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Showing posts from October, 2008

Historicity of Jesus

Hi Georges You commented on the last jesus historicity post : I'm trying to imagine how the religious cult that became Christianity got started assuming there never was a charismatic Jesus character for people to coalesce around. Try to imagine Islam spontaneously coming into existence without Muhammad, Sikhism without Guru Nanak, Mormonism without Joseph Smith or Scientology without L. Ron. How would it work, exactly? Any examples? Perhaps it coalesced around some other individual or individuals, such as e.g. the "disciples", or Mary Magdalen. There are many candidates. Hell, I don't know. But the fact that I don't know doesn't mean it's probably true there was a historical Jesus. Compare a case where e.g. several people claim to have witnessed a person in a house, who then, amazingly, walked through a wall. Why do we possess such testimony? How does it arise? I don't know. People often seem terribly convinced. Now not only does the miraculous

SCIENCE AND RELIGION: Simon Singh, Mary Warnock, Jack Cohen, Stephen Law

Presented by Centre For Inquiry London and South Place Ethical Society Saturday, 25th April, 10.30am-4pm. A day exploring the relationship between science and religion Venue: Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL. £10 (£5 for students) BOOK NOW. Send a cheque payable to 'Center for Inquiry London” to: Executive Director Suresh Lalvani, Center for Inquiry London, at the above address. Alternatively pay by PAYPAL. Use the “Support CFI London” link at and follow the instructions. 10.30AM REGISTRATION 11-12AM JACK COHEN. Why I believe in evolution - or in Omphalos! The evidence for evolution converges from at least three directons: from the fossils, from the DNA sequences, and from contemporary examples (Darwin's finches, African cichlids, bacterial and insect resistance). “Creationism", or "Intelligent Design" are out because they don't explain, they haven't the Authority, and Grand Canyon/Flood ideas are simply absurd.

Camp Quest UK

Camp Quest is now operating in the UK, I discovered last night, after meeting Samantha Stein, who is the director. She is going to be running some really excellent programmes for kids aged 9-15. This is the antidote to Jesus Camp . The first camp-quest is 27th-31st July 2009. Check out the website at: The blurb says: Camp Quest, founded in 1996, is the first residential summer camp in the Europe, United States and Canada specifically for irreligious children or the children of nontheistic parents (including atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, skeptics, (nontheistic) rationalists, freethinkers, brights, antireligionists, and others who hold a naturalistic worldview). The camp is offered as a godless alternative to traditional religious summer camps, such as vacation Bible schools. The camp’s programs and activities also include what is usual for summer camps: campfires, canoeing, crafts, drama, games, nature hikes, singing, and swimming. Sometimes, howe

Jesus: historical evidence for crucifixion

Rev Sam writes (comment on my last Jesus historicity post ): Hi Stephen, if you ever get around to resuming this element of the conversation, you might find this of interest. He's much more of an expert than me. Stephen's response: I did watch it. His argument is that the early Christians would not make up a crucifixion story as the Messiah was not someone they would expect to be crucified. The expectation was the Messiah would defeat the Romans, not be executed by them. Of course this is a bog standard argument that gets repeated over and over. He concludes anyone who thinks the story is made up is living in a fantasy land. This seems to me an amazingly weak piece of evidence. He is second guessing people's motives for why they would invent a story in which the expected Messiah dies. First, there may be reasons why they would want their Messiah to die and come back to life. In fact, aren't there some very, very obvious reasons why they would want that? You

WEIRD SCIENCE DAY: Saturday 17th January.

Please do your best to advertize this event (for an A4 poster, email me). Centre For Inquiry London and South Place Ethical Society present WEIRD SCIENCE A day exploring the science of the weird, and weird and flaky science Ben Goldacre, Richard Wiseman, Chris French and Stephen Law Saturday, 17th January 2009. 10.30am-4pm. Venue: Conway Hall 25 Red Lion Square London WC1R 4RL £10 (£5 for students) To book tickets, send a cheque payable to 'Center for Inquiry London' to: Executive Director Suresh Lalvani, Center for Inquiry London, Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL Alternatively payment can be made by PAYPAL. Use the “Support CFI London” link at and follow the instructions. 10.30am REGISTRATION 11am-12am RICHARD WISEMAN Investigating the impossible: A skeptical approach For over 20 years, psychologist Richard Wiseman has delved deep into the mysterious world of the paranormal, carrying out high profile, and often controversial, inve

Centre For Inquiry website launched.

The cfi London website is now fully functional. Comments please... Go here . Many thanks to David McKeegan for doing an excellent job. Use or Do not use or as they take you to the US site which we are not now using.

BOOK CLUB: The God Delusion, CHPT 8

This chapter explains Dawkins antipathy to religion. He lists many examples of religious fundamentalism and nuttiness, much of it malign. But what of my local vicar? His brand of religion seems very benign. Yet Dawkins sees even the moderate religious person as posing a danger, for they are still, he thinks, promoting unquestioning "faith" as a virtue: Christianity...teaches children that unquestioned faith is a virtue. You don't have to make the case for what you believe. If someone announces that it is part of his faith, the rest of society, whether of the same faith or another, or none, is obliged, by ingrained custom, to 'respect' it without question; respect it until the day it manifests itself in a horrible massacre like the destruction of the World Trade Center, or the London or Madrid bombings. Then there is a great chorus of disownings, as clerics and 'community leaders' (who elected them by the way?) line up to explain that this extremism is a p

Article by Giles Fraser: "Why don’t humanists give value to humans?"

Giles Fraser: "Why don’t humanists give value to humans?" Church Times , 24th October 2008. Humanists (and by that I mean secular humanists for now) would do much more to persuade me of their world-view if they took more seriously the idea that the human is of fundamental value. Instead, secular humanists are becoming increasingly cavalier with their central belief. They have become a bit like Christians who don’t believe in God. This leads me to ponder whether human life is really all that safe in the hands of humanists. Here, for instance, is a passage from the British Humanist Association’s website: “Religious people also often use phrases like 'the sanctity of life' to justify the view that life has intrinsic value and must not be destroyed. Humanists, too, see a special value in human life, but think that if an individual has decided on rational grounds that his life has lost its meaning and value, that evalu ation should be respected.” Oh, how nice: humanist

An invitation to meet Mr Adnan Oktar (aka Harun Yahya, aka Adnan Hoca) - "future ruler of the entire world"?

I was recently invited to fly to IstaNbul to interview Mr Adnan Oktar, also known as Harun Yahya, a Muslim who has published very many books challenging evolution, including, of course, his lavishly illustrated and produced Atlas of Creation, provided free to thousands of schools around the world. I received a phone call from Mr Oktar's representative, Seda Aral, correcting "minsinformation" about Oktar, and explaining why his successful attempt to shut down Richard Dawkins website in Turkey was entirely justified. Oktar styles himself a defender of freedom of speech, and insists he was defamed. Actually Oktar also attempted to get e.g. The God Delusion banned in Turkey, despite the fact that it says nothing about Oktar. Dawkins explains why Oktar is a world-class nincompoop here . It's hilarious. Despite the offer of an all-expenses-paid trip to Turkey as the guest of Mr Oktar, I'm not going. It seems many others have received such offers, such as this writ

WEIRD SCIENCE DAY: Saturday 17th January.

WEIRD SCIENCE A CFI London event (in conjunction with SPES) This is a one-day event on Saturday, 17th January 2009. 10.45am-4pm. There may be a modest entry charge [POST SCRIPT - it will be £10, £5 for students - to book a ticket send a cheque to Suresh Lalvani at the venue address below]. Venue: Conway Hall 25 Red Lion Square London WC1R 4RL 11am-12am RICHARD WISEMAN Investigating the impossible: A skeptical approach For over 20 years, psychologist Richard Wiseman has delved deep into the mysterious world of the paranormal, carrying out high profile, and often controversial, investigations into the impossible. In this talk, Wiseman describes some of his more colourful adventures, presenting a scientific look at a range of seemingly paranormal phenomenon, including fire-walking, ghostly encounters, and ESP. Discover whether such phenomena really exist, what the future holds for parapsychology, and why we are all attracted by the lure of strange stuff. Free packet of peanut

Debate with Muslim creationist

THIS DEBATE HAS NOW BEN CANCELLED (apparently because of the furore over the Jewel of Medina ). I am debating a Muslim creationist - Sharif Hafezi - next Saturday, 25th October, 6.30pm. I have v. little time to prepare so anyone who can advise me about this brand of creationism do get in touch. It's at: Froud Centre 1 Toronto Av London, E12 5JF Tel: 020 84782468 map here . For public transport the closest tube station is East Ham (Hammersmth & City/District). There is also nearby overground rail links at Manor Park (available from Stratford platform 8) and Woodgrange Park.

Kyle S on Atonement (BOOK Club 7)

In comments on the previous post, Kyle S has been defending his version of the Biblical theory of atonement from the charge that it "doesn't make sense" (see previous post ). I respond below. Hi Kyle S You say the Biblical account (or rather, your version of it – many Christians, such as Rev Sam, reject your version) must make sense, “Otherwise, how would we be able to discuss the precise meaning of certain statements or consider possible counter examples?” As I said, the sense in which it “doesn’t make sense” is not that the words are meaningless, but that the theory is bonkers. E.g. Like believing that fairies are what make the flowers grow (n.b. if you read the preceding post you will see that the context makes it perfectly clear that that is what I meant.) You then say: “Most of the responses to me in this thread seem to be along the lines of 'but that doesn't fit well with my understanding of morality'.” Not quite. I say that these beliefs are not m

BOOK CLUB: The God Delusion, CHPT 7.

This chapter argues that not only should we not base our morality on scripture, as a matter of fact we don't base it on scripture - "and a very good thing too" (p. 267). The chapter begins with the Old Testament - presenting a range of Outrageous Tales . I myself remember, as a child (perhaps about 9 or so), being puzzled by the Old Testament. Not only did my church school present the stories as true, they were clearly supposed to encapsulate a moral perspective we were expected to admire and emulate. Even at the time, I found it hard to reconcile the Christmas message of baby Jesus meek and mild with the jealous, bloodthirsty tyrant who told Abraham to make a burnt offering of his son. There's a lot in this chapter. I am going to focus on one thing, which also puzzled me as a child. The atonement. Dawkins says: "I have described atonement, the central doctrine of Christianity, as vicious, sado-masochistic, and repellent. We should dismiss it as barking mad,

angel (good)

angel (good) , originally uploaded by stephenwilliamlaw . Found this tatty old negative. Self-portrait taken about 23 years ago in my bedsit in London. The inclusion of kitchen sink is deliberate. I have left the dust and scratches on, as I like the effect. Clearly there was something slightly wrong with me back then. I even made those wings myself. Could be this year's Christmas card.

angel (bad)

angel (bad) , originally uploaded by stephenwilliamlaw . Here's the bad angel. Rather unhealthy obsession with religion even back then....

BOOK CLUB: The God Delusion, CHPT 6.

It's a week late, but it's here. I found this one of the most interesting chapters of the book, despite the fact that I knew much of what was in it already. Dawkins very effectively marshals much of the recent empirical work that has be done on the evolutionary roots of morality in order to refute the silly, but widespread, view that without religion society will quickly degenerate into a seething cesspool of depravity. Many of the points Dawkins makes here I also make in The War For Children's Minds . He includes some that I don't, and vice verse For example, I didn't include the Hauser/Singer work, and Dawkins does not attempt to deal with that very popular move - "The only reason Western civilization has not collapsed without religion is that the moral capital has not run out yet ." I discuss the "moral capital" move - as used by U.S. neo-cons and the Bishop of Oxford - here . I suppose I should provide at least one criticism of the chap

FRSA etc.

Apologies for there being fewer posts. I am totally snowed under, what with beginning of term, plus getting some rather labour-intensive, but rather exciting, things sorted for Centre for Inquiry. News on that shortly. I will, eventually, be getting back to a number of issues left hanging, such as Jesus' historicity. God Delusion Chpt. 6 will be tomorrow. One bit of news is that I have been elected a fellow by the Royal Society of Arts , which means I'm an FRSA. I initially threw their invitation to become a fellow in the bin, as I had little idea what the RSA was, and you have to pay £120 p.a. to belong. Then they contacted me again and I realized it was, actually, something of an honour to be invited. Their building on the Strand is rather impressive, and has wifi, a cheap bar and decent restaurant. It seems, primarily, to be a club. Karl Marx, Adam Smith and Dickens were all members.