Bibles in Pollock Halls? You’ve got to be joking…

Edit: Since writing this, it has come to my attention that the Christian Union actually have nothing to do with the motion (see comment dated 11/11/09). It was proposed by two of their long standing committee members, which is what led to the confusion on my part. I can only apologise for that assumption. Please note, however, that although much of the argument here is misdirected towards the CU, it loses none of its validity.

Unfortunately not. The Christian Union at the University of Edinburgh have put forward a motion for the student association’s AGM to allow themselves or another organisation to put Bibles in each of the bedrooms in Pollock Halls. If you’re a student at Edinburgh University, I urge you to read this post, although it’s likely to be quite long, and if you have a comment, if you disagree or whatever, post it here in the comments thread. I’d like to get a discussion on this motion going and hopefully get a bit of interest so that the necessary 300 students turn up to the AGM and it’s not a complete waste of time for everyone involved.

But first, a bit of history. A few years ago the Student Representatives Council passed a motion banning Gideon or any other religious organisation from putting Bibles in the rooms at Pollock Halls, the student halls. Following that, the CU proposed a motion to the general meeting lifting this ban, which got a majority of the vote, but not enough votes for it to pass (the EUSA system requires that at least 300 people vote for a motion for it to pass, they got 200 and something). This all happened before I was at uni and before the Humanist Society existed, but there are legends that when Gideon were allowed to place their Bibles in the rooms, it resulted in them being thrown out the window, torn to pieces or even in some cases burnt. I’m not exactly in favour of that but it demonstrates how a lot of students feel about evangelising on campus.

Anyway here’s a copy of the motion as it is now. As far as I can tell it hasn’t been amended so this is what will go before the general meeting. Seeing as I’m not in Edinburgh and won’t be able to attend the meeting, all I can really do about it is post a point-by-point rebuttal of what is says. This is more or less the argument I would give if I were to speak, and if I were given more time than you’re allowed at that meeting.

So, first up

The association notes: Article 9 (Freedom of thought, conscious and religion and freedom to manifest such beliefs in public and private) and Article 10 (Freedom of expression which includes the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers) of the European Convention of Human Rights which is incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998.

That’s absolutely true, it does say that. This is no doubt an inclusion of one of the proposers of this motion, law student David Nixon, who even managed to use the right to freedom of assembly to justify denying non-Christians access to the Christian Union earlier this year. That was bizarre, twisted logic and so’s this. He’s trying to use the right to freedom of conscience and expression to justify leaving a Christian text within the privacy of someone’s room. You have the right to express your opinion, you don’t have the right to come into my living room and do it. Interestingly, the motion doesn’t mention the second point to each of these articles, which states that these rights may be subject to conditions or restrictions in order to preserve the rights of others, among other things.


The association believes: That the Bible has had a powerful impact on Scottish Culture and is useful to the study of many disciplines including literature, history, law, social anthropology, classics, divinity and philosophy.

That’s true as well (although I’m not sure how it’s useful for the study of law – it is, of course, a perfect example of how not to do philosophy), but so what? Would you use it to justify putting the complete works of Robert Burns in every room in Pollock? The Bible is available online (this point will come up repeatedly, just to warn you), as well as in the library. Anyone needing access to it has it right there at their fingertips.

That many religions, philosophies and spiritualities respect the contents of the Bible.

Most of them consider it blasphemy, actually. Regardless, this is a popularity argument and has no place in a motion of this type.

That many students have taken comfort in a Bible passage in times of distress and this is important given that the University Chaplaincy Centre is only open 9am – 9pm weekdays and is only staffed 9am-5pm.

Let’s take a look at that claim, shall we? Nightline is also open throughout the night, but let’s leave that aside for a minute. What are common causes of distress? Maybe being a member of a disadvantaged or minority group? Say there’s a student who’s gay, but having only just moved to university, noone there knows. Quite a difficult situation, I’d say. Now say that student opens the Bible and discovers that according to that philosophy, they deserve to be put to death. Not exactly ideal. The same kind of discrimination found in the Bible refers to women, pagans, and anyone who’s not a Christian. This isn’t exactly the kind of thing that should be allowed to be placed in people’s rooms. Those who do want to consult the Bible can do so online, or in the library.

That by providing the Bible and other Scriptures the University is not necessarily promoting the contents of such texts but merely making a service available to students. There is nothing to prevent the university or EUSA attaching stickers to any books placed in Pollock making clear that the University does not endorse the views contained within such books.

Yes, it would be making a service available. A service that is already widely available on the internet, or in the library. Hardly one that is lacking at the moment.

5. That it is in the interests of promoting religious diversity and promoting freedom of expression and religion that EUSA do not prevent Bibles being placed in rooms in Pollock.
6. That the University should be a free market place of ideas and as such no view should be suppressed or censored. True tolerance would allow all views a chance to be fairly represented and would not ban the distribution of any books.

Erm, starting with number 5, no it’s not. It’s in the interest of freedom of expression and conscience to allow people to believe and express themselves as they wish in public or private. This is completely contrary to allowing people to impose the Bible onto people who aren’t interested or who hold different beliefs.

As for number 6, the Bible is not being censored. As I’ve said several times now, the Bible is available online and in the library; the University is in fact actively making it available. To claim, therefore, that it is being censored, is nothing short of ludicrous. In addition, the distribution of the Bible has not been banned. The CU is free to, and regularly do, distribute copies of their religious texts. I have 7 copies of John’s gospel given to me by members of the CU. Unless they’ve been taken away since I was last there, there’s a big box of them underneath the stairs in George Square Lecture Theatre, the very building where the AGM will take place! The only difference between them distributing them on campus, and putting them in people’s rooms, is that when they’re distributing them, people can say no. This motion just allows religious groups to push the Bible or other religious texts onto people who otherwise wouldn’t want it.

That any group or society representing any particular point of view who wish to provide literature to be placed in every room in Pollock should be allowed to do so providing the books are made available freely at their own expense.

Oh so we’re not just talking about religious groups? So why don’t we allow the Socialist Society to put a copy of the Communist Manifesto in each room? Of course in response, the Conservative and Unionist Society will want a copy of their literature in the rooms too, and so will any other organised group out there. The University already has this kind of resource available, it’s right next door to George Square and it’s called the Main Library! But that last part, about the books being made available freely “at their own expense” is an interesting addition, I wonder why they put that in? Could it be that they know the CU, with its large membership and funded by the UCCF, is the only group on campus that would be able to afford such a project? Methinks so. More on that later.

The Association resolves: To mandate the President of EUSA to represent these views to Accommodation Services so that the situation can be returned to what it used to be prior to the SRC deciding Bibles
should be removed from Pollock.

You mean returned to what it was before progress was made, right?

Secularists tend to have two responses to this kind of problem. The first, very prominent in the States, would be to allow every group, religious or not, to put their book in the rooms. This is how ludicrous situations like the Washington State nativity scene come about. The second would be to not allow any groups to do it. I favour that option, and here’s why. It doesn’t matter if you give access to all groups, the big fish will always be able to dominate, in this case the CU will be able to put the Bible in the rooms and other groups will struggle. Then we’re back to the situation, where one group is favoured over another, that we were trying to avoid in the first place!

So that is why we shouldn’t pass this motion. Agree? Disagree? Put your comments here!

There are also a number of other motions going through the AGM which are of interest. One is about taking action against Israel, and another is about not giving a platform to discriminatory groups on campus. Maybe I’ll put a similar post up about that one. But regardless of where you stand on any of these issues, go to the AGM and vote! It’s on the 17th November 7pm in George Square Lecture Theatre.


114 Responses to Bibles in Pollock Halls? You’ve got to be joking…

  1. Ned says:

    Great post, Mike. When I email BLOGs/the religious societies about this motion, do you mind if I link to this as a good summary of our position?

  2. grammarking says:

    Of course not! Be sure to email the Socialists and the Feminists, they’re both full of secularists. Maybe PhilSoc too?

  3. garic says:

    I see you’ve been linked to on Pharyngula, which is good for publicity.

  4. Kristian says:

    I actually live in Washington state (I came across your blog through Pharyngula) and I vividly remember the stupidity of the “Holiday” displays at our airport and Capitol. I hope your student government succeeds in keeping evangelists out of the bedrooms of your students. For the record, I’m actually a practicing Christian, but I do not support religious folk of any type using institutions (school, government, or otherwise) to force their views or books on anyone. I think it a poor testament of the power of your idea if coercion is necessary to gain followers.

  5. PZ Myers has picked up on your article: loadsa visitors coming your way!

    But, why don’t you live and let live? What’s the big deal? Why are humanists so full of their own self-importance?

    Why not just thank them for the Bible and treat it like any other work of fiction?

    Except, that’s the problem. You know it’s not.

    • Potter Dee says:

      Well can we put a copy of the Koran, and the I Ching, and the Book of Urantia, and Liber AL vel Legis, and The Book of the Subgenius, what about a torah written in Hebrew, the Popol Vuh, and a copy of every other religion’s holy book?

      If a student wants to find solace, they’ll find a book somewhere, it’s not like there is any sort of shortage of that book around. Frankly it’s a decadent and environmentally repulsive practice, printing up millions and millions of books like that every year.

      The big deal was clearly outlined in this man’s well written essay, would you care to read it again?

      Why don’t you live and let live? Why do you insist EVERYONE believe what you do? Why are christians so full of self importance?

      Why not be thankful you have your bible, and others have their own choices and if they want to find god, they can come to you.

      It always seemed pretty desperate to see people pushing bibles or the word of god to the oublic, like they NEEDED other to validate their beliefs. Just kind of sad.

  6. Ned says:

    Bugger me, Mike, you made pharyngula!

  7. Oh Kristian, “coercion”?!

    It’s the age-old practise of putting Bibles in rooms, hospital wards and schools. Contrary to what our host has written, millions of people have most certainly received solace from picking up scriptures.

    Unless, you’re looking for legitimising sin.

  8. AlvinStargut says:

    A visitor here from Pharyngula, residing in hateful England:-)

    Good job Mike, you and your fellow Edinburgh students need to oppose this god-bothering shite as vociferously as possible.

    Viva La Evolucion!

  9. Nick Gisburne says:

    How about this idea: at the start of the academic year each student is given a list of books, leaflets, printed matter, from all the societies and special interest groups who want to make their information available. Each student ticks which ones they want and they are delivered to them. No coercion, no waste – if you want the Bible you get one, if not you don’t. That would be a sensible use of resources – even the minority groups could afford to be included too because presumably not everyone would tick the box for ‘Jedi specials ops training manual’. Then again, I suspect there might be more takers for that than for the Bible…

    • MPL says:

      I remember reading about a boutique hotel that had a menu of texts in each room you could ask to be delivered. Standard bibles and the like, but also eastern religions, secular/atheist philosophers, and the like.

  10. Peter McKellar says:

    Watch out guys, next they will be pushing for blasphemy laws like in Ireland. This is the standard wedge politics of reality deniers.

    Have they started forcing their YEC fictions into the biology courses yet? Their delugionist idiocy into the geology courses?

    This is a fight we all need to make if we want to survive as a species – either that or we will end up extinct thanks to cretins like this.

    I think the time is here where we have to fight fire with fire. How about access of secular groups into the religious groups? If they want to force themselves on us its a two way street. Equal time for secular ethics to be forced into their sermons – and watch how quickly they back off and start manning the barricades. Force them into their fortresses of stoopid where they can be seen but not heard (unless an individual seeks them out). The hollow vessel makes the most sound and these oppressive groups have megaphones.

    I sure hope that there is medical grade counselling also, not religious “support”. Anyone that thinks the bible is an uplifting text for troubled minds is seriously deluded and likely to bring more harm than good. Any christian (or theist in general) has ready access to their religious texts already (and most likely bring their own copy anyway).

    (came via Pharyngula)

  11. Ned says:

    Hey guys, try and keep the vehemence down.

    It’s an ill-thought-out but generally well-intentioned motion, which will be easily defeated with democracy. No need for any name calling.

    • MPL says:

      Admittedly, people let their tempers show, but frankly, a motion like this is just rude. Yes, a dorm room is not private in the way a private home is, but it is still certainly a fairly private space.

      The authors only think the motion “well-intentioned” because they see nothing wrong with intruding on other people’s bedrooms with their materials, but I’m sure many (most?) Christian parents would be screaming if I were trying to deposit Bertrand Russell or Dan Dennett in their children’s dorms.

      • John says:

        Oh, I would LOVE to put a copy of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea in every room at Pollock. The environmental problems would be the same, of course, but it would be a great statement to make.

  12. Ned,

    Why are humanists generally so angry and rude?

    I post on Myers’ and Dawkins’ blogs and always, but always, get extreme reactions when attempting to encourage a civilised debate.

    • S says:

      You say you are trying to encourage a civilised debate, but in this post you start off by insulting the people you are trying to address as “angry” and “rude”. Does this help to answer your question about why you get strong reactions?

  13. If I were a student at Edinburgh University, I would question the motives of the Christian Union’s activities in this matter.

    Christian Unions in Britain are notoriously a home for fundamentalists. The overall fundamentalist movement hss been targeting them for years.

    One of the key ambitions is to undermine science (for which Edinburgh has a fine reputation) in favoour of young earth creationism. Indeed, organisations such as the Edinburgh Creation Group and Andy McIntosh of Truth in Science have been active in proselytising young earth creation in the university.

    My warning is in the form of Queens in Belfast. Northern Irish creationists have been pushing to not only get creationism into the teaching there but also to give creationist answers equal status in exams of mainstream science.

    The status of the university and its degrees are under threat.

    I’m not familiar with Edinburgh University’s CU but many elsewhere do not appear to be “christian Unions” at all – they are moe like exclusive fundamentalist evangelical sects.

  14. Brian Rutledge says:

    It is very simple. They want to put Bibles in the bedrooms of students in hopes that the students who are not Christian, will convert.That is the Christian goal. It is no different than the Muslim goal of wanting all earthly people to convert to Islam.Both religions know they are absolutely right. Scarey,huh?

  15. Ned says:

    They tend to have a very low tolerance for bullshit, Stewart. I’m not about to defend anyone I don’t know, but perhaps you raise their ire by being deliberately obtuse?

    It’s perfectly possible you’ve just encountered arseholes who happen to be humanists as well, naturally. It happens. Don’t generalise your grievance to all humanists. How would you feel if I made generalisations about Christians based on Ken Ham or Bill O’Reilly?

  16. Alex Pryce says:

    Stewart, you try to encourage a civilised debate but then accuse Humanists of being angry and rude, and knowing that bible is NOT a work of fiction.

    If this is how you debate, no wonder you are getting a load of atheists giving you a bit of stick.

  17. A low tolerance for BS? They must have – they dish enough of it out!

    Isn’t pride the problem? Humanists think they are better than people of faith – more intellectually advanced – therefore they feel compelled and justified in treating others like lesser beings, regardless of their own level of wisdom or knowledge?

    I don’t think anyone from AiG would go on a forum or blog and just call people names and insult them. I’m talking about specific individuals who seem to inhabit the blogs of well-known humanists and dish out bile like it just comes to them automatically.

    I have never known hatred like the hatred of atheists. This in itself proves the importance of what I said: “people’s spiritual needs are as important as (if not more so than) their physical requirements.”

    People that write stuff like they do either have demons or are mentally ill. I favour the former explanation, but it’s one or the other, or maybe both. It’s an extraordinary phenomenon.

  18. tildeb says:

    SC, proselytizing and excusing and urging inaction by others who may disagree is not the same intent as holding a civilized debate where issues are explored in an open an honest manner. The religious love to hide behind secular ideals like freedom, equality, diversity, tolerance, yada, yada, yada, but always seem to be on the side of undermining them for god (in religious speak) when they interfere with promoting the right beliefs. What a surprise. Not.

    Let’s look at how this proselytizing is being presented: as a service! That’s right; a counseling service! Need counseling on whether or not to own slaves? Check the book from the comfort of your own room. Not sure if that surge of hormones is a virtue or vice? It’s in the book… for free! How should we treat a divorced woman? It’s there, free of charge, in your handy dandy book. Just don’t stone her when people are looking. And for God’s sake, quit trimming the corners of your beard. The Good Book explains it. Why, it’s one-stop shopping for all your psychological, pathological, and anti-intellectual needs.

    What could possibly be wrong with making such a marvelous service available to everyone? What’s that? You need the Koran, too? That’s right; we’re talking diversity and promoting tolerance here. I’m sure evangelicals will love footing that bill. And don’t forget the Book of the Dead and the Bhagavad Gita, the Veda, the Talmud, and Tao-te-ching at a bare minimum. We are still talking about supporting scriptural diversity, right? And why should others have to pay when the CU is so gung ho on providing this important counseling service?

    Might it be, could it be, is it possible, that there is more to this motion than merely providing a spiritual support service to foster religious diversity? You mean there may be another reason, one that is aimed squarely at publicly pushing the christian faith ahead of all others? Because it happens to be the right one according to its supporters is beside the point in this debate, of course. We are, after all, debating the merits of the proposal, right Stewart? But pushing one source of ‘counseling’ ahead of all others isn’t really fair, is it? That can’t be right. In fact, it isn’t right. It’s underhanded, transparently biased, and a reprehensible misuse of responsible democracy based on fairness and equality for all.

    So what could possibly be wrong with providing a free bible in every room? For those who claim scriptural evidence to inform their morality, I should not even have to write it, but the answer is…

    just about everything.

    Too extreme? Too rude? Too true. As a matter of record, any commentary against the truth claims of the religious is always too extreme and too rude. Coincidence, I’m sure.

  19. Last Hussar says:

    Stewart Cowan appears to think that irony can be represented ‘Fe’. He comes onto a blog, ranting how intolerant Humanists are, because they want to stop True Believers putting story books in peoples personal rooms, when they are perfectly free to hand them out in public places. Yet visit his blog and it is full of the worst kind of intolerance- his hatred of gays is particularly disturbing.

    If you want to know what kind of person he is it is explained when he denies Global Warming because he is a Creationist. He is welded to a book, and any thing that contradicts that book will be discounted.

  20. Blak Thundar says:


    I like how you think humanists/atheists seem to have the worst hatred/bile. Have you heard of Fred Phelps and his family? The man is a preacher and they are all about the bible, yet they are incredibly hateful when they protest the funerals of dead soldiers. People that act like that either have a mental illness or are cognitively disabled. It proves what I always say, “people’s need for reason and sound logic is as important as (if not more so than) their physical requirements.”

    Seriously mate, while I’m sure you’re a nice enough fellow, you come off as totally obtuse. You have some bad experiences with a few atheists/humans on the INTERNET and they are supposedly demonically possessed or are mentally ill. Not everyone comes to the internet for rational discussion, some just want to let off the steam they can’t in their daily lives. Because after all, the internetz is only for serious business…

  21. andrea says:

    Are there really that many tables with wobbly legs in Pollock Halls … ?


  22. Eliza says:

    Could I suggest that you pick up your Bible & read it for solace right about now? Interacting with people with different beliefs doesn’t seem to be accomplishing that for you.

  23. Sarah says:

    Demons?? Mentally ill? You aren’t experiencing hatred Stewart, just a well deserved smack. But as with oh-so-many xians (who are the majority) you cry “persecution”.

    Maybe an alternate to this motion could be put forth that requires anyone who wishes to place their religious tract in a room must also place a religious tract from any others that request it, forcing them to bear the cost instead. Since it’s unlikely they’d want a Quran or Bhagivad Gita next to their bible I think they’d change their minds right quick 🙂

  24. David the Astronomer says:

    Demons, Stewart? Mental illness? Is that really the best explanation you can come up with for humanists and atheists who offend your delicate sensibilities by refusing to remain silent in the face of religious abuses and extremism?

    As for hatred — sure, we humanists and atheists can sometimes be snarky, but at least we don’t burn people alive for disagreeing with us, or stone them to death, or fly airplanes into buildings. You need to believe in a god to commit those kinds of atrocities.

  25. […] cheeky motion last night from Mike Williamson, who runs the Not So Friendly Humanist blog. In his campaign to have the motion trounced, he points out that Edinburgh University students in the past have […]

  26. Allan Crossman says:

    “Isn’t pride the problem? Humanists think they are better than people of faith”

    It’s the other way around. People of faith think they’re the chosen of God, destined to spend eternity in heaven while the unwashed masses are tortured forever in Hell. Nice.

  27. Ben says:

    Hi Stewart,

    I have my moments of anger at religion as well. It is difficult to sum up why as i think it boils down to many different factors.
    I will be the first to say that religions are not all bad and i copy a few rituals and philosophies from various ones into my own philosophy. Obviously with such a diverse set of ideas surviving over such a long time period there is going to be some good stuff in there.
    I like the idea of a spiritual atheist. One thing that bugs me is when religions attempt to steal or copywrite aspects of humanity available to us all. Spirituality has become quite confused with the sense of emotionality and emotional balance and control. I think it is a bit rude to create a philosophy that runs over aspects of other peoples lives then use it to justify itself and label other people and their behavior based on the aspects of human experience taken; though it is common.
    I was raised to see right from wrong, not from within the context of a philosophy, but from within the context of humanity. I really struggle to accept that morality is so relative as to include religious moral variability – that i should accept that in an institution there can be such extravagant use of data in self support of preferred reality, and that it can be used in the ways it is in politics, public discourse and education of children and still be moral. I don’t think it is. I have become highly suspicious that the cultural emphasis on the acceptance of narrative as an input into moral judgement is probably immoral in of itself since it so often rather than increasing complexity actually conflicts with the base principles of doing no harm.
    There are a million real reasons to be upset with religious claims and religious advantage as well as affects of widespread religious immorality of the types above.
    All this can be debated without actually getting into the science and philosophy of why such claims are either grandiose to the extreme or disproven.

    Back to my anger at religion, well its generally mild, obviously it is non-violent and limited to debate. Some of my best friends are religious, a couple highly. We all enjoy debates and there is no antagonism. I am not actually angry at individuals, but at a system i see as extremely biased, immoral in some quite major ways, hypocritical, unevidenced, devious and manipulative that hides behind the good things it does. I just think we should aim to be the best we can and that having any system hiding some quite bad things behind some good things and shielding itself so strongly from any attempt at discourse (even to the point of hiding behind hypothesis of universal authorship as a role of earthly empowerment) hinders our societies. I relish the coming debates and changes to the world religions that are as inevitable in the future as they were in the past.

  28. Martijn says:

    In the promotion of ‘religious freedom’ one could argue that a copy of Dawkins ‘the god delusion’ should be left in every room as well of all the members of the CU. That would only be fair.

  29. Richard Eis says:

    -I don’t think anyone from AiG would go on a forum or blog and just call people names and insult them.-

    AiG is well known for having comments mysteriously disappear. At pharyngula EVERYONE is welcome but not everyone may like what you have to say. Freedom cuts both ways.

    Pharyngula is a large tank of logical piranhas. You turn up spouting illogical rubbish and you will get called on it. Also you are not the first “christian” to turn up and start telling people what to do.

    One more thing. If you actually read the pharyngula article comments I can’t help noticing that people seemed almost pleased to see you and were anything but rude.

    -Isn’t pride the problem? Humanists think they are better than people of faith –

    Try being gay, then deciding whether humanists are better than “people of faith”. I know who I would vote for. (Hint it ain’t the ones that just destroyed a load of gay marriages in Maine USA)

    Most of the people on pharyngula are ex-christians. They know the bible backwards and the science forwards.

  30. Dan Moody says:

    Stewart Cowan, why can’t you live and let live? Why are you so full of your self importance? Why come here and tell us about “our hatred”, that we’re possessed by demons, that we’re “angry and rude”.

    Why don’t you heed your own advice instead of pushing your BS at us?

    As for the Christian Union; they are simply twisting the truth, hiding their desire to evangelise behind an argument of free expression. It’s lying for Jesus at it’s most blatant; good luck with you fight.

    Let people seek the bible, not have it thrust at them.

  31. […] transpires (see for example the Not-So-Friendly-Humanist, Freethinker, and Pharyngula blogs) that a student christian union has started an attempt to have […]

  32. Psychodigger says:

    Came here via Pharyngula, but I reside in the Netherlands. Do not allow the regilious zealots to get away with this! They are trying to (re)gain ground one step at a time, and they will only use this as encouragement if they succeed.
    If anyone actually wants to read a bible, they will have not problems finding one, so there´s no need to foist them on sane people who have no need for them. What´s next, mandatory copies of the Red Book, because a certain other group of deluded ones feels everybody should have acces to that?

  33. Bob says:

    I notice that you have not allowed my post to be entered, so much for free speech.

  34. elizabethjoye says:

    I like this site. I like your energy. I like your arguments, although, personally, I reject them.

    I think faith in God is separate from religion.

    I think faith is something personal, something between you and God; that when you go through your own personal crisis of existence, when you truly see how alone you are in the world, in the universe, that faith between you and God sustains you, or separates you: You either believe more, or you don’t believe. It’s like fire: It burns to consume or refine. And the faith you are left with – in your case, faith in the non-existence of God – is as firmly held as the faith I have in an interventionist, all-seeing, all-powerful creator.
    The Bible defines faith as “… the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen”. Science can never satisfy.

    Religion, on the other hand, yearns for justification from science, from society, seeking the support of worldly structures to hold God and Mammon together. And we see the results in corruption and abuse, in hypocrisy and condemnation and the pursuit of our own human agendas.

    Faith brings people together to worship God, religion brings people together to worship themselves.
    Faith inspires people to witness, religion compels people to talk, talk, talk.

    So now what? Are Bibles in bedrooms religion or faith?

    Live what you believe, don’t leave it lying around. And if you live it, they will ask.

    • tildeb says:

      Elizabeth writes in your case, faith in the non-existence of God. Ah yes, the old ‘Not stamp collecting is a hobby’ line. Imagine all the faiths you have that you don’t believe in, elizabeth? Can you name the first one hundred million of them?.

  35. pastormack says:

    Having a Bible in a drawer is not “forcing” religion on anyone. I am a pastor, and plenty of my folks who have Bibles know very little about them. Reading a Bible does not a Christian make.

    This proposal seems silly; but then, why take them out in the first place? The west is the only place in the world ashamed of its religious heritage. When I traveled in the Middle East, I expect to see a mosque on every corner. I expect to be greeted with “God is great.” Someone (gasp!) may even want to talk to me about Islam. When I stayed in the Radisson in Amman, I don’t think there was a Koran in the bedside table – but if there was, should I be offended? Were my rights being violated? No.

    The truth is, laws mean that someone’s views will always be imposed. Modernity’s obsession with rights is self-destructive in this regard. For instance, we think that ridding the public square of all religious symbols is a victory for freedom of expression and the right to not be religious; in reality, it is an imposition of a foreign and new concept (secularism) upon the public writ large.

    Pope Benedict has written on the tragedy of a European Union that has no concept it was once a Christian (catholic) entity; see his ‘Without Roots’. In America, all you have to do is go to a public school to see that Christian values without Christ don’t work; of course, this is the problem with humanism – you can’t be a true humanist if you don’t know what a human really is.

    Is the push to get Bibles back in the dorms silly? Perhaps. Should there original presence have been so controversial in the first place? No. Giving a position of privilege to Christianity at a place like Edinburgh (where I’ve been) is not a violation of rights; it is a recognition of cultural roots that we would be stupid to ignore.

    • tildeb says:

      Oh good grief. Your third paragraph is a travesty.

      Try to imagine what living without legal rights might look like. Ridding the public square of religious symbols is not about freedom of expression; it is about freedom FROM state sponsored religion. Or would you be happy enough if we got rid of this awful ‘secularism’ so that none of us had any legal rights whatsoever and we lived under Muk Muk of the Volcano’s priestly rules? Oh, that;’s right; it has to be christian to be the right one.

      Your religious bias sounds so cozy and comfy but when exposed for what it really means it turns out to be a public menace.

  36. Bob T says:

    This is hilarious:

    Stewart Cowan Says:
    “Why are humanists generally so angry and rude?”

    Then the same person about four posts later:
    “A low tolerance for BS? They must have – they dish enough of it out!”

    Ah ha ha ha !

  37. Catherina says:

    I thought they wanted them younger (after all, the Gideons give out Bibles at Boroughmuir High School once a year)…

  38. As a lifelong atheist from a part-Jewish, Socialist family, I would be immensely offended at finding a bible in my new room. I assume that most non-Christian students would feel the same way.

    Going to University can be tough, and I think being made to feel any more unusual or freakish would have probably finished me off! Why can’t the Christian Union show some of the understanding and compassion that they like to preach about?

    There is a misguided attitude that atheists and humanists are just ex-Christians who are trying to rebel and can be brought back into the fold. When will they realise that only 33% of the world’s population are Christian?!

  39. grammarking says:

    Sorry for being a bit quiet, I’ve got a lot of books to read (and Pokemon Emerald to complete, but don’t tell anyone about that).

    Bob, no idea what you’re talking about. Comment moderation is on because I get a lot of spam, but on this post I’ve approved everything (as you can tell by Stewart Cowell’s comments that I’m not going to bother responding to). AFAICT you haven’t made a comment, other than your one about being censored.

    Elizabeth Joye, welcome to the blog, feel free to come back. As often as I’ve heard the comment that atheists/humanists have faith, you seem nice so I’ll respond properly instead of just posting a link.

    I don’t have faith in a nonexistent God. My position is not “there is definitely no God”. That would make me a gnostic atheist, and I’ve never even heard of one of those, it’s impossible since disproving God would require exhaustive knowledge. If I did say there were definitely no God, that would be a faith position. Instead, my position is “you can’t give evidence for your god, and until you can, I’m going to continue not believing you.” The burden of proof is firmly on whoever is making the claim, and the default position without evidence is disbelief, in exactly the same way as you don’t believe in (I presume) Zeus or Vishnu.

    Now, I do also push the scale a little to say that there probably is no god. It’s not a faith position because I don’t say it without justification (those justifications are the problem of evil and the fact that the universe operates exactly as we would expect if there were no god, if you’re interested). Disbelief in god is not a faith postion, it’s exactly the opposite because it’s asking for evidence.

    Pastormack, this comment’s a little long so I’ll give your response it’s own.

  40. elizabethjoye says:

    Since the Bible was first written in it’s separate parts, over thousands of years, unified by the common theme of unconditional love and redemption for all, men have tried to ban it, They’ve burned it, they’ve outlawed it, killed the people who read it – guess what? It’s still here, more accessible now than ever, doing the rounds as we speak.
    Don’t get angry if you feel others are trying to block you being Christian in a non-Christian world. It is not for you to convert, that’s the God’s job. You just love God and your fellow-humans. I mean, show them love.
    Even when they disagree with you.
    Especially when they disagree with you.

  41. grammarking says:

    So, Pastormack, again, welcome.

    “Having a Bible in a drawer is not “forcing” religion on anyone. I am a pastor, and plenty of my folks who have Bibles know very little about them. Reading a Bible does not a Christian make.”

    That’s true (I know more about the Bible than the average Christian so I hope not), but irrelevant. People have tried to convert me many times but they’ve not succeeded. Evidently witnessing does not a Christian make, but I still wouldn’t let a Christian try to convert me in my living room.

    “This proposal seems silly; but then, why take them out in the first place? The west is the only place in the world ashamed of its religious heritage. (etc etc)”

    We can take the good bits of our heritage and get rid of the bad. People often say “this country was founded on religious principles!” but so what? It’s an innately conservative thing to say, to assert that things should stay the same. My hometown was founded more or less on the slave trade, I want nothing to do with that. It also has an excellent musical tradition which I’m very proud of.

    Your examples of having a mosque on every corner and being greeted with God is Great are perfectly secular! We have individuals and organisations practicing their religion, perfectly within secular law. Even in the hotels, it’s a private company, if they want to put a Koran there they can. It could possibly affect their business if people don’t like it, but whatever.

    The student residence is part of a public, secular institution which should not be putting Bibles into the rooms. People don’t just stay there for a couple of days, they LIVE there for a year, that is their room, they pay rent. It is not a hotel.

    And your idea of secularism is totally skewed. Taking away a religious public monument or removing religion from public schools is not imposing on Christians, it is removing a privilege that they’ve enjoyed for a long time. It allows anyone, regardless of belief, to live in a country where they are seen as equals rather than extra, where it is not ‘different’ or ‘abnormal’ to subscribe to a different belief. And everyone, regardless of whether they’re in the majority or not, can still practice their faith in their own lives. Everybody is equal in public, and religious minorities are protected.

    I don’t care what Emperor Palpatine thinks so I’ll leave that aside.

    “In America, all you have to do is go to a public school to see that Christian values without Christ don’t work; of course, this is the problem with humanism – you can’t be a true humanist if you don’t know what a human really is.”

    It depends what you define as Christian values. Many people say that our morality is based on Christian values. I retort that Christian values were based on our morality! People were around a lot longer than Christianity. Regardless, we’ve grown out of it, and secular moral values can thrive with or without a belief in Jesus.

    Humanism doesn’t have a awful lot to do with what a human is, actually. Some humanists even object to the title because it’s speciesist.

    “Is the push to get Bibles back in the dorms silly? Perhaps. Should there original presence have been so controversial in the first place? No. Giving a position of privilege to Christianity at a place like Edinburgh (where I’ve been) is not a violation of rights; it is a recognition of cultural roots that we would be stupid to ignore.”

    Recognising culture are things like the Selkirk Grace, church buildings, recognising the effect religion has had. It’s not maintaining the institution just because it’s traditional. But I take it you approve of imposing everything that’s had an impact on our culture? You agree with maintaining the monarchy simply because it’s what we’ve always done? Never mind that it’s outdated and unfair, it’s traditional so we’ll keep it. That is the height of stupidity. Whilst one group is privileged over another, I’ll be fighting against it. That way, we make our society better and build up new traditions that we can be proud of.

  42. grammarking says:

    Elizabeth, redemption for all? What Bible are you reading? Even John 3:16, commonly considered the most feel-good verse in the Bible, only claims that Jesus came to save ‘many people’. I, as someone who has rejected the holy spirit, will certainly not be redeemed, according to the Bible.

  43. elizabethjoye says:

    Thank you, grammarking, I am nice.

    You know what, its nothing to me whether you believe or disbelieve in my position. Prove it to yourself is sound advice – that way you stand on solid ground, no?
    No, the point is, you’ll have to do the work. The Bible says, “Seek, and you shall find”.
    If you don’t seek, you don’t find.
    Count how many pop-songs contain the sentiment “didn’t know what I was looking for til’ I found it” (I don’t know, myself, but loads I bet).
    That’s the whole “Good News” thing, right there. Some people are actively looking, some don’t know they’re in need until that emptiness is filled.

    I like the simplicity of God. He says, Trust me, I promise. And he delivers. If Vishnu or any other deity could follow through like that, maybe God would have a problem. But again, wouldn’t/couldn’t/shouldn’t dare apply this to you. Just telling you what I’ve found in my own life. That solid ground I was telling you about.

    At the risk of trying your patience, I planted my herb garden to operate exactly as if I no longer exist – all self-seeding, perennial and weed-suppressing ground-cover (thymes, if you’re interested). Some weeds may break through, some plants may die, I might just be feeding an army of slugs. I dunno, I just couldn’t be bothered to muck about in the dirt, but I wanted the basil, y’know?

    Yes, there is evil in the world, the Bible tells us all about its origins, too. But that’s where I found God, in the dirt. And he has a plan for the whole garden.

    And I think the default position in the absence of evidence is faith, as all pioneers and explorers exemplify.

    Hey, listen, I really do like this blog.

  44. Nick Gisburne says:

    Elizabeth, you say ‘the default position in the absence of evidence is faith’. In light of the absence of evidence for Vishnu, Zeus and the Invisible Pink Unicorn, how is your faith in these things holding up?

  45. grammarking says:

    “No, the point is, you’ll have to do the work. The Bible says, “Seek, and you shall find”.”

    I think you’re asking me to believe, and then I’ll have proof. What that essentially consists of is exposing myself to bias in order to come to a conclusion. Does that not speak volumes about the weakness of the initial claim?

    Maybe that’s not what you’re saying, maybe you’re saying I should experiment. I’ve tried that, I was a Christian for a long time, and even since then, I’ve tried praying. Seems God didn’t want to talk to me.

    “I like the simplicity of God. He says, Trust me, I promise. And he delivers.”

    How exactly does he deliver? Are these results measurable? If so, we’ve got evidence for God and there’s no faith needed. If not, then he’s not really delivering, is he?

    “Yes, there is evil in the world, the Bible tells us all about its origins, too. But that’s where I found God, in the dirt. And he has a plan for the whole garden.”

    I’ve yet to hear a Christian explanation for the problem of evil that stands up to scrutiny. I have dedicated a whole post to the subject, maybe you have an explanation.

  46. elizabethjoye says:

    Aaaargh, you blog too quickly. Time delay!

    Yes, redemption for all – blows you away, doesn’t it? Hindus, muslims, gays, urmmm, pagans? (Fill in your own excluded group) Of course, salvation is dependent on you accepting it as a gift, freely given. And, no, not every practice is acceptable to God – He’s got this thing about murder, and adultery, and lying, and the like. And promiscuity, and cheating the scales, and worshipping idols, and gluttony … But these things are not acceptable to community, either. To humanity, even. I think, even Darwinism might judge them a no-no (except the idol bit, possibly).

    But you know what, who hasn’t done one or more of the list above – I’ve done several, often at the same time, although not lately.

    Free gift, freely given. You’re not bad enough not to qualify. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that WHOSOEVER believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life”. It goes on, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved”.

    So now, if God doesn’t condemn you, why should I?

  47. Richard Eis says:

    And I think the default position in the absence of evidence is faith, as all pioneers and explorers exemplify.

    I probably will get told off for arguing too much but…hey i’m a pharyngulite.
    If I have no evidence for something, why am i even thinking it exists in the first place? I don’t worry that there might be a teapot orbiting the earth…am I to take it on faith that it exists because someone in passing said it might be possible? What an odd thing to think.

    I find that people generally follow the God that they were brought up with. We call it the Pascal postcode lottery(wager would imply you had much choice). Funnily enough everyone seems to happily get the same peace, feelings and faith from their god that everyone else gets regardless of “who” said god actually is.

    Funny that.

  48. elizabethjoye says:

    Hallo, Nick. Not so good, I’m afraid. No answer yet from the Indian deities (family history there), and I’ve only just heard of the pink unicorn, so lets give him/her time to answer, but I have to confess, if I hadn’t have heard of a living God in the first place, I wouldn’t have sought him out. And that took time. Lots of time spent in other ways.

    Like Columbus (he may be a bad choice), I heard tell of land in this direction, and it took many years before I made up my mind to listen, then many more years to decide to look, and a few more years to see. And I’m discovering more land everyday.

    The land is faith, the journey is life (writing this, other things), I think God was the need that sent me on my way, that picked me up and sent me on my way again, that will probably need to do it yet again.

    People do strike out in faith, but yes, you’re right, there seems to be a faith/proof symbiosis. Or, rather, an expectation of faith realised, faith justified. Interesting. Faith is the substance. Faith is the evidence. The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. So, can it be an end in itself? Interesting. But no. There must be a finish to faith, otherwise, what’s the point? There must be a time when the unseen is seen, the hope is fulfilled. The promise is kept.

    You really are on your own in this. But, hey, all comments help, right? The journey is never ABC, or even ABXC – sometimes its AB,11,25,N,O<C

  49. txevangelist says:

    Are you seriously so afraid of a book that it even being in your room scares you? Are you a humanist or a Communist? If they don’t want to read it, they can ignore it the same way they’ll ignore their Shakespeare assignments. But it should be available if the students are curious or seeking.

    I am a Christian, and I think they should put a Bible, a Koran, the Upanishads, the Lotus Sutra, and The Origin of Species in the rooms. I have no fear that the Bible can stand against these others; you apparently have no such confidence.

    Have a great day.

    • Ned says:

      It IS available. In the library.

      Some students would be upset by it being in their bedroom. So, why put it there?

      There is no good reason. None at all.

    • Nick Gisburne says:

      TX, if you put the Bible into each room, that leaves no room to argue against any group, however extreme or marginal, being given the same rights. Do you think they should also put pro-Satanic teachings in the rooms? Surely it would only be fair to do that, right? Do you think that Christians would be okay with a copy of LaVey’s ‘Satanic Bible’ being put into every room? Of course, as you say, if they don’t want to read it they can ignore it, but I’m pretty sure that most Christians would be unhappy that such material was put there and that they had no choice in the matter.

      Just what would be the criteria you would use for determining which books go into the rooms? One per religion? Are you aware just how many religions there are in the world and how much space those books would take to represent each one of them?

      When you think about it, why on earth would anyone want to cram line after line of religious books into the room of a student who is at the university studying (for example) chemistry, or politics? What gives religion that special privelege? Should we not be arguing instead that every student has access to every book and every viewpoint on every subject, so that he/she might pick and choose which ones to investigate and which ones to disregard? The accepted way of doing this is not to put one copy of every book ever published into every room, it is to put copies of all the books into a central respository and give each person free access to that place. It’s why libraries are such useful things.

      Putting a whole multitude of books into each room, many of which would offend at least part of the student population, is a nonsense. This is why the secular viewpoint should be upheld – if no books are put into the rooms, nobody is offended, and yet they still have the right to bring reading material of their choice to their rooms. If the CU wants to give out Bibles, I’m sure they are perfectly able to make it known that they offer ‘a free Bible for every student’. Anyone who wants one will no doubt go and get one. This is both freedom OF religion and freedom FROM religion, all in one, and unless you want to mandate a specific religion and force that onto people, or indeed allow any and all interest groups to foist their literature, unwanted, on every student regardless of that student’s wishes, it’s the only way to go.

  50. elizabethjoye says:

    Just quickly want to say, when the Bible says, “I have many sheep, but not of this fold”, it is basically underlining your final point, Richard, hallo, thanks for commenting. I don’t know what a pharyngulite is, but I will check it out, bear with me, I have the slowest broadband around (satanic forces? You decide!)

    If everybody thought as you did, not much new ground would be broken in so many fields – science, music, literature … The creative urge to seek, go, look is an imperative that has formed questions before the right words even existed.

    But you’re right, my God is the one I was brought up with, left and ultimately returned to – not quite as he was presented in those heavy childhood days, but I had to work out my own salvation after all. My parent’s experiences are their own.

  51. grammarking says:

    Elisabeth, you’re confusing faith with experimentation. When you experiment, you haven’t made up your mind without evidence, you’re merely testing a claim. Faith relies on there being no evidence, it cannot be tested in the same way. In music and literature you take nothing on faith, we’re not even talking about the same thing, it’s expression or exploration, not believing or not believing something.

    Tx, that’s right, call me a communist, then I must be wrong! I’m not scared to have the Bible in my room, I have 3! But I went and got mine, of my own will. If I didn’t want one, I wouldn’t have it, and that’s the way it should remain.

    • elizabethjoye says:

      The thing is, faith IS evidence. Faith is evidence. Faith is evidence. Just letting you know, faith is evidence.
      Its not scientific. It’s not logical. It’s not anything that can be proven to anyone else. My faith can’t give you faith, tho’ it might give you a reason, it might give you a question.
      Its the ground you stand on, even when you feel you’re falling. Its the land you look for in the middle of an ocean. Its the evidence – its the ONLY evidence – you get. But its the only evidence you need. And its a gift, as in you get more, until you really could move mountains, or their equivalent.

      And in creating art, literature and/or music, trust me, you take everything on faith, every time – unless you’re Emin, Archer or those awful X-Factor twins, of course.

      • grammarking says:

        Faith is believing something without a good reason, or at least without evidence. Of course there are different types of faith, some less reasonable than others. Say I’m expecting a friend will be able to do me a favour. You could say I have ‘faith’ in him, but maybe that implies that normally he doesn’t come through all that often, he’s not very reliable and that my hope is misplaced.

        Then what would I call my expectation that the sun will rise tomorrow (leaving aside for a second the fact that the earth orbits the sun)? Is that ‘faith’? I suppose you could stretch it a bit and say so if you want, but it’s only a tiny leap of faith, since the laws of physics say it will rise tomorrow, unless something very unlikely happens in the meantime. In everyday conversation, I would go so far as to say I ‘know’ the sun will rise tomorrow.

        Faith, as I hope I’ve demonstrated, is a type of belief. It’s on a scale with ‘knowledge’ at one end, ‘belief’ and ‘hope’ in the middle, and ‘faith’ on the other side, based on the amount of evidence available.

        The statement that faith is evidence doesn’t make sense, not on a logical level, not on a scientific level, not even because you can’t use it to convince someone else, but on a linguistic level. Faith is an act of believing, regardless of how much evidence there is or isn’t. It does not make sense to say that an act of believing is evidence. It just doesn’t. Saying that it does is, frankly, a bit woolly, and making use of a definition that the rest of the world doesn’t share.

        Please tell me how, in art or literature etc, you have to believe certain things in the absense of evidence. Give me an example, what do you take on faith?

  52. Nick Gisburne says:

    Then your statement is meaningless, Elizabeth. The default position is not faith, it is the absence of belief. You don’t believe in those other gods, I don’t believe in them either. But I also don’t believe in yours… by default.

    As for ‘faith is the evidence’, what kind of nonsense is that? Faith by definition is belief in something WITHOUT evidence. Like many theists you are just talking in riddles. ‘Evidence of things unseen’? Meaningless.

    This is perhaps why Stewart Cowen (above) thinks that atheists are so angry – it’s hard not to react in a negative way when someone churns out such drivel. But your probably realise that it’s actually a very good tactic – eventually even the best of us won’t bother to respond if you keep on talking in such random, incoherent ways. It’s certainly one of the reasons I stopped talking to Christians – it’s usually pretty pointless.

    • elizabethjoye says:

      Hi Nick. Which statement in particular is meaningless (if you can limit yourself to the one)?

      I say the default position is faith, but that holds only when one is searching for something and they don’t know exactly what they’ll find. They have a hypothesis – suggested by need, by nurture, by a book left in their room or a reaction against the very idea – they test that hypothesis, but in ways not easy to explain. Nor to understand. Let’s say, Life is the experiment.
      Like I’ve said before, quantifiable science has no place here.

      I was quoting the biblical definition of faith when I said it was evidence: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen”.
      How can faith without evidence BE the evidence?
      And yet I find such a riddle far from ‘meaningless’ or ‘nonsense’. Like the scientists pursuing dark matter, I fully comprehend the possibility of invisible proof. I mean, I don’t fully comprehend the proof, but I believe I will in time. The absence of evidence against, and the evidence of an absence filled – these things keep me believing.

      You strike me as more frustrated than angry. People have called me lots worse. Somehow, attacking me for my beliefs is better. It means I have to be sure where I stand, and that I can respond, if not in love, at least in cordiality.

      So, here goes – um, I like your punctuation.

      • grammarking says:

        I know this wasn’t directed at me but there’s a little thing I want to pick up on. If Nick doesn’t come back I’ll post a more complete response.

        Scientists aren’t looking for dark matter because of faith, they know it’s there because they can see its effects on other matter, on the movement of galaxies, for example. The analogy doesn’t fit with religious faith.

  53. tychy says:

    this is a very silly motion, i’m afraid. if gideon wants to waste its money equipping pollock with bibles which nobody will ever read then that’s their funeral. but the idea that this is now the stuff of student activism – it makes all of the “fairtrade” malarcky which i took part in a few years ago look like meaningful politics.

    campaign for lower pollock rents, or lower fees for foreign students, or anything – but it’s very difficult trying to start a revolution against gideon bibles.


  54. Richard Eis says:

    Pharyngula is a dark and evil place. A pirahna filled haven for those that have cast off religion or have never tasted it’s sweet nectar. A place run on totalitarian logic. Every quote must be complete and identified, every bold statement must have evidence to back it up. Scripture is banned there. We eat our own when we are not feeding on the flesh of the religious.

    Our great and powerful leader once destroyed a cracker and threw it in the bin. This was his greatest and most vile achievement apparently as the christians wept at such defilement and still send him death threats about it. Say it three times aloud (pharyngula), then turn around and type it into google if you want to see.

    You have been warned.

  55. elizabethjoye says:

    I laughed, Richard, thinking you were joking, but on reflection, you’re not, are you?

    And yet I find myself drawn to this place. Feed on the flesh of the religious? Not how I would describe myself, but I reckon I could do with losing some of my spiritual flab. Might see you there.

    In the meantime – Come on, sing it with me – “Reach out and TOUCH/ Su-HUM-baaady’s hand …

  56. grammarking says:

    It’s a half-joke. We (no idea why I’m including myself in this, I’m a lurker over there) clearly don’t feed on the flesh of each other or the religious, since it’s online. But some of the things are perfectly true, like “Every quote must be complete and identified, every bold statement must have evidence to back it up.” But that’s exactly how it should be, IMO. Scripture is not banned, it just doesn’t stand on its own as evidence.

    The thing about Pharyngula, as well as a lot of other big atheists forums/blogs etc, is that there are a LOT of very passionate atheists there. So a theist or an alternative medicine proponent will go on there not really knowing what they’re doing, post something that’s unsubstantiated, and figuratively get ripped limb from limb by waves upon waves of atheists, many repeating the same thing someone else has said, possibly because they were posting their comments at the same time so they overlapped, possibly because they read it and got so pissed off they wanted to reply straight away. It’s a shame, it makes threads hard to follow when there are too many people, and I don’t bother reading them anymore.

    So my advice, if you’re going there, is to just back up everything you say with evidence or justification.

  57. Robin says:

    Argue that if we start putting bibles in every student room, then, if we’re being fair, we should also put a copy of every single other religious text every written in there too. In fact, why stop there? I might decide that I believe in the healing powers of the newspaper ‘News Of The World’. In fact, for me, ‘News Of The World’ holds a huge amount of spiritual truthness, and to deny other students the chance to experience this goes against their human rights. So, lets put The Bible, The News Of The World and every other book ever published in the rooms, and have done with it.

  58. Richard Eis says:

    So my advice, if you’re going there, is to just back up everything you say with evidence or justification.

    I would say lurk for a while to get the gist of the site. We are actually quite friendly towards people with sincere questions. Asking us if we have found that crocoduck yet will however be met with 10 sneering replies, 15 comments on correct evolutionary theory, 2 youtube video links and a poem by Cuttlefish.

  59. OppositeBurke&Hare says:

    No novels, no religious texts, no books in student rooms other than those they bring themselves!

    Let them freely express themselves by freely choosing to adorn their walls with each and every page of the St John’s Bible or to play darts with Jesus or whatever it is they wish.

    The Christian Union, the Scottish Socialists, the Humanists and anyone else can lobby for the support of these students at their stalls at the Societies Fair and throughout the semester on every street corner offering all the free goodies they like, but they should not have any preferential treatment.

    It’s just a waste of resources, too. The vast majority of students do not have faith. Those who have the Christian faith need the Bible interpreted for them anyway to work out which bits are fact and which fiction.

    There are far too many more important topics to be discussing… what about equality? Just look at how unequal society the UK is today in 2009!

  60. […] they printed it), so here’s the original. This has been talked about in more detail by Mike, PZ, and The […]

  61. Senny says:

    Just to clarify a few things…

    This motion has not been put forward and is nothing to do with the CU at Edinburgh uni. It has not taken a stance on it and an email was sent round last night to that effect to the whole society.

    The CU also receives no funding from UCCF and unlike most other societies receives most of its funding from fundraising not EUSA. Most of which goes towards feeding students outside the library in exam time and homeless guys on the streets every Friday night.

    I myself do not agree with this motion as it is fascicle to allow anyone to put literature in Pollock rooms but it should nto be an excuse to attack the CU, which does many good things in this uni and this city and has had nothing to do with this motion.

  62. grammarking says:

    Senny, thanks for the comment.

    I can only apologise for assuming it was the CU. The constant mentioning of the Bible, as well as the fact that it’s been proposed by two long-term committee members, just led me to believe that it was. I’ll put an edit note in to make it clear.

    If I’m not mistaken, the CU receives many copies of St John’s Gospel every year. If we’re talking about the capability to distribute Bibles in Pollock, it essentially adds up to the same thing.

    I’m not ‘attacking’ the CU, I’m arguing against whoever is proposing, or intending to take advantage of, the motion, on the motion’s own merits. Every argument I’ve made in this post is still valid. I’ve just directed them to the CU because I (admittedly mistakenly) thought they proposed the motion, but they can still be directed to Gideon and lose none of their validity.

  63. pastormack says:

    You say Christianity enjoyed a position of privilege as if it was not earned, as if that position was not legitimate. You also speak of keeping the best bits of culture and getting out with the nastiness(keep the rights, keep the human dignity, perhaps the arts, but please get rid of the superstitious and metaphysical). You actually used the phrase “new tradition,” which is an oxymoron. A new tradition is Scientology. A new tradition is rubbish. You either have an actual, vibrant tradition, or you have a bastardization; the Bible would call this “the form of religion without the power.”

    But we’re going to talk circles around each other and I don’t have that much time; the only other comment I have is that there is no satisfying answer to the ‘problem of evil.’ Even defining evil is not easy, but the usual way of posing the “problem” of evil is itself deluded. Check out “God, Suffering, and Medicine” by Hauerwas. The Bible offers no answer to this and we should not expect to find one. Such an abstract question is itself meaningless; and all the simplistic answers fall apart. The truth is, in trying to answer that question we reveal our egotism; we worship our own reasoning (the condition of modernity in general), whether we claim to be Christians or atheists.

  64. Nick Gisburne says:

    By ‘privilege’, pastormack, I’m assuming that you want Christianity to have some kind of advantage which other religions or non-religious groups don’t have. Do I really need to spell out how wrong that is? You want others, those who do not share your faith, to be treated with less respect, fewer rights, with reduced opportunities, simply because (you say) that position of privilege was ‘earned’. Well, sorry, pastormack, that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

    I’m a white male, and both of those words have traditionally given me a position of privilege – women formerly had fewer rights, as did non-whites. That was a ‘tradition’ until relatively recently in our history. Should we have kept these traditions going? The majority of people in this country would of course say no – equality is important. It’s fair. It’s RIGHT. But at one time many more people argued that no, actually, women should not be given equal rights, and ‘coloureds’ were not worthy of fair and equitable treatment. That was tradition. But we have moved beyond that. Those traditions were unfair and we as a society eventually decided that we no longer wanted those traditions to continue.

    So returning to the subject of religion, is it really fair, is it right, to give special benefits to one group of people, those who are Christians, and not give equal opportunities to others? Of course it’s not fair. We should all be treated equally, and this is why those who oppose putting Bibles into student rooms oppose this measure and those like it. It’s not even valid to argue that if Christians are allowed to put their books into student rooms then any other group should be allowed to do so too. Although that seems fair on the surface, it actually gives a bigger advantage to those groups with more money. Christian groups have huge resources, other groups do not, so such ‘equality’ actually favours anyone with deep enough pockets.

    If nothing else, this is not what our modern society should be built upon. Our way of life certainly reflects the views of the majority – that’s democracy in a nutshell – but it also seeks to protect the rights of minorities. In not allowing Bibles to be put into student rooms, nobody is saying ‘no student is allowed to bring a Bible into their room’. Rather, we are saying, ‘every student can choose whether or not they bring a Bible into their room’. Why force one on them? What purpose does it serve, other than upholding this so-called ‘tradition’, which is one-sided and entirely unfair?

    Student rooms are the private spaces of individual students, their ‘home from home’. Would Christians support a law which said that all private houses in Britain MUST contain a Bible? Imagine the uproar that would cause. I’m pretty sure that Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, atheists, and indeed many Christians, would be outraged by such a suggestion. There is no difference, none, between the mandatory placing of Bibles in student rooms and the mandatory introduction of them into people’s homes. Anyone who can’t see that is simply blinkered, and indeed blinded, by their so-called ‘tradition’.

    Pastormack, you may want your ‘actual, vibrant tradition’ to be ‘how things were before they changed’, but you’re going to have to face up to reality – people change, society changes, and, though you may not like it, even the longest, oldest and most deep-seated traditions will eventually change. Get over it.

  65. Richard Eis says:

    You say Christianity enjoyed a position of privilege as if it was not earned, as if that position was not legitimate.

    Earned? You mean bought. With the tithes of the poor.

  66. grammarking says:


    Nick has most of your comment covered but there are a few other things I’d like to address too.

    New tradition is not an oxymoron. All the traditions we have now were new once, right? Clearly what I am talking about is building up a way of doing things that in the future will be seen as traditions. And the ones I’m talking about are ones that make sense, not ones that just are, just because. Personally I don’t care if they become traditions or not, I don’t see the value in a tradition just because it’s a tradition. I’d rather people thought about what they did more than just do it because it’s the cultural norm.

    For your second paragraph, I actually have read Hauerwas, and found it disappointing. IIRC he spends most of it recounting stories of suffering, and then comments that the question of evil only comes about because we’re trying to put meaning in our lives. From a Christian perspective, you’ve taken it a little away from what I understood him to be saying, to say that the way the problem of evil is posed is misguided.

    If you go to the post I’ve already linked to about the problem of evil, I deal with this issue in the first comment. A very easy way to define evil, as pointed out by Hauerwas, is ‘gratuitous, or unnecessary, or meaningless suffering’. Yes, we do temporarily assume the existence of an objective evil, or to put it in Hauerwas’ terms, we look for a meaning to our suffering, but only to point out that that assumption, made almost unanimously by theists, does not fit in with what we see around us, and instead what this suffering demonstrates is that God either doesn’t give a rats arse about his creation that theists claim he loves unconditionally, or he doesn’t exist.

    You also claim that we ‘worship our own reasoning’. I wouldn’t call it ‘worship’, exactly, but I’ll leave that aside for a moment. You’re clearly implying that our worship is misplaced, but I disagree. Have you ever got on a plane? Or did you just get in a cardboard box and hope God’ll take you where you’re going? A car? Have you ever made use of pi as 3.142etcetc, as opposed to 3, as stated in the Bible? Whenever you rely on what people have discovered rather than what God has personally said or revealed, you’re worshipping reason. It’s ok though, you’ve got a good motive to do it. You see human reasoning achieves results. Real tangible, measurable results. God is yet to do that. He’s yet to do anything. So, although I don’t, I’d rather worship reason than God. I’d rather worship a perfect stranger than God, the chances are they’d be more moral.

  67. elizabethjoye says:

    Hallo again. Looks like the conversation moved on and back again in my absence. Is it possible any of us could shift or change or even modify a little as a result of all these arguments?

    Dunno why I joined this forum, really (displacement, probably).
    The thing that keeps bringing me back is the Truth.
    Or do I mean, the truth?
    Whatever, its the knowledge that I can no longer substantiate in my own head what I hold to be true; I can no longer believe in my heart what I confess with my tongue; basically, I cannot believe UNLESS I listen to your (finely-crafted, well-reasoned and, I presume, well-seasoned) arguments, and see what of my own conviction stands.

    The biblical definition of faith is the marker I use for debate, since the biblical god is the one I believe in. For a debate about God, that would make sense, right?
    I agree that there is a sliding scale of knowledge-related belief, but faith (in its biblical usage) is so far to the end of that scale it becomes, yes, evidence itself. I know, it makes no linguistic/scientific/logical sense. It is out of our common, everyday, normal experience. Its mental. To trust in something/someone that non-human must require something, well, divine. Oh right, not mental. Spiritual.

    In my pseudy youth I was fond of quoting DH Lawrence: “What is madness but a concept of reality not shared by others?”
    But reality, like the truth, eventually speaks for itself.

    And every time I prep a canvas, or start a new draft, or collect another rejection, I exercise faith that the image will be there, I’ll find the words, the breakthrough will come – but not biblical faith, you’re right; angsty, arty faith that I frequently ritualise into some kind of ceremony.
    Apart from the bums on seat element, keeping at it, getting up and starting again, not the same thing.

  68. Richard Eis says:

    Methinks Elizabeth has become somewhat entranced by the cold logic of the non-stamp-collectors.

  69. grammarking says:

    Hi Elizabeth,

    I’m always open to changing my mind. It’s one of the reasons I prefer to call myself a humanist. ‘Atheist’ just means I don’t believe in a god, whereas ‘humanist’ describes the criteria I use to decide what I do believe. In the event of evidence arising that proves the existence of god, then the word humanist will become (almost) synonymous with ‘theist’ rather than atheist as it is now, whereas the word atheist obviously won’t. But a good feeling in my stomach doesn’t count as evidence, and neither does written evidence on its own count as evidence for something extraordinary. Neither am I trying to convert you.

    Some things I will say, though. The purpose of language is communication. If you call a tree a tree, but I call it a sheep, then we’re going to have some problems. In the same way if the common definition of faith is belief regardless of evidence, and you say that faith is evidence, then we’re going to have similar problems. If the Bible defines faith that way, then I’m afraid that definition is wrong, or at the very least unhelpful and out of touch with reality. If we’re talking about different things (and I’m still struggling to understand what you’re trying to define – more about that below), we need better terms.

    Pushing faith right the way up the scale does not make it evidence. You can be absolutely convinced about something you believe, but that doesn’t make it evidence. They’re completely different things, faith being the belief, evidence being whatever convinced you. Belief cannot be evidence or all you’re saying is ‘I believe, and that’s why I believe’. I don’t blame you for this confusion, the word faith is bandied around all the time as some kind of trump card, often in contexts where it doesn’t belong.

    The important distinction to make is between good reasons to believe something and bad reasons to believe something. Extraordinary claims, regardless of their type, require extraordinary evidence. And by that I don’t mean extraordinary as in ‘weird’ evidence, I mean extraordinarily good evidence. That burden of proof has not been met by anyone claiming that a god exists.

  70. elizabethjoye says:

    Okay, so definition of faith – we do use language to communicate, but also to express that internal narrative that starts at least from the moment of birth, if not before. So if I have no prior experience of your word for tree, I should be able to pick up your intention and meaning, given enough time and leeway.
    Lets not go with the common definition: I’m fairly uncommon myself, and I’ve seen enough of the world to know the same can be said of the whole human race. We are talking individual, personal convictions here, so lets not run with the herd.
    How about this? When I say faith, I mean confidence – will that work?
    There are real points to be made here, but they only work if we’re talking about the same thing. Otherwise, what’s the point?
    Hell, for me, is not having the words.
    So help me out here – can you see that, when the Bible says faith, it actually means confidence?
    Confidence in an invisible, non-proven god – now that’s something to argue about.

    Richard, I still occasionally have to not have a cigarette after meals, despite giving up a number of years ago and never having smoked since. Perfectly logical, but nowhere near the heart of the matter.

  71. grammarking says:

    I’m afraid confidence still doesn’t work, it has the same problem as faith. It is a degree of belief, not evidence. You’re saying “I have confidence in this, and that’s why I believe”. Useless.

    Here’s the thing about evidence that a lot of people don’t see. It has to be evidence for one thing, but not evidence for something else. It has to differentiate between one theory and another and show that one is true and one is not (or at least show which one is not, and leave the other without competition). So your faith or your confidence cannot be evidence, because whether or not God existed, you could have confidence or faith in his existence. It’s not evidence.

  72. Richard Eis says:

    -Confidence in an invisible, non-proven god – now that’s something to argue about.-

    But confidence must come from somewhere. You weren’t born being confident that god exists. The question is why did you begin to believe, and were those reasons (in retrospect) based on fact?

    Imagine I have a friend who tells me about Steve. He tells me how great Steve is because a friend told HIM how good Steve is. He also tells a third friend of mine about fantastic Steve. That third friend then also tells me about Steve. Suddenly I have two different people telling me how great Steve is and that sounds like good evidence.

    But in actual fact, none of my friends have ever met Steve. They know nothing about him in actuality. But I have two accounts of Steve from trusted sources, I am therefore confident that he exists and is really nice.

    (i took this from a youtube vid, but i cannot remember the link for the life of me)

    • elizabethjoye says:

      Where does my confidence in God come from?

      Its true, I did hear about him first. My father was a big influence, growing up – in sending me, screaming, to the secular!
      Its not that I rebelled, rather that my reason could not allow for a non-visible, non-vocal Being that was and is and will always be. I was constantly hearing testimony of God’s actual interventions in people’s (people I knew, people I would ordinarily trust and believe), people’s lives – crises overcome, jobs found, lives saved – but it was all just, well, stories, actually.
      Not real, although obviously sincere.
      I was kind of superior (can you be superior not in a bad way?), because I knew the value of the rational, and the necessity of hard proof. In my dad’s defense, he always emphasised the need to prove all things to ourselves, even and especially when it came to God.
      I would say I was born a rationalist, freethinking, certainly non-worshipping, and that’s the life I happily pursued as soon as I was old enough to practice.

      And during a “fabulous” period in my life, my mind posed the unwanted question, what would I do if God in fact did exist and the Bible was true and the same was proven to my impious self? Then, the logical answer was that I would believe. I’d have no choice. I’d want no choice. It would be worth it, were it true.

      And the next question: What would you give to know?
      I answered. I went to sleep. I got on with life.

      And some time later I got my proof.
      And some time after that I recognised that I’d got my proof.

      And actually, it wasn’t wonderful, it rocked my world right out from under my feet and left me falling, more frightened than I can possibly share, and desperate to not know, to un-know. That description is pathetically inadequate.

      So, before, I’d just heard of God, but now I knew him. Met him. Ran from him. And this is me on my way back.

      I can’t give you proof because that was in my head and in my blood and in my heart – how we know the truth about ourselves, rather than a scientific thesis or an occurrence in nature – and also in my transformation, but again, just my word. I guess that’s why people witness – it all the proof they have.

      I guess all you can do is look for Steve yourself. Try dropping him a line. It doesn’t matter how you make contact, I think forming the intention, the will, is where its at.

      And so this confidence, that must have been there all along, no matter what I believe I was at birth, this question formed, this challenge laid out and pursued becomes a confidence I can stand on, the challenge met, the question answered, and a confidence that grows, and, in fact, stands in as firm evidence until the day the actual proof returns.

      Clearly I’m in an open, giving place right now, and it may sound like I’m trying to convert you. In fact, I frequently look back on my life and think: I cannot believe I’m a witness. But I want you to know that I have way more pressing things on right now than worrying about your soul (no offence – Jesus loves you, right?)

      • Nick Gisburne says:


        Ramble, ramble, ramble…
        Woolly, waffling words…

        “And some time later I got my proof.”

        …with no indication as to what that proof might be or how it might be anything other than a delusion.

        However, I do agree with your own analysis of what you just wrote, Elizabeth: ‘That description is pathetically inadequate.’

        Congratulations, you now believe in a God who would torture people for the ‘crime’ of not loving him, while pardoning murderers, rapists and paedophiles who do. And you’re part of a worldwide community of misogynists, homophobes and science bashers, a community which teaches that the Jews killed in the Holocaust are burning in Hell forever because they did not ‘accept Jesus into their hearts’.

        You may be confident in your God, but I’m at a loss to imagine how anyone would ever be comfortable with what that would actually mean if it were to be true.

        And no, Jesus does not love you. He’s dead.

      • elizabethjoye says:

        Ummm, hullo, angryman, let me first remind you that you are not my enemy – tho’ I see Imay be yours.

        I accept that you view my words as rambling waffle: We speak a different language, don’t we? I’ll keep looking for a way to communicate, because that’s good for me, but please, feel free to add me to the list (You do have a list, right? In your head?)

        Actually, I believe in a God who would pardon everyone, apostates and really angry men included; a God who shows that rebellion against his governance is a recipe for pain and death and being really unhappy, a God who would release all those who reject him and his redeeming power from the misery of their own choosing and the imposition of their will on a perfected world, by one final, merciful act of eternal death. No everlasting hell. No purgatory. No pyres into eternity. Merciful death: If you favour euthanasia, you might see how that could work.
        I believe in the God who says ‘Judge not’ and warns us not to presume we know anything about the state of anybody else’s standing: So whoever you think is doing the condemning, its not me, Bub.

        Go back to where I came in: I don’t subscribe to organisational, denominational religion. I don’t stand or fall by anybody else, but by the word of God. That’s why I’m here, to check out that solid ground. Be my earthquake. I want to see on what I stand.

        Oh, and you have a little something just there, top lip, a little fleck. There. You got it.

      • Nick Gisburne says:

        Since the God you describe is not the one contained in the Bible, presumably you just invented your version of God to make yourself feel happy? Anyone can invent a deity and attach their own choice of attributes to it. That does not in any way make it real.

      • grammarking says:

        Nick it really doesn’t matter if her beliefs are shared by others or not, I’d rather take a look at the present claim and discuss the evidence for and against it, than draw assumptions because of a label shared by many different types of people.

        Elisabeth, on one hand, we’ve solved one of our communication problems. The confidence you have isn’t the evidence, but your experience is. I wouldn’t consider it very good evidence but we’ll get to that. Your confidence/faith is based on your experience, but that doesn’t mean it is in itself evidence. (If you do consider this experience good evidence, then you shouldn’t refer to your belief as faith, as this implies that there isn’t good evidence or justification. Confidence is a much better term.)

        On the other hand it is difficult to work on such a vague non-description. This encounter, what was it like, how did it manifest? Is it something that could be measured? The problem I have is that if it’s not something that can be proved to someone else, it’s not likely to be a very good reason to hold the belief yourself. Especially if, as you say yourself, you only realised that you’d had this proof some time later, then it seems to me that it must be pretty shaky or you would have realised more or less straight away. Later on you’re subject to recall bias.

        Personally if I had an experience, I’d be more inclined to believe that I was deluded in some way, or that I was having a hallucination, depending on what it was. Obviously if it were a nice feeling I’d just think it was a nice feeling. I go by Hume (paraphrasing): you should not believe any miraculous testimony, unless its falsehood would be more miraculous than the testimony itself. So is it more likely that what I thought had happened actually did, or that I was deluded? We know the human brain is imperfect and fools us all the time into believing things that aren’t true.

        So here’s you’re next question: what would convince me to believe in God? I honestly don’t know, and that’s something that worries me. There are certainly things that would make me more likely to believe in a certain kind of god (I find Christianity logically inconsistent so there’s not much hope there). For example if evolution was disproved, if things happened on a daily basis that didn’t correspond with chance, if the laws of physics were broken in a fundamental way. In other words, if the universe didn’t function according to rules, but seemed instead to be according to the whims of a supreme being, I’d be more likely to believe. None of these things on their own would convince me, but I think a couple of them combined would do a good job and come pretty close. I’d certainly be much less confident in my atheism.

      • elizabethjoye says:

        Hallo again.

        Hi Nick. The god I describe is indeed the God contained in the Bible. The God who says “Judge not” is the same God who says “Vengeance is mine”. The God of the Ten Commandments is the same God of Calvary. The God who ordered the destruction of, say, the Midianites is the same God of mercy who extends salvation to all.

        Here’s a thing – life is more than breathing air and pumping blood, more than a logical step from A to B, or all the diversions you can account for.
        Have you heard the saying “Many a slip between cup and lip”?
        There’s another one about the foot and the stirrup; It refers to the whole worlds that can exist in the smallest of spaces. I think it is saying don’t count your eggs before they hatch, but it could equally be counselling us to make a closer reading of a situation or statement before offering our final analysis.

        So, those Midianites – frankly, it looks like God set them up for a massive fall, letting them rule the Jews like that and then, when they’re fat and lazy, getting Gideon to whup them.
        But the thing about the Old Testament is, its a history of biblical Israel. So it doesn’t record the individual stories of Midian life, it doesn’t give us the details of their personal triumphs or tragedies. It just gives us their influence on Israel and the effect of that.
        But we know they had more going on, because so do we. I figure you must have whole other conversations and motivations and concerns than what you put in these comments.
        You merit a closer reading.

        And the other point about the Old Testament is, its a treatise on the spiritual state of the whole world. For Israel, read us. So we were in spiritual captivity, and offered release, and accepted it, and rejected it, and took it (but with conditions), and bitched about it, and denied it (so tried some revenge), or didn’t understand it, and begged for it (but modified it), and squandered it, and we do everything you read about in the books Genesis through Micah, including the good – especially the good, because that’s what keeps us trying to do this our way. But then the New Testament comes along and makes it plain what was being said all along – not by your good works, but by My sacrifice. Not you, but Me.

        I didn’t invent my god, I just found Him, but I had to look hard. If He made me as happy as you think He does, I reckon I’d spend more time with him. Maybe what you call happiness is my confidence.

        Perfect segue, I think, grammerking.
        You’re right, my confidence is based directly on my experience. Before that, I called myself agnostic, but I was athiest because I’d called God and he didn’t answer, and that was proof enough for me.
        I consider the experience not only good evidence, but the only evidence worth having. We are talking about things more fundamental than the traffic of blood to bone. Something so massive the known universe cannot contain it, yet it can touch you just there and quicken you. I love that word. That’s a word that exists between cup and lip.
        The Bible calls it that “still, small voice”. I think its loud enough to cross space and time.

        I have not personally conducted experiments in gravity (unless you count dropping things by accident, which could count, why not?), but I have observed its effect in any case, and I believe.
        I have not personally tracked the division of cells in the creation of a new life, but, boy, have I observed the effect. Its brilliant, and I believe.
        I have not observed the earth turning on its axis; I’m pretty certain I’ve observed the effect while crossing continents, and the argument in favour seems pretty conclusive, what with the diagrams and the speeded-up film footage. No, I haven’t personally observed this, but I’m inclined to stick my neck out with not much fear of damage, and say, I believe.

        Is good evidence where there is no room left for doubt? Because that’ll never happen this side of the second advent.

        I do take your point about the vagueness of my … testimony?
        (The problem is, I don’t know you, any of you. You’d think baring your soul to strangers would be easy. If I had to confess my personal politics, sexual history, guilty indulgences, that I could probably do. But this feels – well, too soon, I guess. Its like, here is the skin, and some of the meat, but that’s down in bones with the fat and the marrow. Kind of, stop touching.)
        I can say this – if I had said, God, I’ll believe if You’ll call down fire on my head, and then sometime later I got all my hair cut off AND THERE WAS A LIGHTBULB THERE!
        Would that count as the falsehood being more miraculous than the testimony?
        I mean, everyone sees the lightbulb, tho’ only I know what I stipulated. Can a lightbulb equate as a merciful God’s symbolic fire? Or am I misremembering, delusional?
        You mustn’t suppose the question of madness hasn’t arisen, but thank you for your delicacy. Only the truly mad are convinced of their sanity, in my experience, which, as you know, is everything. Mad does not detract from real, but I’m pretty confident of passing the official tests. Able to function, anyway.

        If you were to decamp to another society – one more primitive, say, or less Western – you might be thought fairly mental yourself, based solely on your logic.
        Logic isn’t the panacea you hold it to be. For a start, it has no equity, no mercy, nothing of the possible or the unknown. It allows these things only within the strictest of human parameters, else to have faith would be supremely logical.
        Logic is good, but limited. It would keep your mind temporal – why do I hurt? who do I blame? what is the proof?
        That’s what Job is all about – human v divine logic. (I’ll get round to it down there)

        The God of creation is a God of rules. He’s the God of space and time. That’s what I think miracles are, a speeding up of space and time to achieve what is impossible through control of infinite possibilities. He created physics, He created biology, He created the way beings and objects and minds evolve in accordance with their surroundings. He not only doesn’t act on a ‘whim’, but even before he set the world spinning on its axis, with all of us on its surface, even before he said “Let there be light”, he said Let there be a plan.

        We only know some of it; the Bible tells us that we’ll know all of it in time. But we know enough now to believe, or to disbelieve – we know enough to engage with it, to argue it, and to live it, until our time comes and we know what we are, whether one of those “… vessels made, some to honour, some to dishonour”.

        Just because I believe, doesn’t make it true. Just because you don’t believe, doesn’t stop it happening.

      • Nick Gisburne says:

        Elizabeth I’ve read all your posts here so far and not one of them addresses the topic of this blog. Your kind of disingenuous ‘witnessing’ where it’s not appropriate is exactly what the removal of Bibles from student rooms sets out to counter. All you’re doing is using someone else’s blog to promote your own views, rather than joining in with the conversation started by the original post.

        If you’d now like to address the topic in the blog itself, rather than endlessly churning out more platitudes, a talent which Christians like yourself seem able to perform with great ease, it would be something of a relief.

      • elizabethjoye says:

        I take your point, Nick. The fact is, I’m a bit of a blog-virgin. It seems barely credible now, but I only got mains electricity a few months ago. Before that, I had to access the internet down the library or via the most unreliable connection ever, using my mobile phone.
        And if I had acquainted myself more with blog-etiquette, you’d be less irritated, right?

        I thought conversations that developed were good. Topics that expand. Diversions and digressions welcomed.
        I mean, stick a Bible in a room/don’t stick a Bible in a room – makes no difference to the contents, know what I mean? I thought I made that clear when I came in.

        Th original post caught my attention because it was well-argued and engaging. I thought, hey, never done this before, let’s see if I can join in.
        And I can, can’t I?
        I mean, you wouldn’t stop me, would you?

        You seem determined to deny me any independence of thought or action by constantly lumping me in with “Christians like [my]self”. Are you sure you know me that well? Having read my words, are you so certain you have grasped their meaning so utterly that you can analyse, sum-up and dismiss me?

        You know, I don’t need your validation, and you mustn’t think your hostility hurts me; its just, I like a good argument on points of conviction. There’s a passion and vitality to difficult questions actively engaged with.

        Get this, if my mind is changed here, that’s my life changed forever. That’s seat-of-the pants stuff, that is. That’s not stick-to-the-point-and-don’t-deviate.

        One last thing – my whole life is a series of platitudes. I’m a walking cliche. Familiarity rendered all my truths pretty contemptible, and I’m only just rediscovering they’re beauty. I talk the way I do because I’m a writer, not a Christian.

        No offense, but how old are you? You talk like you’ve only lived the one life.

      • Nick Gisburne says:

        There IS only one life and I haven’t finished living it, not yet.

  73. pastormack says:

    @Nick, being white and male does not always connote privilege. As you probably know, the word ‘slave’ comes from the Slavs, white people who were so often enslaved that the same stuck for all slaves. So yes, in North America and most of Europe to be white is to be privileged (to an extent), but this is not true in all times and places. I’m not sure how it is in the UK, but it’s actually a disadvantage to be white and/or male in the American higher educational system. With policies in place to assure a diversity of the student population, being white and male is a distinct disadvantage, especially when you think about getting in to graduate programs over here.

    As far as change within tradition, well, yes and no. The Orthodox Church claims not to have changed since its inception (they at least think this is a possibility). The problem is the modern assumption that ‘change’ is necessarily a good thing, that progress is always positive. Obama got elected on ‘change we can believe in’, and, of course, that change does not look much different than what we had before. It just has a prettier face and a more articulate voice.

    @grammarking. I’m impressed you’ve read Hauerwas. I’m not surprised you were disappointed, his audience, his entire project, is directed at the Church. He assumes a Christian perspective on his readers, and if you don’t buy into that, his arguments will not be intelligible. But he does question the whole notion of ‘theodicy’ usually posed; in a more poignant way, so does Nicholas Wolterstorff in ‘Lament For A Son.’ That is why the answer you propose (God either doesn’t care or can’t act) is not a Christian answer: it assumes we’re in a position above God to judge him. Job’s answer to suffering is ultimately this: who the hell are you to question? Much beyond that, we cannot say, except that since God’s Son suffered, we cannot expect our lives to be much different.

    As far as tradition, have you read any Alisdair MacIntyre? He’s been called a right-wing postmodernist; he argues for rationality existing not outside of all traditional norms (which is impossible) but rather existing within tradition. It is in this sense that I use the term tradition, as a way of viewing the world, of reasoning things out. And so I mean what I say when I argue that, outside of the Christian worldview, concepts that came from Christianity (equal rights, for example) and were played out in the Western world are meaningless. That’s why I conclude that it is myopic for Europe and the UK in particular to be hostile to that tradition.

    Your statements on reason and God are cute. How can God be immoral if He hasn’t affected anything? You can’t say that God is a meanie and also say you don’t believe in God.

    Of course the human mind has achieved much. I have no reason to deny that; our capacity to think, reason, and create, is a reflection of the Divine Image in us who is Creator and Truth. But the same people who invented airplanes also invented atomic bombs. We have yet to come up with an economic system that doesn’t lead to poverty or injustice. We have taken care of polio, but AIDS and cancer still elude us. Yes, reason achieves results – but reason has yet to fix everything, including the bad things reason gave us to start with.

    (Of course, this line of argument may assume an opposition of reason and revelation that I think is false. I don’t think being a Christian means I take leave of my senses (you may disagree); rather, as St. Anselm said, “I believe in order to understand.”)

  74. pastormack says:

    Oh, and my own blog is at

    Your comments would be welcome.

  75. Richard Eis says:

    -You can’t say that God is a meanie and also say you don’t believe in God.-

    If god exists then he is a meanie. And unworthy of my worship. Catch 22 for the athiest win.

    -Yes, reason achieves results – but reason has yet to fix everything, including the bad things reason gave us to start with.-

    In an imperfect world, praying and waiting for perfection is a waste of time. Reason MAY fix these problems. Should I ignore that possibility (and lets face it, science has delivered in the past) in favour of something so perfect it cannot be seen?

  76. pastormack says:

    1) That makes you an agnostic, not an atheist. It’s also a contestable what you mean by “God.” Typically when God is invoked in these kind of theodical debates, it is not a God of any religious tradition but a nameless, faceless, impersonal God of the philosophers. A God who, regardless of how involved He is or how much power He has, certainly doesn’t care. When we say God, we are not necessarily saying the same thing.

    2) What? Did I suggest we leave reason behind? No, I merely suggest we shouldn’t expect so much from it.

  77. Richard Eis says:

    Oh, I am quite atheist. Though there is surprisingly little difference between the two.

    I am refering to the god of the bible. An impersonal creator can’t really be a meanie.

    Reason has taken us to the moon. It can take us beyond it. I expect a great deal from reason because its all we have (from my point of view) and because it has delivered again and again.

  78. grammarking says:

    We’re really off-topic.


    “Job’s answer to suffering is ultimately this: who the hell are you to question? Much beyond that, we cannot say, except that since God’s Son suffered, we cannot expect our lives to be much different.”

    So do you consider harrassing a guy to near death just to win a bet a moral thing to do? God claims to be a moral authority but I can point out several things where what he does is not at all moral. Several things, such as the entire book of Job, seem to be moral if God does it, but terribly amoral if anyone else did it. What kind of moral system is that? Might is right? Do what I say, not what I do? Especially eternal punishment, it cannot be justified. To answer Job’s question, who else could judge? Are you saying that the only way to know if something is good or not is to refer to what God says on the matter? So what does God say about nanotechnology, or are we waiting for him to get back to us? In any case, I think this idea goes against scripture in some way, is it not Paul who says God has marked our morality onto our hearts so that noone is without excuse? So even if God does exist, we have to rely on our own morality, at least to some extent, and my morality tells me that what God does on many occasions is immoral.

    Here’s a question often posed by Matt Dillahunty at the Atheist Experience. How do you know that the Bible, or at least some books in it, wasn’t written by the Devil? Especially if things in the Bible seem to contradict your own moral compass which you can only assume God put there, it would definitely seem to fit quite nicely.

    I have another recent post on here called God: Arsehole, where this idea of an immoral God is explored a little more. It goes well with the post on the problem of evil, and the two appear next to each other in chronological order, they should only be a page or two back.

    “Your statements on reason and God are cute. How can God be immoral if He hasn’t affected anything? You can’t say that God is a meanie and also say you don’t believe in God.”

    I don’t believe God does exist but if he does and what the Bible and Christians say about him is correct, what he does is immoral. There’s no contradiction.

    You’re right, that does make me an agnostic, but I’ve never met an atheist who wasn’t an agnostic. You probably think I’m talking nonsense now but I’ll explain. The majority of people think agnosticism falls in the middle of the scale between theism and atheism. That’s not exactly true. Theism and atheism refer to what you believe. Gnosticism and agnosticism refer to what you know. So you can be an agnostic theist or a gnostic theist, an agnostic atheist or a gnostic atheist. Whereas there are many who claim to know that there is a God, and therefore fall into the gnostic theist camp, I’ve never met anyone who claims to know that there is no god. It’s logically impossible, because proving that there is no God would require exhaustive knowledge, which we don’t have. Even Dawkins and Hitchens don’t put themselves in that category.

    There are, of course, people who actually are bang in the middle and genuinely don’t know one way or the other. Although they are technically atheists since they do not believe in God, it’s more useful to refer to them by their agnosticism rather than their atheism. I call these people ‘true agnostics’ in the same sense as in Dungeons and Dragons you can have a character who is ‘true neutral’ (to show off my former geeky side).

  79. tychy says:

    i’m a little sorry about my above comment for, reading “the student newspaper” just now, it seems that the entire AGM is a censorship spectacular. there’s a call to ban “academic and cultural cooperation” with israeli universities – which would be an act of incredible, witless philistinism. there’s another call to ban the sales of cigarettes in eusa stores – nanny knows best! and with the bible ban to boot, it seems that the emphasis is upon protecting tolerant liberals from the ideas and products which they want to ban.

    at a time when there are very real threats to education, virtually an entire AGM is given over to gesture politics…

    • jjarvis says:

      Yes, that’s why I’m bothering going for the first time. (although I don’t think it’s inconsistent to oppose the bible plan and oppose other motions you mention–not that you say it is, I just want to be clear.) I think you ought not to have religious tracts left in your private living space whether you want them or not. Israeli divestment and boycott is a different issue.

  80. grammarking says:

    I have to agree. The people who are normally involved in education not for sale, getting news out about the cap being lifted, and things like that, this meeting are involved in the thoroughly misguided BNP motion. Banning cigarettes is a bit stupid, there are plenty of shops around where they can be bought anyway and EUSA could use the revenue.

    I think the Israel motion is worth voting for, though obviously I won’t be there. Maybe I’ll write a little something on that. Right now I’ve got to go buy some books.

  81. […] AGM – the other motions So my last post was about the Bibles in Pollock Halls motion going through the EUSA AGM tomorrow night (again, if […]

  82. Nick Gisburne says:

    Pastormack your reply to my post is only what I’ve come to expect from the religious – you pick up on something I was merely using as an example to illustrate my point, and madly pick at the bones of it, while singularly refusing to address the point I was endeavoring to make. My post was critical of your position that Christianity should enjoy a position of privilege, while you seem to feel that a full knowledge of the origin of the word ‘slave’ and a knowledge that the Slavs used to be enslaved is what really matters. As always, the tactic you employ is ‘I have no answer to your question, so I’ll give you a long answer to a different question’.

    However, if anything, you merely give more credit to my side of the argument – that something is ‘not true in all times and places’ is surely one of the arguments against the ‘tradition’ of the placing of Bibles in student rooms. It happened in the past, and now it no longer happens, and ‘with policies in place to assure a diversity of the student population’, it would no longer be appropriate to place Bibles in student rooms.

    And again, bringing up the Obama administration is relevant in what way exactly? (Note that that was a rhetorical question, lest you be tempted to use it as another opportunity for changing the subject). Change to correct an injustice, a fault, or a developing problem is certainly something to encourage. It’s why new laws/rules are made and old ones struck down. It’s what happened when Christians were no longer allowed to use their ‘privilege’ to place Bibles in student rooms. It was not a fair policy, so the policy changed. The present policy gives freedom of choice to the student, whereas the old policy gave no such choice to anyone.

    Of course my criticisms of your November 12 post have gone entirely unanswered and I can only say again that this is exactly what I expect from religious people – you’ve made some statements of your position, received damning criticisms of them, then rather than addressing those criticisms have simply changed the subject and gone off at a tangent.

  83. Nick Gisburne says:

    Looks like the motion to bring back Bibles was defeated. A victory for common sense and equality for everyone I’d say. How close was the vote in the end?

  84. grammarking says:

    I wasn’t there, I’m on exchange, but I’m assured the numbers supporting the motion were minimal. EUSA rules require a 2/3 majority to pass so it wasn’t even close.

  85. Monkeyface says:

    Just a correction on your correction Mike. Only one person who put the motion forward was on committee. And he was on for one year only. Therefore neither of these guys could be called “long standing committee members”. They could be called long standing members of CU, or highly involved members of CU, as they’re in 4th and 5th year. But then their legs would probably be pretty numb by now.

  86. grammarking says:

    Hmm… I have an image in my head of each of the proposers (or at least I’m pretty sure it’s them), and I definitely thought each of them had been on the committee for several years. But I could be wrong. Anyway it’s not that important and it’s all over now.

  87. Monkeyface says:

    Yes, facts do not matter. You can say anything you want in your blog whether its fact or not. Interesting conclusion.

  88. grammarking says:

    Right, everything in the written word must contain full references to peer reviewed work, and people reading a blog really care whether it says “long standing committee members” or “long standing members”.

    But seeing as one person insists on being a pedant, I’ll change it.

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