UCT and Sax Appeal: the Vice-Chancellor’s response

Dr. Max Price responded as follows to the controversy described in my previous post. My response to his is offered below:

Dear Colleagues and Students

This year’s edition of Sax Appeal, the annual UCT Rag publication produced by students, has elicited widespread reaction and debate. I feel it most important that our community discuss issues like these freely and I therefore share my views with you. I welcome your views.

This year’s edition elicited an outcry from many people – including many Christians – objecting strongly to a feature on pages 84 and 85 offering possible retorts for an atheist to certain imagined questions from Christian fundamentalists contained in 10 picture comic frames. Some also objected to a Zapiro cartoon, and to other statements in the magazine. Continue reading “UCT and Sax Appeal: the Vice-Chancellor’s response”

UCT: Sax Appeal and blasphemy

The most recent issue of the University of Cape Town student publication, Sax Appeal, has caused quite some consternation among god-botherers. I’ve sent off a letter to the Cape Times, reprinted below in case of edits or non-publication

The most recent edition of Sax Appeal was certainly an embarrassment, in that it was both poorly written and edited, and also not very funny. What has caused most concern, however, is the alleged blasphemy the magazine contained.

As an atheist member of the UCT community, the material that has offended believers offends me too – simply because it was purely abusive rather than critical, and in being abusive has served only to further entrench dogmatism and intolerance on the part of religious folk, and hence to impede the progress of those who seek to promote a naturalistic worldview, free of superstition, at UCT and beyond.

A further consequence of this episode is that it has led senior members of the University’s administration to feel the need to offer grovelling apologies, where none should be necessary. Sax Appeal does not speak for the University, and the University’s administration should not be considered responsible for the actions or speech-acts of those who produced Sax Appeal.

Being offended is something we have to at some stage learn to simply live with, except (arguably) in the case of hate-speech, which this did not amount to. Instead of running to the Human Rights Commission, may I suggest that the offended parties first try to learn some lessons in tolerance from those of us who constantly have to drown out the metaphysical noise generated by the faithful?

You can read more about the controversy at Taariq’s blog, which also has links to the Cape Times articles, as well as some hyperventilating from Galilee International Ministries.

Confirmation bias

All of you religious nutters out there probably believe you’ve known this for some time, but I’m discovering that atheist/agnostic students can be just as unreasonable, pig-headed, irrational, rude, lazy and just plain stoopid as any given believer. As a regular participant in a atheist/agnostic discussion forum at my university, infantile debates are raging on vegetarianism and evolution, and some parties to these debates seem to have decided that – once they give up on god, Santa and the Tooth Fairy – their logical fortress can no longer be breached and they no longer have any obligation to even try to present coherent arguments. It’s all very sad and tawdry.

Is belief in god rational?

The question of whether belief in god is rational or not seems presume an answer to a prior, and perhaps more important question – namely: do we want belief in god to be rational, as opposed to being fruitful, joyous, beautiful, etc.? To put it another way, it’s long been of interest to me why this contest is often fought in the domain of rationality, where everyone who is not a supernaturalist of some sort agrees that there is no possibility of providing any sort of knock-down argument for belief in god, at least where arguments are understood to follow standard rules of logic, involving non-contradiction, the possibility of refutation, and where conclusions are adopted once they are shown to be the best justified of available alternatives.

Rather, the more compelling arguments in favour of belief in god point to various benefits of believing in god, whether these benefits are social, psychological or moral. While it’s far from clear that any of these other purported benefits hold up to scrutiny, or can’t be purchased at lower cost from other sources, it seems to me that we’d need to adopt a definition of “rational” that is essentially teleological (goal-based), rather than one that aims at truth, for it to be possible for belief in god to be described as rational. Continue reading “Is belief in god rational?”

a better future…

On a track from Heathen, David Bowie demands “a better future”, and after watching Jesus Camp yesterday, I’m inclined to agree with him. The movie isn’t great, as the basic message could have been conveyed in an 45-minute documentary rather than a feature-length film, but it still serves as a powerful reminder of the insidious and growing power of religious fundamentalism in society, and politics in particular. Continue reading “a better future…”


How to live (I)

As an atheist of the militant persuasion, it’s somewhat odd that in the past two weeks I’ve spent significant time in deep conversation with a preacherman. Sometimes you need to call in the specialists, and the situation demanded a specialist of his description.

The strangest part of the experience, however, was finding that the urge to label myself inconsistent in having this interaction was insignificantly weak, and in the end rested on something linguistic rather than principled. And I mention this because it’s immensely liberating to realise that one can be as principled as always, without those principles trumping all other interests. Continue reading “How to live (I)”


Another potential cost associated with religious belief was brought to mind last night in a conversation over dinner: we have deferred so much of our human symbolic activity to official representatives of social institutions (preachers and the like), that we no are no longer as able to generate ritual significance ourselves. Continue reading “Ritual”