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Posted: 09 October 2018

Earlier this year, the oldest known fragment of the Gospel of Mark was finally published, some 115 years since it was unearthed in a long-forgotten Egyptian rubbish dump in what was once the city of Oxyrhynchus. The small scrap of papyrus was discovered by two British archaeologists in about 1903, along with half a million other bits and pieces chucked out in ancient times, including receipts, private letters, shopping lists, tax returns, poems and pages from books. Scholars have been working ever since, for over a century, to identify and publish this mountain of ancient texts.

The fragment of Mark’s Gospel, known as Papyrus 137 (or P137), has something of a notorious modern history. In 2012, it became famous when a scholar sensationally claimed that Papyrus 137 had been written in the...

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Photo of a detail taken from the cover of Seven Types of Atheism

Posted: 29 September 2018

The book Seven Types of Atheism, by the British philosopher and atheist John Gray, and published earlier this year, looks at first glance like a field guide to godlessness. Gray distinguishes and explores the branches of atheism ancient and modern, from the old atheists of the Enlightenment through to the New Atheists of the recent past, such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, whom he describes as ‘mostly a media phenomenon and best appreciated as a type of entertainment’. That comment immediately tells you that Gray’s book is not merely a field guide (although it is that too, and a very enjoyable one), but also a polemic against the types of atheism Gray thinks are too much in debt to religion.

Gray’s antipathy to the New Atheists generally and Richard Dawkins in particular has been...

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Posted: 09 August 2018

The Drawbridge Lecture 2018, delivered by Marcelo Gleiser, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Dartmouth College, is now available as an online video. Click above for the complete lecture, followed by discussion and audience questions.

The lecture, ‘Unknowns in Heaven and Earth’, focused on Professor Gleiser’s concept of science as a deeply human endeavour, exploring the unknowns of the universe. He sees science as a human project of exploration, rather than a method by which a grand unified theory will eventually be discovered. He told the audience that in all likelihood we will never get to the bottom of some of the mysteries of the universe, not because we don’t know enough, but because they are by definition unknowable.

Quoting Einstein and Heisenberg, he said that the study...

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Photo of Richard Dawkins

Posted: 26 July 2018

A frequent argument of new atheists is that religion is intrinsically violent. But the writings, interviews and soundbites of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens reveals their surprising willingness to sign up to the politics of violence, says Nick Megoran. (Republished from The Conversation.)

Celebrity atheists such as Richard Dawkins appear to claim the moral high ground when it comes to violence. Dawkins, along with Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens, insist that because religion is intrinsically violent, then atheism is inherently more pacific. After all, if all the evils in the world can be blamed on religion, then arguably eliminating religion is not only desirable but a moral obligation for atheists who believe in peace.

Yet our research shows that in...

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Posted: 13 July 2018

‘I believe because it is absurd’ is a saying that has been pinned on Tertullian, the early Christian writer, even though he never said it. Peter Harrison follows the story of this fake quote, which has a long history in anti-religious polemic.

Religious belief is often thought to evince a precarious kind of commitment, in which the degree of conviction is inversely proportional to correspondence with the facts. Exhibit A for this common characterisation of religious belief is the maxim of the third-century Christian writer Tertullian, who is credited with the saying ‘I believe because it is absurd.’ This paradoxical expression makes a routine appearance in philosophical evaluations of the rationality of religious belief, in contemporary polemics addressed to an imagined opposition...

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Posted: 16 June 2018

The ashes of the physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking were laid to rest in Westminster Abbey yesterday between the remains of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. The inscription on his memorial stone echoes the words on the memorial of his new neighbour, Isaac Newton: ‘Here lies what was mortal of Stephen Hawking’, although it also includes, at Hawking’s request, his most famous equation, describing the entropy of a black hole.

Stephen Hawking identified himself as an atheist. In 2014, he explained what he meant when he said (in his book A Brief History of Time) that if we had a complete theory of why the universe exists, ‘then we would know the mind of God’. He said, ‘We would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an...

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Photo of the Sea of Galilee

Posted: 03 June 2018

In this guest blog post, Peter May explores the ‘hidden’ first 25 years of the Christian faith, examining the impact of Jesus on the ancient world of his time.

An astonishing claim

Famously, Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’ But when I first read that passage as a sceptical teenager, I found it very puzzling. Did Jesus actually say that? It is not recorded in the other three Gospels – Matthew, Mark or Luke – which are all thought to have been written before John. It is such a prophetic claim to make. However, I soon found that Jesus said something very similar in Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount. He told his followers, ‘You are the light of the world. Let your light shine...

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Photo of Marcelo Gleiser delivering the Drawbridge Lecture

Posted: 31 May 2018

On 22 May 2018, around 100 people gathered in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral for a unique lecture in the heart of the capital. The Drawbridge Lecture has been running since the 1930s, and has featured Christian leaders and thinkers such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Russian dissident poet of the Cold War era, Irina Ratushinskaya, and Professor Alister McGrath. But the 2018 lecture was different.

So often, the science and religion debates are hijacked by those with the loudest voices – the militant atheists, the creationists and the controversialists. But the Christian Evidence Society decided to put on an event to help the scene evolve and become more representative of what many people know: that science and religion have always had much in common, and have much to gain from...

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Posted: 21 May 2018

In the UK, the dialogue between science and religion is often defined by aggression and tribalism; no progress is made and views become entrenched. But the Drawbridge Lecture, a long-established lecture series organised by the Christian Evidence Society, which has always featured leaders and thinkers from the Christian tradition, will break that deadlock this year. It will be delivered at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, on Tuesday 22 May 2018, by the agnostic and world renowned cosmologist Marcelo Gleiser.

Professor Gleiser, who is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, and the author of several best-selling popular science books, has long championed a positive re-engagement between the sciences and the humanities, including religion and the arts. His...

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Photo of sunset at Big Sur, California

Posted: 19 May 2018

Marcelo Gleiser is delivering our Drawbridge Lecture of 2018 at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, on Tuesday 22 May, on ‘Unknowns in Heaven and Earth’. This guest blog post by him examines the choices in the relationship between science and religion beyond the polarized positions of ‘I believe’ or ‘I don’t believe.’ Register here for a free ticket to the Drawbridge Lecture.

When discussing the relationship between science and religion, people often take a polarized position: It’s either ‘I believe’ or ‘I don’t believe.’

Much grief comes from the insistence from either side that the opposite is wrong or meaningless. (Here is an example, as secularist Sam Harris criticizes National Institutes of Health director and believer Francis Collins.)

In practice, however, there...

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Photos at the top of this column by:
Taro Taylor and Jon Sullivan