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Showing posts from March, 2007

The God of Eth

Most people who believe in God take their belief to be pretty reasonable. “Perhaps God’s existence can’t be conclusively proved”, they’ll say, “but it’s a fairly sensible thing to believe – far more sensible than, say, belief in fairies or Santa Claus.” But are they right? Christians, Muslims and Jews believe that God is both all-powerful and all-good. Indeed, God is often characterized as an infinitely loving father. Yet most of the popular arguments for the existence of God allow us to deduce little if anything about his moral character. Take the argument from design, for example. Even if we can show that the universe does show signs of design, what’s the evidence that this creator is all-good? There is also a well-known argument that, even if the universe was created by an all-powerful being, that being is not all-good. The argument is called the problem of evil, and runs roughly as follows: if God is both all-powerful and all-good, why is there so much suffering in the world? Why

The time machine

Today I journeyed to Richmond, to the laboratory of the time traveller. I was welcomed into the house by the courteous Mrs Watchett, his housekeeper. Mrs Watchett showed me into the drawing room where a fire was blazing. She explained that the time traveller was travelling through time even as she spoke, and that if we should pass through the next door into his laboratory, I would discover the awful truth about his time machine. The housekeeper led me through a door into an amazing Victorian laboratory filled with experimental equipment. But the most astonishing thing of all was that there, sat in the saddle of his glittering brass, ivory, and crystal machine, was the time traveller himself . “I thought you were off travelling in time!” I gasped. There was no reply from the time traveller. In fact, he remained strangely motionless. "He can’t hear you," explained Mrs Watchett. “But you said he was travelling in time? I said. “He is,” replied Mrs Watchett. "But wha

Pseudo-profundity

Here's something from a new book . Thought it might interest those following the very odd comments (scroll to the end) on my posting an Anselm's argument . Around the globe, audiences sit at the feet of marketing experts, life-style consultants, mystics, cult-leaders and other “gurus” waiting for the next deep and profound insight. Audiences often pay a great deal of money to hear these words of wisdom. So how do these elevated individuals come by their penetrating insights? What is the secret of their profundity? Unfortunately, in some cases, the audience is duped by the dark arts of pseudo-profundity. The art of sounding profound is fairly easily mastered. You too can make deep- and meaningful-sounding pronouncements if you are prepared to follow a few simple rules. First, try stating the incredibly obvious. Only do it v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, with a sort of knowing nod. This works particularly well if your remark has something to do with one of the big themes of life, love, d

What's wrong with gay sex?

Here's a chpt of my book The Philosophy Gym on homosexuality. Mr Jarvis, a Christian, was asleep in bed, dreaming of the Last Judgement. In his dream, Jarvis found himself seated next to God in a great cloud-swept hall. God had just finished handing down judgement on the drunkards, who were slowly shuffling out of the exit to the left. Angels were now ushering a group of nervous-looking men through the entrance to the right. As the men were assembled before Him, God began to speak. God: So who’s next? Ah, yes, the active homosexuals . So tell me, Jarvis, what shall we do with them? Jarvis: You’re going to punish them, aren’t you? God: Why do you say that? Jarvis: Because to engage in homosexual behaviour is wrong, of course. The Appeal to The Bible God gently rubbed his chin and looked quizzically at Jarvis. God. Wrong? Is it wrong? Jarvis: Yes. You say so yourself in The Bible. God: Ah. The Bible. Jarvis: Yes. Look right here. “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with wom

Aquinas on homosexuality

Thought I would try a bit of a draft out on the blog, for feedback. All comments gratefully received. No doubt I've got at least some details wrong re the Catholic Church's position... AQUINAS AND SEXUAL ETHICS Aquinas’s thinking remains hugely influential within the Catholic Church. In particular, his ideas concerning sexual ethics still heavily shape Church teaching. It is on these ideas that we focus here. In particular, I will look at Aquinas’s justification for morally condemning homosexual acts. When homosexuality is judged to be morally wrong, the justification offered is often that homosexuality is, in some sense, “unnatural”. Aquinas develops a sophisticated version of this sort of argument. The roots of the argument lie in thinking of Aristotle, whom Aquinas believes to be scientifically authoritative. Indeed, one of Aquinas’s over-arching aims was to show how Aristotle’s philosophical system is broadly compatible with Christian thought. I begin with a sketch of A

morality and authority

Returning to an earlier theme, here's something from my book The War For Children's Minds on whether it is a good idea to get children, or individuals more generally, to defer to some authority on moral and religious questions. Deferring to authority isn’t always a bad idea. We do it all the time. No doubt you go to a doctor for a medical opinion, to a plumber for expertise on central heating, to a lawyer for legal advice, and so on. It’s pretty reasonable to take the authority’s word for it in these cases. In fact, modern life demands that we trust the expertise of others. The world is now so complex that any one of us can only properly understand how a tiny bit of it works. We can’t all be experts on plumbing, science, the law, car mechanics, psychology, and so on. We have to seek out others upon whose expertise we inevitably have to rely. So what if you go to an authority on some matter, and they give you bad advice? Who’s to blame, then, if things then go awry? Suppose,

Anselm's argument

I promised Richard Symonds something on Anselm's argument, so here it is. This is from a book I am doing so any suggestions for improvements would be gratefully received. Sorry it's a bit long. Anselm’s argument simple and elegant. He begins by characterizing God as a being greater than which cannot be conceived. That God, if he exists, is such a being seems clear. If you conceive of a being, yet can also conceive of a still greater being, then the being you first thought of cannot be God. Armed with this concept of God, we can now argue for God’s existence as follows. We can at least conceive of such a being. That there exists a being greater than which cannot be conceived is at least a hypothesis we can entertain. But, adds Anselm, as it is greater to exist in reality than merely in our imagination, this being must really exist. After all, if he did not exist, then he would not be as great a being as we can conceive. Here is the argument laid out more formally: 1. God is

The appeal to authority

In a comment on my Feb 26th Post, anonymous said: What you write ought... to provide a concise test for those who aspire to be professors of philosophy in this country's universities.If they read it and are unpersuaded then they are lacking in a key ability,to think clearly.At the moment Clark of Liverpool,Cottingham of Reading,Haldane of St Andrews,Trigg of Warwick are professors of philosophy at British universities who I think would call themselves Christian believers.There may well be others.Does the fact that they will all have dealt with the issues you raise in your essay and have come to an entirely different conclusion to you show that they are,unlike you,mentally deficient. Does the fact that some eminent philosophers believe in God show that it is a reasonable, or not unreasonable, thing to believe? Don't they provide good grounds for thinking I'm wrong to suppose belief in God is downright unreasonable? Well, let's remember that there are also many eminen

Problem of evil - "the mystery move"

I recently pointed out that the fact that there's a mystery about why there is anything at all (I'll assume for sake of argument this is a mystery) in no way allows theists off the hook so far as the problem of evil is concerned. To admit ignorance concerning why there is anything at all is not to concede that we can't rationally rule certain explanations out . It seems to me we certainly can rule out the Judeo-Christian God, as traditionally defined. Whoever created the universe, it certainly wasn't him. Mark Vernon defends his agnosticism by saying, in effect, "But sophisticated theists don't say God is all-powerful and all-good. In fact they sensibly don't say anything about him at all . So you haven't shown their "mystery God" doesn't exist, have you?" Here's Vernon: My point is that all images of God must be done away with. So, no: you can’t agree on what a true God is. Again, the great theologians say this: God is alwa

Problem of evil - "atheists face it too"

The problem of evil is a problem if you believe in an all-powerful, all-good God. Actually, there are two problems of evil: 1. The logical problem. Suffering exists. But the existence of any suffering at all is logically inconsistent with that of such a God. Therefore that God does not exist. 2. The evidential problem. The sheer quantity of suffering is powerful evidence against the existence of an all-powerful all-good God. Problem 1 is not much of a problem perhaps. It would do to show that some suffering is the price that logically must be paid for a greater good, e.g. free will. Problem 2 is the BIG problem. Unfortunately, some think that by showing an all-powerful all-good God would put some suffering in the world for a greater good, that deals with problem 2. But of course, it doesn't. What needs explaining is not the existence of some suffering, but the sheer quantity - millions of years of unimaginable animal suffering etc. etc. In his recent blog responding to this

atheism a faith position? - the "mystery" move

One of the thoughts lying behind the often-made claim that “atheism is a faith position” is that there is a great mystery about life, the universe and everything. Why, for example, is there something, rather than nothing? Personally, I haven’t a clue (we'll maybe I have - but let's put that off to another day). Noting this mystery, the theist/agnostic may then argue like this: Either (i) the atheist refuses to recognize this question. But this is just a "faith in science" position - it just assumes the only legitimate questions are questions science can settle. Bang - the scientific atheist's position is a "faith position" too! Or (ii) the atheist admits they haven’t a clue how to answer the question. But once the atheist admits they are in the dark how to answer it, they must admit there’s no more reason to suppose God didn’t create the universe than there is to suppose He did. So you see? Theism and atheism are equally (un)reasonable! Thi