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Showing posts from July, 2007

Stephen Colbert interviews Dinesh D'Souza on why Liberals are to blame for 9/11

Stephen Colbert, interviewing Dinesh D'Souza, a neo-conservative (Colbert will be familiar to U.S. audiences, but not U.K., hence my post). Go here and scroll down the play list to Dinesh (near bottom of list). Explains why liberals are to blame for 9/11. I found it very amusing, anyway... I also recommend Colbert's interview with Elaine Pagels on the Judas gospel (again, scroll down)... Incidentally, Colbert's concept of " truthiness " is particularly philosophically intriguing. Brits may also be unaware of Colbert's famous speech to the White House Correspondent's dinner. Starts a bit lame, but builds....

Condoms, Catholics, and HIV

I have had a chat going on about Catholics, condoms and HIV with onthesideoftheangels, here (scroll down) He defends the Catholic Church's position not to recommend condom use (except in v special medical circumstances), not even in Africa, where, I suspect, they might save millions of lives by blocking the transmission of HIV. Thought it now worth dragging into the main postings. Here's my latest comment: So now let's suppose condoms are 90% effective in preventing infection. That seems an underestimate, in fact. Here's one quote I found: "In a study of discordant couples in Europe, among 123 couples who reported consistent condom use, none of the uninfected partners became infected." Seems condoms are pretty effective in preventing infection when used properly, doesn't it? In which case, were those having sex outside of marriage in Africa to use them, millions of cases of infection could be prevented. That is current medical opinion, isn't

Events in Australia in August

I am in Hong Kong and Australia in August. I am appearing at the Sydney Ideas festival and Melbourne Writers' Festival. If you're in the area, do please come and say "Hi". Details are available here: Melbourne - all events. Melbourne Writers' Festival - schools event. Melbourne Writers' Festival - atheism talk with Phillip Adams and Robyn Williams. - should be fun. Melbourne Writers' Festival - interviewed on War For Children's Minds by Anne Manne. They don't seem very clear what I'll be talking about, but maybe that'll be good.... Sydney Ideas Festival - War For Children's Minds. I'll be talking about faith schools. Because I'll be away, I won't be posting much in August... A big thank you to Routledge, my publisher, and to both Festivals for inviting me. PS. I will be on Phillip Adams' Late Night Live (ABC) on Monday 20th August (10-11pm).

Dawkins' improbability argument

I said I would explain some of my doubts about Dawkins' improbability argument (in The God Delusion , and in the video we are discussing [at 13 mins 45 secs to 14 mins 40secs]). Here goes... Dawkins presents an improbability argument against the existence of God. The idea, I take it, is that the fact that God is supposed to be a conscious, knowing, intelligent designing subject means he is himself very far from being “simple”. He must be terrifically sophisticated and complex, in fact. So, (i) invoking God to explain complex things like eyes, fine-tuning, etc merely replaces one improbable thing by another (overall, improbability is not reduced), so undercutting the justification for invoking him, and (ii) God's being highly improbable, it’s highly unreasonable to believe in him, given the absence of evidence for God. While I, like Dawkins, am not persuaded by intelligent design arguments (and let me stress I am generally in agreement with Dawkins, and in fact am

Rev Sam on evil

I think Rev Sam's post gives an interesting glimpse into his thinking, and the thinking of many theists. I know his thing was not meant to be academically rigorous, but even so I would remind Sam: (i) that the problem of evil he says he "prefers" is the logical problem, not the evidential problem. I am not suprised he prefers that version, as it is much, much easier to deal with. See my entry on Augustine , Sam , for more on this. It's not so hard to explain why God had to put some suffering in the world. The hard thing to do (impossible, I'd say) as show that there is not, and has never been, even one ounce of unecessary suffering. Ever. Sam, we atheists generally use the evidential problem as an argument against belief in God (certainly it's the one I use), so make sure that's the one you discuss, not the much easier logical problem (which I am sure you'd prefer to discuss). (ii) " As I see it the problem of evil is much more about how to

Rev Sam on problem of evil

Rev Sam has kindly allowed me to post a blog post of his for discussion, on the proviso I make clear it's not intended to be academically rigorous. Here it is: As I see it the problem of evil is much more about how to live in the face of suffering, rather than being an intellectual nut to crack. This is the formulation I prefer: P1: God is omniscient P2: God is omnipotent P3: God does not desire suffering P4: There is suffering It is incoherent to assert all of P1 - P4. There are lots of ways in which religious people have responded to the problem, most of which take the form of denying one or more of P1-P4. I have some sympathies with all of those, in other words, I think that all of P1-P4 are complex truths which need to be broken down, and that much of the immediate force of the problem is lessened when they are broken down. But I don't think that this answers the real force behind the question, which I think is much more direct and relevant than most philosophical

Dawkins, problem of evil, "God of Eth"

In The God Delusion , in the bit I've just read, Dawkins suggests that the problem of evil is not a particularly strong objection to religious belief because (i) it works only against the all-powerful, all-good conception of God, and (ii) the theists have developed lots and lots of answers (free-will, character building, plus all the other theodicies) to defend their belief. Dawkins prefers his own argument based on the improbability of God (which he explains in the video we're discussing at 13mins 45 secs to 14 min 40sec) I think Dawkins may have underestimated the power of the problem of evil. Given that the problem of good (see "The God of Eth" link, left) does indeed more or less conclusively establish that there's no all-powerful, all-evil God, why doesn't the problem of evil more or less conclusively establish there's no all-powerful, all-good God? I'd suggest my " God of Eth " challenge sharpens the problem by exposing the rather

Dawkins vs. McGrath - probability

Here's what I think is wrong with McGrath's move (see previous post) in the video at 9mins 15-55secs. He says that whilst God may be highly improbable, the question is: Does God exist? After all, you and I are highly improbable (probability that our parents should meet, that exactly that sperm should fetilize that egg, etc.). Yet we can be rightly confident that we exist, can’t we? The implication is that, whether or not Dawkins is right about God’s probability, we might still be rightly confident of God’s existence. Seems to me McGrath here trades on an ambiguity, that between epistemic and objective improbability. Objective vs epistemic probability Philosophers often distinguish objective and epistemic probability. Objective probability is the probability of X occurring given Y. E.g what’s the probability of a lightening strike hitting just this spot (given the laws of nature plus these initial conditions), or this dice coming up six if we roll it? Epistemic proba

McGrath on God's improbability

At one point in the interview posted below (at 9mins 15secs - 9mins 55secs) McGrath (see, I can spell it correctly) says something like: the issue of God's improbability is not really the issue. The question is, does he exist. After all, our existence is also extremely improbable (what are the odds on my parents meeting, exactly that sperm fertilizing that egg, etc.), yet we know (can be quite sure) we exist. What is going on here? Seems to me there's some sleight of hand going on with the notion of probability. In fact he's muddling objective and epistemic improbability. But what has gone wrong exactly? Comments?

Galileo, Bruno, and the Inquisition - more!

Just put this in a comment to my previous post (read the preceding post before reading this). But it's worth posting properly, I think. Rev Sam points out that Galileo acknowledged there was a lack of proof for the heliocentric model. I reply... Sam - you raise an interesting point, but what is its relevance to the issue here? Are you drawing a conclusion? The issue I am discussing, remember, is: was Galileo indeed hauled before the inquisition for his scientific views (though no doubt his comments on the interpretation of scripture etc. would have provoked ire too)? And was he shown the instruments of torture and imprisoned for life for , among other things, daring to claim the heliocentric model was literally true? The answer is "yes" twice, isn't it? True, G was wrong about some things, and some of his arguments were faulty. And yes he could be less than tactful, and indeed may have lampooned the Pope. Possibly he had bad breath too. Conservative Catholics lo

Galileo, Bruno, and the Inquisition

In The Guardian today, someone wrote a letter suggesting that neither Galileo nor Bruno were dragged before the Inquisition for their scientific views (the author was responding to this ). I wrote a letter responding. See below. Wikipedia is interesting on Bruno (though I don't know how reliable it is generally). Scroll down to " conflicts over his execution ", for example. This document, from the Vatican itself, is unequivocal about Bruno being interrogated about his scientific views. See especially the big penultimate paragraph. There are many Catholic writings seeking to downplay the Galileo affair. Some insist that the Church wanted to censor not Galileo's scientific views, but merely his theological ones. See this example from www.catholiceducation.org. Notice, among other things, the very subtle way in which the scientific dispute is recast as a theological one (and also the way in which key details, such as the Church's earlier command to Galileo not

The improbable universe?

Thought this worth including as main post (previously in the comments on my review of Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing below). Some argue like this: Surely we can know that something exists, yet also know that its existence is highly improbable, improbable enough to demand some sort of explanation? Isn't precisely this true of the existence of the universe? The playing cards Here's a Swinburne-type illustration of the general point. Suppose I am asked to guess each one of 52 cards, one by one. If I ever get one wrong, my brains will be blown out. I start guessing, and amazingly, I get all 52 cards correct. Now you may say, "What's so improbably about that? After all, the probability of you getting them all right is 1, as you wouldn't be here otherwise would you?"
 But of course, there's a sense in which something deeply improbable has happened. So improbable, in fact, that it would be reasonable for me to suspect this result wasn't

Kierkegaard on the Knight of Faith

Here's something I wrote on Kierkegaard from a forthcoming book of mine called "Greatest Philosophers" (Quercus 2008) ABRAHAM: THE KNIGHT OF FAITH An authentic Christian faith Kierkegaard’s book Fear and Trembling is a fascinating, and to my mind rather disturbing, account of what Kierkegaard considers to be authentic Christian faith, as opposed to the watered down “Sunday Christianity” that he thought most of his contemporaries had. Kierkegaard points out that most people who describe themselves as Christians are born into their faith, and that their involvement doesn’t extent much beyond attending church on a Sunday. Danish Christians, thought Kierkegaard, were churned out by the Danish State Church “with the greatest possible uniformity of a factory product”. This, according to Kierkegaard, is not true faith. Nor is the true Christian one who rationally recognizes the truth of religious claims, in the way that many Christian philosophers, including, for example,

Review of Bede Rundle's "Why there is Something rather than Nothing"

Here's a review I was invited to do for the journal Philosophical Review . Bede Rundle, Why there is Something rather than Nothing . Why the universe exists - why, indeed, there is anything at all - is the kind of question that often first piques our philosophical interest. It is a question almost all of us have been struck by at some point or other. Even children ask it. And the answers we supply can have profound, life-changing consequences. And yet, despite being paradigmatically philosophical, the question attracts comparatively little attention from academic philosophers, certainly not from the less theistically-inclined. Rundle brings the question back centre-stage. As Rundle points out, the lay person seeking an answer will typically look either to physics or theology. Yet both disciplines quickly run into trouble. Scientific theories “have something to say only once their subject matter, the physical universe, is supposed in being”(p. 95) while theological answers intro

Via Ferrata

Back from Italy.... If you are interested, we went to Arabba and did these VFs: Trincee 4C (with me, pictured, aping the image below) Cesare Piazzeta 5C Tomaselli 5C Colac 4C Tridentina 3C Plus two or three shorter ones. Eterna Brigata 5C is currently shut for maintenance, BTW.