Sunday, 18 December 2016

Trends in Religion, and Dialogue

In November Jeremy Rodell, Dialogue Officer at the BHA,
delivered a talk to the Manchester group on trends in religious affiliation in the UK.

According to the British Social Attitudes Survey 1983-2015, the proportion of people who consider themselves to be non-religious increased from just over 30% to just under 50% though Jeremy questioned whether people are less religious or whether it is more socially acceptable to say that you are non-religious.  The other major changes over this period were a fall in affiliation with the Church of England from 40% to under 20% and a rise in the non-Christian religious from 2% to 8% of the population.  The proportion of Catholics has not changed and remains at around 10%: the reduction in the number of UK Catholic followers has been offset by a steady stream of immigration of Catholic people.  The number of people following Islam is increasing and by 2050 the percentage of the population is predicted to be 10%.  Islam is the most diverse of the religious groups and comprises a number of different sects along a spectrum from liberals to Jihadis.

Jeremy made an interesting comparison of the non-religious proportions of the population as captured by the 2011 Census and the British Social Attitudes Survey 2011.  The Census shows a much lower non-religious proportion of 25% because it asks ‘What is your religion?’ rather than the question asked in the British Social Attitudes Survey ‘Do you regard yourself as belonging to a particular religion?’ which rendered a 46% non-religious proportion.

Jeremy pointed out that according to the 2011 Census Greater Manchester has a very diverse religious population with a relatively high proportion of Muslims and Jews.  Jeremy also outlined some interesting findings on the expression that religion takes for different groups as outlined in a 2013 You Gov survey.  Muslims engage in prayer and attend services more than Christians.  Double the number of men than women are non believers.  The majority of Christian followers are over age 55 and Muslim followers have the youngest age profile. Further information on the above statistics and trends is available on the BHA website.  Jeremy summarised that there is more diversity of religions in the UK today than previously and talked about the challenges that the BHA have correspondingly identified.  These are:

  • Increasing polarisation of belief systems and a lack of cohesion.
  • Uninformed generalisations about other religions 
  • Increases in faith based prejudices
  • A reduction in institutional privileges
  • An increase in conflicting values

Jeremy outlined three ways in which the BHA and Humanists can respond.  The first is to explain and promote secularism which means the state being neutral in religious matters, the universality of human rights, freedom of thought, the equal application of the law, and non-religious privilege.  The second way is through education about religious and non-religious beliefs, seeking an end to state funded schools and faith based admissions to state funded schools, and encouraging a broader preparation for life in a pluralistic society through education on sex, relationships, values and citizenship.  Finally, Humanists can engage in dialogue with other faith groups.  Meaningful dialogue is where one sees the human before the person’s religion, avoids generalisations, and recognises areas of disagreement and areas of commonality.  As the BHA Dialogue Officer, Jeremy talked further on his role and stressed that effective dialogue requires each party to engage with and listen to the other person’s viewpoint.  From this stance, the other person will be more likely to consider the Humanist viewpoint. 

Jeremy saw dialogue as a means of furthering the BHA strategy: “We want a world where everyone lives cooperatively on the basis of shared human values, respect for human rights, and concern for future generations.”  It can complement campaigning by making a positive Humanist contribution to building a peaceful, plural, secular society and by improving others’ understanding of Humanism.  Finally, Jeremy described three types of useful dialogue.  The first is interfaith dialogue which involves representatives from a number of faiths in dialogue with each other.  The second is public events which can allow for representatives from different faiths to reach common ground on issues.   The third is private bilateral/ multilateral dialogue and this is where Humanists can enter into dialogue with specific faith groups on specific issues.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Trident Nuclear Weapons

At Stockport's November Meeting Dr David Hookes, of the
University of Liverpool gave a PowerPoint presentation on The Trident Missile System. Dr Hookes is also a member of Scientists for Global Responsibility.

The Trident II (D5) is designed to be carried on a Vanguard class submarine which has a crew of 132 and carries 16 Trident Missile Tubes and 4 Spearfish torpedo tubes. Each Trident Missile has up to 12x100kton warheads and has a range of 7,000 miles accurate to 90 metres. In 2012 the US had 14 nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines, Russia had 10, and UK and France 4 each.

The advantage of such a system is that the UK could inflict huge damage on any adversary that threatened attack including overcoming air defences of capitals such as Moscow and Beijing. The main disadvantage is the huge capital cost.  Each Vanguard can be at sea for 3 months and there is always one on patrol at any time.(Contiuous At Sea Deterrence). The replacements should arrive in early 2030s.

But will Trident still work in the future or will the oceans become transparent? Trident depends on the stealth of the submarines and the effectiveness of the systems that protect them. Technologies such as Active Sonar are being rapidly developed as aids to detection. Acoustic technologies and lasers are becoming reliable for underwater communications over significant distances. Ocean Acoustic Waveguide Remote Sensing (OAWRS) is becoming effective over thousands of square km. Active OAWRS is already used to detect fish and passive OAWRS can detect whale noise over 100,000 sqkm. Autonomous and semi-autonomous drones (unmanned underwater vehicles – UUVs) which are already in use in commercial space could significantly change outcomes, particularly if they are operating in packs or swarms. Submarines may not be the ideal platform in the future that they have been in the past. Some of the UUVs under development are: US Navy Mk 18 MOD2 “Swordfish”, US Navy Bluefin and Cambridge University “Blackghost”.

Work is going on in at least five technologies to detect nuclear submarines: Passive and Active sonar, Water disturbances e.g. wake, Magnetic fields, Blue-green lasers and anti-neutrino emissions. Once located the Trident sub can be tracked indefinitely.

Artificial Intelligence software is now able to filter large streams of data, discriminating between important and unimportant information. This will help drones act collectively in large fleets (swarms) over large areas with multiple sensor inputs. This will take away some of the tactical and strategic advantage of the submarine. One danger is, that as submarines become more detectable and vulnerable to attack, their payload becomes more susceptible to launch. Some of the dangers of cyber-attacks are: Spoof early warning systems, Hacking into communications and issuing order for attack, Hacking directly into actual missile control systems.

Dr Hookes then went on to counter 6 myths about Nuclear Weapons:

Nuclear weapons are essential for security. In fact they breed fear and distrust; are useless against real threats such as climate change, terrorism, resource depletion, poverty and disease.  Deterrence theory makes assumptions that are unstable, unprovable and unreliable. Most countries reject the idea that Nuclear weapons make them safer.

Nuclear Weapons have kept the peace for 70 years. There have been hundreds of conflicts involving at least 10million deaths. There have been several “close shaves”. It has to work for ever, not just 70 years. We no longer have ideological blocks and there is a more unpredictable world.

It’s okay for some countries to have nuclear weapons. This undermines the Non-proliferation treaty and Privileges the security of a few states at the expense of the rest. If nuclear weapons are used all countries will be affected.

A Ban Treaty is unnecessary. Although 40,000 nuclear weapons have been dismantled 16,000 remain. All nuclear states are modernising their arsenals, and more countries have joined the nuclear club. Nuclear weapons are the only WMD not yet prohibited by international treaty.

A Ban is useless unless all countries sign at once. Treaties affect countries that do not sign them. US no longer makes of uses landmines but has not signed the ban treaty. Recently Syria was persuaded to give up its chemical weapons. Nations can join ban later (subject to eliminating stockpiles).

Banning Nuclear weapons won’t eliminate them. Banning usually precedes elimination, and a ban makes maintenance and development more difficult. It would bring legal clarity and moral authority sending a clear signal that all nuclear weapons were unacceptable. Ban treaties already in place cover: Biological Weapons (1972), Chemical Weapons (1993), Landmines (1997), and Cluster Bombs (2008). Consideration was also given to International law, in particular the 1949 Geneva Conventions together with the 1997 additional Protocol. An Opinion set out by the International Court of Justice concluded “the threat or use of Nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict. . .”