Oct 302013

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Society of Edmonton Atheists have a monthly newsletter to keep you up to date for the month, including the upcoming book for book club and our roundtable topics.

If you are interested in having this emailed directly to you just let us know and we’ll add you to our announce email.

It’s also easy to check it out on our website by clicking on the ”newsletter” tab or by following our facebook page and group.    Plenty of ways to keep up to date and be informed.

Hope to see you out at one of our events in November!

 Posted by at 11:06 AM
Oct 232013

Freethinkers Susan Jacoby FULL

 Tom Flynn, Executive Director of the Counsel for Secular Humanism and editor of their Free Inquiry magazine, is a 30-year veteran in the humanist/atheist struggle. A few years ago in an article titled, Why I don’t Believe in the New Atheism, he relayed some useful insights.

The article corrects the record by establishing Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism as the forgotten opening salvo in the literary debut of the New Atheism.

However, his article’s main thesis is that the only thing “new” about the New Atheism is its source. The anti-religious arguments found in their books have been made by generation after generation of freethinkers. Nevertheless, regarding New Atheism:

“Something new was afoot, but it was only this: for the first time, uncompromising atheists writing was coming out from big-name publishers and hitting best-seller lists. You could buy it at the airport.”

Flynn does not dig into what caused this change in mainstream media strategy nor does he identify the media conglomerates behind New Atheism. Moreover, he neglects to mention that coterminous with New Atheism’s literary debut was the appearance of a spate of pro-atheist stories in network television programs and in the pages of glossy magazines. This coverage focussed on the “Four Horsemen” of New Atheism (Harris, Dennett, Dawkins and Hitchens) and was often rationalized with references to the popularity of their respective recent books.

Suffice it to say: circa 2003 Big Media embraced Big Atheism big time. The books forming New Atheism’s Pentateuch are:

Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers (May 2004, Holtzbrinck)

Sam Harris’s The End of Faith (August 2004, W.W. Norton)

Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell (February 2006, Bertelsmann-Pearson)

Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion (September 2006, Houghton Mifflin)

Christopher Hitchens’s God is not Great (May 2007, published by Atlantic but distributed by Lagardere)

Of the above publishing ventures only Harris’s W.W. Norton claims to be a smallish independent firm – putting out a paltry 400 titles a year. (In any event, Harris quickly jumped ship; his subsequent books being published by CBS and Bertelsmann.) The remaining books were projects of huge diversified media concerns whose book publishing divisions carry on business through hundreds of different imprints.

Evidence of Big Media collusion is found in the fact that the first three books were written simultaneously while the latter two must have been at least in the planning stages before the ink of the first three had dried.

While the main target for ridicule in these books is America’s “Religious Right” (i.e. the Republican Party’s voter base), the corporate towers from whence these books emanated are mainly situated in Old Europa.

Nonetheless Jacoby’s Freethinkers remains a must-read and not merely because it was the first of the Pentateuch. Freethinkers provides something none of the other four books even attempt to assay – a history of America’s non-believer movement.

This is a movement without a memory. Wave upon wave of atheistic activism has crashed upon the shore yet few within the contemporary movement are cognizant of this. Time after time, such as in the wake of the 1925 Scopes monkey trial, American secularists have celebrated the slaying of the theocratic dragon only to have the next generation of secularists ride out afresh to confront the same dragon.

Not even the amnesia is new. The leader of the mid-19th century surge of anti-religious activism, William Garrison, was unawares Thomas Paine led a similar crusade sixty years before. Fifty years later an even greater wave of agnostic activism was led by the hugely popular Robert Ingersoll – a man since christened: “the most famous American no one ever heard of.” Collective amnesia does not just happen; it is caused.

Freethinkers also chronicles the interaction between America’s feminist and atheist movements. Women have always played prominent roles within the freethinking milieu and freethinking women have been among the most effective feminist agitators.

As well, only by reading Freethinkers can one properly ponder why Susan Jacoby was not welcomed into the corporate boy band billed as the Four Horsemen…

Back in tha’ day the common dismissive about the New Left was: “it is neither.” As one circumnavigates New Atheism one wonders whether the same quip might again apply.


Book Club will be reading Freethinkers in November.   Our book club tab has more information. 

 Posted by at 8:56 AM
Oct 202013

Ahy? Question Everything.You have probably seen these signs around Edmonton churches:

Kerri went to find out, and let the rest of us know, what’s going on.


The signs are presumably a reference to my favorite bible quote, 1 Thessalonians 5:21:

“Question everything, hold fast that which is good”.

I’ve always wanted to cross stitch it and hang it proudly on my wall, mostly to see the reactions of relatives who also have crossed stitched bible passages on their walls. I went to their webpage http://questioneverythingab.ca/ And the first thing I saw was this:
Alpha Course opening webpageWhat’s going on is a 7-9 week course on Christianity called the Alpha course, which has been around for years, but is having a big campaign in Alberta this fall. It’s a series of video lectures, sometimes with a weekend getaway in the middle. There are 158 Alpha courses being offered in the Edmonton area this fall. I found one at a convenient time and location for me. The website said “contact the organizers or just show up”.

Continue reading »

Oct 112013


We’re branching out!

Live in Sherwood park and like brunch, but don’t like making your way across municipal borders on a Sunday morning?

Come join us for our first brunch in Sherwood Park at 10:00am this Sunday.

Location: Ricky’s on Sherwood Drive and Wye Road  170-1020 Sherwood Drive, Sherwood Park, AB T8A 2G4


See the facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/506861352732605/

 Posted by at 10:06 AM
Oct 102013

During book club recently one of our members, Kerri, shared with us her ”best explaination for the empty tomb”….which doesn’t include resurrection being the answer.  So what did happen to the body of Jesus (assuming he existed in the first place) ?  Read her argument:

”I think every non-believer is tired of hearing about the historical evidence for the empty tomb.

empty tomb

Model of the empty tomb from Jesusland – Six daily crucifixion re-enactments for the kids!

The argument goes that Roman and/or Jewish authorities could easily have quashed Christianity’s claims of the resurrection by bringing forward the dead body of Jesus. The fact that they didn’t do so implies that they did not have it. Anyone who did have the body would have great motivation to bring it forward to gain favour from the Roman Empire. If the Christian followers had taken it that would imply that they knew the resurrection was a sham and yet continued to martyr themselves for something they believed to be untrue. So where was the body?

They generally include the claim that we have better historical record of Jesus’s empty tomb than of any other event of that time. I’m not sure exactly what they mean by this, I can’t find any sense in which it is true. Furthermore, the only reason it even comes close to being true is because early Christians spent so much time destroying any documentation they felt might undermine or compete with their religion.

Now I don’t believe that the testimony of a few people recorded a long time after the event meets the threshold of evidence that I would require to believe in resurrection. But obviously the people bringing up this argument do. And arguing that their book may be insufficient in any way never goes anywhere.

But the claim is that there is no explanation for the facts presented other than resurrection. To defeat this claim requires only a single alternative explanation. You don’t need an explanation you believe in, you need alternative explanation that your opponent believes in.

So does the Bible give us any alternative explanations for where that body could have gone? Try this one:

  1. Jesus repeatedly made statements such as “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.(John 6:54)
  2. Five thousand people were present for these statements. Twelve of these people were present for the bread and wine at the last supper. The time between the last supper and the crucifixion was short and eventful. It is likely that at least a few of the 5000 (not to mention all of the people that heard about it secondhand), did not get the news that Jesus actually meant bread and wine representing and/or miraculously transformed into his flesh and blood.
  3. Upon learning that Jesus is dead, and believing that eating his flesh and blood is necessary for eternal life, these followers would realise that there is not going to be enough flesh and blood to go around. This provides substantial motivation to get into the tomb and steal the body.  Belief in eternal life is sufficient motivation to risk their lives, including bribing, tricking, or even killing any guards that may have been present.
  4. Under Roman law, the punishment for cannibalism was death. Under Jewish law, the punishment for cannibalism was death. Stealing and eating the body of the Messiah would certainly not make them popular with the Christians, especially once the bread and wine information got around. Therefore the people responsible would have good motivation to keep quiet. Furthermore, there would be no identifiable body left to bring forward after the flesh was eaten.

Not only does this seem to be a solid alternative explanation for the evidence presented, but it follows logically from beliefs most Christians already hold. This causes them to actually listen to what you are saying and question their own beliefs. Which is a good start in actually getting somewhere.

Note: John 6 is one of the rare sections that Catholic and Orthodox denominations actually take more literally than their evangelical counterparts. Evangelicals are used to arguing with Catholics that Jesus did not mean that you literally had to eat his flesh and blood, therefore the Eucharist is symbolic not literal. However for our purposes, it does not matter what Jesus meant, all we require is that at least 1 of those 5000 witnesses, or the people that heard about it second hand, took him literally. And John records that many people were disgusted by the suggestion of cannibalism and left. This makes it difficult to deny that at least 1 person could have taken it literally.

Note 2: Try not to start with the simple answer to their question for shock value (“he was cannibalised”). The whole point is to break through the stereotype of disrespectful atheists who know nothing about their religion. The shock value you are looking for is the realisation that you actually know their book fairly well, and hopefully this will get you to a place where they actually listen and think about what you are saying. From a believer’s perspective there is no more effective argument than one from the Bible. That is why can’t seem to get out of the habit when talking to someone that doesn’t believe in the Bible.”



 Posted by at 8:12 AM
Oct 092013

Header board members
What are your board members up to?


Outwith the regular roundtable, book club and brunches we are working on trying to have an extra event for members each month.

October 19th we are headed to Prairie Garden Farms for a family event, if you’d like the details check our event here.
We are hoping to have a pub night or meet-and-greet event in November.
December has us celebrating the solstice on December 14th, and there is the possibility of a cookie bake event for families.

Check our events on the events calendar or keep up to date on facebook where you’ll find all our opportunities to get together.


We’re always on the look out for guest speakers, and we have added a new guest to January’s roundtable.   The originally planned roundtable event for January will be moved to a later date.  We’ve also got some leads on people coming from Dying with Dignity, Stop Polygamy in Canada as well as a guest to come speak about Feminism in the new year, so watch for those events.

Brochures and updated business cards:

Board member Robert Chamberlain has been hard at work over the last few months creating a new brochure and business card for us, and we’re now at the printing stage.   We are hoping to have various brochures available to have ready to hand out at S.E.A. and public events, if you have something specific you’d like to see then let us know!

Rob also helps put together the newsletter, which we think has been a great success since it’s reboot in May.  If you’ve got something you’d like to include in it or see featured let us know.

Volunteer meeting

If you are interested in helping out S.E.A. with events, or have ideas on fundraising then please come along to our October 22nd Volunteer Meeting to share your ideas or find out how you can help.


 Posted by at 7:59 AM
Oct 082013

Thanks so much to everyone that took part in the highway clean up this September, our new format was a huge success.  In previous years we have just met early and worked all day to clean up our stretch of the QE2, however this saw the group of volunteers working for upwards of 7 hours.   This year we split the clean up over two weekends, doing 2 hour stints each time.  Not only did you not get as tired (your back didn’t ache the next morning), it was more productive and we had time to head out for lunch afterwards.  15 different people came to help out over the course of our 4 events, that’s double the amount that came out last year to help.   Great job guys and gals!

We’ll follow that same format next year and we may very well be adding a late spring/early summer highway clean up too, so watch the website/facebook page for info on that.

The crew (missing: Allan taking the photo)

The crew (missing: Allan taking the photo)

Highway cleanup

 Posted by at 8:49 AM
Oct 072013

A Reasonable Response

We are currently reading William Lane Craig’s latest offering ”A Reasonable Response” for book club.   Here is a little run down on the guy if you aren’t familiar with him:

 Explaining Dr. Bill

 The world’s preeminent Christian apologist, William Lane Craig, has written 30 books. His most recent triumph, A Reasonable Response, reads like a first-year university text  and sports glowing endorsements from several Christian academics and student leaders. Explaining why this should be so goes a long way toward explaining the phenom that is Dr. Bill.

The book’s co-author, Joseph Gorra, is the Manager of Academic Programs and Research at Biola University. William Craig’s main gig these days is as a Research Professor at Biola’s Talbot School of Theology. (Craig only deigns to teach a few weeks a year at Biola’s Los Angeles campus, pining “the classroom is not my calling.”)

Biola U (a.k.a. Bible Institute of L.A.) is a fully accredited, private Christian university offering 145 academic programs of “Biblically-centered education” to 6,000 students.

Although prominent in its field, Biola is hardly unique. The USA’s 900 accredited religiously-affiliated, post-secondary educational institutions claim a cumulative enrolment of 1.7 million students. Of these institutions 200 are Bible colleges, 150 are seminaries and 255 are Catholic universities or colleges.

The main lobbyist for the USA’s Protestant post-secondary schools, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, lists 106 member institutions 17 of whom are accredited up to the granting of PhDs. (Accreditation means more than authorization to issue broadly recognized degrees; it also means tax exemptions, government grants and the right to participate in subsidized student loan programs.)

Nor is the USA a unique bastion of “faith intentional” higher education. Globally there are 1,358 Catholic institutes of higher learning orbiting the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, the Pontifical Academy of Science and the International Federation of Catholic Universities. These 1,358 institutes vary from full-campus affairs like Washington DC’s Catholic University of America to small colleges embedded in larger secular universities like St. Joseph’s College at the University of Alberta.

While still in his late teens Craig enrolled in a Christian college and soon became active in the debating team and later in the continent-wide Campus Crusade for Christ. The thesis earning Craig his PhD in Philosophy sought to prove God’s existence using modern cosmological arguments i.e. the Big Bang theory and the Second Law of Thermodynamics etc.

Dr. Craig then spent several years at Munich’s Ludwig-Maximilian University (LMU) acquiring a PhD in Theology. Here his thesis concerned the historicity of Jesus. His advisor, Professor Pannenberg, argued the resurrection was historically factual even if the Gospel accounts of it were fictional.

LMU was launched in 1472 after Bavaria’s Duke Ludwig received the appropriate papal concession. LMU repaid this debt by playing a major role in the counter-reformation. Today, LMU is a taxpayer-funded 18-faculty, 48,000-student colossus employing 3,600 academics including 700 full professors. Its founding Theology faculty has been bifurcated into Catholic and Protestant faculties which in turn compliment a separate omnibus Philosophy/Science/Religious Studies faculty. The Protestant Theology faculty boasts of structured collaboration projects with the Cultural Studies faculty and with the Philosophy of Science sub-faculty; the latter project being facilitated by the German Research Foundation (GRF). Incidentally, LMU is an internationally renowned theoretical physics powerhouse employing some 300 researchers (GRF-financed) to agonize over astro-physics, quarks, quantum theory and abstract mathematical physics.

After leaving LMU Dr. Bill spent 1987 to 1994 as a researcher at Belgium’s Catholic University of Louvain. This notorious reactionary forge was co-founded in 1425 by the Duke of Brabant and Pope Martin V. Louvain U is currently home to 28,000 students and a staff of 5,600 including 2,000 with PhDs. The university’s core “Organizing Authority” is a cabal of four Bishops the most senior of whom (and Louvain’s Chancellor) is Cardinal Leonard.

In 2011 Louvain hosted a yearlong exhibit honouring their illustrious alumnus, Georges Lemaitre. Monseigneur Lemaitre was a student and later physics prof at Louvain before ascending to the Presidency of the Pontifical Academy of Science. As the exhibit proudly advertised, it was Lemaitre who concocted the Big Bang theory.

Leaving Louvain Dr. Bill returned to the USA with nary a thought of forsaking the Christian-academic mothership. His 100 published articles are mainly in Christian-academic journals. His much-vaunted debates and speeches are mostly at Christian colleges. Students and professors at these institutes form the target market for A Reasonable Response.

If you are interested in joining book club check out the tab above to get more details.

 Posted by at 11:47 AM
Oct 042013

This past Tuesday the S.E.A. welcomed Paula Simons from the Edmonton Journal to our roundtable event to discuss why she chooses not to adopt labels (like the title ”atheist”).    Paula started the evening with a quote that she feels sums up her own attitude towards groups :

”Groucho Marx famously said – I’d never join any club that would have me as a member….I am uncomfortable with group identity and group think, in a way that transcends ideology” 

Paula Simons 2

As the evening progressed we spoke more about her personal background and why this has been the stance she has come to.    The conversation was interesting and did bring up some thoughtful positions,  from how owning the label atheist helps others feel they can ”come out” with their atheism to how being in a group is a stronger way of creating support and change for human rights causes.    Religion was also discussed and following are a few quotes that were brought up by Paula during her talk to us:

”In a tolerant, pluralistic mulitcultural country, we are enriched by our differences.  And we survive, as a complex nation, by making accommodation for the freedom of conscience – for freedom of thought, for the freedom to believe – and the freedom not to believe.   And that’s why I recoil when I see people who want to make secularism a state doctrine, people who have no patience or tolerance for those with a faith-based world view”

”I have no patience with the sort of cruel and inhumane deeds done, far too often, in the name of religious extremism.  Organized religion has been and continues to be the excuse and the apparatus for murder and injustice and oppression.  ”

”I oppose anything that smacks of state-imposition of religion, or public policy grounded in religious ideology – whether that’s the Lord’s Prayer or Gideon Bibles in our public schools or Sharia Law in Canadian courts.”

Do you agree with Paula?  Do you wear the ”atheist label with pride, or not at all?  Do you think owning the label ”atheist” can allow people to fall into the trap of ”group think”?

Join the discussion on our facebook page / facebook group, or join Paula on her page to continue the conversation. 

Paula Simons

Our roundtable events are held the first Tuesday of every month at the Edmonton Public Library, Stanley Milner branch.  In November we will be discussing Atheism around the Globe. Check our events tab for more details.

 Posted by at 9:47 AM