Seen Recently at the University of Cambridge

By Chris Mooney | June 2, 2010 6:01 am

I’m sure a lot of students are praying right now:



Comments (9)

  1. Now this is good marketing. We need to get some icky marketing and PR people to come up with manipulative strategies for the skeptic movement.

    I don’t know why we don’t. Oh yeah. We’re supposed to be trying to teach people to not be manipulated. Dagnabit. The whole ethics thing is going to be our downfall.

  2. I’d laugh if the punchline for this talk was “No!”. On a more serious note, to me it is sad that if you believed God helps with exams that He would specially single out Christians. (Which the flyer seems to suggest.)

  3. Robert

    SEEMS to suggest?

  4. Chad

    Get over yourselves.

    Science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God.

    The bible and all other theological texts can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God.

    Imagine a dog trying to solve a calculus problem. We are equally as ignorant to the nature of the universe/universes/whatever the hell this is that we live in.

    No human has the right to try to disprove another human’s beliefs. Also, no human has the right to push his/her beliefs onto another human. Why are we debating the existence of God when we can’t even see the edge of our universe?

    Hell, we don’t even know how gravity, strong force/weak force, electromagnetism, and quantum mechanics can work together. So please, stop pretending that you know whether there is a God or not, because trust me, you don’t.

  5. Nullius in Verba

    It does suggest an interesting experiment – to observe which religion’s followers are most lucky in exams…

    Regarding the proof/disproof question – it depends which God you’re talking about. You can prove the non-existence of specific Gods for those religions that make predictions about the world. If the scripture says that a deity did a certain thing – something that would leave clear evidence – and the evidence turns out to be absent or shows that the story isn’t true, then that scripture is proven untrue also.

    The only sort of God that one cannot prove or disprove is precisely the God who according to doctrine leaves absolutely no evidence of their own existence. Since it is possible to hypothesise Gods that do nothing and leave no sign, it is a general truth that one cannot disprove the existence of Gods generally.

    But it is impossible to pass such a provocative post without mentioning the story of Ramanujan. Srinivasar Ramanujan was a poor Indian without any formal education who was able to generate the most marvellous theorems of number theory, ones that amazed the professors at Cambridge, England, and which he appeared to write down without any working or proofs. Weird results, that seemed to come out of nowhere. It took some of the best number theorists in the world years to prove that they were true. When asked at a social occasion how he did it, he replied that the Goddess Namagiri whispered them in his ear as he slept.

    This, it seems to me, makes the mathematical notebooks of Ramanujan a bona fide example of “revealed scripture”, and Ramanujan himself a prophet. It is at least as good a claim as for any other religious scripture, so far as I can see.

    It has been seriously questioned by some whether his mathematical intuition was “beyond human”, and it is a scripture that has in many cases been proved to be true. He developed methods now used for calculating Pi to billions of decimal places. Writing before the start of the 20th century, some of his results were subsequently used to communicate with space probes in the distant reaches of the solar system. It works. It’s real.

    It is also precisely the sort of thing that a deity capable of setting up gravity, the electroweak force, and quantum mechanics might be expected to say. If there was ever going to be evidence for a real deity, this is the sort of thing I would expect.

    But I have found that those who argue evidence in favour of God seem surprisingly unenthusiastic about switching to the worship of Namagiri, considering that this is the best and clearest evidence that we seem to have for an actual deity. They claim to believe on the basis of evidence, but when presented with such evidence they express doubt. Truly, a monotheist is an atheist who stopped one short.

    Did the Goddess Namagiri help Ramanujan with his maths exams? In the end, I think not. His work was strange and brilliant, but not quite good enough to be clearly divinely inspired. Nevertheless, it is a thought-provoking tale.

    Are there mathematical details regarding physics that a God could provide that are clearly beyond the human, and yet verifiable? Could a God prove their own existence, as easily as a person can? And if they don’t, and yet claim (we are told) to want to be believed in, what does it mean?

  6. DavidW

    Surely the logical reply to this is: “If so, should god be banned from the exam hall?”

    @Chad – you’re right, the god(s) question hasn’t achieved closure in either direction, but I didn’t see anybody trying to “disprove another human’s beliefs.” However, you are wrong, of course, humans do have “the right to try to disprove another human’s beliefs.” That’s what science does every time it takes on pseudoscience, or depending on how you’re defining belief, scientific hypotheses.

    As for whether any “human has the right to push his/her beliefs onto another human,” you should probably talk to the fundamentalists, religious parents and theocrats of the world more than non-believers. I note that in fact the poster in discussion is an example of attempting to lure vulnerable people into a belief system…

  7. Rachel Randall

    “On a more serious note, to me it is sad that if you believed God helps with exams that He would specially single out Christians. (Which the flyer seems to suggest.)”

    “SEEMS to suggest?”

    “I note that in fact the poster in discussion is an example of attempting to lure vulnerable people into a belief system…”

    I really disagree with your interpretations of the poster as manipulative. For the vast majority of Christians, saying that God gives Christians a concrete edge in the world is BAD Christian theology (Prosperity gospel people being a notable exception). They may believe that God “intervenes” in the world, however intervention is construed, but not only for Christians. Also, they may pray for help, but not at the expense of their non-Christian fellow humans (which would be the case if Christians really did do better on exams than everyone else).

    The above may not jive with all of your experience of Christians, but most of them regularly reference Matthew 5:43-45, which is not quite about God’s impartiality- it’s about God’s love and beneficence for all people, and the charge to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Not everyone’s good at this, but it is a central part of Christian faith that most Christians hold very dear. It’s in the Sermon on the Mount, for crying out loud, so we’re not talking about something peripheral.

    Furthermore, as a theology student and Christian in Cambridge, though not connected with this poster/group, my experience has been that Christians here are more interested in dispelling misconceptions and beginning discussion than using a carrot/stick approach.

    Maybe (what an amazing idea) someone should actually *go* to this talk and see what they’re really saying. It’s possible that I’m wrong about this event, but there’s no point in criticizing a poster that asks a non-leading question. Look at the English, folks. Try not to let your prejudices get in the way of your reading.

  8. Deepak Shetty
  9. Anthony McCarthy

    We need to get some icky marketing and PR people to come up with manipulative strategies for the skeptic movement. Non-Believer

    What do you mean need to get some? That’s pretty much what organized skepticism is, icky marketing and manipulative strategies. I’ve looked at their stuff, they come right out and say it.

    This lecture, unless it was humorous, sounds stupid to me. Even if a Christian believed they have been helped, I’m sure they could be matched with someone from any other faith tradition who believes they’ve been helped on the basis of their religion. My guess, just on the fonts used and the text, it might not have been entirely serious.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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