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Comment 29

Apr 26th, 2011 | By Paul W

Prologue: James Croft wondered about some fundamental value not shared among gnu atheists and accommodationists. Paul offered an answer which many readers found illuminating, too illuminating to be hidden as comment 29 on a long thread.

I think that gnu atheists and accommodationists disagree mainly over one thing: is there too much forthright criticism by atheists of religion generally, or too little?

Gnu atheists think more people ought to regularly speak up critically about bad religious ideas, and that those bad religious ideas are common to “liberal” religion as well as, e.g., fundamentalism.

The reasons why gnus think there’s too little forthright criticism and accommodationists think there’s too much vary considerably.

Accommodationists typically think some or all of the following, … Read the rest

Q and A on The Good Book

Apr 23rd, 2011 | By A C Grayling

 When and why did you become an atheist?

I was brought up in a non-religious family, and when I first encountered religion it simply seemed incredible, no more believable that the fairy stories and Greek myths that I had read and enjoyed as a child.

What motivated you to write The Good Book?

Several decades ago, while studying the ethical theories and systems of the world, I saw a fundamental difference between religion-derived ethics and what I call ‘humanism’, that is, non-religious ethics, namely, that the former present themselves as the commands and requirements of a monarchical deity whereas the latter premises itself on efforts to understand human nature and the human condition – and whereas the former typically cut … Read the rest

Muslims Should Learn to Tolerate Offence and Dissent

Apr 19th, 2011 | By Leo Igwe

My article on the Afghan Koran protest – an unfortunate incident which left over 20 people dead and many more injured – generated many comments and criticisms on the internet. In fact somebody said the piece was informed by ‘racism and islamophobia’. Well I guess this fellow thought I was a white or a Christian or someone living in the West.

 I do not in this article intend to respond to issues raised by those who read the article. For me let the debate continue. I have made my point. What I said in that piece – and in this very one – applies to many Muslims, not all.

So, once again in reaction to the protest over the Koran Read the rest

Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape

Apr 16th, 2011 | By Ophelia Benson

Sam Harris asks an interesting question in the introduction, after laying out his central (and not really controversial) claim that questions about values are questions about the well-being of conscious creatures. “Is it possible,” he asks, “that certain people are incapable of wanting what they should want?” Of course, he answers; there are always people who get things wrong. But that question doesn’t exhaust the difficulties that arise in moral discussion, yet Harris separates it out as if it did. The really hard question, which he generally gives short shrift, asks “is it possible that there are many people who are incapable of wanting what other people want?” In other words is it possible that many people do just fine … Read the rest

Charles Darwin’s Illness

Apr 15th, 2011 | By John Hayman MD


Darwin’s Illness

Charles Darwin suffered from a persistent, debilitating illness for most of his adult life with a wide range of bizarre symptoms.[1] Attacks of nausea and vomiting were his most distressing complaint but he also experienced headaches, abdominal pains, ‘lumbago’, palpitations and chest pain, numbness and tingling in the fingers, sweating, heat and cold sensitivity, flushing and swelling of his face and extremities, eczema, recurrent boils, attacks of acute anxiety, a sensation of dying and hysterical crying. His abdominal symptoms were associated with much flatulence with the noisy expulsion of pungent gas both ‘upwards and downwards’. In addition to all of this he also suffered from episodes of severe lethargy when he was virtually confined to his sofa.… Read the rest

The Postmodern Interpretation of Witchcraft

Apr 10th, 2011 | By Joshua Leach

Today, the great wave of postmodernist and poststructuralist academic writing, with its epistemological relativism and obfuscating rhetoric, has largely subsided.  It may never disappear, as few things do, and it may have become so thoroughly embedded in certain disciplines as to color them for the foreseeable future.  However, the vogue for “discourses” and “hermeneutics” has largely passed its prime, and disciplines which once felt themselves to be engaged in a life-or-death struggle with the new wave of academics (anthropology, history, e.g.) now seem to be regaining their footing and reclaiming a scientific basis. 

History cannot be written if we do not believe that any one narrative of the past is more “true” than another, or that it is possible, despite … Read the rest

Koran or Human Life: Which one is more important to Muslims?

Apr 2nd, 2011 | By Leo Igwe

I have been asking myself this question for some time but I have now decided to ask it out loud following the chilling news coming out of Afghanistan. The news is not something new. It has become a recurrent feature in many Islamic countries.

Yes, my question is this – which one is more valuable to our muslim friends – is it the Koran, or human life? Is it Islamic piety or respect for this one life we have? Is it this real temporary life in this world or the imaginary eternal life in the hereafter?

Because it is now confirmed that at least 10 more people have been killed and over 45 injured in Southern Afghanistan during a protest … Read the rest

On reading with a modicum of scepticism

Mar 29th, 2011 | By Allen Esterson

That recycled accounts of events or reports frequently contain inaccuracies going beyond anything in the original is a phenomenon well documented in the psychological literature.[1] I recently happened upon an extreme example of this, made more notable by the fact it occurs in an issue of the highly respected magazine, National Geographic – though not, I hasten to add, the familiar English-language publication. The article in question was published in the Hungarian National Geographic in 2005, the “Einstein Year” centenary of the publication of Einstein’s celebrated 1905 articles in Annalen der Physik. It pays tribute to several individuals whom it describes as “forgotten Hungarian collaborators” with Einstein, albeit that in the next paragraph it is acknowledged that for the … Read the rest

Preventing Witchcraft Accusations and Child Rights Abuses in Akwa Ibom State, part 2

Mar 22nd, 2011 | By Leo Igwe

The Prevent the Abuse of Children Today (PACT) campaign team has concluded its school outreach program in Eket senatorial district in Akwa Ibom state. The outreach targeted schools because we believe they are places where we could ‘catch them young’ in terms of preventing the abuse of children today – and tomorrow – in Akwa Ibom state. The schools are places that we can empower children and young people to defend themselves. In the first leg of the tour (February 28 to March 4), the PACT team visited schools in Oron, Okobo, Urue Offong Oruko, Udung Uko, and Mbo .  And the second leg of the tour (March 7- 11) the team was at Esit Eket, Eket, Ibeno, Onna, Eastern Read the rest

The Invisibility of Misogyny

Mar 18th, 2011 | By Phil Molé

In the summer of 2010, Mel Gibson’s phone rant to his ex-partner Oksana Grigorieva became an internet sensation. The recording of Gibson’s enraged comments was circulated under headlines about his “insane,” “racist” and “psychotic” rant. There’s no doubt about the aptness of the “insane” and “psychotic” descriptions, and Gibson’s statement that Grigorieva’s choice of wardrobe made her look “ like a fucking pig in heat” who risked getting “raped by a pack of niggers” shows plenty of overachievement in the racism department. But while commenters seemed to easily notice the general craziness of Gibson’s words and their disturbing racism, very few drew attention to his rant’s most distinguishing feature: its unremitting misogyny. Gibson proclaims, “I am going to come and … Read the rest

Can we be Good without believing in God?

Mar 16th, 2011 | By Leo Igwe

Can human beings be good without leaning on a god or dogma? Can we be moral without being religious? The answer to these questions is an unequivocal “Yes”. Human beings indeed do not need to believe in a deity or to belong to any religion in order to be good or to do good. The whole idea of the good-of doing good-preceded the idea of a god and religion. In fact the entity called god is alien to the equation of human goodness and morality.

We, humans, do not need to belong to any religion in order to have a sense of moral right or wrong. Moral rectitude is natural, and not predicated on supernatural faith. Morality is a product Read the rest

Campaign Against Witchcraft Accusations in Akwa Ibom State

Mar 9th, 2011 | By Leo Igwe
Campaign Against Witchcraft Accusations in Akwa Ibom State

A campaign to Prevent the Abuse of Children Today (PACT) in Akwa Ibom, also known as Operation Enlightenment, is underway in Eket Senatorial distirict in Akwa Ibom state. The program sponsored by Stepping Stones Nigeria aims at enlightening the people and getting them to know that child witchcraft is a myth and a form of superstition, and that the prophets and apostles who claim to cure or deliver people from witchcraft are fraudsters and criminals. The campaign team will tour all the local government areas under the senatorial zone. In each LGA a drama will be staged in two schools. 130 t-shirts, 1000 stickers, 500 posters, 800 calendars are to be distributed across the district. So far we have toured Read the rest

Why Evolution is not Faith

Mar 4th, 2011 | By Franco Henwood

Nine years ago, controversy erupted regarding a Christian school in the UK (Emmanuel College, Gateshead), which openly challenged the theory of evolution in its lessons and taught creationism alongside evolution.  

One of the school’s defenders, journalist Melanie Phillips, quoted  Emmanuel’s head teacher Nigel McQuoid and the former head John Burns, who stated that ‘the school should teach both evolution and creation theory [my italics], and that both are ‘faith positions [my italics].[1]

You may think that this issue is now old hat, a storm in a tea cup that has long subsided.  You may well be mistaken; if opinion polls are to be believed, such views appear to be gaining traction in the UK. One recent … Read the rest

The Elephant in the Statehouse

Mar 4th, 2011 | By Jim Cornehls, Ph.D, J.D.

State governments and (Republican) Governors currently are going through paroxysms of false hand wringing and despair.  They pretend not to know why state budgets are so wildly out of balance.  In mock anguish they lament the need to cut education budgets, renege on public employee pensions and cut health benefits for these groups.

Something has to be done to balance state budgets.  But the nation can’t simply eliminate all the give-away programs and policies for the wealthy and the big corporations.  These are the people and businesses that provide the hand-full of jobs in the U.S. that haven’t yet been moved abroad or phased out in essential cost saving measures.

But wait……there may be yet another (Republican) way out after … Read the rest

Shahbaz Bhatti and the Death of Reason

Mar 2nd, 2011 | By R. Joseph Hoffmann

My time in Pakistan was glorious.  I taught bright, beautiful and hopeful students who saw the world not as a series of entitlements but rather as a steep staircase to be climbed, littered with challenges set up by a crooked government that lunged from disaster to catastrophe.  It is easy in such circumstances to forget that Pakistan was founded on a crest of hope that soon dissipated into old rivalries, pissing contests between elites, indifference to the mountain men of the Pashto borderlands, suspicion (much of it justified) of eastern and western geopolitics, and an infrastructure that in every decade after 1950 fell further and further behind its more progressive western neighbor and rival–India.

But that is history.  Pakistan treated … Read the rest

Islam and the emerging Arab World

Feb 25th, 2011 | By Leo Igwe

With the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, and a series of ongoing protest sweeping across other countries of North Africa and the Middle East, a new Arab world is imminent. The old Arab world is slowly and gradually fading away and ushering in a new era of hope, freedom and progress. But there are uncertainties and anxieties as to what this wind of change holds for the people in the region and the world at large. There is a growing concern as to what would be the role of Islam in the new dispensation particularly in this era of Islamic terrorism. The Arab world and the Islamic world are often seen as identical. North Africa and the Middle East are … Read the rest

Darwin’s Illness

Feb 22nd, 2011 | By Allen Esterson

Despite the title, I have no intention of discussing the extensive literature on the origin and nature of Darwin’s chronic illness.[1] My concern here is to examine the contention that trepidation about the potential vehement opposition his evolutionary theory would evoke from his religious friends and acquaintances, and among the privileged classes in general, greatly exacerbated his symptoms. The widely-held view that there was such a link is a significant feature of Adrian Desmond and James Moore’s biography Darwin (1991), and in the course of challenging the very basis of this contention, I shall also examine the means by which these authors seek to persuade their readers to accept it.

On his return from the five-year Beagle voyage, Darwin was … Read the rest

Desmond and Moore’s Darwin

Feb 21st, 2011 | By Allen Esterson

It is widely believed that Darwin delayed publication of his evolutionary theory for some fifteen years largely because he feared the wrath of his contemporaries.[1] The most influential exponents of this view are Adrian Desmond and James Moore, who have promoted it not only in their 1991 biography Darwin, but also in a number of articles and broadcasts. For instance, having reported that in 1842 Darwin had “fleshed-out a thirty-five-page sketch of his evolutionary theory”, they add that “he could have planned to publish” were it not for the fact that it was “heresy to the geologists and blasphemy to the parsons” (Desmond and Moore 1991, pp. 292, 294). A little later they write:

Of course Darwin could not

Read the rest

Darwin’s “Delay”

Feb 20th, 2011 | By Allen Esterson

Most people interested in the literature on Darwin are aware that he alighted on his theory of natural selection a short time after returning from his five-year Beagle voyage in 1836 (Sulloway 1982). It is rather less well-known that during the first decade following his return he produced a large body of work not directly related to his evolutionary theory: Journal of Researches of the Voyage of H. M. S. Beagle (1839 and revised in 1845); five volumes of Zoology of the Voyage of H. M. S. Beagle (1840‑1843), which he edited; three volumes of the Geology of the Voyage of the Beagle (1842‑1846); and numerous papers and reviews (Richards 1983, pp. 46-47).

Darwin started jotting down notes on the … Read the rest

Two “Witch children” Rescued from Traffickers

Feb 15th, 2011 | By Leo Igwe
Two “Witch children” Rescued from Traffickers

On February 11, 2011 I led a team of child rights activists and a police officer who rescued two children – Freedom Peter Okoro-Oko (8) and Anietie Mfon Ime Etuk (10) – following a tip off from our local contacts in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.

The kids were living in a shanty buiding with an old man, Asuquo Akpan Ukpong, whose family members – according to local sources – trafficked children.

Freedom and Anietie were accused of witchcraft and then abandoned by their families. They were living in the local market  square before they were ‘picked up’ by Mr Asuquo who used them as child labourers. (Asuquo, we were told, used to send children to work for him on his … Read the rest