Last Saturday, I attended the Secularists of the Year event in London, an event which also celebrated the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth.
Apart from a humorous "re-enactment" of the 1860 Oxford Debate between Thomas Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, well-known secularists, such as Richard Dawkins, Lord Avebury and Evan Harris spoke passionately in defence of evolution, logic and common humanity.
However, it was a young man called Matthew from New York state who stole the show. He spoke eloquently of how, as a 16-year-old, he challenged the creationist teachings of one of his teachers.
He described how, once word of his actions reached his local newspaper, he faced irrational opprobrium and hostility from some of his fellow students as well as from members of the school board – and all of this took place recently in the liberal environs of New York!
What a principled and courageous young man. The message was clear. Reason, evidence-based science and secular societies can still be undermined by faith-based superstition.
Keith Ward (Podium, 10 February) characterises Darwinism as a "dogmatic faith": a convenient view for the followers of theist faiths.
The uncertainty of theoretical argument is not satisfying for many people who want to know how we are here. For these people if all their questions are not answered by science then that lets "God" in. So lack of evidence for one explanation is taken as proof for another.
Philosopher or scientist, this is a frail logic. Biologists' "dogmatism" might merely be a reflection of their need to just get on with their job of answering the questions whilst trying to avoid distractions from the faithful who need a short-cut to certainty and meaning in their lives.
Lecturer in Psychology
Ban on anti-Islam Dutch politician
The British government is to be commended for acting so promptly to prevent the extreme right-wing Dutch MP, Geert Wilders, from entering the UK (report, 13 February).
This obnoxious man is just one of a new and contemptible species of extremist right-wing politician which has managed in a few years to convert a country that had the reputation of being perhaps the most enlightened, progressive and tolerant in Europe into a breeding ground of intolerance, bigotry and xenophobia.
The spectacular rise and violent demise of the populist demagogue Pim Fortuyn – a martyred hero to the Dutch Right – has made reactionary extremism both popular and respectable here. It is largely directed at the Muslim community for allegedly failing to conform to Dutch social norms. What is frequently not understood in culturally diverse Britain is that so-called integration and not multi-culturalism, is the approved Dutch model.
Politicians like Fortuyn and his followers, Wilders and Rita Verdonk (who leads an extremist nationalist party called Proud of Holland) openly promote hostility towards those who fail to conform.
The Hague, Netherlands
The Government should have adopted a positive approach and allowed this unknown Dutch politician to enter the UK.
Britain has been for centuries the envy of Europe, a melting pot of cultures and religions, an oasis of tolerance where communities can co-exist and flourish. It is the mother of all democracies. Thousands have staunchly fought and laid down their lives to preserve the freedom of people to express and exchange their opinions without the fear of intimidation and violence.
Islam is a towering religion. It enjoins believers to espouse tolerance. Muslims have been outspoken in denouncing the terrorist acts perpetrated by the very few in their midst. Islam will never be dwarfed the opinion of a maverick politician, and a genuine democracy like Britain must never compromise the inalienable right of people for free speech, no matter how offensive their opinions.
Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob
Speaking on the BBC News Channel's Hardtalk programme, Foreign Secretary David Miliband accused controversial Geert Wilders of "stirring up hate" with his anti-Islamist polemic Fitna.
But why on earth shouldn't we "hate" treasonous, misogynistic, anti-Semitic and anti-western cranks who find themselves driven to apoplexy by cartoons, novels, movies and eccentrically named teddy bears; condemn democracy as "haram", while aiming to replace it with Sharia law; support the Taliban, al-Qa'ida and their offshoots and proxies; promote the veiled oppression of women as second-class citizens; defend terrorist atrocities and call for the silencing of their critics and the mutilation and execution of apostates, and homosexuals?
I am quite sure most mainstream British Muslims "hate" the poisonous Islamist fundamentalists in their midst every bit as much as non-Muslims do!
Are Muslims in this country sufficiently active in countering negative impressions put about by the media? Last week, my wife and I followed a guidebook recommendation and dined at the Paris Mosque.
People of a range of ages, classes and ethnic backgrounds were tucking into tagines and couscous with spirit. In the tearoom French ladies of a certain age were enjoying mint tea with baklava and North African pastries. The general air of cheerful conviviality and social harmony made one forget the absence of alcohol. That this was happening in a country not noted for its racial tolerance was especially encouraging.
Similar schemes in mosques here would perhaps help to erode division, foster understanding and provide culinary delight for all.
H N Stanley
Isn't it a bit rich for Wilders to make a fuss about being banned from the UK, when he is calling for the Koran to be banned?
The violent protests taking place in India over Johann Hari's article reprinted in The Statesman (Opinion, 13 February) make the point more succinctly than any article could.
While you may be free, on the whole, to criticise religions in this country, it is obviously not true for most other countries, and we are poorer for it. It seems to be the attitude of these religions that it is perfectly reasonable to respond to "hurt feelings" by rioting and throwing people in prison.
I can't claim authorship, but a useful question to ask in relation to Wilders is: "What has this man got to say that we are not to be trusted to hear?"
Silence of the press watchdog
I do not recognise Mr Toulmin's account of my criticisms (letter, 12 February), and fail to understand the Press Complaints Commission's continued unwillingness to answer the substantive questions which have been posed by the Media Standards Trust's report.
For example, why does the PCC not tell us how much each newspaper group pays to fund its operation? Why has the PCC remained silent on cases of serious inaccuracy, such as the coverage of Madeleine McCann's disappearance? Why does the PCC not allow "third party" complaints, unlike Ofcom and the BBC? Why are minutes of the meetings of the editorial code committee – where working newspaper editors alone decide on the rules by which the UK press abides – not made public? Why does the PCC, unlike other self-regulators, not allow truly independent appeals against its decisions (only the manner in which they are handled)? Is the PCC not concerned, on behalf of the press, at the growing body of case law on privacy? How can the PCC claim that a rising number of complaints is a mark of success?
The report (which is fully sourced and based on publicly available information) raises these and other questions out of concern for the future of self-regulation. If the PCC would only engage with these questions, then perhaps we can ensure that self-regulation does have a future.
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC
How should bankers be paid?
Over the past couple of days the argument to protect the bonus culture of those working in the City has been moved from cash payments to share options, as if that would have prevented the current meltdown and be a vaccine against future infection. It's a fallacy.
A small number of people, engaged, authorised and encouraged by banks to take risks with our money got it wrong. The huge bonuses they received sped the process, as did the importation into the PLC sector of incentives developed in private companies and partnerships where the result of failure is contained. If their future greed and self-obsession were to be supported by share-related bonuses they would simply find the means to manipulate the share price to their advantage, as many people in the past seeking suitors to take over their businesses have done.
The real answer lies in restricting the ratio of bonus to salary payment in all publicly owned companies, and in ensuring that the proper supervision of performance to earn those salaries is carried out.
The bankers' bonuses quoted recently would keep the charity I work for going very nicely.
Sir Fred Goodwin's bonus would buy pay for 22 outreach workers for a year. Or it would buy 4,000 special toy packs that we loan out to families with babies who will die before their first birthday. (All ours are out and we could do with a couple of spares, and some of the toys need to be replaced.) Or it would run the Helpline for the next 153 years. That's without even touching his salary.
Director of Support Services,
The Jennifer Trust for Spinal Muscular Atrophy,
Final bow for Orlando Lopez
My daughter and I were fortunate to see Orlando "Cachaito" Lopez (obituaries, 11 February) play with the Buena Vista Social Club at the Swan in High Wycombe last year. The intimacy of the venue matched the warmth of the music. At the end, with the house lights on and long after all the other musicians had left the stage, Orlando stood alone with his bass, savouring every last drop of applause.
Eventually a younger band member returned to lead him gently away. It was as though he knew that he would soon be leaving the stage for the last time.
Get out of that
If 11 February's front-page photo had been of a man unorthodoxly exiting his car, would the caption have been "I think the engine's flooded"? I think not.
Clarkson's faux pas
The pious bleatings from all sides about Jeremy Clarkson's "Tory oaf" cabaret for a group of colonial hacks are misplaced. According to proverb, in a country heading blindly for disaster, the one-eyed man must surely be king. Mr Brown's contentment with the post of PM is testament to his humility and commitment to democracy.
Dogs as pets
While I agreed with much of the opinion in the Big Question (10 February) regarding dogs as pets, dangerous or otherwise, I was concerned to see the suggestion in favour of dogs that many are "happy to play with, or even protect, children". After 20 years as a vet, it would be my contention that any dog that is capable of defending someone is probably not safe to allow anywhere near children unattended.
Jeremy Warner's suggestion (31 January) that we prosecute the people who plunged us into recession is an excellent idea. The thought of the police in Downing Street telling Brown and Darling through a megaphone to come out with their hands up is very appealing. We could also prosecute people for talking the country into recession, although that idea would understandably be less popular with journalists.
After "St Andrew's Square" and "St Andrew's Close" I give you "St John's Home", a sign I see frequently outside a large Victorian structure near where I live. Obviously he needs to get out more.