t find hope elsewhere... One senior recorded the entire assembly on a cellphone. Faculty and parents stood by the door to the room where the assembly was held, preventing students from leaving. Several students actually did try to leave, and were told to sit back down by the school’s truancy officer. The assemblies all ended with a group prayer.”

Fans of the United States constitution might currently be gesticulating wildly at the First Amendment and making angry noises, and you'd be damn right to do so. Hence why it's awesome that more people are beginning to take a stand on this issue. Religious groups have no grounds to pull this sort of stunt, and so the more people call them out and challenge them on it the less likely they are to attempt it.

Kudos to the unnamed student for raising this important issue, and major kudos to Smith for being so willing to stand by a friend when they need support. This sort of action makes a difference.


The libel suit against author and scientist Simon Singh by the British Chiropractic Association has become the stuff of legend amongst sceptics the world over; the BCA's attempts to silence criticism through legislation backfired massively and led to a huge surge of support for Singh that ultimately trigger a change in the libel laws of Britain. It was a great example of reason and evidence stepping into the arena with pseudoscience, and even Britain's shitty libel laws couldn't help the proponents of nonsense.

But I don't think everybody realises just how massive a gamble Singh took when he decided to fight this case. Fortunately Nick Cohen of The Spectator does, and he can tell you all about it in this article. It contains extracts from Cohen's You Can't Read This Book, which sums up the whole thing brilliantly so I'll just go ahead and quote it here:

After hearing the judge’s ruling, Singh’s friends, his lawyers and everyone else who had his best interests at heart advised him to get out of the madhouse of the law while he still could. He had already risked £100,000 of his own money. If he fought the case, it would obsess his every waking moment for a year, possibly longer, and he could lose ten times that amount if the verdict went against him. Even if he won, he would still lose, because another peculiarity of the English law is that the victor cannot recoup his full costs. It was as if the judiciary had put Singh in a devil’s version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?...

...No one would have blamed him for backing down. There would have been no dishonour in withdrawing from the fray. Thousands of publishers and writers in England and beyond have looked at the cost and biases of the English law and thought surrender the only option. Singh said that if he were a twenty-five-year-old with no money he would have apologised. But his bestselling books had given him financial independence. He resolved to refuse to put his name to a lie by authorising an apology. He knew what his enemies would do with it. Ernst and Singh had spent years investigating alternative medicine. No potential patient would spend more than a few days doing the same. If he apologised, chiropractic therapists would wave his retraction at potential patients, and say that Singh had admitted that their philosophy was not gibberish, and their claims to treat children were not bogus. As shamefully, an apology would also make Singh complicit in silencing other journalists, scientists and editors, who would think hard before challenging alternative therapists after seeing how the law had forced him to retract.”

So Simon Singh fought the case, even with the looming threat of losing and having the pants sued off him by the BCA. And he won; the outpouring of support for his cause and condemnation for the despicable attempts at censorship by the BCA was massive. Their attempts to justify their beliefs were torn apart by bloggers and medical journals. Petitions in support of Singh and against the libel laws were launched. Over 500 separate complaints against chiropractors within one 24-hour period, and that later rose to a quarter of all British chiropractors. In short, it was a catastrofuck for every chiropractor in the UK; as one of them put it, “suing Simon was worse than any Streisand effect and chiropractors know itand can do nothing about it.”

Singh seems like a pretty modest man; from the way Cohen describes it he's not keen to be put on a pedestal. Nonetheless he stood his ground and fought a case most would have run from, and in doing so helped change the laws of Britain for the better, so I agree with Nick Cohen in saying he does deserve all the praise he gets for this case.

That's all for this week in Atheism, Religion and Scepticism, folks. See you next time.