Category Archives: interfaith

Approaching a Middle East peace

Came across this song of Tim Minchen’s Peace Anthem For Palestine.

Actually think he might be on to something

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The secular Egyptian protest a good start for a successful revolution


The ongoing Egyptian revolution has captured the attention and sympathy of people around the world. This is helped by the worldwide availability of internet access and social messaging devices. Even when the Mubarak regime cut off the internet, demonstrators were still able to get their message out. A warning to tyrants everywhere.

Twitter has been full of messages of support. And it is amazing what can be condensed into 140 characters. I like the simple messages which used the image of software installation on a computer to make a political point. For example this for d@dn2k which makes the point that Mubarak’s downfall is just the start of the beginning.

Right-click here to download pictures. To help protect your privacy, Outlook prevented automatic download of this picture from the Internet.dn2k (@dn2k)
12/02/11 9:18 AM
RT @25Egypt: ّ Uninstalling dictator COMPLETE 100% ██████████████████ Installing now: egypt 2.0: █░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░ #jan25 #Feb11

Egyptians certainly do face some huge political tasks with many opportunities and many pitfalls. The army’s support is essential for any new regime – and there will be an ongoing struggle by all sides to exert influence here. And some commentators have been preoccupied with the possibility of extreme Islamic groups influencing the revolution.

I have been heartened by the discipline and peaceful nature of the protests. Most violence seems to have been instigated by the security forces and  stooges of Mubarak’s regime. The occupation of Tahrir Square  over such a long period reveals a welcome degree of organisation. Protesters have organised to maintain their control and to provide services for the occupiers.

I hope this demonstrates that the various political forces within the protest have been negotiating among themselves to build a basis for unity. Also that they have been negotiating with the army and elements of the old regime to build some sort of trust and agreement on transition.

The protest itself has had a strong secular character. There has not been a preoccupation with religious agendas. At the same time the protests have not been sectarian. This was demonstrated by the cooperation of majority Muslims with minority Christians. Even to the extent of providing protection for each others prayers and services. Even cooperating together with some of these.

The unity and secular nature of the protest, and the revolution so far, are positive indications for the near future.

But to get back to Twitter. there has been some comment that the successful revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt will encourage people in other countries to demand their human rights. Already we have seen big protests in Jordan and Yemen.

Daisy McDonald used another computer graphic to suggest world wide possibilities.

daisy_mcdonald (@daisy_mcdonald)
12/02/11 12:36 PM
@eddieizzard MT @jmgoig Please wait while uninstalling rest of dictators of the world: █░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░ #egypt #jan25 <–fingers crossed!

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“Other ways of knowing” – some sense at last

There’s been a lot of rubbish written about “other ways of knowing”. So it’s quite refreshing to read Richard Carrier’s classification of methods of knowing. This is from his book Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. Well worthy reading by the way.

He starts by pointing out that no method of obtaining knowledge can produce absolute certainty. We can always be wrong, make mistakes. But we can list possible methods in order of reliability:

What is rational is to assign degrees of conviction to degrees of certainty established by a tried-and-tested method. What is rational is reasonable certainty, not absolute certainty.”

The methods of logic and mathematics are well-developed and provide the greatest certainty we have yet been able to find regarding anything, other than a present, uninterpreted experience. The next greatest certainty has been found in the application of scientific methods to empirical problems. In third place is our own daily experience, when interpreted with a logical or scientific mindset. Fourth is the application of critical-historical methods to claims about past events. Fifth is the application of the criteria of trust to the claims of experts. Sixth is the untested but logical application of inferential generalizations from incomplete facts—that is, plausible deductions. Such is the scale of methods that we have historically been able to discover and confirm as effective.”

“Experience shows that our degree of certainty will generally be weaker with regard to facts at each stage down this six-rung ladder, though within each category lies its own continuum of certainty and uncertainty, and the ladder itself is a continuum of precision and access to information: the more data we have to ground our conclusions, the farther up the ladder we find ourselves. Thus, mathematics is just perfected science; science, perfected experience; experience, perfected history; and history, perfected attention to experts; while plausible inference is what we are left with when we have none of those things.”

“Lacking any of the above approaches to the truth, we are faced with untrustworthy hearsay and pure speculation, where only the feeblest of certainty can ever be justified, if at all.”

Carrier writes that accurate methods of knowing have the properties of predictive success and convergent accumulation of consistent results.  However, these should be evaluated intelligently. Even the best method may produce faulty knowledge if used incorrectly.

So how do the different methods rate?:

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Secularism is important

Book Review: The Secular Outlook: In Defense of Moral and Political Secularism by Paul Cliteur

Price: US$26.95; NZ$53.97
Paperback: 328 pages
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell (September 7, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1444335219
ISBN-13: 978-1444335217

It’s funny how some people allow their emotional reactions to interfere with their understanding of, and reaction to, words and their meaning. Almost 40 years ago I had a problem posting a letter to an address in the former East Germany. The women behind the counter in the post office refused to accept it because its address included the words “German Democratic Republic.” While she muttered things like “Soviet Zone,” and I was expecting her to starting foaming at the mouth, her colleague had to take over and provide me with the correct stamp.

Some people react the same way to words like secular and secularism. They equate these with atheism, or “worse.” So they animate their definitions of such words by their personal aversion to denial of their gods.

Pope Benedict XVI often warns of the “moral dangers” of secularism and many theologians and apologists wilfully equate secularism with attempts to destroy or eliminate religion.

Definitions and common understandings of words are important- especially where there is emotional baggage. So the first chapter of Paul Cliteur’s book is welcome – and probably necessary. “Atheism, Agnosticism, and Theism” reviews the possible definitions of these words and argues the case for a consistent and accurate meaning – taking 50 pages to do so.

And far from secularism being hostile to religion Cliteur sees it as “an essential precondition for the free development of religion. . . . It would be a serious mistake to consider the values espoused in the secular outlook as in any way inimical to religion or the rights of religious believers. On the contrary, secularism is the only perspective under which people of different religious persuasions can live together.”

The book devotes much of its content to justification of free thought. Chapter 2 argues that criticism of religion as central to free thought.

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The Atheist Camel Chronicles

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Book Review: The Atheist Camel Chronicles: Debate Themes & Arguments for the Non-Believer (and those who think they might be) by Dromedary Hump

Paperback: 324 pages
Publisher: BookSurge Publishing (June 18, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1439236976
ISBN-13: 978-1439236970
US15.99

(All international orders via  amazon.com Atheist Camel Chron )

I think there is some great writing on the internet these days. Often in the places you least expect it. Sure there is a lot of crap – but there’s something about the lack of editing and ease of expression in blogs and discussion forums. Writers often have strong feelings on their subjects and they can communicate this in forceful and colourful language. When people feel strongly about something they often write well.

Another fact may be the crap itself. When people make stupid assertions, or descend into fanciful positions or diversions, sometimes the only sensible way to respond is with sarcasm or ridicule. It’s often then the best writing shows.

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The facts of evolution – and jealousy

Craig Venter

Craig Venter

Some time ago (Evolution – a theory or a fact?) I made the observation:

“Our knowledge about evolution includes facts (e.g., fossil records, genetics, molecular biology of DNA), theories (e.g, natural selection, sexual selection, genetic drift) and speculation (e.g., much of evolutionary psychology). Just like any other body of scientific knowledge.”

We could add that although many ideas in evolutionary psychology are speculative, some of these are firming up. Steven Pinker does a good job of separating the more reliable ideas from the more speculative (see his books: The Blank SlateHow the Mind Worksand The Stuff of Thought). Similarly, some of the theories, such as natural selection, are now so well supported by factual evidence they are beginning to be accepted as facts in themselves. A bit like the laws of thermodynamics.

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Agnostic/atheist labels

the_advertisement2I get annoyed with people who won’t accept how I describe myself. Those who respond to my self-description as an atheist by saying: “No you’re not. You’re an agnostic.” It’s interesting that this response usually comes from theists – and never from other atheists.

Jonathan West has some interesting comments on this labelling at The Guardian (see I’m an atheist, OK?). He describes this disagreement on definitions as “scattering confusion in its wake like a muckspreader in autumn.”

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Another chance to ignore our true religious diversity

nz-religious-diversity-bookI have written about New Zealand’s National Statement on Religious Diversity before. In fact, the problem of the discussion and formulation of this document was one of my initial incentives to start this blog (see Religious diversity includes “non-believers”).

This statement was prepared under the sponsorship of the NZ Human Rights Commission. The working group was composed of only representatives of religions and submissions from the non-religious (about one third of our population) were ignored. The final document almost completely ignores the existence of the non-religious. (For example artice 3: “THE RIGHT TO SAFETY. Faith communities and their members have a right to safety and security”).

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Middle east conflict in the NZ blogosphere?

oracism_p1Well, it seems that Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has sparked a local war in New Zealand’s blogosphere! It all started with his speech at the UN Conference on Racism in Geneva. This attacked Zionism as a form of racism and precipitated a walkout by many delegates.

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Police ignore non-religious

police-diversityWhenever I read about religious diversity these days my automatic reaction is that real diversity is going to be ignored. A big part of our true religious diversity is the fact that one third of New Zealanders declare themselves as non-religious. When these are ignored then our true diversity is ignored.

This happened with the National Statement of Religious Diversity which only gave lip service to this fact. It, for example, declared that:  “Faith communities and their members have a right to safety and security.” What does this imply about the safety of the non-religious?

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