I am Neuroscience PhD, a humanist, skeptic, feminist, avid reader, science enthusiast, woolly-liberal über-nerd, and, as of October 2015, father to the Lykketroll.

I moved from England to Norway in January 2012 and live in Lørenskog with my wife, the Lykketroll, and our two aging rescue cats, Socrates and Schrödinger. 

I am on paternity leave from the 4th of July to the 18th of November. 

The job I am on leave from is as an  Associate Professor and Head of Studies at the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences. My background is in child neurodevelopment (my PhD looked into the relationship between fatty acids like omega-3 and cognitive development in young children) but I now work on a hodge-podge of things roughly within the field of Universal Design of ICT 50% of the time, the other 50% of my time I am Head of the 'General' Studies (Allmenn in Norwegian) Unit, which is comprised of around 24 academics within a range of fields, including mathematics, physics, Norwegian, and technology and leadership.

In between working and doing the usual dad things,  I like hiking and running in the beautiful Norwegian outdoors, cooking and playing video games. 

If I believed in souls I would say that mine was born in Norway. 

I plan to sleep when I'm dead.

BHA Religious Education Teachers' Conference

The British Humanist Association have organised a free conference on Wednesday June the 16th to help Relgious Education teachers in the UK who want may wish to learn more about humanism and give them advice on how they can include non-religious perspectives in their RE lessons.

I first heard about the event when scrolling through my Facebook timeline and saw this staring back at me:

2014-05-01 18.56.01.jpg

I can't remember exactly when the photograph was taken, but think it was at a National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secularist Student Societies (AHS) event a few years back. It's funny that they chose the tattoo on my left wrist and not the one on the right wrist, which is a little more obviously humanist. 

Whilst it's cool that a photograph of my rubbery, Bo'Selecta-looking face was chosen (and I am a little proud), I wanted to write a few words about just how important this event is, and what it signifies in terms raising awareness of humanism and ensuring that non-religous views are discussed appropriately alongside relgious ones in school, particularly in light of how I’ve seen things work in Norway.

When I was at primary and secondary school (mid-80s to 2001) I don't remember studying or discussing anything but the major religions (Christianity, Hinduism and Islam), with a smattering of Buddhism and Judaism. That’s not to say, of course that we didn’t cover atheism/humanism/non-belief – we just didn’t cover it in any way that had any meaningful impact. That people didn’t believe in God wasn’t on my radar at all (especially as I was raised in a nomainaly Hindu household). As I've written about before and turned into a Prezi, I didn't even know Humanism was a thing until my girlfriend introduced me to it in my first year at university.

I don’t know what the guidelines were back in the 80/90s (and I can’t find anything on the gov.uk website) but here’s what the UK government’s 2010 Non-statutory Guidance for Religious Education in Schools says :

In summary, religious education for children and young people:

provokes challenging questions about the meaning and purpose of life, beliefs, the self, issues of right and wrong, and what it means to be human. It develops pupils’ knowledge and understanding of Christianity, other principal religions, and religious traditions that

examine these questions, fostering personal reflection and spiritual development

encourages pupils to explore their own beliefs (whether they are religious or non-religious), in the light of what they learn, as they examine issues of religious belief and faith and how these impact on personal, institutional and social ethics; and to express their responses. This also builds resilience to anti-democratic or extremist narratives

enables pupils to build their sense of identity and belonging, which helps them flourish within their communities and as citizens in a diverse society

teaches pupils to develop respect for others, including people with different faiths and beliefs, and helps to challenge prejudice

prompts pupils to consider their responsibilities to themselves and to others, and to explore how they might contribute to their communities and to wider society. It encourages empathy, generosity and compassion.
— https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/190260/DCSF-00114-2010.pdf

Fulfilling each of aims, particularly the second one, which is only one of three instances in the guidelines where non-religion is mentioned (compared to 14 for Christianity), requires that pupils are exposed to, taught and discuss non-religious views. I recently asked two of my cousins (aged 11 and 13) who live in the UK (Leicester to be precise) about whether they talked about the idea that some people didn’t believe in god in RE class and they said ‘not really’.

Religious Education seems, perhaps obviously, to still be predominantly about religions. One of the things I like in Norway is that the school subject is called Religion, Lifestance and Ethics (RLE) (although not for much longer if Norway’s minority coalition party, the Christian Democratic Party, have their way and turn back the clock so that it becomes 'Christianty, Religion, Lifestance and Ethics'). RLE fully captures the richness of the subject and is a much more inclusive name. I know that things should be taken one step at a time and just getting teachers to be confident about including more non-religious philosophy into the curriculum would be an achievement, but I’d fully back a campaign to rename the subject to something similar in the UK, too.

 Judging by some of the reaction to the BHA successfully getting a copy of Alom Shaha’s Young Atheist's Handbook into every school library, not everyone, is keen on children being exposed to ideas that might genuinely encourage “challenging questions about the meaning and purpose of  life, beliefs, the self, issues of right and wrong, and what it means to be human”.

… Trevor Cooling, professor of Christian education at Canterbury Christ Church University, told the Times Educational Supplement that “the humanists seem to be behaving a bit like a persecuted minority. Children should be exposed to many and varied ideas, but this book seems to be an overreaction.”

”The evidence suggests that most children’s understanding of science is already largely atheistic. The BHA itself says that most children have non-religious beliefs, so why do they feel it is so important to send out this book?” said Cooling. “The status of a handbook written by a science teacher from London cannot be compared with that of a sacred Christian text and it cannot in any way be said to be offering balance.”
— http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/may/01/young-atheists-handbook-sent-secondary-schools

 As good as Alom’s Shahas’ book is, I don’t think anyone is seriously comparing it to the Bible (although, by my reckoning, it does contain more humanity and understanding of human experience).

The religious picture in the UK is changing and changing pretty quickly - it’s important that Religious Education in schools reflects this. In the face of reactions like the one above, and how genuinely difficult it must to be talk about non-belief if you’re a teacher in a classroom where the majority of the children have had a religious upbringing (as my cousins are), the importance of this conference cannot be overemphasised.

Recipe: Chilli paneer

The Leicester 5k Colour Blast Dash and my 2014 running challenges