Category Archives: Religious Studies

Ken Gemes and Andrew Huddlestone: Nietzsche

Nietzsche in full swing

Nietzsche in full swing

Our speakers

Our speakers

On the 12th September, the first Williams Project of this academic year was held in which Professor Ken Gemes and Dr Andrew Huddlestone of Birkbeck, University of London, came to talk about Nietzsche, a prominent German philosopher of the 19th century. Being the Bernard Williams Philosophy Lecture, we welcomed Patricia Williams, his widow, yet it was also special as it was the first of many more interactive seminars in which the audience were constantly questioning and participating in a discussion which was constantly interpreting what the philosopher means.

The talk began with a reading from ‘The Gay Science’ on the madman and whether ‘God is dead’ – with ‘God’ referring to the idea of god, religion and morality and whether we have some morals and human values left in this westernized modern world. This encouraged further questions of “How does the madman react to the death of God?” and “How did the marketplace folk, the non-believers, react to the madman’s whimsical nonsense?”. More importantly, the passage describes us as the murderers of God, which invites us to ask “What do we do now if there are no more Christian values? Do we create our own or is the madman merely a madman and we should ignore him? Do we need these old values in such a new society?” The discussion only developed further into ideas and many questions regarding nihilism and also the personal and political beliefs of Nietzsche – an atheist!

Overall, this talk was incredibly engaging – allowing the audience to question what the ‘death of God’ means to them, and serves as a great introduction to a year of Williams Project sessions.

Adam Goriparthi

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Mr Chaudhary: God – the ultimate reality

On Tuesday the 6th of June, Mr Chaudhary, one of Chigwell’s maths teachers,  gave a talk on “God – the ultimate reality”. First, he took measurements of a student in “good proportion” and pointed out similarities. Then he started with the human embryo and how the embryo develops, then showed a sentence in the Quran that also explains the human embryo and how accurate it was. He showed us another quote in the Quran which tells us that two seas never meet, and then showed us a video of two seas that don’t mix. He then shows some more believable facts that God exists. Finally Mr Chaudhary was asked questions with the hope of proving him wrong, but he stood his ground and answered them in detail.

Sulaymaan Khan

Clare Bodalbhai and Amelia Hart: Death Café

Death is a taboo subject, and on 11th October Clare Bodalbhai and Amelia Hart came to Chigwell School and set up a death café to have open conversations in small groups about something that people usually shy away from talking about. With tea and cake to normalise the conversation and to open up the atmosphere, the death café posed questions about death that most people do not think about. What kind of music would you want played at your funeral? How do other traditions and cultures deal with death? Who would you want at your funeral? The café gave people an opportunity to openly express themselves; be they facing fears, or overcoming grief.

Richard Maynes: Was Jesus a Historical figure?

On Tuesday 14th June, Maths teacher Mr Maynes delivered the arguments from Richard Carrier about the likelihood of Jesus existing as a historical figure. He analysed the wide historical context and different kinds of evidence using Bayes’ theorem – a mathematical tool used to assess probability. He explored evidence against Jesus, such as how his story isn’t the first of its kind, and how scholars who wrote the Bible were aware of the kinds of similar tales (such as that of Romulus) which have not been proved to be real. Moreover, he addressed the issue of discrepancies surrounding how the dates of kings with whom Jesus interacted don’t all match up with the dates Jesus supposedly existed in. As well as this, he posed the possibility of Jesus being created as a human figure solely to strengthen the control of the church. Mr Maynes claimed that even Biblical scriptures cannot be seen as totally reliable since many allegedly forged letters have been entered under the name of St Paul. He then combined the evidence he had researched, using Bayes’ theorem to conclude that there was a 17% chance that Jesus existed.
Mr Maynes delivered an interesting, coherent talk which was easy to follow and made some controversial claims, sparking debate, particularly in the claim made that the book of Acts cannot be trusted as a source at all because the book is, allegedly!, a myth.
Olivia Mendel Portnoy
P.S. Peter Walling, OC and former WP speaker, read this post and kindly sent the Library a copy of Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?. Ehrman, an agnostic, argues against the claims made Richard Carrier and others that Jesus probably never existed. The book is in the Library.

Mr S. Goodfellow and colleagues: “P4C”

Chigwell’s philosopher-in-chief and four Remove students (Adam Goriparthi, Max Humphreys, Tom Lockley and Michael Newman) led the Williams Project in a demonstration of the P4C (Philosophy for Children) method. We watched a ‘stimulus’ video about a near-death experience, in small groups generated questions we’d like to discuss, voted on the two we’d like to consider in more depth, and then had an open discussion on these two. Our two chosen questions were: “Can near-death experiences be medically explained?” and “If there were such a thing as life after death, why would there be life after death?”.

A really interesting afternoon. Mr Goodfellow’s P4C club will restart in September (Tuesdays of Week A, 4:15, RS1).

Mr S. Chaudhary: “God’s Golden Ratio”

Our Head of Maths, Mr Chaudhary, gave us a vastly wide-ranging and heartfelt exposition of the centrality of the ratio φ (“phi”) in the universe and the human body, and what that centrality meant.

He showed that the ratio (see above, equivalent to 1:1.618…, which is, uniquely, the same as 0.618…:1) lies behind the Fibonacci sequence, which we see in so many growth patterns in animals and plants, as well as in the relationship between a myriad of measurements of the human body. It’s also one of the commonest principles in the way we perceive beauty: painters place horizons at it.

Mr Chaudhary argued that the odds of this one ratio being at the centre of so much were virtually nil, and so it is convincing evidence of divine design behind creation. He showed us verses from the Quran which point out that God has designed the universe in a way whereby we can detect, even deduce, his hand.

Further reading:
Universal Laws and the Golden Ratio

15 Uncanny examples in nature

Disputed observations (Wikipedia)

Amia Srinivasan: the nature of moral truth

On Tuesday 22nd January Amia visited us from All Souls College Oxford, where she’s studying for a D.Phil. on issues in epistemology, ethics and meta-philosophy. She spoke to two full WP meetings about whether moral truths actually exist – whether there is an objective right or wrong (the Realist position), or whether right and wrong is ultimately a matter of what we humans believe (Anti-realism); is moral opinion the same kind of thing as an opinion on whether celery tastes nice, or is it more than that?

Using question-and-answer, and audience votes, she skilfully exposed the inconsistencies in our thinking: Realists have the luxury of being able to condemn unequivocally outrages like the Holocaust, but, unless they are religious, have problems explaining where they get their universal moral truths from; anti-Realists sit happy in a materialist, Darwinian universe, but aren’t able fully to condemn horrible crimes like the recent rape on a bus in Delhi. We concluded that most of us are inconsistent: in moments of reflection we tend to think we are Anti-realists, but when we live our lives and read the paper we seem to be Realists. She patiently explained that this presents us with a problem.

The conversation continued over food, and back at Sandon Lodge with a small group of philosophical VIth formers.

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