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Centre for Inquiry - visit

I am currently staying in Buffalo, NY, as a guest of Paul Kurtz and the Centre for Inquiry (transnational). We are sorting out how CFI London will proceed. I am interested in what kind of talks and events people would like to see put on, If you've got suggestions let me know...

POST SCRIPT: Here are ideas I am currently playing with. Comments please.

1. LEAD EVENT: PUBLIC DEBATE: THE NEW ATHEISM. Perhaps with a certain well-known atheist and his nemesis. Not mentioning any names....

2. Course: Exploring the paranormal. 2hrs for one evening per week, over 5 weeks. Possible charge of £20. With leading parapsychologists.

3. Course: The Omega Course. (or Alpha plus course). an alternative to the Church of England's cultish Alpha Course.

3a. Course or event on how cults work.

4. EVENT: Psychic powers. Come along and see fantastic demonstrations of psychic ability! (Some of you may remember I did this for the launch of THINK with Tony Youens, and it was a lot of fun. Got lots of punters in. Many were clearly upset, but rather wiser, when the scams were subsequently revealed... I'm thinking Sally Morgan type thing).

5. Course. Psychology of Religion. There's some fabulous work being done in this area. we should get some of the leading researchers in from Oxford and elsewhere to explain their work (n.b. many are religious). Again, should we charge?

6. Science talks. Mind blowing talks from leading astrophysicists, etc. to popularize science.

7. Socials? CFI Amherst has mountain biking trips and white water rafting. Not sure if we can manage that.

NB courses are likely to be 5 weeks, one evening a week. That sound about right? Probably with different speaker each week. The downside to this is lack of continuity (course is very "bitty"). The upside is no speaker has to do more than one evening, so easier to get a commitment from the best speakers. (Also we may be able to avoid paying them!)

PPS: Help is going to be needed, especially re events, socials, etc. Anyone willing to give an hour here and there do please let me know.


Anonymous said…
I'd be interested in a secular examination of the angst some people experience at the thought of a purposeless universe.

Although I'm not too interested in a therapeutic analysis of the big questions of life and death, I would be interested in attending a thoroughly secular and rational critique of the dread and despair which some say is meant to follow a Godless universe (i.e., much like the stuff you write in this blog actually!).
Stephen Law said…
Yes that's a very good idea. I'll have a think about who might be able to do it....
Anonymous said…
There are a couple of other emotional themes related to the "purposeless universe dread" that seem to crop up as good candidates for a non-religious perspective.

1) The religious need to worship. I have heard this described as "the need to express gratitude to someone".

2) The sense of the transcendent/divine possibly experienced through music art or looking at the stars, possibly though practices such as meditation. Wasn't there a thread here at some point?

3) Sin. Where it comes from. Why we feel guilty when we have done something wrong. Why we feel better if we atone for our transgressions. How do atheists explain these feelings if they do not come from God(s)? Lots of ethics to be had here.

I hope someone will be keeping an eye on the Royal Society calendar to avoid lashes.
Anonymous said…
Oh and I'd like to see the Rev. Sam give a talk on set theory in post-realist theology. ;)
Anonymous said…
1 through 6 sound really great. I would be interested to hear what you had to say about 3 on this blog.
Anonymous said…
Something on secular parenting, perhaps, and (though not necessarily an event), British podcasts similar to CFI's Point of Inquiry.
Anonymous said…
Maybe(part of)these events could be available on the net later on?
Some of us live too far away to attend. Would be great.
Nick said…
All of those sound interesting to me. Perhaps there could also be debates on other areas of topical interest e.g. faith schools, creationism, alternative medicine etc?
Jit said…
The debate format has to be carefully considered. I've seen a lot of these (online) and the traditional opening statement-rebuttals-final remarks pattern, although making for a good bear pit atmosphere, doesn't leave the audience much wiser.

Better would be to have a couple of armchairs on stage, have the debate more of a conversation, with a moderator to keep the ship on a rough course.

How about a course in critical thinking? Depends who it is pitched at, but there is a distinct lack of it.

(Slightly off-topic, but this a.m. I heard a member of the synod say that it was the 'mind of Christ' that there should be no women bishops! Because in an old book a character called Jesus chose 12 male disciples! (nothing to do with the way the church was and is dominated by men). When did Jesus say he wanted his followers to erect churches, elect bishops and a pope? Personally I don't see why women or gays would want to be a part of such an institution... to say that I nearly died of apoplexy would capture my response aptly.)
Anonymous said…
Hey, how do you like Amherst? Funny place, isn't it? And that campus - whew.

But the CfI library is way cool.
Tony Lloyd said…
Even though they've been done before I think the debunking of psychics is very important (as did "Lee" Maybe you could combine this with debunking faux rationality, bad science, authoritarian thought etc. The sort of stuff that doesn't just rip off a few gullible people but affects us all. Like the government guidelines on drinking that were just made up ( or the bogus "brain gym" we're being taxed to pay for ( It also gives rationality and science a bad name, leading people into the arms of psychics and giving succour to creationists.

I get really fed up of theists of all types complaining that it’s just the few “bad apples” that spoil the reputation and expect others to “do something”. I couldn’t give a toss about Islam: it’s their religion they should sort it out. And so rationalism should sort out its “bad apples”.

You should be able to get Ben Goldacre (of to do some good exposés

Karl Popper’s pupil and colleague David Miller has a good line in slapping down the pretensions of science to some sort of specially-warranted knowledge. Eg: (I’ve posted that one before!).

Dare I suggest (as a counterpoint) Steve Fuller? Who testified on behalf of the IDers in the Kitzmiller trial?
"I'd be interested in a secular examination of the angst some people experience at the thought of a purposeless universe."

V. good suggestion. It's a puzzle, that one.

You'd think that realising that we live in a purposeless universe would take a load of everyone's mind. Kind of like cramming for an exam you know you can't possibly pass, only to be told that there isn't an exam after all.
Anonymous said…
Oops That should have read
"I hope someone will be keeping an eye on the Royal Society calendar to avoid clashes." not lashes

I am quite sure they would not resort to such punishment!
Sally_bm said…
What about something to clarify the area of relativism vs toleration of other cultures etc? Where do we draw the line between tolerating differences and opposing immoral behaviour? This issue leads to lots of harmful opinions escaping out into the ether. "Harmful opinions", lol... debate topic number 2...
Sally_bm said…
ps Great issue of Think! I can't single out an article cos so many are really brilliant!
Anonymous said…
How about a comparison of Intelligent Design as preached by Creationists compared to a view of what would constitute evidence of intelligent design to mainstream scientists and philosophers?

The sort of question arises if we find something which we suspect of being an artifact. If it is incomplete or non-functional by reason of age or exposure to harsh conditions how do we deterine whether it is
(a) a product of intelligence
(b) a product of non-intelligent life (c) a product of a natural process
(d) just a fluke

The two extreme cases are I guess a "widget" found on Mars (aliens?) or a strangely chipped rock on Earth (flint knapping or erosion?)
crabsallover said…
I would be interested in a course on "The Scientific Method" and the Philosophy of Science.
Stephen Law said…
Thanks for all the suggestions - very helpful. Got jet lag so not very with it, currently...
Scott said…
I'd second the comment about making the material available online. It can only help to popularise these events and make the name more recognised across the world.
crabsallover said…
Stephen, I'd like to suggest a strategic alliance between British Humanist Association Science Group (BHA Science) and the CfI Naturalism Research Project Group in which we pool the resources of BHA and CfI to promote Philosophical Naturalism (aka Scientific Naturalism)

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