Archive for July, 2010
The next Saskatoon Freethinkers meetup is September 19.
When: Sunday, September 19, 2010 11:30 AM
Where: Venice House
906 Central Avenue
Saskatoon, SK S7N 2G8
Earlier this summer, Random House Canada published Marci MacDonald’s The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada, which documents the role of Conservative Christianity in Canadian politics, with special attention to PM Stephen Harper’s government. One of our members, Tim Thibault, was important as a research source for Marci MacDonald in putting this book together. At this meet up, we have invited Tim to give us the lowdown on the book and some of the back story to the research of the book.
It would be ideal if we could all read the book for this meet up, but if that is not possible, MacDonald has also published a similarly-themed article in the Walrus: “Stephen Harper and the Theo-cons”.
RSVP to this Meetup:
Saturday, July 24 at 10:00am
Location: 1st Floor, ETLC, University of Alberta
Join other rational-minded members of the local and extended community for a day-long event about scientific skepticism. Hear sessions presented by local skeptics on critical thought and science issues in our culture and media, plus workshops, panel discussions and other activities.
SkeptiCamp is formed from the BarCamp model, which puts the conference in the hands of the attendees. It’s free to attend, but we ask you help contribute to the success of the conference by presenting a session or volunteering to help organize.
Please check back in the next few days for news regarding confirmed topics and speakers, presentation tips and revised details within our schedule, including the free lunch. Attendance is capped at 150, so please remember to RSVP.
The next skeptics in the pub is Wednesday July 21, any time between 7:30 to 11:30
Hose Brew Pub
612 11th St E
Saskatoon, SK S7N0G3
Do you have a Grigri? If so what is it? For example would you stab a picture of a loved one.
Among scientific skeptics, gris-gris refers to an irrational belief that one is reluctant to reject, simply because it makes one feel better.
Ideas from The Amazing Meeting 8
Regina Road Trip – Science Center, Bodies Exhibit, Natural History Museum
Any Issue People wish to bring up.
The Saskatoon Freethinkers are sponsoring a lecture by Chris diCarlo Tuesday August 10th.
When: Tuesday, August 10, 2010 6:30 PM
Where: Frances Morrison Public Library
311 – 23rd St. E.
Saskatoon, SK S7K 0J6
The Saskatoon Freethinkers are excited to announce a special public event.
His lecture tour We Are All African has been presented across North America and has helped raised awareness of evolutionary theory and funding for the Masai for Africa, an HIV awareness program in Lesotho, Africa.
6:30 pm Doors Open
7:00 pm Welcome and Lecture followed by questions
9:00 pm Social
We’ll probably continue the discussion at a pub.
No food or drink is allowed in the theatre, but there will be coffee available outside the room.
Free admission (donations appreciated) – Minimum suggested donation: $10
Ontario’s Best Lecturer 2008 and Canada’s Humanist of the Year 2008, Christopher diCarlo is a Philosopher of Science and Ethics whose interests in cognitive evolution have taken him into the natural and social sciences.
His personal research focuses on how and why humans reason, think, and act the way they do. He is interested in how and why the human brain has evolved to its current state and what cross-cultural and cross-species behaviour can provide insight into universally common modes of reasoning. He is also interested in the application of neuroscience (specifically fMRI work), in an effort to better understand psychoneuroendocrine feedback looping in problem solving.
Dr. diCarlo is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology where he teaches Critical Thinking, Bioethics, and other courses. His most recent book (just released by McGraw-Hill Ryerson) is entitled: How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass: A Practical Guide to Thinking Critically.
He is also a past Visiting Research Scholar at Harvard University in the Department of Anthropology and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology where he conducted research for two books he is currently writing called: The Comparative Brain: The Evolution of Human Reasoning and The Evolution of Religion: Why Many Need to Believe in Deities, Demons, and the Unseen.
As an outspoken activist for freethought, humanism, and secularism, Dr diCarlo supports and is a life member of the Humanist Association of Canada and the Society of Ontario Freethinkers. He is also a board advisor to Freethought TV, an annual workshop presenter at Camp Quest Ontario, and has given many enlightening talks at numerous humanist events across the country. He was also the first Atheist invited to speak at the annual World Religions Conference in Kitchener, Ontario.
There is an article about diCarlo and the controversy this topic caused in Humanist Perspectives.
If anyone would like to donate to this event, you can do that in person at our meetup on July 18 and you can also send mail to
Box 31043 RPO Broadway & Taylor
Saskatoon, SK, S7H 5S8
This is a bit short notice, but was a great opportunity because Chris is driving through Saskatchewan on a lecture tour. We hope everyone will try to attend and support this event. Tell your friends and help us get the word out!
We are looking for volunteers to help out on the day of the event with greeting, set up, and clean up. Let us know if you are willing to lend a hand.
RSVP to this Meetup:
We live in a world of competing religious ideas. The faithful are in a never-ending battle to prove once and for all that theirs is the correct faith. Dr Zakir Naik is no exception; a medical doctor by trade, he has turned his efforts to proving that Islam is the one true religion. Part of his argument is that the Qur’an or Koran is a book of science rather than faith. His efforts not only distort science and history, but also manage to abuse the very texts he deems sacred. He is the head of the Islamic Research Foundation; I will be referring to one of their documents, called “The Qur’an and Modern Science: Compatible or Incompatible?”. As with Christian apologists who try to fit the evidence to the Bible, Muslim apologists are playing the same game.
The Big Bang
The Big Bang theory was the result of multiple lines of evidence, all pointing toward a single conclusion. The universe, that is, all of space-time and matter began as an infinitely dense and hot singularity. The Koran has this to say on creation:
Do not the Unbelievers see That the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one Unit of Creation), before We clove them asunder? Surah 21:30
If you do not recognize the Big Bang theory in this, you are not alone. Everything interesting about the Big Bang theory is missing. Where is the formation of matter from the hot big bang, the cooking of hydrogen into helium, the ratio of photons to matter, or the symmetry between the four fundamental forces of nature? Students of mythology will find the idea of the heavens and the earth being sundered very familiar, as this very idea appears in other creation myths, most notably in the Greek cosmogony.
Dr. Naik then goes on to suggest that this passage describes the formation of galaxies.
Moreover, He Comprehended In His design the sky, And it had been (as) smoke: He said to it And to the earth: ‘Come ye together, Willingly or unwillingly.’ They said: ‘We do come (Together), in willing obedience Surah 41:11
On the topic of Surah 41, it is odd that Dr. Naik chose the above passage, but ignored Surah 41:9 which states:
Say: Disbelieve ye verily in Him Who created the earth in two Days
Why are we to take one verse as proof of the Koran’s authenticity, but not the other? The earth was not created in two days, and multiple lines of evidence point toward that conclusion. Anyone wanting to argue that the Koran is compatible with modern science will find any passage describing the creation of the earth in such a short time an embarrassment. If one passage could partially fit a scientific theory, and another completely misses, then what use is our line-by-line analysis if reading the text in context produces a completely different meaning?
It may seem that I am kicking around a straw man, but Dr. Naik is taken seriously by many Islamic apologists. I can not count the times I was referred to this very document that I am currently deconstructing.
The Expanding Universe
Here Dr. Naik gets creative when trying to fit in the idea of the expansion of the universe.
With the power and skill Did We construct The Firmament: For it is We Who create The vastness of Space. Surah 51:47
Did you see the bit about the expansion of the universe? When this passage was proudly trumpeted online as proof of the divine nature of the Koran, it was met with confused silence. No one who was unfamiliar with Dr. Naik understood this passage as pertaining to the expansion of the universe. As the cliché goes: what we have here is failure to communicate. Dr. Naik claims the original Arabic refers to expansion. I don’t know if that is true or not, but I examined two different translations – this one and the Mamaduke Pickthall translation – and both refer to space being vast in extent but not expanding. If Dr. Naik is correct, then two individuals have independently made the same mistake. If the text can not pass unaltered from one language to another, then what chance does it have to pass from one scribe to the next, or even from one mind to another? Dr. Naik, with one passage, has demonstrated that we can not take any sentence as reliable.
The Shape of the Earth
Since the time of the ancient Greeks, people had known that the earth was a sphere. Dr. Naik would like to pretend that the knowledge accumulated by the Greeks never existed. He not only must rewrite history in order to make his point, he must also rewrite his own holy book! Dr. Naik claims that the Koran specifies the earth as spherical in Surah 79.
And the earth, moreover, Hath He made egg shaped. Surah 79:30
The egg in this case is an ostrich egg, which is far more rounded than the chicken eggs with which we are most familiar. The Koran appears to be “close enough” on the shape of the earth. However, when I looked up this passage in my copy of Koran I found this instead:
And after that He spread the earth, Surah 79:30 Marmaduke Pickthall Translation
I had to check a couple of times to make sure I had the right verse. I am at a loss to explain how both phrases could be derived from the same original text. Translations certified by Islamic scholars as being highly reliable also do not have the “egg-shaped” description. Dr. Naik, a so-called ‘scholar’, had somehow missed these interpretations – or has he changed of the words of the Koran? If it is fine with Dr. Naik to change some of the words, then why not all of them?
If we do what Dr. Naik fails to do, and place the Koran in to proper historical context, we find that the Greeks have figured out the shape of the earth hundreds of years before the Koran was written. Not in 1597 as Dr. Naik pretends; in the age of Google, how can Dr. Naik get this wrong? It hardly matters that the Greeks came to the knowledge first; what is more important is that human curiosity and ingenuity were employed to gain this knowledge. The revelations of the Koran are supposed to be miraculous, but where is the miracle if the information revealed is within the ken of humans to discover for themselves?
The embryological stages were “revealed” in the Koran as well – sort of. Embryology and Evolutionary Developmental biology are very hot topics in science. What insight does the Koran have for us? Are you ready? Here it is:
Man We did create From a quintessence (of clay); Then We placed him As (a drop of) sperm In a place of rest, firmly fixed; Then We made the sperm Into a clot of congealed blood; Then of that clot We made A (foetus) lump; then We Made out of that lump Bones and clothed the bones With flesh; then We developed Out of it another creature. So blessed be Allah, The Best to create! Surah 23: 12-14
I was rather nonplussed reading this. That is supposed to be a revelation? Again, placing the Koran in its historical context, this description of embryology is terrible even for the time period. Aristotle, doomed to be treated unfairly in high school science textbooks, wrote a wonderful description of the developing embryo hundred of years before the Koran. Again, it is not important that he did it first – what is important is that he did not need divine revelation.
What has all this stretching and tortured interpretation of the Koran brought us? In the first half of the 20th century, the biggest debate in cosmology was between the Big Bang and the Steady State models. Where were the Islamic scholars with their prediction of a expanding universe? When Edwin Hubble first measured the expansion of the universe it came a shock to many scientists. The history of the Big Bang theory is well documented and there is no mention of the Koran. Youtuber ZOMGitsCriss got it right when she asked “If the Koran predicted the Big Bang, why did the scholar wait 1400 years to tell us about it?” Even more important is the question, why wait until after the science has been worked out to tell us the Koran predicted this all along. Retrodicting is always easier than predicting.
Dr. Naik has more examples that are even more embarrassing then these. I’ll skip them for now. Instead let’s consider this proposition:
Nothing is ever created by divine power out of nothing
This quote would seem to contradict all others but what is it? Those apologists who think a quote from an ancient books can replace knowledge would have to scramble to fit this in to their preconceived dogma. Yet the above is not from a holy text, rather it is from 2000 year old book of science and philosophy “On the Nature of the Universe”, written by Roman citizen Lucretius. The above quotation was not meant to stand alone, as it merely a statement of what Lucretius intends to demonstrate. It stands at the beginning of Lucretius’ beautiful and insightful reasoning. To pull one sentence out of the text is to reject the spirit of the text itself. Great works of literature come down to us from the ages, passing from copy to copy and even from language to language. Along the way much is lost, yet without translators and printing presses, these great works would only be available to the very few. Apologists who pick apart their sacred texts sentence by sentence are doing the very thing they accuse religious sceptics of doing — taking their texts out of context.
906 Central Avenue
Saskatoon, SK S7N 2G8
For July, we will have an informal type of Meetup. This will allow people to socialize more in a casual atmosphere.
We’ll suggest a few questions (e.g. What is a freethinker?) and just let people discuss those or other ideas in small groups. We’ll check in at the end to see how members like this format and what interesting things everyone discussed.
Do you have a religious past, and would like a place to discuss/debrief/deliberate what happened? Come out to Café Apostate and chat with other ex-believers and interested fellow freethinkers.
The next Café Apostate will be Sunday, July 11 from 7-10pm at the Mackenzie Cole coffeehouse in Sutherland (815A Gray Ave, just off Central Ave). We’ll be in the side room of the café. Come on out and bring a friend!
As always, everyone is welcome to come check out Café Apostate, whether or not you’ve got religious baggage.