Monday, December 22, 2014

Peshawar Pakistan massacre 16/12/14 - Richard Dawkins equates Taliban to Nazism

 On 16th December 2014 the Taliban attacked a school in Peshawar killing 141 students and teachers.

What we know:

Violent faith-heads really believe what they say they believe. You think you know what they believe better than they do? How patronising.
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) December 18, 2014

In 2001 after 9/11 Dawkins said:
'Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let's now stop being so damned respectful!'

Michael Shermer said:

More Tweets on 'faith' and 'Peshawar' 

Thursday, December 04, 2014

'Humanity Education Council' (HEC) cf 'Religious Education Council'


Help get Humanism into GCSE and A Level RE -
Respond to consultation request/
(Government proposals for GCSE would permit 75% of the time to be spent on one religion, and 25% on another religion).
But what we really need is to replace RE with a course on Humanity - including the role of religion.

Chris Street Allan Hayes - I think the new 'Humanity' subject should have 75% of time spent on Humanism and 25% on Naturalism!

I propose we establish a 'Humanity Education Council' (HEC) cf 'Religious Education Council' (REC).

HEC Members would comprise: academics,atheists, educationalists, freethinkers, humanists, naturalists, philosophers, scientists, secularists, skeptics, teachers, teenagers etc.

The main criteria of HEC membership: a naturalism worldview. Those members or groups with a supernaturalism or religious worldview would not be permitted to become full HEC members with voting rights.

The function of HEC would be to develop a new 'Humanity' National Curriculum (as suggested by Allan Hayes)

HEC would campaign for Government proposals for GCSE Humanity to permit 75% of the time to be spent on Humanism, 25% on Naturalism (to include Atheism and the historical role of Theism).

HEC would campaign for an Act of Parliament to end the compulsory subject of Religious Education in all UK schools. Humanity would compete with Religious Education for teaching time in all schools.

Moving Naturalism Forward

I'm a Naturalist - not a naturist!

I have two main philosophical worldviews: Naturalism & Humanism. (world view: "a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world*")

Naturalism is "the philosophical belief that everything arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted*"

(I think of atheism as a conviction rather than a worldview. I prefer 'conviction' to 'belief' because for me 'belief' has religious undertones, Although in English Law 'belief', as in 'religion and belief', refers specifically to a non-religious belief.)

Naturalism is a worldview that covers morality - Sam Harris makes the case that morality can be based on science.

*Oxford Dictionary (3rd Edition) 

h/t Neil Davies (April 2014) at Swindon Humanists for reminding me about the 'Moving Naturalism Forward' conference back in October 2012.

Attendees included Richard Dawkins, Sean Carroll, Dan Dennett, Alex Rosenberg, Jerry Coyne, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Massimo Pigliucci, Steven Weinberg.

Discussions were about: Naturalism, Morality, Meaning, Purpose, Epistemology, reductionism, Consciousness, Evolution, Determinism, Free will.


Friday, October 31, 2014

Peter Boghossian - Faith - An Epistemology (how people come to knowledge)

Peter Boghossian said (13m-14.30m video above) "The faithful are not well cognitively, they need our help. They've caught a virus of an unreliable way to know the world. An epistemological sickness. Believing things from faith causes people to misconstrue what is good for them, and what is good for others. If someone is ill, you are not upset with them. Therefore it is not about being annoyed, or humiliating the religious any more than if they had a cold. But as with a physical illness, you try and help them recover, with compassion and understanding. This is not about changing beliefs but about leading them gently to think about HOW they form those beliefs."

London Atheist Activist Group Q&A with Peter Boghossian


What Happened before the Big Bang? - Inflation with Alan Guth

From 1 minute to 2.30s minutes Alan Guth (June 2014) says: what existed before the big bang? Answer - Who knows?! We really have no idea what came before the big bang. That space and time came into existence at the big bang (ie appearance out of nothing) is a possibility but its something you should NOT bet on, because we don't have any way of knowing! In the picture of Eternal Inflation, our big bang was just one event, in a larger picture - it was not really the beginning of anything in the absolute sense.

At 2.30m Guth says Inflation is (possibly) the bang in the big bang.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Atheist Debates - Matt Dillahunty - Appeals to Faith

1m: 'You just have to have Faith'. What does it mean to have faith? Hebrews 11.1 'Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.'
2m: Faith: 'Person of faith' appears to have abandoned reason in favour of gullibility or incredulity.
3m: If unclear, ask for a definition of a phrase or word. Is the premise valid?
6m: Faith defined: Synonymous with belief. Where faith is used as a justification for belief is the sticky area. In Hebrews 11.1 'Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.' Redefined as Faith is having confidence in the things you hope for  or trusting that what you hope for are true.
7.30m: 'Faith is the evidence of things not seen': Here faith is being used as the proof, faith is the evidence. In this 2 part verse there are 2 definitions of faith as if they were the same thing. As if the confidence that you have in a proposition, is the evidence for the proposition. This makes faith - blind faith - a bald assertion that this is what I believe.
10.30m: Confidence level isn't relevant to whether one is rationally justified or whether the claim is true.
11m: If believe something based on faith and faith is based on evidence then you are saying 'I believe something based on evidence.' The faith part becomes redundant - so just leave it out!
14.30: we use critical thinking, skepticism and the scientific method - these are the clearly the best tools to find out what is true.
15.30m: The Faith Model: Faith can be used to 'justify' anything! There is nothing that can't be justified by appealing to faith!! Thus faith is demonstrably unreliable! It leads you to believe in mutually contradictory positions eg belief in Islam AND Christianity or Scientology AND mormonism. Talk about Epistemology and what makes it reasonable to believe something.
17m: 'Special pleading' is where you use faith for your religion but for everything else you use reason and evidence. This is hypocrisy - could be use by anything by anyone
17.30m: The Equivocation Fallacy: Faith based belief in 'reliable brakes' is NOT the same as 'belief in god' Confidence levels are very different. We can't know anything - we cannot have absolute confidence. They admit their belief is not based on good evidence. An admission of defeat.
22m: Mark Twain: 'Faith is believing what you know ain't so'.
David Hume: 'The wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.'
Matt Dillahunty: 'Faith is the excuse people give when they believe something and don't have a good reason'.

source: Richard H @ Atheism UK.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Why does the Universe Exist? By Jim Holt

source: and accompanying Kindle Book (£4) and TED blog.

Jim Holt talks March 2014. A grand tour of the answers to the question 'Why there is something rather than nothing'. My rambling notes follow!:-

Shopenhauer - you are mentally deficient if don't care why the world exists!

John Archibold Wheeler - how come the universe? How come existence?

We are 5 Einsteins away from knowing why the universe exists (Martin Amis)

Creation 'ex nihilo' (wikipedia)

God + nothing = the world

What made God?

Blank + nothing = the world

To a Buddhist (4m) Nothing = the World = Nothing (a big cosmic vacuuity)

Nirvana is 'just enough life to enjoy being dead'

Blank + Nothing = the World

Science + Nothing = the World ie Physics + Nothing = the World

Quantum Field Theory (wikipedia) show how out of Nothing via Inflation = the World (Lawrence Krauss), its a pseudo-religious worldview. The laws have some ontological clout!

Equations = the World (Stephen Hawking / Alex Vilenkin)

Many Worlds Theories = the World (Stephen Weinberg / Max Tegmark)

Nothing v Many Worlds Theories are the extremes.

Most mathematically elegant reality (Brian Greene) but what is dark energy?? Brian Greene admits it is 'An ugly universe' filled with superfluous elementary particles!

Best of all possible worlds (sentient beings don't suffer ever).

Crummy generic realites: Random Realities Mixture of chaos and order. Chaos of above - Cosmic Junk Shop with Deity 100% malevolent but only 80% effective!)

We live in a generic reality!! Science tells us this.

Why do I / you exist? 10 x 10,000 possible humans (between a google and a googleplex). 50 -100 billion of all humans who have lived is a tiny fraction.

Why should I care?

End of Ramblings.

Why does the world exist? An epic poem by Jim Holt at TED2014

Posted by: Thu-Huong Ha March 19, 2014 at 7:45 pm EDT

Philosopher and writer Jim Holt skips right past the dumb quibbling questions and right to the heart of the great existential mystery: Why something, instead of nothing? Why does the universe exist? And why are we in it? The super-ultimate why question.

The greatest thinkers have obsessed over the question of existence: Wittgenstein said it’s not how things are in the world that’s mystical, it’s that there is a world at all. John Archibald Wheeler wondered, how come the universe? How come existence? Schopenhauer said that those who do not wonder about the contingency of the universe are mentally deficient. It is, says Holt, our darkest, most sublime question.

In the 17th century, Leibniz had an easy answer: The universe exists because God created it. Many people today, said Holt, have this same Judeo-Christian answer. There is no mystery. For them, God + nothing = the world. O-o-okay, but even for believers this should be problematic, says Holt, because it requires you to answer the question of why God exists. Jokes Holt, God should still think to himself: “I’m eternal, I’m all powerful … but why am I here?”

So we have: [blank] + nothing = the world. This is actually fine for Buddhists, who believe in cosmic vacuity. Buddhists, Holt says, believe that “if we let our desires melt away, we’ll see the world as it truly is, and we’ll slip into nirvana: just enough life to enjoy being dead.” Big laughs.

How about: science + nothing = the world? A purely scientific explanation like the one posited by physicist Lawrence Krauss goes something like this: Through the laws of quantum field theory, from no space, time or matter, a little nugget of false vacuum can fluctuate into existence and then … universe!

Nice try. Holt rejects this theory, too, as it treats physics like it has some ontological clout — kinda like God. Physics don’t exist outside the world, Holt says. Even a self-contained world like the one theorized by Stephen Hawking is just equations. “But what breathes fire into the equations?” asks Holt.

Okay … let’s get metaphysical then. Maybe one set of rules presides over our world, and all other sets of rules are possible, too — a vastly rich multiverse that encompasses every possibility. So on one side there’s fullness, everything, and on the other, sheer nothingness. In between, says Holt, there’s a bunch of special-case intermediate realities: there’s the most elegant one (as Brian Greene has theorized), there’s the most ethical one, and so on. These all require extra explanations.

And then there’s Holt’s theory, the one that needs no special rules: Surprise! Somewhere in between! He calls it: “A crummy, generic reality that isn’t special in any way.” This reality is random, a mixture of chaos and order, mathematical beauty and ugliness, infinite mediocrity. Is there a deity? Maybe. But it’s not perfect: “maybe it’s 100 percent malevolent but only 80 percent effective.” This reality is an “infinite, arbitrary, pointless reality,” says Holt, to smiles and chuckles, “like champagne frothing out of the bottle endlessly. A vast universe with small pockets of charm and peace.”

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Andrew Copson (BHA) talks to Ignoranti prior to World Humanist Congress


Andrew Copson talks about:-

  • Christian & Muslim Apologists cf Politicians
    • Formulaic answers
    • lack of extemporising
    • Justifications for a belief already held (not testing of hypothesis)
    • Polemics
  • Faith
    • Knowledge v Faith
    • 'Faith is believing what you know ain't so' (Mark Twain)
      • Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World (1897), CHAPTER XII.
        • There are those who scoff at the schoolboy, calling him frivolous and shallow: Yet it was the schoolboy who said "Faith is believing what you know ain't so." —Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
    • bundling some evidence with Faith
  • moderate believers
    • cover for fundamentalists?
    • moderates prop up Catholic institution that is rotten at the top
  • working with religious people
    • humanists work with religious by sharing belief that state schools should be open to everyone
  • Faith Schools
    • England has a State Church, in N Ireland and Wales Church is disestablished
    • 100% state funded schools run by CofE is ridiculous
    • 1944 Education legislation is outdated as is Collective Worship
  • Birmingham muslim schools
  • World Humanist Congress
    • Defence of the Enlightenment through Freedom of Speech & Expression
  • What Humanists believe
    • Tribal Faith is as dangerous as Religious Faith
    • Ethnic & Irrational / Superstitious / Mysticism thinking is dangerous - abuse of power
    • WHC promotes Universal Humanity
  • Terry Eagleton
    • Culture and the Death of God (Feb 2014)
  • Humanistic Culture
    • don't need to replace Religion
    • library, hospitals, concert halls, museums, parks, portraiture, music, art, literature (Shakespeare over Bible)


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Peter Atkins talks post World Humanist Congress

Peter Atkins
source: via

Post by British Humanist Association.

Peter Atkins book 'On Being'.

Peter Atkins on ...

Energy of the Universe (2 mins)

"hardly anything happened at the Creation" (2 mins)

Using E=mc2, taking the mass of of all galaxies and multiplying them by c2 (speed of light2) means the Universe has an enormous energy! Where did all the energy come from? When galaxies attract each other gravitationally, their energy falls. As a result the the energy of the galaxies overall is "reduced by an almost equal amount". When all the interactions of all the galaxies are taken into account the energy is reduced to zero (it is tempting to think!).

At the creation there was nothing with no energy and after the creation there is still no energy so need to worry about where the energy came from.

Where do the laws of nature come from? (4 mins)

The sources of the laws of nature are 1) indolence and 2) anarchy.

Indolence: Before creation you had absolutely nothing (no space and no time), so there must have been absolute uniformity. After creation you have also have uniformity. The theorem of Emmy Noether ('the most important woman in the history of mathematics' according to Einstein) states "every conservation law has an underlying symmetry" ie. Conservation Laws mean nothing changes. Uniformity of time: time ticks on at a uniform rate. Uniform Nothing turned into uniform time giving Conservation of Energy. If absolutely nothing turns itself into uniform space you get another Conservation Law viz. Conservation of Linear Momentum (think of billiard balls bouncing off each other).

Anarchy: (a.k.a. unconstrained freedom) - Light travels in straight line is a law of nature. Why? All the paths that are not straight lines have neighbours that annihilate (aka interfere with each other) one another.

Incipience (definition) is a better word than Creation: How did absolutely nothing turn into more interesting nothing?

What is Consciousness?

If a computer were self aware would it be ethical to experiment upon it? (26 mins)

What is the nature of Faith?

"Faith is a medicine really" (35 mins)
"Preying 5 times a day is a pretty good way of insuring that your Faith is so firmly embedded in your brain that there is no escape from it". (36 mins)
"Just as you can't forget how to ride a bicycle, you can't forget your Faith". (37 mins)
"the brain has been pre-conditioned by environment, by cultural upbringing, by practise. You can't forget how to ride a bicycle, so you can't discard your Faith".

Science and Ethics

more to come...

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris

 Who Says Science has Nothing to Say about Morality?

Sam Harris has spent several years publicly criticising religion through his books 'The End of Faith' and 'Letter to a Christian Nation'.

Defenders of religion have generally just three counter arguments:-

  1. A specific religion is true
  2. Religion is a useful framework for morality
  3. Atheism is corrosive of morality

You shouldn't belief something merely based on its utility. You can't adopt beliefs like clothes based on comfort or utility.

Religionists claim that a universal sense of good and evil / right and wrong ie a universal moral framework is required for humanity not to loose its way. Sam shares that fear.

Morality must relate to issues of human and animal well-being. Some moral codes are worse than others eg misogyny and sadism of taliban morals in insisting that women dress in bags.

There are two quantities in this world, facts and values. These cannot, it is claimed, be explained in monistic terms - they are discrete entities. Nor can science, in principle, tell us about values eg how to raise children, what constitutes a good life. Once we agree what we value, science can help us get it but science can't tell us what we ought to value. Science sees a concatenation of causes, one event after another and there is 'no corner of the universe that announces certain events as good or bad, right or wrong' (8m 20s). We broadcast our preferences about right or wrong onto a reality that is intrinsically value free. These preferences have evolved from apish impulses modulated by culture eg sexual jealousy modulated by culture such as marriage. Religionists say its wrong to cheat on your spouse because Yahweh says so.

Split between facts and values is an illusion, argues Sam. He claims values are a certain type of fact, facts about the well-being of conscious creatures. Consciousness and well-being terms are introduced.

A universe without consciousness eg just rocks, would not have concept of good or evil.

Imagine a universe where everyone suffers maximally - the worst possible misery for everyone (WPME) is bad. Every other experience is better than WPME. There is continuum from WPME at one end. Experience of conscious creatures depends on the laws of nature. There will be right and wrong ways to move across this continuum. Sams' argument is that moral truth can be located in the context of science. Questions of right and wrong, good and evil, depend upon minds, depend on the possibility of experience. Minds are natural phenomena. Morality can be understood through science. The facts about well-being are genetics, neurobiology/biology, psychology, sociology and economics. The space of all possible experience is a moral landscape. The peaks are the most well-being of conscious creatures, the troughs are the most suffering - the moral landscape analogy. There are multiple peaks - many ways for humans to best thrive, to be sublimely happy.

The Taliban is an example of a society that is not one of the peaks of the moral landscape ie lifespan for women is 44yrs, literacy rate 12%. It is scientific to say that the Taliban are wrong about morality.

Critics say 'You can't get an ought from an is.' (David Hume) but surely you ought to avoid WPME!

According to Hume, one persons values can ONLY trump another persons values by seeking concensus. All opinions have equal value. Science is merely descriptive. Sam argues that things can be right or wrong independent of a persons values. You can't get an 'is' without embracing 'oughts'.

Well-being is compared to physical health. (18m) Health is not merely the product of culture or personal whim. A science of morality based on a concern for well-being would be on the same footing as the science of medicine based on a concern for health (23m).

Religions can't be best source of morality as written over 600 years ago who knew next to nothing. Didn't know anything about DNA, electricity, did not know why people die, no notion of slavery being problematic. Someday there will no such thing as Christian or Muslim morality. If Faith is ever right, it is only right by accident.

Questions with Richard Dawkins

Is your argument a kind of scientific utilitarianism? Sam says (35m) his argument is not simply consequentialism (cf Trolley problem) or utilitarianism.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Bristol Skeptics - Woo of the Week

Woo of the week

A monthly look at woo in the Bristol area which values alliteration above chronological accuracy (obviously).

I'm indebted to my French friend again for bringing an excellent resource to my attention. I am beginning to wonder about her as she seems to be a never ending source of this stuff – maybe she's channelling Marie Antoinette or perhaps she lives on a lay line - either way at one end of every lay line is Glastonbury and this is where we find William Bloom.

Mr Bloom is a man of many talents who writes, teaches and heals a lot. His strap line may be “Connected, Mindful and Compassionate”. His website says a great deal without saying anything much but one thing caught my attention rather like an exceedingly knobbly bit of Lego under a particularly sensitive bare foot.

At the outset I should make it clear that I am not a fairy but I was drawn to one of his many books is entitled “WORKING WITH ANGELS, FAIRIES AND NATURE SPIRITS” though I do suspect he may have had help with the writing from another dimension.

In it Mr Bloom reveals a world that lies behind everyday reality and shows you how to co-operate with these invisible beings of energy who are a fundamental part of every aspect of our lives.  He will help you learn:
•    How to sense angels and spirits and communicate with them
•    How to co-operate with this inner world for inspiration and guidance
•    How to work with angels for healing and spiritual growth
•    How they can help you fulfil yourself and help others
•    How they can bring you a deeper understanding of all aspects of life.

Great value at £7.99 I'm sure you'll agree but if that isn't your bag then there are many other spiritual offerings from William “... someone who separates new age nonsense from spiritual reality...” presumably because you can charge more for them separately...

For more details

Test of Faith from Faraday Institute for Science and Religion

The "Test of Faith" website has accompanying dvd, book and teacher notes and Youtube channel. Test of Faith was developed by Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at Cambridge University.

The contributors to the book and dvd are suggesting that science cannot know all the answers to serious questions. There is something outside of science, something science will never discover - and that something is god, they claim.

Conversely naturalists say there is no evidence for a god. Scientism claims that there is no serious question that science will not, eventually, be able to answer.

Science and religion are non-overlapping magisteria, Peter Harrison claims.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Gravitational Lensing - project


Einstein's theory of gravity, General Relativity, made a remarkable prediction. Massive objects, such as stars, would bend the space around them such that passing light rays follow curved paths. Evidence for this revolutionary theory was first obtained by Arthur Eddington in 1919, when during a solar eclipse he observed that stars near the edge of the Sun appeared to be slightly out of position. The Sun was behaving like the lens in a magnifying glass and bending the light from the background stars!
In 1937, Fritz Zwicky realized that massive galaxies (which can contain anywhere from ten million to a hundred trillion stars) or clusters of galaxies could be used to magnify distant galaxies that conventional telescopes couldn't detect. As you can see, not unlike a conventional magnifying glass, these gravitational lenses not only magnify and focus the light of the distant background galaxies but they can, and mostly do, distort them as well.
When one of these gravitational lenses happens to sit right in front of a background galaxy, the magnification factor can be up to x10 or even more, giving us a zoomed-in view of the distant universe, just at that particular point. Lenses can help us investigate young galaxies more than halfway across the universe, as they formed stars and started to take on the familiar shapes we see nearby.
Observations of the distorted background galaxy can also give us useful information about the object that is behaving as a gravitational lens. The separation and distortion of the lensed images can tell astronomers how much mass there is in the object, and how it is arranged. It is one of the few ways we have of mapping out where the dark matter in the universe is, how clumpy it is and how dense it is near the centers of galaxies. Knowing this can provide crucial information about how galaxies evolve.


There is a lot of interesting science to be done with gravitational lenses. The problem is that they are very rare. Only about one in a thousand massive galaxies is aligned with a background object well enough to cause it to appear multiply-imaged. We currently know of about 400 objects that are behaving as gravitational lenses, largely because we have become very good at observing the night sky! Modern optical surveys cover thousands of square degrees, with images sharp and deep enough to resolve about 1 lens per square degree. There should be thousands of lenses that we can detect, but we will need to look at millions of galaxy images to find them!
The ideal solution would be to get a computer to look through all of the images, but unfortunately this is not a straightforward solution. Teaching a computer to recognize the effects of gravitational lensing is not too difficult, but they can be easily confused by galaxies that look very similar to a distorted background galaxy. Also in order for the computer to run fast enough to analyse lots of images quickly, they have to cut a lot of corners, and this makes them less effective.

See video.


Human beings have a remarkable ability to recognise patterns and detect the unusual with only minimal training. With a basic understanding of what the distorted images of galaxies that have passed through a gravitational lens look like, participants in the SpaceWarps project can help discover new examples of this amazing phenomenon, and enable our survey scientists to carry out new investigations of stars and dark matter in the universe. In the current project, we've selected galaxies, and groups of galaxies, that could potentially act as gravitational lenses, and quasars, that are very useful when gravitationally lensed, all from the VICS82 infrared imaging survey. The task is to assess whether or not gravitational lensing is actually going on in each image! There will be confusing objects around - the challenge is to come up with the most plausible explanation for what is going on, in collaboration with the rest of the Space Warps community. Do you think you can spot outer space being warped? We do!

References (accessed 8 Jan 2014)

YOU can Discover a NEW Galaxy from YOUR PC -

Stargazing Live: Brian Cox and Dara O Briain, Series 4, Episode 1. 

Using gravitational lensing on YOU can see the curvature of spacetime by mass by the 300 billion galaxies that have been observed to date. YOUR task is to find galaxies (each have 100 billion stars to 1 Trillion stars) that have NOT yet been observed (because they are obscured by observed galaxies). The aim is to observe half million images in 48 hours (within 12 hours 3M had been observed.

Follow progress on Facebook, on Twitter and on Spacewarps blog. Talk to your peers on the forum.

See in the low centre left with the blue ring to its left, looks like a lens to meby Darth_Hydrogen 
"Spacetime tells matter how to move; matter tells spacetime how to curve."John Archibald Wheeler

Spacewarps is a project of Zooniverse.

at 9am at 8th January 2014 (12 hours after programme televised) has 40,000 images taken by telescopes in Chile and Hawaii.  By the curvature of space time, light from a distant galaxy is bent all the way around to produce an Einstein ring. The light has taken 7-10 billion years to reach us.

Introducing Prof (actually a 'Reader') Tim O Brien at Jodrell Bank who demonstrates an Einstein ring which is a special case of gravitational lensing (38m).

Lensing by a black hole. Animated simulation of gravitational lensing caused by a Schwarzschild black hole going past a background galaxy.

Chris Lintott from Sky at Night explains that physicists can weigh (estimate number of stars) of newly discovered galaxies behind the observed galaxy using gravitational lensing.

References (accessed 8 Jan 2014) From 36m 20s to 41m 30s