Friday, November 25, 2016

Text form my A Level powerpoint on religious language



n  Religious Language
n  Stephen Law
n  Verification, Falsification, Wittgenstein
n  In this session we will:
n  Outline Ayers Verification Principle and his attack on the meaningfulness of religious language (plus criticisms)
n  Outline Flews use of falsification (plus criticisms).
n  Outline some Wittgensteinian moves to defend religion (plus criticisms).

Friday, November 11, 2016

Please support CFI (and RDF) at this pivotal moment - donate now and see it doubled


Climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers, creationists, and other woo merchants are about to get a major boost in the US (Trump is a climate change denier, Prense is an anti-vaxxer, creationist, and favours state-funded gay-conversion therapy). Secular values are about to take a huge pounding across the US as the religious right consolidate their grip on power, including, no doubt, on the Supreme Court.


This is an important time to fight back, and one of the most effective ways of doing that is to support the activities of CFI, the one organisation that is fighting on all these fronts.


CFI is now partnered with the Richard Dawkins Foundation. Donate now and see your donation generously doubled by Louis Appignani. Go to:


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Sea of Lies: CFI on Lying Press and Politicians, with Martin Robbins, Marcus Chown, Natalie Fenton

December 8th, 2016   6:30 PM  -  9:30 PM

Whether the issue is immigration, Brexit, welfare, press-regulation, the NHS, or Trump vs. Clinton, concern is being expressed about the way in which both politicians and the media shape the political agenda by means of spin, deceit, and, in some cases, bare-faced lies. To what extent have we lost sight of the truth? How can we ensure the facts are centre-stage when it comes to policy- and democratic decision-making? The evening is hosted by CFI's Stephen Law.

Please note that doors open at 18:30 for a 19:00 start. Ticket sales will end at 12:00 on 8 December.

MARTIN ROBBINS: Post-Truth Political Discourse (looking at examples across the political spectrum)

Martin Robbins is a Berkshire-based researcher and science writer. Martin writes about science, pseudoscience and evidence-based politics.

MARCUS CHOWN: Democracy Cannot Function In a Sea of Lies

How can we stop our politicians and media lying on matters of fact/evidence? And why is this not at the top of the political agenda?

Marcus Chown is formerly a radio astronomer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Marcus is an award-winning writer and broadcaster who makes regular appearances on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. Books include What A Wonderful World, Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You, We Need to Talk About Kelvin, and Solar System for iPad.

NATALIE FENTON: Unequal, Undemocratic, Unfair: Media, Power and Politics in the Digital Age

Natalie Fenton is Professor in Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her most recent books include Digital, Political, Radical (2016). Natalie is on the Board of Directors of the campaign group Hacked Off and a founding member of the Media Reform Coalition.
Tickets: https://humanism.org.uk/events/seaoflies/

Event Fee(s)

£ 10.00
General
£ 5.00
Members and Students (members of British Humanist Association, members of Conway Hall Ethical Society)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Jeff Lowder Video

Jeff Lowder has an interesting video on Christian Apologetics, for enthusiasts! Go here:

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Chakrabarti, private schools, and hypocrisy

It is not necessarily hypocrisy to argue against allowing X (e.g. private/selective schooling) whilst nevertheless buying X for your kids. E.g. if air was privatised and sold, I'd fight that tooth and nail, while buying it for my kids. Nothing hypocritical about that.

There are important goods Chakrabarti cannot have for all kids while private schools are in place (such as a level playing field when it comes to careers in journalism, the civil service, etc.etc.). So Chakrabarti argues against private schools. However, for her not to buy private schooling for her own kids may, under the present system that does allow and encourage private schools, be to significantly disadvantage them. In which case it may be morally permissable for Chakrabarti to buy private schooling for her kids if she can afford it, notwithstanding her moral objection to private schooling.
This is not rocket science. I don't understand why so many fail to grasp the point. It's is if they don't want to.

Having said that, some very principled folk won't buy private schooling for their kids even if they do think that will likely disadvantage those children. That may or may not be beyond the call of duty. I am not going to condemn anyone either way.

Independent report here.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Results of twitter poll on self-censorship - which, ironically, I ended up self-censoring


I have a long-standing interest in freedom of speech, and in particular the way in which people will tend to self-censor for fear of being accused of some form of bigotry. I'm particularly concerned, for example, that the accusation of Islamophobia is being used to try to shame and silence critics of Islam. I'm similarly concerned that the accusation of antisemitism is being used to try to shame and silence critics of Israel. Here is something I wrote on that subject.

I thought I would do a not-very-scientific twitter poll to see whether people felt they were self-censoring due to fear of being accused of bigotry.  I asked the following 'yes' 'no' questions:

1. Have you ever self-censored yr views on Islam for fear of being accused of Islamophobia?
2. Have you ever self-censored your views on LGBT issues for fear of being accused of bigotry?
3. Have you ever self-censored your views on Israel for fear of being accused of antisemitism?
4. Have you ever self-censored your views on race for fear of being accused of racism?

It occurred to me  some might think there should be a question on antisemitism  that was more closely analogous to questions  2 and 4. So I added: 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

An argument against pain being identical with c-fibre firing

Here's the slide I promised to make available from yesterday's talk. For X and Y substitute eg pain and c-fibre firing or red and reflects light of wavelength x. Note the argument does not work for heat and molecular motion, or water and H2O, because premise (iv) is then false. But is the argument cogent for pain and c-fibre firing?

Notice that, unusually, this conceivability argument turns not on what is conceivable (e.g. pain without c-fibre firing, zombies, etc.), but on what is inconceivable.

Why suppose (iv) is true for pain? Because it appears to be part of the concept of pain that one cannot be mistaken about whether one is experiencing it (at least in core cases). Hence there is a conceptual obstacle to imagining fool's pain (fool's pain = feels like pain but isn't really pain). But if pain were c-fibre firing, no such conceptual obstacle would exist (or indeed would exist if pain was potentially identifiable with any physical property at all; hence this conceptual truth about pain (that fool's pain is impossible) entails pain cannot be identified with any physical property at all).

This is the argument I attribute to Kripke in his Naming and Necessity. Notice it differs from that commonly attributed to Kripke by eg Brian Loar. As applied to colour, the above argument also seems to me to be presented by Colin McGinn in his The Subjective View as an argument against identifying red with a physical property such as reflecting a particular wavelength of light, and as part of his a priori, conceptual case for saying colour is a secondary quality.

For more see my paper Loar's Defence of Physicalism.



Monday, July 25, 2016

The X-Claim Argument Against Religious Belief - pre-publication draft


Forthcoming in Religious Studies. (Image Flickr creative commons, by Marcel Dzama)
The X-claim argument against religious belief

Introduction

This paper outlines an argument against religious belief: the X-claim argument. The argument is novel at least in the sense that it has not yet been clearly articulated or addressed before in the philosophical literature. However, the argument is closely related to two more familiar varieties of argument currently receiving philosophical attention, namely: (i) arguments from religious diversity, and (ii) naturalistic debunking arguments (e.g. Freudian, Marxist, and evolutionary). I set out the X-claim argument, show that it has some prima facie plausibility, distinguish it from these other two arguments with which it might easily be confused, and, finally, explain why it has some significant advantages over these more familiar arguments against religious belief.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Heythrop College COULD be saved in deal with Roehampton, but it seems it won't be.


                                                                                                                        1 July 2016

To the Editor, The Tablet

Re: Heythrop College

As members of staff at Heythrop College in solidarity with the Principal and Governing Body we are writing to clarify any potential misunderstandings arising from your news item on the proposed partnership with the University of Roehampton.

Since the announcement in 2015 that Heythrop could no longer continue as an autonomous college within the University of London, the Governors and the Society of Jesus have been committed to finding a way in which its mission and work, including its ecclesiastical faculties within the Bellarmine Institute, will continue in a new form after 2018.  Eight months of creative and positive discussions with the University of Roehampton have concluded that a merger between both institutes would be financially viable and academically and pastorally fruitful in furthering the Jesuit intellectual apostolate in Britain. The Society of Jesus has sought the support of the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, in order to continue the mission of the College. Staff confidently hope to receive support for a merger that holds so much promise.

We are confident that the Catholicity of the Bellarmine Institute and Heythrop College within the context of the University of Roehampton will be safeguarded by robust governance structures.  The content of the ecclesiastical degrees taught and the academic staff teaching in the Bellarmine Institute were approved by the Congregation for Catholic Education in 2013.  Any modifications are subject to re-approval by the Congregation. We are also confident of the positive benefits that a Heythrop-Roehampton partnership would have for continuing the close and positive co-operation with St Mary's University that already exists.  The two institutions are not rivals, but each works collaboratively out of its own distinctive tradition, enhancing the richness of Catholic Higher Education provision in the UK.  We understand the Vice Chancellor of the University of Roehampton has proposed to continue the collaborative partnerships between these institutions in a UK Higher Education context where such cross-institutional partnerships are essential for research funding and impact beyond academia. Together with Leeds Trinity, Liverpool Hope and Newman Universities, Heythrop College, the University of Roehampton and St Mary's University already collaborate as partners in The Cathedrals Group of academic institutions, committed to promoting principles of social justice and the public good in UK Higher Education.

Aided by one of the finest theological academic libraries in the country, Heythrop's Catholic ethos is open, critically engaging and transformative in the rich tradition of Ignatian thought as the hallmark of the College's engagement with the world. This is substantiated by the most recent assessment of research publications (Research Excellence Framework 2014) which praised Heythrop's 'impact' beyond academia placing it in the top ten of institutions in the country.[1]

It would be a tragedy with reverberations on the international stage if Heythrop College should be forced to close, despite the development of a financially viable model and an academically rich curriculum to enable its mission and work to continue. Such a loss would raise serious questions within and outside the Church worldwide as to the credibility of the Catholic Church in England and Wales in fostering and protecting serious academic study of philosophy and theology. Support for the proposed Heythrop-Roehampton partnership is consistent with concerns to safeguard the Catholicity of the education of Catholic clergy and laity in England and Wales and to strengthen collaborative partnerships between academic institutions in the Catholic tradition in the UK Higher Education sector. 

Yours sincerely

Staff of Heythrop College

BELOW IS THE FULL VERSION OF THE LETTER SENT (ABOVE IS HARD-COPY PUBLISHED VERSION)

As members of staff at Heythrop College in solidarity with the Principal and Governing Body we are writing to clarify the situation regarding the college’s proposed partnership with the University of Roehampton.

Since the announcement in 2015 that Heythrop could no longer continue as an autonomous college within the University of London, the Governors and the Society of Jesus have been committed to finding a way in which its mission and work, including its ecclesiastical faculties for educating priests and others for pontifical degrees within the Bellarmine Institute, will continue in a new form after 2018. Eight months of creative and positive discussions with the University of Roehampton have concluded that a merger between both institutes would be financially viable and academically and pastorally fruitful. The Society of Jesus has sought the support of the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, in order to continue the mission of the College. Staff confidently hoped to receive support for a merger that holds so much promise but there are signs that this support may not be forthcoming.

Staff are confident that the Catholicity of the Bellarmine Institute and Heythrop College within the context of the University of Roehampton will be safeguarded by robust governance structures. The content of the ecclesiastical degrees taught and the academic staff teaching in the Bellarmine Institute were approved by the Congregation for Catholic Education in 2013. Any modifications are subject to re-approval by the Congregation.

The Heythrop-Roehampton partnership constitutes the only viable option on the table. The funds generously provided by the Society of Jesus by means of its charitable trust: Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes (TRCP) do not allow for the continuation of Heythrop beyond the academic year 2017-18.

Within a year the vast majority of staff will be made redundant and steps will begin to sell the property and disperse and dispose of the library. Thus the practical consequences of a decision by the Cardinal and the Bishops' Conference not to support the current partnership with the University of Roehampton will effectively be a decision to terminate Heythrop College, bringing to an end a 400 year history, and creating an unbridgeable gap in the provision of Catholic Higher Education in Britain.

It would be a tragedy with reverberations on the international stage if Heythrop College should be forced to close. Such a loss would raise serious questions within and outside the Church worldwide as to the credibility of the Catholic Church in England and Wales in fostering and protecting serious academic study of philosophy and theology. Support for the proposed Heythrop-Roehampton partnership is consistent with concerns to safeguard the Catholicity of the education of Catholic clergy and laity in England and Wales and to strengthen collaborative partnerships between academic institutions in the Catholic tradition in the UK Higher Education sector.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Why I back Corbyn


Here are some not very worked out thoughts on the current state of the Labour party, and a sketch of why I back Corbyn.

My belief is that the UK economic train is heading back in the direction of Victorian Britain, with all the social inequality and injustice that went with it. It's in the nature of the economic train to run in that direction unless some pretty serious action is taken.

Under the Blairites, the economic train continued to move in that direction, but the Blairites fought hard to slow the train down, and with some success. I approved of that, of course. With the Tories back in the brakes are off and the train is now running full tilt.

So, I think that with either Tories or Blairites, we end up at the same destination: Victorian Britain. We just get there at different speeds. 

The working class can see the direction of travel is always the same, and so say, 'No point in voting, they're all the same'. I think that, as the injustice increases, and their frustration and desperation mount, so the risk of them sliding into populist fascism goes up and up,

What to do? We need to put the train into reverse. The Blairites won't do that. Only someone like Corbyn will do it. I am not wedded to Corbyn the man, but I am wedded to the ambition of reversing the train. If there were a younger, super-charismatic person cut from the same train-reversing cloth as Corbyn, I'd be happy to see them take the reins of the Party instead. But there's currently no one like that. And even if anyone like that was promoted to Leader, they'd probably be sabotaged by the right again.

I am not at all optimistic about reversing the direction of the train, but I see no alternative to trying.

So when Labour folk say we need to drop Corbyn in order to win the next General Election, I say: 1. I have my doubts that we'll win even with a Blairite or non-Corbynite, 2. Which of his policies do you reject? 3. Whom do you suggest instead? Until they come up with answers to these questions that I can approve - because they are train-reversing - I'll be sticking with Corbyn.

Winning the next General Election by switching to a Blairite (or at least someone who won't do more than tinker with the brakes, so at least winning Blairite approval) might sound attractive to some (those hoping to get Murdoch and Dacre back onside) given a shorter-term view. But take a step back and it looks to me like a long-term strategic mistake.

Notice I am playing the long game. As Britain becomes more and more Victorian, someone has to offer the working people of this country a genuine alternative. In the end, they may actually get off their bottoms and come out and vote for that alternative just like they did for Brexit. I think that's our best hope. If the price we pay is short-term electoral loss, so be it (though I'm not even convinced of that).

Corbyn has a record of being on the right side of history, on LGBT rights, on the Iraq War, on tuition fees, on talking to Sinn Fein, and so on. I think he's right now, too.

What do you think?