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October 01, 2010

Stephen Fry takes on the Catholic Church (unedited)

This is Stephen Fry from the Intelligence Squared debate. We had posted the debate earlier in the year--it also involves Hitchens and a sweet-mannered priest from Africa and a woman who I am pretty sure is Dolores Umbridge--but this is the full unedited version. Stephen Fry is amazing here. The question they are debating is, "Is the Catholic Church a force for good in the world?" Fry and Hitchens take the "Hell No" position and overwhelming win the debate, changing the minds of many people in the audience.
The Intelligence² Debate - Stephen Fry (Unedited)
Uploaded by Xrunner17. - Classic TV and last night's shows, online.

September 30, 2010

What is the point of prayer?

What does prayer achieve? | Andrew Brown | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk
When I consider my Christian academic friends – people who are smarter, better read and harder working than I am – it's clear that Christianity is a very dangerous profession. Three have daughters who died in their 20s; another has a daughter who is a drug addict. Parents and spouses get Alzheimer's disease when they don't get cancer. I imagine they all prayed for these things not to happen. I know they all still pray. So what is going on here? What is the point of all that prayer? This is hardly a new question. It has been around at least since Job. Nor is there any hope of finding an answer that will convince everyone. But it is possible to tease out a couple of questions. The first is whether intercessory prayer works better than chance. There aren't any reputable studies suggesting that it does, which is, I suppose another example of unanswered prayer, since at least some of these studies must have been commissioned in the hope that they would prove prayer is a worthwhile medical intervention. I wouldn't be surprised, myself, if some forms of prayer worked a bit better than chance. Placebos do, after all. But it would be astonishing if it worked better than placebos. And they are not effective against most devastating diseases. But since placebos don't work on third parties, that rather rules out the idea of praying for someone else's diseases, especially if they are an atheist, still more if they are a stranger. Almost the first study of the effects of intercessory prayer was conducted by Charles Darwin's cousin Francis Galton. This looked at the lifespans of the crowned heads of Victorian Europe, for whom prayers were said by almost all their subjects every week. Their lives were no longer than average.

Christine O'Donnell's claims of dabbling in Satanic witchcraft are a lie

slacktivist: Christine O'Donnell, Mike Warnke and the imaginary Satanists
The oddest thing to me about Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell's "I Was A Teenage Witch" claims is that so much of the reaction has accepted her claim that such a thing might be possible. It is not. Her claims of "dabbling" in what she called "witchcraft" are not true. The supposed witchcraft she describes is not something that exists. Such stories of bloody altars and Satanic covens are common and they are false. All of them. That is a matter of established fact. The supposed witchery O'Donnell describes is simply the stuff of Satanic panic urban legends. Her descriptions come straight out of the fabrications of proven liar and con-man Mike Warnke. He made this stuff up. Her claims are about as credible as if she had said that she once conjured Bloody Mary by repeating her name three times in the bathroom mirror. "I dabbled into witchcraft. I hung around people who were doing these things," she said. This is not true. The wholly imaginary form of Satan-worshipping "witchcraft" in which O'Donnell claimed to have dabbled has never actually existed. You can't dabble in things that don't exist. That Christine O'Donnell would repeat such well-established lies as facts -- embellishing them with additional patently false claims of first-hand experience -- is not surprising. Her entire political career has taken place within the strand of the evangelical Christian anti-abortion movement that is driven and shaped by this very same late-20th Century variant of the medieval blood libel. These imaginary Satanic baby killers form the core of her identity -- they are the Other against whom she has always defined herself. They are the enemy in contrast to whom O'Donnell and her supporters are able to feel good and righteous and special. That these enemies do not, in fact, exist -- that they have never, in fact, existed -- only highlights the desperate insecurity of O'Donnell and her witch-hunting comrades.
. . . Read the whole thing at the link above.