Monthly Archives: December 2007

What is so bad about an atheist movie?

Larissa Dubecki, What is so bad about an atheist movie?

SO WHAT the hell is an atheist supposed to do at Christmas? Going by debates about a children’s fantasy film due to be released on Boxing Day, I’ll presumably spend the morning sacrificing kittens, move on to larger mammals in the afternoon and by evening will be taking the Lord’s name in vain in rhyming couplets. . . .

Full article in The Age

A fun year for atheists (Dr Peter Jensen), — and another interview with Spong


I’m sure it’s a crime to put Peter Jensen and John Spong in the same heading.

A fun year for atheists — by Anglican archbishop Dr Peter Jensen — with comments. (On Unleashed)

And a livestreaming/downloadable interview with Bishop John Shelby Spong Click on Most Popular Recent Interviews and navigate to the Spong interview. His recent book Jesus for the Non-Religious is the background to this interview.

Or for the abridged 3’30” interview go to the ABC site and navigate to “Best of the Year” and then to Listen to the excerpt.

read more »

Why religious arguments do not belong in public debate

Philosophers and political theorists holding a wide variety of philosophical views use the terms ‘public reason’ and ‘public justification’ to describe a broad framework for a discussion in which everyone in a community can take part. Supporters of the idea of public justification see democratic politics not so much as a battle for power, settled by elections, but rather as a kind of public conversation about issues of common concern, with a decision-procedure for reaching temporary closure on these issues when the time for action has come. When we take ­part in this conversation, we seek to justify our views to others, and in so doing we should acknowledge the fact of political and religious pluralism. read more »

Is an embryo human life and therefore something precious to be protected?

More notes from Peter Singer’s The President of Good and Evil: The Ethics of George W. Bush (pp. 45-53)

Is an embryo human life and therefore something precious to be protected?

Yes, an embryo formed from the sperm and egg of human beings is certainly human life. It is of the species Homo Sapiens and not of any other species.

But, does it necessarily follow that “therefore” an embryo is “something precious to be protected”? read more »

The ethics of belief

Notes from Peter Singer’s The President of Good and Evil: The Ethics of George W. Bush (pp. 114-119)

What are we to think, ethically, of someone who bases his or her life on unquestioning faith, of someone for whom religious belief is “an unquestioned foundation that will not shift”? read more »

Making sense of the Ephesian Riot in Acts

Continuing from the previous post on the literary genre of Acts which left dangling some unusual problems with the Ephesian Riot scene in Acts 19, two of which are:

  • Paul is not involved in the riot at all, so what is the significance of this lengthy graphic narrative?
  • A previously unmentioned Jew is put forward to address the crowd but gets nowhere: what is the narrative point of this detail?
  • Who was leading the riot, how could they hold such sway, and why do they disappear in the heat of the moment, and why is the crowd so easily persuaded to disperse?

Pervo’s Profit with Delight discussion of the Ephesian Riot scene in Acts 19 is picked up and viewed from another angle in his Dating Acts (pp.179-183). Here Pervo draws heavily on Robert Stoops’ article, Riot and Assembly: The Social Context of Acts 19:23-41.

read more »

The literary genre of Acts. 7: Chapter 19 as a case study

Continuing notes from Pervo’s Profit with Delight on the literary genre of Acts . . . .

Pervo offers a review of Acts 19 to illustrate the magnitude of the problem of reading Acts as history. read more »

Wonderful interview with Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan’s widow

Grab the ipod (or listen to the “live streaming) while you can — a truly wonderful discussion between Philip Adams and Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan’s widow, on Late Night Live.

Ann discusses with Philip everything from the numinous, scepticism and wonder, god (that is the Spinoza and Einstein idea of god, being shorthand for the sum total of the laws of the universe), the fight against science in the U.S. right now (“this horrible, ridiculous infantile period”) against a theology that comes right out of the middle ages . . . .

Would we be witnessing “this horrible, ridiculous infantile period” if the voices of Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould were still broadcasting and publishing?

Ann also describes a moving last conversation between Stephen Jay Gould and Carl Sagan.

Also discussed:

The Voyager project, and the music, sights and sounds of life on earth being carried out to a lifespan 1 billion years from now . . .

Pioneering work in the Greenhouse effect on Venus and realization of its applicability to Earth. . .

The ridicule and jealousy Carl experienced from his contemporary scientific community because of his popularization of science . . .

How Carl is one of those very few who lived up to his image and reputation when face to face — Nelson Mandela being one other such rarity . . .

Wonderful word images of our place in the universe . . .

How humanity is still very young with science, and how we are still going through a post-Copernican stress syndrome (only 400 years to date of systematic science) . . .

How we are only just now beginning to get some inkling of nature . . . How the humbling experience of all this makes Ann see how proud we should be to be human beings . . .

How science is compatible with religion, but incompatible with fundamentalism, with faith, with belief in absence of evidence.

Asked about her theological position, Ann replies that she doesn’t know anything and that is her theological position — The little that we know about the universe is only a tiny percentage of what there is to know. We know virtually nothing about our surroundings, they being mostly shrouded in dark matter.

Thought: If this is what hydrogen molecules can produce given billions of years of evolution, all the love, joy, feeling, wonder and awe, . . . Ann has no interest in jumping to conclusions about what is “there”, but wants rather “to know” (not “to believe”) how things came to be. She has no interest in projecting her fears or needs for a loving parent on to it all. Happy to withhold judgment and continue to watch in fascination as our little bit of understanding expands.

You’ll be the poorer for not listening to the interview — about 20 minutes.

Also the Cosmos is now available on DVD! Now I know what I want for Christmas. Check the Late Night Live site for details.

3 problems with recognizing the state of Israel’s “right to exist”

Historical Palestinian refusal to recognize the state of Israel has generally been portrayed in the western mainstream media as a sign of an Arab anti-Jewish hatred and wish to drive Israel “into the sea”. What is not often conveyed by western leaders and media are the reasons Palestinian and other Arab peoples have often refused to recognized Israel, and the fact that on several occasions they have conditionally offered to recognize Israel.

  1. Israel is a Jewish state, meaning it is a racial state, and this means that other racial or religious minorities do not in practice have equal citizenship rights. The world has come to deplore other states such as apartheid South Africa and nazi Germany using race in preference to truly democratic principles as the essential rationale for their existence.
  2. Recognizing Israel as a new state would mean accepting Israel’s refusal of the right of return for the refugees and their descendants who were expelled from territories Israel now controls from past wars. In other words, ethnic cleansing will be accepted as a legitimate fait accompli.
  3. To recognize Israel carte blanche means accepting their occupation and control over much of the West Bank, and ongoing “bantustan-ization” of Palestinians. Both Palestinian and Arab leaders have publicly agreed recognize Israel in her pre-1967 war borders. But Israel refuses to recognize any such borders as final, arguing it has both security and biblical-historical justifications to expand its “living space” (cf. lebensraum).

This is not to deny that there is a widespread anti-Jewish sentiment among many Arabs. But anti-Arab racism on the part of many Jews is just as tangible. Western media works against peace in the Middle East as long as they simplify Arab reasons for unconditionally accepting Israel’s right to exist (i.e. with present borders, a race-based state, ethnically cleansed) as a matter of irrational hate against Jews. Western media also works against peace while it refuses to openly criticize the real wrongs (and racism) of Israel. The above stumbling blocks to Arab recognition of Israel are discussed more openly and constructively in Israel than they are in the black-and-white simplistic reporting of mainstream English-language media.

“Recovery from Religion” – new website for ex-fundamentalists

Marlene Winell is involved in building a new website, Recovery from Religion.

read more »

Recent developments in the Gospel of Judas debate

Little doubt that the tenor of the April DeConick translation is winning open misere. The National Geographic and its translators have been paid their silver for betraying the real Judas. Suspect some would rather hang DeConick than themselves now they’ve been found out, though.

The National Geographic and one of its translators of the Gospel of Judas have replied to April DeConick’s criticism of their translation and publication that portrays Judas as the one disciple with the true spiritual understanding of Jesus. Actually that’s not strictly correct. At least one of the replies seemed to studiously avoid DeConick’s specific criticisms.

There are two discussions on the internet addressing this debate between DeConick and the National Geographic translation.

1. The April DeConick Reinterprets the Gospel of Judas thread on the Biblical Criticism and History section of the Internet Infidels discussion board. This thread goes back to late October but is well worth scanning for background alerts on the underlying issues of treatment of the original evidence, past form of some of the players, in particular custodians of source documents, etc. — e.g. point blank refusal to make public the full size images of original manuscripts.

2. Of course there is also April DeConick’s latest blog post with discussion of the most recent New York Times response by the National Geographic and one of the translators. (See also earlier responses to DeConick’s translation and post to the New York Times on the same blog.)

Sensational biblical archaeology — Eric Cline interview

Eric Cline is interviewed in a discussion about the recent spate of sensational “finds” in “biblical archaeology” . . . streaming, ipod download and transcript are available on the ABC’s Religion Report page.

(For the more salacious there’s also a brief discussion at the end of this transcript/stream about some naughty Mormon men who posed shirtless for a calendar — one even confesses to such everyday breaches of modesty as working in his farm fields on a hot day without a shirt.)

The literary genre of Acts. 6: style and content

Continuing notes from Pervo’s Profit with Delight: the Literary Genre of the Acts of the Apostles — with a few additional references and citations of my own . . . .

However the structure and design of Acts may resemble monographs or other writings, the criteria of style and content must be taken carefully into account. Legitimate pieces of historiography needed, like all literary works, to reflect unity of style, vocabulary, and syntax, as well as proportion and balance. Minor skirmishes had no right to pose as the battle of Marathon. Speeches were to be appropriate to the circumstances, and all reporting should be suitable to its station in human affairs. Acts does not suit such requirements! Its inconsistent style and inclination to treat insignificant happenings as world-historical events would offend learned readers. (pp.6-7, Pervo)

The following is also from Pervo’s book, the main focus of this series.

What was expected of ancient historians? read more »

NT Professor Loader addresses a Jesus-mythicist argument

Opening and concluding addresses and responses by Dr William Loader (professor of New Testament at Murdoch) and ancient history teacher David Lewis address a forum held to debate the historicity of Jesus.

Lewis: “Escaping the gravitational pull of the gospels”

Loader: “The fraught project of finding the historical Jesus”

Links to these and the debate they introduced and concluded

Blurb from the ABC religion site:

From December 2005-May 2006, the ABC’s Religion and Ethics web site ran an open forum debating these perennial and important questions.

Two Australian protagonists opened the discussion. David H. Lewis first submitted his article to us – drawing on the work of one of the leading proponents of “Jesus as myth”, G.A. Wells – with a request that we open up such a discussion. We were pleased to oblige, and sought a response to his article from an eminent New Testament scholar, Professor William Loader. We then invited David Lewis to read William Loader’s article and reply, and finally we sought a rejoinder to that from William Loader.

Further from the ABC page:

Did Jesus of Nazareth really exist? Are the gospel accounts of his life, teachings and miracles historically reliable? Why are the writings of St Paul – which are earlier than the gospels – almost silent about the historical person of Jesus?

The search for the historical Jesus is not a new quest. But it is one which provokes passionate debate, and advances in scholarship raise as many questions as they seem to answer.

Access this site and the archived forum debate