Good Thinking Society: Funding for SitP


I was skeptical of the Good Thinking Society’s £500 award for Skeptics in the Pub group that is being judged at QEDcon this year. Announced on their website yesterday, the Society said

If you can come up with an idea that requires this sort of funding you’re in with a chance. All you need to do is submit a short proposal (max 200 words) to us here at Good Thinking. We’ll then select our favourites and those chosen will be asked to pitch their proposals to a panel at QED. Ideas could cover almost anything: skeptical activism, improving your particular SitP group, providing a resource to support all SitP groups and so on. The proposer will be grilled by both the panel and the audience. At the end, the panel will decide on the winner and they will walk away with £500 to use for the proposal.

Think Dragon’s Den, but in a less confrontational, more supportive way (Unicorn’s Lair? Kitten’s Krib?). Ideas could cover almost anything: skeptical activism, improving your particular SitP group, providing a resource to support all SitP groups and so on.

Some people have taken the ‘Dragon’s Den’ description literally, and have ignored the mention of ‘a less confrontational, more supportive way’. One friend of mine commented

Making SITP groups compete with each other for cash in reality TV style competitions is not the way to build a thriving, cooperative network.

What is being missed here is that the Good Thinking Society offer these sorts of grants outside of the QEDcon through their website all of the time – this is simply the Society using the popular QEDcon to engage with the sorts of people they can help, and offering a breakout event where people can share and showcase their ideas.

As another of my friends commented

£500 could buy plenty of grass roots skepto-goodness. I can’t imagine anyone having actual objections to the idea

£500 is a lot of money for groups who typically ask audience members for a £2 donation on the door, but as I mentioned in my blog post about the Golden Duck Awards last year, what works for one Skeptics in the Pub group doesn’t work for others, and not all Skeptics in the Pub groups have the same missions or intentions. I think that offering £500 for a SitP group is a great idea that could offer a group the chance to do something they’ve been wanting to do but haven’t managed because of funding, but I also understand that many groups might see it as not for them, but it’s these sorts of differences between groups that make Skeptics in the Pub groups so great, it’s this individuality that will be celebrated at QEDcon, and it’s the new ideas being brought to the table and shared in the Good Thinking Society session that will help people make their groups grow.

So, if you have an idea and you could use the funding then head over to The Good Thinking Society website now and make a submission. It could be good.

Healing on the Streets: One Year on

thumb heal

In one weeks time a petition that states ‘I believe that God can heal’ will come to an end. Launched in early 2012 the petition calls on the UK Government to

… ensure that publishing statements of faith is not banned. This petition is put forward following cases where the Advertising Standards Agency [ASA] has banned Christian groups from publishing material with the words ‘God can heal’, for example in Bath.

This is a story quite close to my heart as I was the complainant in the Bath ‘Healing on the Streets’ case that inspired this petition after it made the headlines on February 1st 2012. The group based in the city of Bath were told by the ASA they could not continue to use the leaflets in the form I had complained about. The leaflet read

NEED HEALING? GOD CAN HEAL TODAY! Do you suffer from Back Pain, Arthritis, MS, Addiction … Ulcers, Depression, Allergies, Fibromyalgia, Asthma, Paralysis, Crippling Disease, Phobias, Sleeping disorders or any other sickness? We’d love to pray for your healing right now! We’re Christians from churches in Bath and we pray in the name of Jesus. We believe that God loves you and can heal you from any sickness”

Original Leaflet handed to me in Bath in 2011

I made the complaint because I felt the health claims being made about specific illnesses could be potentially dangerous for those who are desperate and vulnerable, and the ASA agreed with all of my points. A lot of Christians and Christian groups complained that I made the complaint because of some sort of hidden atheist agenda and that this ruling from the ASA was religious persecution. This is, I expect, where the inspiration for the Government petition came from – a misunderstanding of the ASA ruling.

The petition from Andrew Scopes says ‘we call on the Government to ensure that publishing statements of faith is not banned‘ and by asking this question Scopes has taken a distorted interpretation from the ASA adjudication.  The claims ruled against were not statements of faith that were banned, they were claims about the healing of specific illnesses, many of which are terminal and debilitating. The claims had no testable evidence to back them up, and the claims were being made on literature being handed out to strangers on the street, where it would be impossible to know the circumstances of the person being given the leaflet. This is why they were found to be in violation of CAP codes, and not because it was Christians making statements of faith.

The ASA even stated in the initial ruling

‘The ASA acknowledged that HOTS sought to promote their faith and the hope for physical healing by God through the claims in the ad. However, we were concerned that the prominent references to healing and the statement “You have nothing to lose, except your sickness” in combination with the references to medical conditions for which medical supervision should be sought such as arthritis, asthma, MS, addictions, depression and paralysis, could give consumers the expectation that, by receiving prayer from HOTS volunteers, they could be healed of the conditions listed or other sicknesses from which they suffered. We concluded the ad was misleading.

We acknowledged that HOTS volunteers believed that prayer could treat illness and medical conditions, and that therefore the ads did not promote false hope. However we noted we had not seen evidence that people had been healed through the prayer of HOTS volunteers, and concluded that the ad could encourage false hope in those suffering from the named conditions and therefore were irresponsible.’

I’m personally not in the business of stopping people from practicing their chosen faith, and I only made the complaint because of the nature in which the claims in question were being made. The ASA ruling had no hand in the banning published statements of faith, but everything to do with statements of faith being published in a potentially misleading manner.

To even be considered for debate by parliament the petition will need to gain another 96,900+ signatures within the next 8 days which is unlikely. Yet, if Scopes and the 3,000+ people who signed the petition believe what happened in the Bath HOTS case was the banning of statements of faith, the one way the government could ensure similar didn’t happen again would be to grant religious groups exemption from CAP codes and similar regulations, and nobody should be offered a free pass to making health claims if they can’t back their claims up with evidence. Testimony, and claims that ‘god did it’ just aren’t good enough. Surely that isn’t what these people are asking for?

One year after the Healing on the Streets saga – after being hounded by the media, being called ‘Atheist Hayley Stevens’ by the international press, someone complaining to my employers that they shouldn’t employ ‘someone like that’ in a bid to get me in trouble, and dozens and dozens of emails from angry Christians all over the world, the HOTS Bath saga still hasn’t ended…