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Posted: 28 May 2019

‘The fact that having a religious faith is good for you is psychiatry’s best-kept secret,’ says Andrew Sims, Past President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Leeds. In this interview, he talks to Nigel Bovey about the health benefits of faith.

Professor Sims, why did you choose psychiatry as a career?

My father was a GP and he had a few colleagues who were psychiatrists. He didn’t think much of psychiatry, but as a schoolboy I was interested in what makes people do the things they do. I had never heard of psychology but thought that if I studied medicine, I might be able to get into psychiatry, which is what I did.

Have you worked as a clinical psychiatrist?

Yes. After qualifying as a medical doctor, I trained in...

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Posted: 12 April 2019

A combative new book on Jesus and New Atheism, authored by the philosopher and apologist Peter S Williams, has just been published. The book, Getting at Jesus (with the forthright subtitle, ‘A Comprehensive Critique of Neo-Atheist Nonsense about the Jesus of History’), argues that New Atheist claims about the historical evidence for Jesus are mistaken and false. It builds the case for how modern readers can get at the truth about the Jesus of history for themselves.

Says Williams: ‘The so-called New Atheists are interested in “getting at” Jesus in the sense of attacking belief in him, but they don’t put much effort into thinking about how we get at Jesus historically speaking. I wrote this book to show that thinking carefully about how we get at the historical Jesus reveals...

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Photo of Marcelo Gleiser

Posted: 19 March 2019

We’re very pleased to learn that Marcelo Gleiser, theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and our Drawbridge lecturer in 2018, has been announced as the winner of the 2019 Templeton Prize.

As a leading proponent of the view that science, philosophy and spirituality are complementary expressions of humanity’s need to embrace mystery and the unknown, he is a worthy winner of the annual Prize, whose purpose is to honour ‘a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works’.

Professor Gleiser’s commitment to building bridges between science, spirituality, philosophy, and other human projects of exploration, was what led us to invite him to give the Drawbridge Lecture last May. His...

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Photo of British and German soldiers meeting on Christmas Day 1914

Posted: 29 December 2018

Christmas 2018 saw the 200th anniversary of the carol Silent Night. Martin Clarke, Lecturer in Music at The Open University explores its musical and lyrical content, as well as its key role in the Christmas truce on the Western Front in 1914.

Few Christmas carols evoke the season of peace and goodwill as readily as Silent Night. Two popular stories contribute to its appeal: one concerning the circumstances of its composition in Oberndorf, near Salzburg in Austria, and the other its role in the Christmas Truce of 1914 when the opposing forces walked out of their trenches to greet their enemies and share food and drink.

But its lyrical and musical content are also important factors in understanding its enduring popularity, and Christmas Eve 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of its...

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Posted: 05 December 2018

A famous letter by Albert Einstein which expresses his thoughts about God, the Bible and Judaism, was sold at auction for $3 million this week. The letter had been expected to sell for half the price.

Writing to the philosopher Eric Gutkind, Einstein’s thoughts on religion are essentially negative. He writes: ’The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.’

The letter has been previously described (by the New York Times) as ‘pouring gasoline on the culture wars between science and religion’.

Writing in the Guardian, Harriet Sherwood comments: ‘The sentence has been hailed as evidence that the physicist, one of the 20th century’s...

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Posted: 30 November 2018

An ancient copper ring unearthed in Israel 50 years ago, but which has only just been cleaned and examined, may once have belonged to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who sentenced Jesus to death, archaeologists have announced.

The ring, which was discovered in 1968 in the ruins of the Herodium, the palace of King Herod the Great, near Bethlehem, shows a wine vessel surrounded by the Greek letters of a word translated as ‘Pilatus’. The ring would have been used to seal official documents, and archaeologists believe it may have belonged either to Pilate himself, or to an aide in his office, sealing letters on his behalf.

The discovery has excited interest because this is only the second artifact ever discovered to carry the name of Pilate. The other is a stone block bearing a...

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Photo of the front page of the Christian Age newspaper for December 1915

Posted: 05 November 2018

An ancient copy of a long-forgotten religious newspaper from the time of the First World War, which was recently sent to us, reveals attitudes towards prayer and ‘this terrible war’.

We recently received a rather battered copy of a religious newspaper, The Christian Age, just over a century after it was published. The copy had languished in the loft of a house in St Kevenrne, Cornwall, until the house’s current owner, Jim Dowling, came across it while the loft was being renovated. The newspaper, which was published in December 1915, at the height of the First World War, is a time capsule of Edwardian news and comment, with one article sharing the secret of staying warm in the winter weather. ‘According to Arctic explorers, anything containing fat, such as chocolate, butter, or bacon,...

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Posted: 30 October 2018

Our online video of the Drawbridge Lecture, which was delivered in May this year by Marcelo Gleiser, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Dartmouth College, is now available with Portuguese subtitles. The lecture, ‘Unknowns in Heaven and Earth’, focuses on Professor Gleiser’s vision of science as a deeply human endeavour, exploring the unknowns of the universe.

This Portuguese version was put together by Luiz Antônio Melo, an undergraduate physics student at the University of Santa Cruz in Brazil. Marcelo Gleiser himself was born in Rio de Janeiro.

Says Luiz: ‘I’m an enthusiast of science, and I have a deep admiration for professor Marcelo’s work. I think it is very important to spread the knowledge of science, especially in my country.’

The subtitled video is on Luiz’s...

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Posted: 09 October 2018

Earlier this year, the oldest known fragment of the Gospel of Mark was finally published, some 115 years since it was unearthed in a long-forgotten Egyptian rubbish dump in what was once the city of Oxyrhynchus. The small scrap of papyrus was discovered by two British archaeologists in about 1903, along with half a million other bits and pieces chucked out in ancient times, including receipts, private letters, shopping lists, tax returns, poems and pages from books. Scholars have been working ever since, for over a century, to identify and publish this mountain of ancient texts.

The fragment of Mark’s Gospel, known as Papyrus 137 (or P137), has something of a notorious modern history. In 2012, it became famous when a scholar sensationally claimed that Papyrus 137 had been written in the...

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Photo of a detail taken from the cover of Seven Types of Atheism

Posted: 29 September 2018

The book Seven Types of Atheism, by the British philosopher and atheist John Gray, and published earlier this year, looks at first glance like a field guide to godlessness. Gray distinguishes and explores the branches of atheism ancient and modern, from the old atheists of the Enlightenment through to the New Atheists of the recent past, such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, whom he describes as ‘mostly a media phenomenon and best appreciated as a type of entertainment’. That comment immediately tells you that Gray’s book is not merely a field guide (although it is that too, and a very enjoyable one), but also a polemic against the types of atheism Gray thinks are too much in debt to religion.

Gray’s antipathy to the New Atheists generally and Richard Dawkins in particular has been...

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Photos at the top of this column by:
Taro Taylor and Jon Sullivan