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Showing posts from February, 2010

Fakery, Wackery and Tragedy Aids Science Teaching

From the TES. Conspiracy theories, creationism and 9/11 can help children to evaluate evidence, expert argues Original paper headline: Fakery, wackery and tragedy: all grist to the mill in science teaching Internet conspiracy theories and the controversy over creationism should be embraced as opportunities to engage pupils in scientific theory and critical thinking, according to a leading science educationalist. Anu Ojha, head of education at the National Space Centre in Leicester, argues that the tactic is the best way to “guide our children through the labyrinth of information, misinformation, claim and counterclaim which characterises scientific discourse in the media and online”. He says that the internet is the main source for scientific, societal and political information for the new generation of “21st century citizens”, born from 1995 onwards. That leaves them susceptible to unsubstantiated claims such as the idea that the moon landings were faked - believed by a quarter

Graham Taylor appointed manager of Monty Python philosophers' football team

From the Telegraph. Graham Taylor, the former England football manager, may still be reeling from his 0-1 loss to Germany at Wembley in 1991. But his latest appointment could give him an opportunity to set the record straight as he leads a team of the nation’s sharpest minds into battle in a recreation of the Monty Python Philosophers’ Football Match sketch. The 65-year-old will have to summon all his mental strength as he pits his Socrates Wanderers team of comedians, including Tony Hawks and Mark Steel, against “German” rivals Nietzsche Albion, whose ranks include British philosophers Dr Stephen Law and Julian Baggini. More... Official website here .

Oxford Literary Festival Events

Events I have organized for CFI UK in conjunction with the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival: Stephen Law (CFI) and Peter Stanford on What sort of “faith schools” are acceptable, if any? March 24th. 6pm. On Thursday 25th you can listen to Simon Singh talking about alternative therapies (and no doubt having something to say about his own libel case). Does Science Reveal The Mind of God? Polkinghorne vs Papineau is on Friday 26th March. 2pm. On March 27th Ben Goldacre will be talking about Bad Science. 2pm. Professor and magician Richard Wiseman will talk about Weird Science on Sunday 28th at 4pm. You can book at the website . Box Office: 0870 343 1001

Test medicine in the lab, not in the court

Go here . Raymond Tallis writes in the Times: A while back, I wrote a piece arguing that the retired, such as myself, had a responsibility to speak fearlessly about what we saw to be the truth and to take unpopular stands on difficult issues. After all, we no longer had any hope of advancement and the execration of ill-informed, unthinking or self-interested opponents could not touch us. Recent events have awoken my dormant cowardice to question this bravado. Speaking out on some things might mean that Mrs Tallis and I could end our days on the parish, cleaned out by a ruinous court battle with individuals or institutions with deeper pockets than us. The libel case brought against Simon Singh is one such event... continues . And Simon Singh writes: On Tuesday morning I will appear at the Court of Appeal in the latest round of a libel battle that has already lasted almost two years, and which could easily continue for another two years. It has cost me more than £100,000 in legal fe

Request for help

I have organized what I would have thought would be a fantastically interesting CFI UK day on 6th March: Monsters vs Aliens. Great speakers. But I am having real problems advertizing it and getting any bookings. If you know of places in London or vicinity where this event could be publicized - a noticeboard, friends you could email who might be interested, skeptic groups, facebook page, tweets, etc. do please publicize it. I'd really appreciate it. We've got Adrian Shine coming down from Loch Ness, so it would great to have someone there to see him. If you want an A4 poster email me and I'll send you a printable version. Other ideas for publicity gratefully recieved. Do please help! CFIUK/SPES PRESENT MONSTER VS. ALIENS DAY Saturday 6th March 2010 UFOs, The Loch Ness Monster and Big Foot Come hear and question some of the world’s leading experts on notorious monster and alien claims. Nick Pope ran the British government's UFO project at the Ministry of Defence.

Aliens free from original sin?

From wiki entry on original sin. I found this rather fascinating... In an interview entitled "Aliens Are My Brother", granted to L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, Father Gabriel Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory, stated: "In my opinion this possibility (of life on other planets) exists"; "intelligent beings, created by God may exist in outer space" and "some aliens could even be free from original sin" concluding "there could be (other beings) who remained in full friendship with their creator".[42] And on 5 March 2009, Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, another astronomer working at the Vatican Observatory, told the BBC, in relation to the search for Earth-like worlds about to be embarked upon by the Kepler Space telescope, that "we Jesuits are actively involved in the search for Earth-like planets. The idea that there could be other intelligent creatures made by God in a relationship with God is not contrar

Will Kennedy

Just sticking this up because I love it, and because Will Kennedy is one of the world's most effortlessly groovy drummers. POSTSCRIPT. I guess the irony won't be lost on some of you that this is a gospel tune, and that these guys are (mostly?) religious, especially Kennedy, who appeared at drummers for Jesus . Drummer Vinnie Colaiuta is also now a minister. I have also noticed that many drummers tend to be drawn to philosophy. Could there being a link between attraction to (skill at?) drumming and an attraction to thinking about the Big Questions? Probably not, but still, here's a bit of anecdotal evidence. Any more anecdotes on this theme?

The Evil God Challenge

My Paper "The Evil God Challenge" is now available online at the CUP journals page This is the final, published version, appearing in Religious Studies shortly.

"In Wittgenstein, I discovered a voice that advised me not to be endlessly detained these questions"

Giles Fraser has been explaining over at the Guardian why Wittgenstein appeals so strongly to some religious types (like Sam Norton, I suppose - what do you think Sam?). Here is part 1 of his three part essay. Back in the early 80's, I spend many an afternoon in a cramped and stuffy office in King's College, London, with an informally gathered group of mostly graduate students, going through Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations paragraph by paragraph, line by line. It was often terribly slow going. We might ponder two or three sentences for a couple of weeks, coming back to the same point several times. It felt a bit like Bible study. Some might have wondered how much was being achieved in this group or what the point of it all was. But for me it was absorbing, thrilling, adventurous. My eyes were opened and my life was changed. The professor at the centre of this little group was the genial Texan philosopher Norman Malcolm, a lifelong friend of Wittgenstein and on

Haiti "Magic is Real" Benefit

Ian Rowland (great magician - and the world's leading cold-reading expert) writes: Dear Friends, ‘Magic Is Real: Haiti Benefit Evening’ It will happen this coming Wednesday! It will only happen ONCE. It will be a great, memorable and unique occasion! Why would you miss this? We’ve got the TIME. We’ve got the PLACE. We’ve got the ENTERTAINMENT. We’ve got the MAGIC. We’ve got some fantastic Charity Auction items that I promise YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE. Someone on Wednesday evening will pick up the BARGAIN OF A LIFETIME. I am not even close to kidding about this. So… you have been wondering whether to come. NOW is the time for you and your friends to finally decide 'Yes', and to be part of this success story. Magic Is Real, and we will all prove it on Wednesday evening. Come and see the proof for yourself. We made it easy to get to. (If you can stumble sideways out of London Bridge stn, you can find this venue.) We made it easy to get in. (£10 on th

The Iraq bomb detector - a box with little in it

Check this link to BBC video on the amazing Iraq bomb detector . It sounds as if the Iraqi government has unwittingly bought itself $85m worth of dowsing equipment, on which its military have then been relying to detect bombs. The Uri Geller dowsing kit is much cheaper, and includes "crystal pendulum" too. There is nothing to program in these cards. There is no memory. There is no microcontroller. There is no way any form of information can be stored - Dr Markus Kuhn Randi site says: In a refreshing news item, the BBC and others are reporting that Jim McCormick, inventor of the ADE 561 Bomb Detection Device has been arrested and charged with fraud. McCormick sold $85,000,000 worth of these devices that he claims work on the same principle as dowsing rods, except that they detect bombs instead of water. James Randi website here . BBC says : The UK government has announced a ban on the export to Iraq and Afghanistan of some so-called "bomb detectors". It f

Skeptic's toolbox and bacon sandwiches

A great resource from skeptics toolbox on medicine. Go here . Thanks to the committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Based on a powerpoint by Harriet Hall MD. It is particularly good on absolute vs relative risk, about halfway through. Long, but worth the effort to read. A recent study showed that using a cell phone doubled the risk of acoustic neuroma (a tumor in the ear). The relative risk was reported as 200% and alarmed parents took their children’s phones away. But the baseline risk of acoustic neuroma is 1:100,000. 200% of 1 is 2. The absolute risk was 1 more tumor per 100,000 people. Acoustic neuroma is a treatable, non-malignant tumor. The lead researcher said she would rather accept the risk and know where her kids were. She let them keep their cell phones. She warned that the results were provisional, the study small, and that different results might be found with a larger study. She was vindicated when a later, larger study found no increased risk.

PAUL KURTZ 27th Feb talk

Saturday 27th February 2010 in the LIBRARY at Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1 4RL. FREE EVENT. From 11.00 am to 1 pm. Talk on “NEW DIRECTIONS FOR SECULARISTS AND HUMANISTS” by Professor Paul Kurtz. Professor Kurtz is Chair Emeritus and Founder of the Center for Inquiry (CFI), Council for Secular Humanism, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and Prometheus Books. Paul Kurtz is visiting from the US. From 10.00 am to 11.00 am. A representative from the Center for Inquiry in Eastern Europe will give a talk on Humanism in his / her country. There will be ample time for questions and answers. This is a FREE event and you can just turn up without booking.. However if you plan to attend it will be helpful if you email Suresh Lalvani, Executive Director at the Center for Inquiry UK (CFI) at

Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly on Fox

In these clips from Wednesday’s “The O’Reilly Factor” featuring a cameo by Jon Stewart, Bill O’Reilly and his guest disagree on a few things. From truthdig. Go here (it won't link):\?ln Comment here . All three parts of video are here .

Events at the Oxford Literary Festival

CFI UK are running several events at the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival. * Faith School Debate, Stephen Law vs. Peter Stanford - Wednesday 24 March, 6pm * Simon Singh on Trick or Treatment - Thursday 25 March 6pm * Does Science Reveal the Mind of God? Rev John Polkinghorne vs David Papineau - Friday 26 March 2pm * Ben Goldacre - Saturday 27 March, 2pm * Richard Wiseman - Sunday 28 March, 4pm To book, go to

Upcoming talks on the meaning of life and intellectual black holes -Tues 23 Feb

I am speaking at Moser Theatre, Wadham College, Oxford 1-2pm, 23rd February. Details here . The event is CI UK sponsored and FREE. Part of Think Week. Later that day, at Goldsmiths College, 6.10pm, I am giving a talk on intellectual black holes (for Chris French) ROOM 256, RICHARD HOGGART BUILDING, Goldsmiths, University of London, New Cross, London SE14 6NW. All talks are open to staff, students and members of the public. Attendance is FREE and there is no need to book in advance. For further information, visit or contact Tamas Borbely (email: