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How to be a successful atheist priest

Jun 17th, 2007 | By Colin Brewer

Despite the fact that Voltaire thought him ‘the most singular [of] the meteors fatal to the Christian religion’, Jean Meslier has been almost completely forgotten for most of the last two hundred years, even in France where he was born in 1664. Yet his name should be familiar to anyone who is interested in the history of religion and of European atheism, especially if they have a sense of humour. Meslier’s achievement, unique for its period, was to put his name to a long, lacerating, well-referenced and unambiguously atheist document at a time when to do so was to invite almost certain and messy execution. He may not have known that even in our own comparatively tolerant islands, we were … Read the rest

Thailand: Education in the South Engulfed in Fear

Jun 16th, 2007 | By Human Rights Watch

(New York, June 14, 2007) – A new surge of violent attacks on teachers and schools by separatist militants has seriously disrupted education in Thailand’s southern border provinces, Human Rights Watch said today.

Officials in Narathiwat province have been forced to close more than 300 government schools in all 13 districts this week after insurgents killed three teachers on June 11. Two gunmen walked into the library of Ban Sakoh school in Si Sakhon district around noon and shot two female teachers, Thippaporn Thassanopas, 42, and Yupha Sengwas, 26, in the head, abdomen and legs. They died instantly in front of some 100 children, who were playing in front of the library after lunch. Both teachers received warnings before they … Read the rest

The Case for Humanity: Hitchens on Religion

Jun 13th, 2007 | By Max Dunbar

“I have been writing this book all my life,” Hitchens says, “and intend to keep on writing it.” Indeed, from his critical biography of Mother Theresa onwards the case against religion is always an underlying theme in Hitchens’s work, and I’m surprised that it has taken him so long to devote a whole book to this subject. It’s worth the wait, though.

This is partly because of Hitchens’s style: erudite but never pretentious, furious without hysteria, serious and laugh-out-loud funny. The breadth of scholarship and learning, and the ease and wit with which he communicates it to the reader, means that you could read Hitchens on any subject regardless of whether you agree with him. To use a cliché in … Read the rest

Islam’s Voltaire: A Life of Aayan Hirsi Ali

Jun 5th, 2007 | By Max Dunbar

One midnight in July 1992, a twenty-two year old Somalian Muslim known as Ayaan Hirsi Magan arrived in Holland fleeing an arranged marriage. Fourteen years later, Hirsi Ali was known as an outspoken Dutch MP and writer with strong views on religion and the role of women under Islamic law. With the director Theo Van Gogh she made a film, Submission, which took the form of a series of dialogues between Allah and female Muslims.

There is the woman who is flogged for committing adultery; another who is given in marriage to a man she loathes; another who is beaten by her husband on a regular basis; and another who is shunned by her father when he learns that

Read the rest

Why Islamic Hijab

May 31st, 2007 | By Jahanshah Rashidian

With the arrival of spring, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s police have launched this year their traditional crackdown on women’s dress. Such crackdowns have become a regular feature of life for Iranian women. The crackdown is to force women to respect the strict Islamic dress code.

Under Iran’s Islamic laws (Sharia) women are obliged to cover their body from head- to-toe with a black chador or at least long, loose-fitting clothes to disguise their whole figures. The Islamic dress code is severely imposed at this time. Violators can receive lashes, fines or imprisonment.

Since the existence of the IRI, not a day has passed without attack, physical assault, arrest, acid-throwing, harassment and psychological pressure on women in Iran. The IRI … Read the rest

Descartes’ Meditations (Digested)

May 23rd, 2007 | By Julian Baggini

Continuing what, improbably, could turn out to be a series, in which philosophical classics are reduced to their elements as a service to students and scholars.

Descartes’ Meditations


Realised that I’ve never examined the foundations of my beliefs and so I could be wrong about everything. To be honest, I don’t seriously believe I am wrong about anything, but I thought it might be fun to prove it. So, I asked myself, how might I be really, really wrong? Only if something totally far-fetched has happened, such as that I’m actually dreaming, mad or deceived by an evil demon. Still, that’s technically possible so I went to bed feeling progress had been made.


Woke up and realised one … Read the rest

Atheists Versus Theists

May 20th, 2007 | By D. R. Khashaba

The ongoing debate between atheists and theists has become ludicrous, banal, and unprofitable. I have long thought that the more vociferous atheists were following a wrong strategy and wrong tactics, leaving the religionists free to pose as unrivalled defenders of moral values and the realities of the life of the spirit (the expression ‘spiritual life’ has become suspect among rationalists and been ceded to religion, which is a pity). The propagandist and frenzied approach of the fashionable atheists is reducing us to the sorry choice between dogmatic religion and stark materialism. So it was a pleasure to come across a sane and balanced review article by Anthony Gottlieb.

Gottlieb reminds us that in the second century of the Christian … Read the rest

Bangladesh: Release Tasneem Khalil

May 10th, 2007 | By Human Rights Watch

(London, May 11, 2007) – Bangladesh’s military-backed care-taker government should immediately release Tasneem Khalil, an investigative journalist and part-time Human Rights Watch consultant, who was detained by security forces late last night, Human Rights Watch said today.

Khalil, 26, is a journalist for the Dhaka-based Daily Star newspaper who conducts research for Human Rights Watch. According to his wife, four men in plainclothes who identified themselves as from the “joint task force”came to the door after midnight on May 11 in Dhaka, demanding to take Khalil away. They said they were placing Khalil “under arrest” and taking him to the Sangsad Bhavan army camp, outside the parliament building in Dhaka.

“We are extremely concerned about Tasneem Khalil’s safety,” said Brad … Read the rest

An Essay on Man: A Trumpet Blast Against the “New” Humanism

Apr 23rd, 2007 | By R Joseph Hoffmann

Pressed to apologize for a silly comment he’d made about the full-frontal atheism of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, the humanist chaplain at Harvard replied to Brian Fleming (The God who Wasn’t There, etc.) – the slightly offended party – as follows:

I think apologizing is really a wonderful, necessary thing to do often. We human beings are so imperfect, we hurt each other and fail to live up to our own standards so often that learning to properly apologize is practically a survival tool. At least in my life it has been – I fail often to be as loving, or as smart, or just plain as right as I’d like to be. And I have seen

Read the rest

Five Questions About Clarity

Apr 23rd, 2007 | By Stephen Law and Nigel Warburton

Nigel Warburton is senior lecturer in philosophy at The Open University. He is one of the world’s foremost popularizers of philosophy, and has a particular gift for explaing things clearly. His books include Thinking from A to Z (about to come out in its 3rd edition this summer), Philosophy: The Essential Study Guide and The Basics of Essay Writing.

As the issue of clarity came up in the comments on a recent blog of mine, I asked Nigel five questions about clarity (questions in bold).

At the top of your website the Virtual Philosopher you quote John Searle: “If you can’t say it clearly, you don’t understand it yourself”. What is clarity, and why is it important in Read the rest

We Aim to Misbehave

Apr 22nd, 2007 | By P Z Myers

Larry Moran raised an interesting comparison over at Laden’s place. In response to this constant whining that loud-and-proud atheism ‘hurts the cause’, he brought up a historical parallel:

Here’s just one example. Do you realize that women used to march in the streets with placards demanding that they be allowed to vote? At the time the suffragettes were criticized for hurting the cause. Their radical stance was driving off the men who might have been sympathetic to women’s right to vote if only those women had stayed in their proper place.

This prompted the usual cry of the accommodationists: but feminists weren’t as rude as those atheists.

Were the women saying that men were stupid? Were they portraying

Read the rest

We say no to a medieval Kurdistan

Apr 21st, 2007 | By Houzan Mahmoud

Around seven months ago, a draft constitution for the Kurdistan region was made available for discussion, suggestions and amendments. Article seven of this proposed constitution states: This constitution stresses the identification of the majority of Kurdish people as Muslims; thus the Islamic sharia law will be considered as one of the major sources for legislation making.

It is clear to the world that in those countries where sharia law is practised – or simply where groups of Islamic militias operate – freedom of expression, speech and association is under threat, if not totally absent. The rights of non-Islamic religious minorities are invariably violated and women suffer disproportionately.

The implementation of sharia law in Kurdistan would be the start of new … Read the rest

Walter Isaacson, Einstein, and Mileva Marić

Apr 17th, 2007 | By Allen Esterson

In an article in Time magazine in 2006 Walter Isaacson wrote of Albert Einstein: “[In 1905] he had come up with the special theory of relativity… His marriage to Mileva Marić, an intense and brooding Serbian physicist who had helped him with the math of his 1905 paper, had just exploded.”[1]

As I pointed out at the time[2], Einstein would hardly have needed help with the modest level of mathematics he used in the special relativity paper, the knowledge of which he had already acquired in his middle teens. As Jürgen Renn, an editor of the Albert Einstein Collected Papers, has observed, “If he had needed help with that kind of mathematics, he would have ended there.”[3] I could … Read the rest

The New Humanism Yet Again

Apr 6th, 2007 | By R. Joseph Hoffmann

At the end of April 2007 a “gala celebration” is being staged at America’s oldest University – the one in Cambridge, Massachusetts – to honor thirty years of the Harvard Humanist chaplaincy. The event designs to bring together friendly but competitive visions of the unruly congeries of ideas we call, for simplicity’s sake, “humanism.” To spice things up, the Harvard organizers have decided to use the sexy phrase “New Humanism” to describe the agenda. and while I do not know at the time of this writing precisely what will be said by the wise and wizened who attend the conference, I can guess, and I can guess I’ll be right.

The new humanism will be called a bright and bold … Read the rest

Truth Still Matters

Mar 29th, 2007 | By Jeremy Stangroom and Ophelia Benson

This article started life as a post by JS on Talking Philosophy, The Philosophers’ Magazine’s new blog. The post criticised the shortcomings of an opinion poll commissioned by the British Humanist Association. David Pollock and Jemima Hooper of the BHA later commented on the post, and Casper Melville posted a comment on the New Humanist blog, to which Julian Baggini replied. JS and OB then wrote separate comments on the BHA reaction – a reaction which gave them an odd feeling that they would have to write Why Truth Matters all over again, or at least give the BHA a tutorial in its subject matter.

The Opinion Poll

The recent opinion poll commissioned by The British Humanist Association (BHA) … Read the rest

‘Honour’ Killing Victim Could Have Been Saved

Mar 23rd, 2007 | By Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation

Women from the London-based Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation have been attending the trial currently in session at Court 10 of London’s Central Criminal Court. Mahmod Mahmod, father to Banaz Mahmod Babakir Agha, and Ari Mahmod Babakir Agha, a wealthy business man and her uncle, are accused of her murder in the name of so-called ‘honour’. The case has been much covered by the media over its first few days. Banaz’s boyfriend, Rehmat Suleimani, a Kurd from Iran, has given his account, including a heartbreaking video recorded on his mobile phone in which Banaz herself accuses her father of trying to murder her, which reduced her former lover to tears. Her father and uncle remained stone-faced.

Rehmat himself reports … Read the rest

A Dialogue with the Diggers

Mar 22nd, 2007 | By R Joseph Hoffmann

Scene: At the tombs, outside Jerusalem:

Professor T: It’s got to be here somewhere. The map the antiquities people gave us says there’s a housing development on the site.

Jacob.: It doesn’t matter. You’ve seen one tomb….

Prof. T: No, we have to get this right. The archaeology has to support my theory….

Jacob: I know, the caliphate. What’s that about?

Prof T: Jesus was married. Maybe had a son. Heirs—but James took over from him when he died.

Jacob: James who? There was a James Christ?

Prof T: If I am right, we are literally standing on top of the tomb of the Jesus family.

Jacob: It is exciting. But there’s nothing left in the tomb, right?

Prof T: … Read the rest

An historic 8 March in Iran

Mar 10th, 2007 | By Maryam Kousha

People in Iran welcomed 8th March this year by organising many events well ahead of the actual day in different cities all over the country. It culminated in major gatherings on Thursday, international women’s day. People were passionate about the day, had prepared manifestos, resolutions and banners demanding equality, condemning gender apartheid and women’s oppression. As usual the Islamic regime tried everything to halt and prevent these events. Despite massive paramilitary and secret police presence, many pickets and gatherings took place.


Several thousand people gathered around Tehran University by 4 pm Tehran’s time to start an 8 March rally which was called by 8 March organising committee, endorsed by OWL. However, this gathering was prevented from commencing by the … Read the rest

“Faccidents”: Bad Assumptions and the Jesus Tomb Debacle

Mar 7th, 2007 | By R. Joseph Hoffmann

So much will have been written about the Discovery Channel presentation of the James Cameron extravaganza, “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” that a further dissenting voice will neither be needed nor missed, In my initial preview of the program, published within hours of the CNN “announcement” and public unveiling of the alleged Jesus and Mary Magdalene matrimonial ossuaries, I wrote that the entire project was based on bad assumptions, and that since “following the science,” as the logorrhoeic Simcha Jacobovici says he was doing, can only take one where assumptions lead, let me spell out why the assumptions underlying this project are not only flawed but positively malicious to good scholarship and science. It seems to me uncontroversial and … Read the rest

The Bones of Our Lord

Feb 26th, 2007 | By R. Joseph Hoffmann

Happily coinciding with our Lenten observances, CNN and the Discovery Channel have colluded to bring us startling news, just ahead of the feast of the resurrection: namely, that Jesus lay for two thousand years in a family tomb next to his beloved bride, Mary (or Murray) Magdalene, and their little son, Judah, also known as Timmy. “The Lost Tomb of Christ” will air on March 4th. The miracle of the millennia has become the love story that could not be told.

“The Lost Tomb of Christ” will air on that paragon of scientific rectitude The Discovery Channel, home of such mind benders as “The Miracles of Jesus,” “Da Vinci’s Code,” and “Mysteries of the Bible.” Essentially the hoopla is all … Read the rest