“Religion Under Examination”

A good sized crowd of about 90 people filled a ballroom at the Crown Plaza South in Cleveland on Saturday 25 Sept 2010 to participate in “Religion Under Examination” – the Center For Inquiry Northeast Ohio’s biannual Conference.
After registration and introductions, the program compromised presentations from John Shook, Ibn Warraq, and, after a lunch break, Robert Price.  A round table Q/A discussion then followed to draw the conference to a close.
“Why Be Skeptical Toward Religion?” was the title of the talk by John Shook, PhD.  He is director of education at the Center for Inquiry and heads the CFI Institute, and is a research associate in philosophy at the University of Buffalo.  He has authored and edited more than a dozen books (including The God Debates , available in bookstores October 1st). Dr. Shook is a co-editor of three philosophy journals, and travels for lectures and debates across the United States and around the world.
How might we have a reasonable, rational discussion with a dogmatic Christian, he asks?  One can use simple, common sense arguments – we don’t need a PhD.
Common notions we might challenge are: why compartmentalize religious beliefs, and why demand exception for religion?   We must reject: mystery; contradiction; circular reasoning; mysterious causes;  arbitrary justifications; and special exceptions.  Explanations must reduce mysteries, and involve cause & effect.
He proposed that scientific hypotheses can be far more counter-intuitive than religious ones; that  religion relies on reasoning failures; and that religion can deliver net benefits – otherwise it would never have survived Evolution, which REQUIRES net benefits.
All current religions are “Intelligently designed religions”, and our primary task is to prove humanism can provide answers, and replace religion.
The next speaker was Ibm Warraq ,  an Islamic scholar and leader in Koranic criticism, who is a Center for Inquiry senior fellow. He is the author of several books on Islam and the Koran, including Why I Am Not a Muslim; The Origins of the Koran ; What the Koran Really Says ; and Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism . His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian, and he has addressed governing bodies throughout the world, including the United Nations Office at Geneva and the Dutch Parliament at The Hague.
Mr. Warraq -a serious scholar –  of Islam, spoke on  “The Current State of Islamic Studies”, and observed that Middle East Scholar Bernard Lewis observes that our current environment of Post Modernity, Political Correctness, multi culturalism, is dangerous because it makes any serious study of Islam difficult”.  Mr. Warraq gave us detailed examples of language problems with Aramaic, and observed that much of what is in the Koran could have not been in a document published in the seventh century.  As an example, one meaning of the “70 Virgins” would be 70 Raisins.  He proposed that not all of the Koran could have originated in the seventh century.
Robert Price spoke on  “Now Accepting Implications: Thorough-Going Skepticism as the Inevitable Result of Biblical Criticism”.  He
is professor of theology and scriptural studies at Johnnie Coleman Theological Seminary, host of the Point of Inquiry podcast, founder and fellow of The Jesus Seminar and The Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, research fellow at the CFI Institute, and host of The Bible Geek webcasts. His books include Beyond Born Again The Reason Driven Life The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man and Inerrant the Wind.

His definition of ‘Apologetics’ is: start with answers, then read scripture – it is a defense of faith.  In interpreting scripture, he suggests using an analogy with present day experience as a truth filter.  E.G.: do we see people arise from the dead, convert water into wine, etc?  He suggested using form criticism to the New Testament  legends (i.e., they follow a similar form).  Dr. Price concluded by observing that those writings could not date from the early first century CE – because of the many anachronisms  – and that the chances of the gospels being accurate are slim.
The roundtable discussion was entertaining and informative, and it was an enlightening and informative day: we learned why we should be skeptical of any religion in general, and of Islam and Christianity in particular.

CFI Caribbean Cruise – Nov 11-21 2009


CFI Cruise
Nov 11

We arrive in FL, and have dinner with a friend I have not seen for 41 years.  We then set off the next day on a cruise, a CFI Travel Club adventure in the Caribbean.

Nov 12

We board ship in Ft. Lauderdale – my first impression, walking into an atrium area, is that the decor in the Carnival “Miracle”  is gaudy.  Shall we say 1890’s bawdy house revival?

Depart  with a private cocktail party.   Met old friends such as Toni Van Pelt & new – Paul Kurtz.
At supper, we sat with Lawrence Krauss, who shared with me that he was going to use some information I had sent him in an email for one or two articles in Scientific American.

Nov 13

Paul Kurtz – publisher of Promethus Books, discusses the publishing industry: old and new.
Patricia Schroeder on books – what is the future.
In the evening, we had a group photo, and then a formal dinner.  We sat with Pat and her husband at supper, and learned a lot!

Nov. 14

Ruth Frazier spoke on her experiences consulting work in Afghanistan, Tanzania, and with Native Americans and the progress as women learn to read and learn to lead.
Toni Van Pelt on ‘charitable choice’, ‘faith based initiatives’, and the religious freedom restoration act.  Well done, and I took good notes.
Emily Kingsley – a writer for 39 of the 40 years of Sesame Street – presented the history, philosophy and impact of the show: a fabulous experience.
Ken Frazier – editor of the Skeptical Inquirer – presented “Reading, Magazines, the New Media, and the New Skepticism: what’s going on?”  (It’s always refreshing to hear a senior citizen who is not stuck in the past!
Derek Araujo presented “The Establishment clause in Exile: Church and State in the 21st Century”, which was the best Church/State presentation I have yet heard.

Nov. 15

Sharon and I went to a natural habitat rain forest in Costa Rica.  Back on board, I receive a phone call that a friend of 42 years has died. (See my post on Anne Marie at http://www.charlog.wordpress.com)

Nov. 16

We went on the Panama Canal.  In Costa Rica, we saw the results of evolution; on the Canal, of intelligent design.

Nov 17

Toni Van Pelt spoke on the CFI office of Public Policy’s legislative efforts, including CARD (Coalition Against Religious Discrimination), STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), our Credidibility project (global warming), science as an aspect in international diplomacy.  Civic days in 2010 are April 24-7.

Paul Kurtz on the turbulent Universe: controversy is essential in science.  Our (secular) philosophy  of the world includes:  naturalism ; individualization; order; and chance.  We don’t believe, we test hypothesis.  Turbulence is ubiquitious.

Ruth Frazier spoke on using the Socratic method to teach critical thinking and change lives: a very informative and educational presentation, reinforced with a real life example.

Lawrence Krauss on Science vs. Politics: while science should form the basis of a sound public policy, but it has not and does not.  While we emerging in eight dark years of attacks on science and science integrity in D.C., we are not yet out of the pits.  Science works by demonstrating what is wrong, and it does not appear on the political pages.  Scientific issues should be the basis of many important political issues in the next ten years.

Nov 18

Sharon and I went to Mayan Ruins in Belize, where civilization fell victim to Spanish Catholicism.

Nov 19

We got an update from Toni Van Pelt on legislative matters.

Pat Schroeder talked to us about publishing and politics.  Edited and published books versus the freeforall on the Internet: the differences. School textbooks in Texas and elsewhere.

Ken Frazier also spoke on publishing vs writing.

Derek Araujo on CFI at the UN.  Anti-blasphemy laws, etc.  How can religions be true when many are mutually exclusive

Lawrence Krauss spoke on the impact of the latest cosmological data, which show our universe expanding at an increasing rate.  The anthropic principle is an example that what we take from the data depends on our values.  The geometry of space time is flat, which allows for zero total energy, which means it could have come from Nothing…

Nov 20 we left the ship, drove to Palm Beach to have lunch with a financial planner, and on to Orange City, where we took a 90 plus year old couple (friends of Sharon’s late Mom) to dinner.

On the 21st, we flew back.