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Summer Educational Program to Explore What Lies “Beyond Belief”

Jul 10th, 2007 | By Nathan Bupp

Amherst, New York—The Center for Inquiry (CFI), a secular humanist think tank located in Amherst, New York, has announced that it is offering a unique educational experience this summer called “Beyond Belief.” Taking a cue from the recent flood of highly popular books on atheism and unbelief, CFI hopes to bring something new to the cultural conversation by contributing in a positive and constructive way. Running July 5 through July 22, the three-week session will explore topics such as the future of unbelief, does one need God to be good, and the constructive role of doubt and science in everyday life.

“Atheism and doubt have become popular fare in the marketplace of ideas,” said R. Joseph Hoffmann, the vice president … Read the rest

Crackdown on Tehran’s Thugs

Jul 1st, 2007 | By Jahanshah Rashidian

Photos and news published in Iranian media describe continuous crackdowns in Iran. To “increase public security”, the regime’s Security Forces have now started clamping down on “thugs” in Tehran. The drive is a follow-up to the commonplace plan that traditionally starts in the springtime with nationwide morality crackdowns on women labelled “bad hijab” (badly veiled).

Authorities in Iran speak of a steadily increasing number of arrests and claim that “Our decisive confrontation will continue in Tehran down to the very last thug,” said the head of the capital’s metropolitan police force, Ahmad Reza Radan, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

According to different sources, pictures taken by the Fars news agency and reproduced by several moderate dailies showed a … Read the rest

The Assault on Freedom of Speech in China

Jul 1st, 2007 | By Edmund Standing

According to Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution, Chinese citizens have the right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. In reality this is utterly false. Consistently, China has shown total contempt for the concept of freedom of speech, and, most worryingly, it is being aided in this by major Western corporations. Throwing aside the pretence of responsible and ethical business, well known corporations including Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and Cisco Systems are actively assisting the Chinese government’s campaign against human rights, motivated by the promise of potentially huge financial returns.

In contemporary China, journalists, bloggers, academics, and political opponents of the Government routinely face harassment and imprisonment. A brief summary of recent developments makes for sobering reading.

2000:… Read the rest

Review of Reading Legitimation Crisis in Tehran

Jul 1st, 2007 | By Max Dunbar

Picking up this tiny book from a little-known university press, I am reminded of Thomas Paine, Karl Marx, and their fellow pamphleteers of revolution. Even the cover, with its pale blue and declarative font, looks like samizdat. Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore would like to think of themselves as dissident writers in a totalitarian state, but their polemics are widely available and sell by the bucketload. Moore, in particular, has added considerably to Rupert Murdoch’s fortune. But Danny Postel is the real deal.

The first half of Postel’s little book comprises a series of essays in which he attempts to answer the question: why is the Left of the rich world ignoring comrades in the poor world?

Iraq tore the … Read the rest

What Is God?

Jun 30th, 2007 | By D. R. Khashaba

I have often complained of the shallowness, triviality, and anaemia of current theism/atheism discussions. In the following contribution (hopefully to be followed by others) I mean to infuse some lifeblood into the discussion. If, on whichever side of the discussion you may be, you still find much in what I say with which you strongly disagree, which indeed irritates you, that will be all the better. I mean to stir stagnant waters, inject turbulence into placid intellectual positions.

The idea of a creator or of creation is metaphysically bankrupt. It is a silly notion that breeds more riddles than it solves. In fact it solves nothing. If we ask: Why should there be anything rather than nothing?, we see immediately … Read the rest

Politics, People and the Spectacle

Jun 27th, 2007 | By Rajesh Kumar Sharma

Democratic politics is essentially the politics of rational dialogue in which language, thought and persuasion play key roles. At least that is what we have over the decades learnt to believe. But recent electoral battles in India appear to have fundamentally shifted the ground on which our democratic beliefs have stood so far.

It is not being argued here that the theatre of politics has moved unprecedentedly and dangerously away from reason and towards emotion. Emotion has always been an indispensable appendage of democratic politics, whether for good or for bad. What is new is something else. It is the rise to predominance of affect vis-à-vis reason and emotion. This has shifted politics on to an entirely different ground. What … Read the rest

Launch of the Council of ex-Muslims of Britain

Jun 19th, 2007 | By Maryam Namazie

A British branch of a new Europe-wide phenomenon is to be launched on Thursday 21 June in London. The Council of ex-Muslims of Britain is building on the stunning success of other branches already operating in Germany, Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The British Humanist Association and National Secular Society are sponsoring the launch and support the new organisation.

The Council will provide a voice for those labelled Muslim but who have renounced religion and do not want to be identified by religion.

Rights activist Maryam Namazie will be the voice of the organisation in this country. She said: “We are establishing the alternative to the likes of the Muslim Council of Britain because we don’t think people should be … Read the rest

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