The Australian Census, improved

Today saw the release of the 2016 census results by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Much of the coverage was focused on the increased proportion of respondents ticking “no religion” as their preferred option, with commentators either lamenting or cackling with glee, as their personal proclivities dictated. However, more thoughtful observers noted the actual options of the census question on religion lacked the nuance that the real religious landscape displays.

The inimitable James Garth stepped up to the challenge of “improving” the question to reflect a broader range of options. ABS, please take note.


James Garth improves the ABS census question on religious affiliation.


Faith and rationality: a comic and a quote


Science requires faith.

I realise that statement will upset people, but those are the facts. The comic above, from the excellent xkcd, presents the issue particularly well. To do science at all, we must at the very least have faith in our rationality and the ability of our brains to discover truth. Faith in the regularity of the universe helps, too.

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The random answer generator

I was at Alpha a few nights ago, and Nicky Gumbel gave a wonderful illustration of the hazards of using the Bible as a “magical answer generator”, and also of reading verses out of context. I might be paraphrasing it slightly, but here’s the gist of it…


There was a man who was feeling depressed and confused, and he thought he’d look for answers in the Bible. So he opened it up at random, closed his eyes and dropped his finger on the page. When he opened his eyes, he saw that he had selected Matthew 27:5, and he read:

And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.

“Oh dear”, he thought, “that doesn’t sound very encouraging! Let me try it again.”

So he repeated the exercise and this time his finger fell on Luke 10:37, which said:

Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

“This really isn’t working very well,” he thought. “But let me give it one more try.”

Again he opened the book and selected a verse at random. Again he looked at where his finger lay, this time on John 13:27, and he read:

Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”


Flooding the help line

Jesus spoke in parables: stories with deeper philosophical meanings. This is more of a joke, but I think it retains a certain depth of commentary for those looking for a “giant neon sign in the sky” to answer their prayers:


After days of rain, the flood waters started to rise in the town. Eventually, one man was forced to climb onto the roof of his house.

A man in a rowboat appeared, and told him to get in. The man on the roof said, “It’s OK, I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.” So the man in the rowboat went away. The man on the roof prayed for God to save him.

The waters rose over the gutters and crept up the roof, and a speedboat appeared. “Climb in!” shouted the man in the boat. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.” So the man in the speedboat went away. The man on the roof prayed for God to save him.

As the waters continued to rise, the man had to perch on the chimney of his house to stay dry. A helicopter appeared and hovered over him with a rope ladder. “Climb up and I’ll fly you to safety,” said the pilot. The man on the roof waved him away saying, “Don’t worry, the Lord will save me.” So the helicopter went away.

The waters rose higher, and the man on the roof was washed away and drowned.

Arriving in heaven, the man immediately asked God: “Heavenly Father, I had faith in you, I prayed to you to save me, and yet you did nothing. Why?”

God replied: “Well, I sent you two boats and a helicopter…”