Pranking the Qur’an

A few days ago a pair of Dutch comedians, Sacha Harland and Alexander Spoor, decided to perform the sort of lame prank that is guaranteed to pull internet views. They wrapped a Bible with a cover reading “Holy Quran” and then read excerpts to random people in the streets to get a reaction.


The Age newspaper had an article on it, Patheos had a post about it on The Friendly Atheist, it’s been featured far and wide. It has over a million views on Youtube.

The creators explained the experiment thus:

“Muslims have been accused of following a faith that has no place in our Western culture. What about Christianity? A religion that has influenced our culture greatly.”

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George Ellis on physics and free will


George Ellis

Over at Scientific American, there’s an excellent interview with physicist-mathematician-cosmologist George Ellis.

Ellis is a world-renowned authority on cosmology, particularly the large-scale structure of the universe and the Big Bang. The interview deals particularly with some recent over-reaching claims by physicists such as Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking, but also touches on the philosophy, free will, and the nature of scientific inquiry. The interview is conducted by John Horgan.

A few highlights:

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On interpretation and reinterpretation of the Bible

Society changes, but the Bible doesn’t. So how can the Bible have anything relevant to say that can guide our lives in this 21st century, interconnected, post-modern world? And if we just reinterpret it to suit our changing social context, what is the point?

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Atheism can be dismissed without evidence

I’ve often heard from atheists that “claims made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”. And while it’s become an annoying refrain in the religious/secular conversation, there is a certain logic to it.

But here’s the thing: atheism, by definition, cannot have evidence. Atheism is a positive claim about the non-existence of God (or gods). And there cannot be positive evidence that proves the non-existence of a spiritual being.

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Are we alone in the universe?

A guest post that I wrote over at City Bible Forum.

My wife and I were recently asked to give a seminar at the University of Melbourne on the question of alien life. As an astrophysicist and a biologist, we presented what science can currently say about the possibilities of life beyond Earth, and also each gave our perspectives on how we personally think about the subject.

I’ve distilled the main points of the talk into essay form, check it out here:

Are we alone in the universe?


John Dickson’s tips for atheists

John Dickson of the Centre for Public Christianity wrote an excellent piece for Easter, offering some helpful dialogue pointers for atheists. He gives useful tips on the rich intellectual tradition of Christianity:

“My first tip, then, is to gain some awareness of the church’s vast intellectual tradition. It is not enough to quip that ‘intellectual’ and ‘church’ are oxymoronic. Origen, Augustine, Philoponus, Aquinas, and the rest are giants of Western thought. Without some familiarity with these figures, or their modern equivalents … popular atheists can sound like the kid in English class, ‘Miss, Shakespeare is stupid!'”

…and offers a vital comment on the status of Young-Earth Creationism within the broader Christian Church:

“Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss have done a disservice to atheism by talking as though 6-Day Creationism is the default Christian conviction. But mainstream Christianities for decades have dismissed 6-Day Creationism as a misguided (if well-intentioned) project. Major conservative institutions like Sydney’s Moore Theological College, which produces more full time ministers than any college in the country, have taught for years that Genesis 1 was never intended to be read concretely, let alone scientifically. This isn’t Christians retreating before the troubling advances of science. From the earliest centuries many of the greats of Judaism (e.g., Philo and Maimonides) and Christianity (e.g., Clement, Ambrose, and Augustine) taught that the ‘six days’ of Genesis are a literary device, not a marker of time.”

Read the whole piece on ABC’s website.

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Elizabeth Redman on the reliability of the Gospels

I recently had the pleasure of hearing Elizabeth Redman present on the historical reliability of the Gospels. Redman used her experience as a journalist to highlight the conventions which are used in reporting historical events, and also discussed ways in which conventions have changed since Biblical times. An essay based on her talk is available here:

Reporting the Truth

I found her discussion of ancient biographical techniques to be particularly helpful. She discussed four conventions that were popular in Roman times:

The Gospels are written in the genre of Greco-Roman biography . When compared to cases in other surviving biographies where the same writer tells the same story differently in different accounts, a set of deliberate compositional devices become evident … These compositional devices include:

– Compression, where an author knowingly portrays events over a shorter period of time than they actually occurred in
– Transferral, where one person did or said something, but the author attributes the words or deeds to the person who caused them to do or say it
– Spotlighting, where an author focuses on one person in a scene but doesn’t mention others who were also involved
– Displacement, where an author knowingly removes an event from its original context and transplants it in another.

These conventions help explain the differences between the four accounts of the resurrection. For example, the writers offer different lists of women who visited the empty tomb. Luke lists Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna and “the others”, while John only mentions Mary Magdalene. This appears to be an example of the spotlighting device – multiple women went to Jesus’ empty tomb to anoint his body with spices, but John only highlights Mary, knowingly. The angels receive similar treatment. Matthew mentions one angel, Mark shows a young man in a white robe, Luke lists two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning and John has two angels. This spotlighting of one angel in two of the gospels doesn’t prevent there from being another angel alongside him.

Redman also gave some great perspective on how audience expectations, the importance of witnesses, and the cultural norm of oral tradition would have shaped the narrative structure. It’s a great read, and I recommend you check out the original article.