Not only has the late Nelson Mandela become a source of commerce (t-shirts, books, etc.) but now his name is also defiled by atheistic apologetics. Just read this article: http://freethinker.co.uk/2013/12/06/widely-understood-to-be-an-atheist-nelson-mandela-dies-at-the-age-of-95-hamba-kakuhle-comrade/. This article, that was retweeted (without comment, but probably with appreciation) by Richard Dawkins, claims that it is “widely understood” that Mandela was an atheist.
Another atheist, one Damian Mogale, states on his Facebook page that Mandela, because of his political role, could not afford to say out loud that he was an atheist. Like Obama, Mandela’s utterances about his personal faith were “for the show”. Again, others say that Mandela was an atheist because he is on the honorary membership list of the Bertrand Russell Society…
In 2011 and 2012, I attended two seminars at Calvin College (Grand Rapids, Michigan) on the cognitive science of religion and Christianity. The seminars were led by Justin Barrett (then at Oxford, now at Fuller).
The goal I had in mind was to develop a top-notch project proposal that would bridge the gap between the cognitive science of religion on the one hand and the philosophy of religion and systematic theology on the other.
The two seminars were excellent. They were very stimulating and we were forced to work extremely hard (we had to read a pile of about 10 books on the subject and a reader of about 600 pages of densely written research articles). I am extremely grateful that I was allowed this opportunity.
We are living in very interesting times indeed! We once thought that the Earth was unique in harboring life. Though it is true that scientists have not yet discovered life outside our atmosphere (despite the occasional claims to the opposite, mostly coming from fringe scientists), the plausibility of the idea that Earth is unique in the universe is starting to crumble at an increasing rate.
Today the New Scientist came up with a startling animated website that illustrates what scientists believe about the abundance of earth-like planets in the universe, based on the data gathered by the Kepler space telescope. The website shows that what started out as an interesting issue has become a mind-blowing journey that dwarves the human imagination.
Indeed, this animated website once again has convinced me that extraterrestrial life is one of the topics that will be on the future agenda of science and religion. Theologians and religious believers can no longer ignore the fact that the uniqueness of Earth may prove to be a myth.
See the animated website “How many Earths?” here: http://exoplanets.newscientistapps.com/.
P.S. For those readers who are able to read Dutch, I recently have written more about extraterrestrial life and Christian theology here: https://tasmedes.wordpress.com/2013/09/24/de-preek-van-afgelopen-zondag-zijn-wij-alleen-christelijk-geloof-en-de-mogelijkheid-van-buitenaards-leven/.
Personally, I found his book, The God Delusion highly amusing, be it theologically boring and unfounded. While reading it, I often laughed out loud. But I read the book as Dawkins’ personal vendetta with organized religion, not as a scholarly book, and I hoped that he would move on to more serious stuff. Seven years later, however, it seems that Dawkins is stuck. Even more, he seems to be losing it…
Very cool – Amazon.com apparently sells a Lego set with which you can build your own Stephen Hawking. And it looks awesome. Now adults have excuses again to play with Lego – who’s next? Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, or Albert Einstein? No, just kidding. I was stunned by the look of Lego-Hawking:
What are we looking at here? Perception and cognition together create the illusion that we are looking at Stephen Hawking, though in fact it’s just a structured pile of Lego bricks. Very interesting once one is aware of it. It provides another excuse to go and experiment with Lego…
And just in case you didn’t get it: this is a fake…
One issue that fascinates me is the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Is there life out there? And if so, what does it look like? Is there another intelligent species somewhere? Moreover, what would be the implications of finding life elsewhere for the view we have of ourselves and our place in the universe? What consequences would finding life elsewhere have for philosophical anthropology and theology? Questions that at some point in time seemed pure speculation, but with the recent findings of (many) exoplanets, are again on the table.
Today I read about a British team of astrobiologists from Cardiff University who claim to have found fossilized remains of bacterial life-forms in a meteorite that was found last year in Sri Lanka. This proves, in their view, that extraterrestrial life exists, or in the researcher’s own words: “The presence of fossilized biological structures provides compelling evidence in support of the theory of cometary panspermia first proposed over thirty years ago.”
The news report can be found here: http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/150417-astrobiologists-discover-fossils-in-meteorite-fragments-confirming-extraterrestrial-life.
And the entire paper of the research team can be found here: http://arxiv.org/abs/1303.1845.
Scientists will probably fight over these findings – admittedly, the Journal of Cosmology that published these findings is quite controversial, as is Richard Hoover, one of the authors (see here for some potentially devastating comments about the findings) – and what the eventual consensus will be is as yet unknown. But this is interesting stuff!
Afterword: Other sources seem to confirm suspicion as to the the probable contamination of the samples by more earthly means: http://physicsbuzz.physicscentral.com/2013/03/algae-from-outer-space-not-so-fast.html.
One discussion that arises again and again is the one about the question whether atheism is a kind of faith or even a new faith. Personally, I find this a lame discussion that goes nowhere. But then I read Dawkins and I tend to agree that atheism is a faith.
I just came across a very nice video of Closertothetruth.com, an interview with British philosopher Julian Baggini about exactly this vexing question. And Baggini very nicely articulates, not only what religious faith is about (and it isn’t about propositions!), but he also articulates what atheism is about. In the end he gives a very decent, implicit, but strong criticism of the position of certain “vocal atheists” – a position Baggini calls “dogmatic” and of which he agrees that this position is very close to faith. Excellent video, well worth a couple of minutes of your time.
Watch it here: http://closertotruth.com/video-profile/Is-Atheism-a-New-Faith-Julian-Baggini-/2018
Jared Diamond, the professor of geography from the University of California, Los Angeles, and who got his fame from voluminous books like The Third Chimpanzee, Guns, Germs and Steel, and Collapse has recently published a new book, titled The World Until Yesterday.
I haven’t read this book yet, but the website Salon.com published an exerpt from the book dealing with religion. I want to share some observations…
Just today I finished reading a big German book, Gert Scobel’s Der Ausweg aus dem Fliegenglas: Wie wir Glauben und Vernunft in Einklang bringen können (Frankfurt a.M.: S. Fischer Verlag 2010, 462 pp.). It’s a book that I can warmly recommend, at least for those who are able to read German (the newly released paperback edition is very cheap). I do hope though that an English publisher will be so wise as to translate the book into English…
A short book review…