The importance of checking sources

There has been a bit of chatter this week since the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said something about Sharia law in Britain.

The Telegraph and the Guardian – both high-quality, respectable papers here in the UK – each have headlines quoting Williams as saying that official status for Sharia law is “inevitable” in this country.

The news has made its way into the blogosphere – via the Scientific Activist and Pharyngula , and also via Cath at ninety-six and ten – to my attention (and probably to yours by now too).

One thing that Humanists pride ourselves on is our commitment to evidence-based belief, as opposed to beliefs based on wishful thinking. So it is telling that we have a tendency to accept negative press about religious figures uncritically.

There is someone who has not accepted the press’s version at face value. Geoffrey Pullum at Language Log has actually looked at the text of Williams’ speech. From what I’ve seen, it takes a linguist (or at least a good deal of patience) to wade through the theologian-speak and extract its actual meaning.

I encourage Humanists – especially those in a position to spread news of this sort further in the blogosphere and the wider world – to read Pullum’s analysis (or simply the speech itself) rather than taking the papers’ headlines as gospel.

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3 Responses to “The importance of checking sources”

  1. Timothy Mills Says:

    Another excellent and thoughtful overview of the situation can be found at the Not Quite So Friendly Humanist.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Unfortunately, had Pullum himself bothered to check his sources properly he would have found that the Archbishop did say precisely what the media said, that sharia law “seems unavoidable”: in a BBC interview on the World at One, and he’d have avoided wasting a lot of time denying the fact.Instead Pullum decided to interrogate a different text, the lecture the archbishop gave that evening, and on the basis of that to deny the words were ever spoken. Pullum should, indeed, have paid attention to the importance of checking sources.

  3. Timothy Mills Says:

    Right you are, Anonymous. Thanks.I guess I need to do a bit more careful source-checking myself.

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