Balancing privacy and security

DNA as seen during gel electrophoresis (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

South Africa has a serious problem with crime and DNA profiling offers a real chance to do something about it by providing accurate and reliable evidence. There is currently a push to bring in a legal framework to deal with this issue and, as I’ve stated previously, I support the DNA Bill and signed the petition. However, it’s important not to lose sight that these advances come at a trade-off between security and privacy. The DNA Project itself has noted opinions on both side of the spectrum; from a piece from the US that suggests a mandatory DNA database would be ideal to a comment from someone who refused to sign the petition because arrestees are innocent until proven guilty. I think the South African DNA Bill has done a good job of trying to balance privacy and security but I do want to warn against the dangers of sacrificing privacy for security. Continue reading

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The world’s Muslims: religion, politics and society part 2

This follows on from my earlier post: The world’s Muslims: religion, politics and society part 1.

Regarding sex, we find most Muslims regard abortion (50-99%, not counting Azerbaijan at 23%), sex outside marriage (53-99%) and homosexual behaviour (67-99%) to be immoral. Opinions on divorce and polygamy varied greatly by geography. There generally wasn’t a majority support for honour killings but it was a disturbingly high minority that felt they were sometimes or often justified. Related to the sex is the notion of gender equality.

In some Muslim countries women are treated as inferior to men with Saudi Arabia having some of the most restrictive laws on what women may or may not do. The issue of women’s rights has also recently been debated in the Afghan parliament with some demanding the law be changed so that a husband cannot be prosecuted for rape within the marriage. Continue reading

Necessary criticism is not “Islamophobia”

There have been a long string of articles recently that have accused atheists, particularly the big names in atheism, of being Islamophobic:

Conversations about the practical impossibility of God’s existence and the science-based irrationality of an afterlife slid seamlessly into xenophobia over Muslim immigration or the practice of veiling. The New Atheists became the new Islamophobes, their invectives against Muslims resembling the rowdy, uneducated ramblings of backwoods racists rather than appraisals based on intellect, rationality and reason.

There are too many articles and too many angles of attack for me to read them all and respond here, however I’d point you to this post on Why Evolution is True which has rebuttals for 7 of the complaints raised in the articles. Continue reading

Why can’t atheists leave the religious alone?

Often you see the question come up, usually by a religious believer, of why atheists challenge other people’s beliefs. Shouldn’t we all be tolerant and just leave each other alone? I think you’ll find most atheists would be fairly happy with that state of affairs (it’s called secularism). That’s not to say they will be completely satisfied but at that point, where religion becomes a private matter, there will probably be far fewer clashes. I would still think they are wrong but I also think they should be free to believe what they will. Why, then, aren’t we at that point? Simply put it’s because religion is still so ingrained in society and shown such deference that it’s impossible to get away from it. It’s so tightly woven into society that at times it’s probably not even noticed. Continue reading

E&R’s first birthday!

On the 14th October 2011 I put my first blog post online. Now it’s one year later and this is my 100th post. It’s not a coincidence, I planned that way because it’s a nice round number. This is a chance for me to celebrate where I’ve come from, what I’ve achieved over the year and to highlight a few of my favourite posts.

I started reading blogs when I was doing my honours degree as a way to keep up with what was happening in science. I can’t remember exactly which blogs I started out on but I remember Pharyngula was one of them and, later, why Evolution Is True. They are still some of my favourite blogs, though I must say I much prefer WEIT. This was all after I’d started reading Dawkins, thanks to a professor in first year biology who mentioned the selfish gene during a lecture series on evolution. He didn’t agree with a gene-centred view of evolution but did recommend it for those that wanted to see a different perspective, and after reading it I couldn’t see how anyone could see a different view of evolution. Continue reading

Fallout from Innocence of Muslims

I’m sure that by now you’ve heard of the movie, Innocence of Muslims, which has enraged a large number of Muslims all over the globe. Essentially it is a poorly made, anti-Islamic film that is purely made to insult Mohammed. I’ve glanced through the trailer, though not watched it properly, and it’s hard to imagine how anyone could even pay attention to it. It’s just too poorly produced to take seriously as any more than the ranting of one (or maybe a small group) of sad individuals. Some people have taken it seriously, however, and although I was originally planning to ignore it as the same sort of thing that always happens it’s escalated to the point where I feel I should say something. Continue reading

Quick links: Dawkins, religious freedom, blasphemy

It’s been a bit too long since I last posted but I just haven’t been finding time to write, today for example my Japanese started again and I never got around to all the revision I wanted to do. I do have some posts in mind but they take some time to write so to prevent this blog from stagnating I’m posting a few links to some things that you might find interesting.

First up there’s an interview with Richard Dawkins over in Playboy. It’s not the usual place you go for interviews with a well-known scientist and atheist but it does quite a good job.

Then just when I was finishing my post on religious freedom I came upon a similar piece written by Peter Singer. I’ve heard a lot about him but I haven’t seen any of his books in the shops.

Lastly I’ll share a piece about the effects of blasphemy laws. An 11-year-old girl from Pakistan could face the death penalty for supposedly burning a Qur’an. You can read the story by The Guardian or ABC News (on Yahoo!).

Boundaries of religious freedom

Freedom of religion is important. No one should be forced to believe something as long as their beliefs do not impact other people, although that doesn’t mean that unfounded beliefs shouldn’t be challenged. Unfortunately some people don’t realise that their beliefs belong to them and cannot just be passed onto their children, who neither have the knowledge or capabilities to yet understand the arguments, weigh the evidence and come to their own conclusion. At times this imposition of a parent’s religion onto their offspring is relatively harmless but this is not always the case and there is a disturbing precedent where people feel that freedom of religion includes the freedom to impose their beliefs on others.

This can be seen in a recent article in The Telegraph concerning how parents religious beliefs are at times responsible for a child being put through unnecessary suffering when there is nothing more that can be done medically. Continue reading