Varsity – reporting on the blasphemy debate

Today’s edition of Varsity, the student newspaper at UCT, carries an article (see end of post for a scan of the article) reporting on the debate that was meant to occur last week. Contrary to my fears, it’s a balanced and sensible account of what happened in the lead-up to the non-event. There are, however, a few details from the article worth commenting on.


A stinging rebuttal

From Pastor Michael, in response to my blog posts (I think).

Hi, To All

I would like to address this letter To Jacques,

and have some of you to be as witness so that Jacques may not Twist my words again as it is a custom to you atheists.

Jacques, you wrote in your blocks about the reasons of your pulling out. in all you have said, i recognized that the organization had some problems and i told you which i find so small problem as long as our speakers were comfortable with that which proves to me i was right because we finally made it to the end as i told you we will be able to have the debate because i trusted my abilities to do so.

Jacques, your thinking worries me; the facts you presented in your block were tricky and Dishonest.


“Open motivational letter” from Michael (Pastor)

Well, he says it’s an open letter. As sent to Varsity (on April 18th, although I only received it an hour ago). His covering letter reads:

Hi, My Dear Sister Zerene
Here are some more infos about the debates:
-the date is wednesday the 29th April at the Jameson Hall from 6:30 to 8pm
-on their sides, their speakers are: Dr. Tauriq Moosa and Jacques Rousseau.
-on the Christian’s side there is Bishop Clinton L. Battieste and possibly Errol Naidoo
and the chairperson of the events is given to the SRC Though Amanda who is the first Chair and the second chair is to be chosen soon because He or She must be an Independant person which the SRC still has to find.
Please, can i ask you two things to do for me?
1. to announce the International Christian Conference that will follow the next day after the debate with our Guest speaker Bishop Dr. Clinton Battieste
2. secondly, i am attaching a letter that is very important to publish because the need might be there to know why have gone this way of deciding to debate with those who undermines us and pushes us away because we chose Jesus as our and our life and Truth.
be blessed and hope to hear from you again any time.


The blasphemy debate debacle

As readers will know, a debate was meant to take place tonight, at UCT’s Jameson Hall. I have now withdrawn from this event, as has my co-speaker, Tauriq Moosa. I fear that those we were scheduled to debate with may try to exploit this to their political advantage, and therefore feel that it’s important to place on record the sequence of events leading to my withdrawal, as well as the reasoning behind it. First, though, apologies to any of you who looked forward to attending, and especially to those who did not receive timeous notification of the cancellation via my Twitter or Facebook messages.


Blasphemy debate (update)

Here’s a sense of what awaits:

Some loony rambling

Part of me wonders whether I shouldn’t spend the bulk of my allotted time simply explaining the mistakes in the Michael Nlandu sentences, as quoted above. I’ll only have 15 minutes, after all. But no, as he says: “this is not vengeance”, so I’ll focus on the problems associated with burying one’s head in the sand more generally, rather than picking on poor Pastor Michael.


Blasphemy debate

Next week, Tauriq Moosa and I will be representing the UCT Atheist and Agnostic Society in a public debate with the Campus Crusade for Christ.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Time: 6:30pm – 8:00pm
Location: Jameson Hall, UCT
Topic: “‘Is Blasphemy Freedom of Speech?” (which makes little sense, but I think we know what they mean).

If you’re a Facebooker, the event announcement is here.


Dennett in South Africa

While it’s unlikely that any real person exists who a) hasn’t heard about this and b) would only learn about it here, I’ll nevertheless urge anyone who is/can be in Cape Town (31 March) or Stellenbosch (1 April) to attend these lectures by Daniel Dennett. I went to Durban last week to hear his talk on Religion as a natural phenomenon, and will certainly be attending both lectures in the Cape – he’s a wonderful speaker, and as any of you who have read his books know, also a thinker well-worth paying serious attention to.

Also, he worked the Sax Appeal debacle into the Durban talk – since then, I gave him copies of the cartoons, as well as the VC’s response and my comments on those. So there’s a chance that this may get a more thorough airing in Cape Town.

Academia and teaching Religion

Supernaturalism and threats to reason

Note: While a few paragraphs towards the end of this are verbatim repeats (or slight edits) of content from a previous post, I considered the repetition justifiable as this post attempts to make a broader point, using the same example.

One way to divide nature – at least human nature – at its joints is to observe that the ordinary person’s approach to epistemology is that of either naturalism or supernaturalism.

Naturalism, in broad summary, holds that epistemology is closely connected to natural science. There is an increasing tendency amongst naturalists to hold that social sciences which do not verify their findings through results in the natural sciences are at best placeholders for an eventual, more mature, position which does incorporate the findings of the natural sciences, or, at worst, are epistemologically useless.

Cognitive science, as well as more general research in the fields of decision-science and heuristics of decision-making, allows us to understand far more about what people believe, and why, than we could previously understand. Despite this, much activity in social science proceeds as if these scientific revolutions are not occurring around them, and that that we are still somehow adding value by theorising about culture, literature or individual psychology.


Carte Blanche, 15 March

The insert on Sax Appeal and it’s “blasphemy” aired tonight, and even though the show did its best to not offend the fragile, that hasn’t stopped some ranting from occuring – I suppose simply because thinking seems the last thing on some people’s minds in cases like this.

I’m rather disappointed in the segment as aired. The reactionary homophobe Errol Naidoo had a disproportionate amount of airtime, and they cut any comment from Jordan Pickering, who I know was interviewed. For context, Jordan is a Christian who argues strongly – and coherently – against the religious outrage that this episode led to. His comments would have presented some balance to Naidoo’s claims of justified offense.

Further, Naidoo himself was treated sympathetically, and his letter – which surely contributed directly to death threats received by staff on Sax Appeal – was explained away as having been written in the heat of the moment. Yet nothing was said by Naidoo – or any other person of religious persuasion – to lessen the impression that free speech is all fine, unless you say something bad about my invisible friend, who – despite so much financial, spiritual and emotional support – is still surprisingly vulnerable to attack-by-cartoon. If only Satan had known…

A brief word to UCT students: I of course didn’t mean to say that all of you have no idea of what is going on. The students that I asked did not, but there may be many who do. I simply wonder why none of you have said anything about this.


Another victory for the hypersensitive? – one of the largest online South African communities – seem to be following the terrible precedent set by some of the responses to Sax Appeal, and will henceforth not allow religious discussion on their forums. The decision to do so is reported to follow “getting many complaints of intolerance, blasphemy and the like”. This serves as another example of hypersensitivity winning the day, and of special treatment being afforded to the complaints of the religious. There is cause to doubt that this censoring move is premised on a desire to simply eliminate controversy on the forums in question, as that would require limiting discussion of topics that offend people like me: intelligent design, moral argument based on metaphysical premises, or philosophically illiterate discussion of materialism, to mention but a few threads that can also be found on those forums. We’ll wait to see whether topics such as those are moderated or banned. If so, I have no complaints – there are more than enough places that do allow robust debate on matters metaphysical.