Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I'm on at Cheltenham Science Festival June 7th

Event Title:
Pillar Room
Saturday 7 June 2014
What is the role of religion?

Religion has been helping us find our place in the world for millennia. But with the scientific understanding we now have, could we be growing out of a need for religion? Without its guidance and moral teachings would society collapse? Author of The Young Atheist's Handbook Alom Shaha leads a discussion, with philosopher Stephen Law and sociologist Linda Woodhead, about the role of religion in modern society.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The argument from minimal facts for extraordinary/miraculous events

Here is a template for an argument from the minimal facts used for example, to argue for the resurrection (see Gary Habermas here for example).

1)      These facts are agreed on as our starting point.
2)      There is a variety of explanations of these facts, including the explanation that [insert preferred extraordinary and/or miraculous event E] happened
3)      All of these explanations fail to have the explanatory scope or power for all of the facts, apart from the explanation that [E] happened.
4)      There is no compelling reason to exclude the explanation that [E] happened.
5)      Therefore (probably) [E].

This is a an interesting schema, I think. You find it employed to justify a wide variety of "extraordinary" claims. I am compiling a list of examples, so if you have any, do please let me know (include as a comment, with web link, or whatever). Quotes or clips would be particularly useful.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Ontological argument - some Religious Studies A2 notes

Notes on Ontological Argument from today's A2 Teachers First conference Bloomsbury (from ppt)

n  Ontological argument
n  Stephen Law
n  Heythrop College, University of London
n  The ontological argument
n  An argument that attempts to prove the existence of God a priori, from the definition or concept of God.
n  An “armchair” proof!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Notes for Holy Cross School on Religious Language from ppt

Notes for Holy Cross School on Religious Language from ppt

       Wittgenstein on religious language
       Stephen Law
       Threats to religious belief

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Post by Phil and Monica H. re William Lane Craig and Michael Murray on animal pain

This is a one-off guest posting. It's well worth reading. Apologies for awful unfixable formatting.

We are the creators of a series of videos debunking the neuroscience claims made by William Lane Craig (WLC) in his debate with Stephen Law.  WLC claimed animals are not aware of pain and that neuroscience backs his claim.  In Feb 2013 William Lane Craig devoted an entire podcast to addressing our video on the neuroscience of animal suffering; we quickly uploaded a video response, addressing the flaws in his arguments.  You can see all this back and forth here:

Craig promised his source author Michael Murray would write a written reply to our video response and one year later, this has now been published on Craig's web site:   

We would like to thank both Michael Murray and William Lane Craig for responding.  For those of you who don’t have the time to watch all these videos, here is Craig’s claim as made in his debate with Dr Law:
 “Now, let me say one other thing, however, that is a result of recent scientific discoveries that shed remarkable light on the problem of animal suffering. In his book Nature Red in Tooth and Claw, published by Oxford University Press, Michael Murray explains that there is really a three-fold hierarchy of pain awareness.   On the most fundamental level there’s simply the reaction to stimuli, such as an amoeba exhibits when you poke it with a needle. It doesn’t really feel pain. There’s a second level of pain awareness which sentient animals have, which is an experience of pain. And animals like horses, dogs, and cats would experience this second level pain awareness. But they do not experience a third level pain awareness, which is the awareness of second order pain, that is, the awareness that one is oneself in pain. For that sort of pain awareness requires self-awareness, and this is centered in the pre-frontal cortex (PFC) of the brain, a section of the brain that is missing in all animals except for the higher primates and human beings. And therefore, even though animals are in pain, they aren’t aware of it. They don’t have this third order pain awareness. They are not aware of pain, and therefore they do not suffer as human beings do.
Now this is a tremendous comfort to those of us who are animal lovers like myself or to pet owners. Even though your dog or your cat may be in pain, it really isn’t aware of being in pain, and therefore it doesn’t suffer as you would when you are in pain.” 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

CFI UK Surveillance Society event May 3rd

Centre for Inquiry UK and Conway Hall present

The Surveillance Society

Including Caspar Bowden, Tom Sorell, Judith Rauhofer.

Post Snowden, where do we go now? When is surveillance acceptable, and when is it wrong? Should whole swathes of public policy regarding surveillance now be junked? Three leading experts in the field present accessible and fascinating talks on our emerging surveillance society – and what to do about it.

Organized and chaired by Stephen Law

Saturday May 3rd 2014

Conway Hall (Main Hall)
25 Red Lion Square
(Nr Holborn Tube)

£10 (£5 students) Free to friends of CFI UK.
10.30am registration. 11am – 3.45pm

Tickets available at

11.00 Caspar Bowden. Caspar Bowden is an independent advocate for information privacy rights, and public understanding of privacy research in computer science. For nine years he was Chief Privacy Adviser for Microsoft for forty countries.
12.00 Tom Sorell. Professor of Philosophy, University of Warwick. Tom will be talking about the relation between the power of an agent of surveillance and the prima facie wrongness of surveillance.
1.45 Judith Rauhofer. Is a lawyer and lecturer in IT law at the University of Edinburgh. She will be speaking about about surveillance and the rule of law, the different understandings of "lawfulness" and the concept of privacy as a common good.
2.45 Plenary.
3.45 END

CFI UK reserves the right to change the programme due to unforeseen circumstances.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Notes from my slides today - evil and suffering, Augustine, Irenaus, sceptical theism

Notes from today's lecture on evil and sufering.

n  Problem of Evil
n  Stephen Law
n  The lecture
n  What are we going to do?
n  1. Outline the problems of evil (logical and evidential).
n  2. Outline and assess the free will solutions to evidential problem offered by (I) Irenaeus and (II) Augustine.
n  3. Introduce “sceptical theism”.
n  Prelim: natural and moral evils.
n  (1): logical problem of evil
n  (1) There is an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God.
n  (2) There is evil.
n  The logical problem of evil says (1) and (2) are logically inconsistent.
n  To assert both (1) and (2) is to produce a logical contradiction (like saying that there are round squares, or married bachelors).

Cosmological argument - some notes

Cosmological argument

Text from today's slides

       Cosmological Argument
       Stephen Law
       Cosmological arguments
       Cosmological arguments attempt to establish the existence of God by noting:
       (i) that the universe exists, and
       (ii) inferring that it must depend for its existence on something else, that something else being God.
       There are many versions.

Monday, March 10, 2014

God in the Lab - Book now for June 14th!

GOD IN THE LAB: The Science of Religious Belief

Centre for Inquiry UK and Conway Hall present

What lies behind exorcism and speaking in tongues? How rational are atheists? Does morality depend on religion? Profs. Chris French, Jon Lanman and Glen Carrigan discuss some fascinating recent research and findings re. religious and atheistic belief systems.

Presented by Stephen Law

Saturday June 14th, 2014

Conway Hall (Main Hall)
25 Red Lion Square
(Nr Holborn Tube)

£10 (£5 students) Free to friends of CFI UK.
10.30am registration. 11am – 3.45pm

Tickets available at…

11.00 Glen Carrigan. An introduction to a morality where God is not at its centre. Using the 4 S’s of science, skepticism, sarcasm and satire whilst employing neuropsychological research and a humanistic world view, we’ll look at what the alternatives are to a pious moral code and why people and groups might make the decisions they do. Glen is a neuropsychology researcher and senior demonstrator at the University of Central Lancashire specialising in moral psychology, youth engagement and with an interest in all things science.

12.00 Chris French. Chris French is Professor of Psychology at Goldsmith’s College, London and will be talking about, among other things, possession, exorcism, and speaking-in-tongues. His latest book is Anomalistic Psychology: Exploring Paranormal Belief and Experience.

1-1.45 lunch
1.45 Jon Lanman. "Atheism: The View from Cognitive Science" Cognitive Science is the interdisciplinary study of the mind and is in principle and in practice relevant to our understanding of atheism. In this talk, I will review how cognitive science enriches our understanding of belief and rationality, challenges commonly discussed theories of religion and atheism, and provides a more empirically grounded account of the mind that we can utilize to better understand the causes and effects of atheism and anti-atheist prejudice. Dr Jonathan Lanman is the Assistant Director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture and Lecturer in Anthropology at Queen's University Belfast.

2.45-3.30 Roundtable and QandA. 3.30 END 

CFI UK reserves the right to change the programme due to unforeseen circumstances.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Defence and development of Erik Wielenberg's argument re sceptical theism - forthcoming in Religious Studies

(revised 9 April 2014)

Sceptical theism and a lying God – Wielenberg’s argument defended and developed

Stephen Law
Department of Philosophy, Heythrop College, University of London, Kensington Square, London W5 8HX UK

Abstract: Sceptical theists attempt to block the evidential argument from evil by arguing that a key premise of that argument – that gratuitous evil exists – cannot reasonably be maintained. They argue that, for all we know, our knowledge of reasons God may have to permit such evil is radically incomplete. Thus the fact that we cannot identify reasons for God to permit the evil we observe does not allow us reasonably to conclude that no such reasons exist. In response, Erik Wielenberg has pointed out what appears to be, for many sceptical theists, an unfortunate further consequence of their position. According to Wielenberg, if sceptical theism is correct, then, similarly, the fact that we cannot identify reasons why God would lie to us does not allow us reasonably to conclude no such reasons exist. But then, for all we know, God’s word constitutes not a divine revelation but a divine lie. This paper examines sceptical theist responses to Wielenberg’s argument to date (from Segal, and McBrayer and Swenson) and develops two new Wielenberg-style arguments for the same conclusion.