Monday, May 30, 2016

Are safe spaces a threat to free speech?

Safe spaces?
Safe spaces are receiving a lot of discussion lately. Universities, for example, are encouraged to be, or to have, 'safe spaces' for students: places where students - particularly LGBT students - can feel safe from being persecuted, harassed, and so on.
However, 'safe spaces' are increasingly being a seen as a threat to free speech. For example, when Maryam Namazie, an ex-Muslim critic of Islam, spoke at Goldsmith's College University of London, her event was disrupted by some Muslim students who shouted 'Safe space!' - they believed that their University should protect them from such speech. Many, myself included, thought this was a ridiculous abuse of the concept of safe space.
So where does acceptable safe space end and unacceptable  threats to freedom of speech begin? Here are a few useful key distinctions.

Continues over at CFI blogs.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

How to start a prejudice - in six easy steps!

How to start a prejudice - is six easy steps!

Suppose you want to spread the prejudice that Xs are Ys - e.g. Jews are greedy and money-obsessed; women are terrible drivers, etc. What's a good method?

STEP ONE: Find some Xs that are Ys. That won't be hard. Inevitably, some women are bad drivers and some Jews are money-obsessed. So you will easily be able to come up with a handful of true anecdotes.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Islamophobia and Anti-semitism - what is, and isn't, bigotry?

There's currently a great deal of talk about Islamophobia and anti-semitism in the UK press. You won't be surprised to hear me say I am very firmly against both forms of prejudice. However, I suspect many would consider me guilty of one or other. I suspect many Muslims or Muslim-supporters would consider me Islamophobic because, say, I consider the religion of Islam one root cause of much contemporary terrorism. On the other hand, I don't doubt some Jews or Israeli-supporters would consider me anti-semitic because, say, I think the attacks on Gaza were disproportionate and unjustified, or because I am broadly sympathetic to non-violent methods of Palestinian resistance, such as their BDS campaign - Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. It may well be that I am just mistaken about what is and isn't Islamophobic/anti-semitic, and I genuinely want to be guilty of neither, so I thought I would arrange various claims according to whether I consider them Islamophobic or not and anti-semitic or not, to get your feedback.

Continues at CFI here...

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Wittgensteinian Account of Religious Belief - forthcoming in European Journal of Philosophy: pre-publ. draft.

Wittgensteinian Accounts of Religious Belief: Non-Cognitivist, Juicer, and Atheist-minus
Wittgenstein's views on religious belief are cryptic. We have comparatively few of his comments on religion, and most of what we do have were neither recorded by Wittgenstein himself nor intended by him for publication. Here I aim to assess some of the arguments that have been attributed to Wittgenstein in support of a view about religious belief that I call No Contradiction:

No Contradiction. When atheists deny the beliefs they take to be expressed by such sentences as
   (a) 'God exists'
   (b) 'God created the world'
   (c) 'Jesus rose from the dead'
   (d) 'We will face a Judgement Day'
they fail to contradict the religious beliefs such sentences are used to express.

Often associated with No Contradiction is a further related[i] thesis that I call Immunity:

Immunity. Even if an atheist were successfully to refute the belief they took such a sentence to express (by providing empirical evidence to the contrary, say), they would fail thereby to refute the religious belief expressed.

There are passages in which Wittgenstein does appear to commit himself to something like No Contradiction. Consider:

If you ask me whether or not I believe in a Judgement Day, in the sense in which religious people have belief in it, I wouldn't say: 'No. I don't believe there will be such a thing.' It would seem to me utterly crazy to say this.
   And then I give the explanation: 'I don't believe in ...', but then the religious person never believes what I describe.
   I can't say. I can't contradict that person. Lectures and Conversations p55

Simon Glendinning interprets this and the surrounding text as articulating a criticism of what Glendinning calls the 'modern atheist'. According to Glendinning's Wittgenstein,
the crucial feature of the one who takes an atheist position, the one, for example, who feels obliged on occasion to insist that there will be no Judgement Day, is that he or she does so because (by his or her lights) another person believes the opposite, believes, in this case, that there will be a Judgement Day. (2013, 42)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

John Woodcock MP, and why Labour's 'fucking disaster' reflects badly on Blairites, not Corbyn

The Telegraph reports:

Jeremy Corbyn's PMQ's performance was an 'effing disaster' and David Cameron turned the Party into a laughing stock, according to one Labour MP.
John Woodcock accidentally tweeted out a private message on Twitter, which he has since deleted, saying: "F****** disaster. Worse week for Corbyn since he came in and that stupid f****** list makes us into a laughing stock."
The Prime Minister repeatedly mocked the Labour leader for a leaked ‘list’, which categorises Labour MPs by their loyalty to Corbyn. 

So who does this list incident reflect badly on?

1. Is there anything wrong with a Labour Party member drawing up a list of who can be more or less counted on amongst Labour MPs? Very sensible thing to do, surely. So the list does not reflect badly on whoever drew it up.

2. The list is pretty old, yet it gets leaked now, just as Corbyn gets a rise in the polls, just as the Tories take a very big hit, just before a PMQs when Cameron was likely to be in very serious trouble, and weeks before an election. Cameron flamboyantly waved the list around during PMQs and used it to cause maximum damage to Labour and distract attention away from his own Party's failings.

3. Who is most likely to be deeply anti-Corbyn, and have access to that list? The answer, surely, is a disgruntled Blairite. The list was probably passed around a group, one of whom then passed it to a friend, or had a secretary friendly with someone on the list, or it got attached to an email that was inadvertently copied to someone in the Labour Party that it shouldn't have been.

4. So the balance of probability is very much tipped toward a Blairite deliberately leaking the list at a key moment in order to help the Tories and do as much damage to Labour under Corbyn as possible - to make them 'a laughing stock', as Woodcock puts it.

In my opinion, this incident was indeed a fucking PR disaster, one for which Blairites are almost certainly to blame.

Ironic then that one of the Blairites - John Woodcock MP - privately tweets to a journalist that it's a 'fucking disaster', presumably to further damage Corbyn ('Labour insiders furious a 'disaster' says MP!'). Only he inadvertently tweets publicly so we can all see what he's up to.

There appear to be Blairite MPs who will help the Tory party when it's in trouble in order to cause damage to Labour under Corbyn. As I say, if the party contains such traitors, it seems wise for the Labour leadership to keep a record of who they are.

POSTSCRIPT: OK I am over-egging it when I say 'almost certainly' a Blairite. But still, given the timing suggests a deliberately timed leak by a political opponent and that the opponents into whose hands such a document is most likely to fall are the Blairites, I think the probability is it is a Blairite leak.

Photo and report in The Independent here.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Tapescrew Letters - audio recording (parody of Xian apologetics)

I have put up an audio recording featuring my good friend Michael doing the narration. Those familiar with CS Lewis' The Screwtape Letters will get the joke from the outset but everyone should enjoy if they have some knowledge of Christian apologetics. Access from my CFI blog here: THE OUTER LIMITS.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Witch Hunters: how shaming accusations of bigotry are used to shut down legitimate debate

One thing we lefty liberals particularly fear is being thought bigoted. Call me dumb, naive, greedy, and selfish if you like - I can take it. But accuse me of being a bigot and I'll immediately collapse into a period of mute soul-searching while I check my privilege. 

Continues here.

Monday, February 22, 2016

CFI EVENT: The Magic of Maths. Sat 2nd April

2016 02 22 v2 IS Magic of Maths Rubik_s Cube(2)
Centre for Inquiry UK, the British Humanist Association and Conway Hall Ethical Society present The Magic of Maths: find out about the uniquely beautiful patterns hidden in Pascal's triangle; about our (often poor) intuitive understanding of probability and the risk of events governing our lives; and about the greatest unsolved puzzles in maths!
Join us at Conway Hall – the world's oldest Ethical Society – for a fascinating day of magical maths, uncovering some of the incredible ways numbers and patterns are woven through nature and our everyday lives.
11:00–12:00 | Maths' greatest unsolved puzzles, with Katie Steckles
While mathematicians are undoubtedly brilliant, and their work is used in all kinds of amazing scientific and technological discoveries, there are still questions they can't answer. Every mathematical question is a puzzle to be solved, and while there'll be plenty of puzzles for you to chew on, we'll also discuss some of the questions that still leave mathematicians stumped - from simple-sounding number and shape problems to some truly mind-bending fundamental questions.
12:15–13:15 | Pascal's Patterns, with Professor Emma McCoy
Pascal’s triangle is named after the 17th century French mathematician Blaise Pascal. Professor McCoy will look at some of the beautiful patterns hidden in Pascal’s triangle and investigate why they appear. She will look at how Pascal’s triangle is related to diverse problems in mathematics, including examples from algebra, geometry and probability.
14:15–15:15 | The improbability principle returns: luck, lotteries, and Laura, with Professor David Hand
This talk takes a second look at the improbability principle, illustrating further popular misconceptions and failures of intuition regarding coincidences and unlikely events. It teases apart the contradiction between Borel’s law, which tells us that sufficiently improbable events are impossible, and the improbability principle, which tells us that highly improbable events happen all the time.
Katie Steckles is a mathematician based in Manchester, who gives talks and workshops on different areas of maths. She finished her PhD in 2011, and since then has talked about maths in schools, at science festivals, on BBC radio, at music festivals, as part of theatre shows and on the internet. She enjoys doing puzzles, solving the Rubik's cube and baking things shaped like maths.
Emma McCoy is the Deputy Head of Department at Imperial College London. She is a member of the Statistics section with research interests in time series analysis and causal inference. She has worked at Imperial for over 20 years and has held various Departmental administrative roles, including that of Admissions Tutor. Professor McCoy is heavily involved in Outreach activities and regularly speaks at Higher Education careers fairs and school events.
David Hand is Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Imperial College, London and Chief Scientific Advisor to Winton Capital Management. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, has served (twice) as President of the Royal Statistical Society, serves on the Board of the UK Statistics Authority, and chairs the Board of the UK’s Administrative Data Research Network. His recent book The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day was published in 2014. He was made OBE for services to research and innovation in 2013.
Registration is from 10:30, for an 11:00 start.
April 2nd, 2016 10:30 AM through 3:30 PM
Event Fee(s)
General £ 10.00
Members and Students (members of British Humanist Association, members of Conway Hall Ethical Society) £ 5.00 BOOK HERE

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Audio recording of me talking about Wittgenstein etc.

Here is me discussing Wittgenstein's private language argument, Wittgenstein on the standard metre, naturalism, evil, God, and Jeremy Corbyn! Link.

Monday, February 15, 2016

'Antisemite!', "Islamophobe!'

Interesting article here on a schoolboy interviewed by the police about terrorism because he wore a 'Free Palestine' badge.

Wear 'Free Palestine' badge = likely terrorist supporter. Pro-BDS = antisemitic. This is obviously ridiculous. Which is not to deny there are anti-semites amongst such people, of course. Similarly, some think those pointing to at least *some* significant Western responsibility for rise of Islamic terrorism = Islamism (or at least support or apologetics for it).

On the other side, suggest there's a significant problem re Islamism in the UK (and I do think that, in fact) and you will likely be deemed Islamophobic. You will also be labelled Islamophobic if you defend the right to free speech of someone like Maryam Namazie. Or if you believe Islam is a root cause of terrorist violence (which I do).

In each case, there's an attempt to stifle and silence dissent with a shaming accusation of bigotry. For of course, the one thing us lefty liberals can't bear to be accused of is bigotry. 'Anti-semite!', 'Islamophobe!' Gets us every time. We start self-censoring for fear of being thought bigoted.