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Showing posts from May, 2008

Problem of evil - Rev Sam

The Reverend Sam finds the following response to the problem of evil rather compelling: "Simply said, there is no more liberating knowledge given us by the gospel — and none in which we should find more comfort — than the knowledge that suffering and death, considered in themselves, have no ultimate meaning at all." In other words, as I put it, the problem of suffering is not as important as we might think it to be, and when Christian theologians treat this problem as something that calls into question the existence of God, they are giving it more importance than it deserves." Sam adds: "I think that this touches on the radically different foundational assumptions that people bring to the discussion, so it might be worth spending a bit more time on it. Not that I have any expectation of either side convincing the other, but it might help clarify the differences." Let's discuss. My opening question. Is the idea that, if we start with the foundational ass

You can now see online the SBS Insight TV programme on faith schools

Just recorded the SBS TV show Insight , debating faith schools in Australia. Was very interesting - especially the first clip in which a Christian school presents Young Earth Creationism (6 thousand year old universe) in science class as a scientific theory worthy of respect and serious consideration. I did my best to clarify that I was not attacking all religious schools, merely questioning the kind of teaching that goes on in some. Not sure if that came across sufficiently clearly. If you see the programme, let me know what you think... Shows 27th, 7.30pm Sydney time. You can see it now here: My first reaction is - Christ I look ill (I've got a bug). Plus my hair's still wet from the rain! Vanity.

Lenin - the mighty fallen

While in Romania, we went out to the countryside and looked round a palace. And there, tucked away behind a wall, we found Lenin. The statue used to stand outside the Ministry in charge of the press. The other statue is a communist Romanian whose name I forget.These things were big. Took some effort to climb up on Lenin's chest. That's me as a shadow by Lenin's shoulder, and Prof. Paul Kurtz of CFI close up. Click photos to enlarge.

Religious schools and critical thinking

Half a century ago, most faith schools offered a pretty rigid form of religious education in which dissent, independent critical thought, etc. from pupils was certainly not encouraged, and was in fact usually suppressed in one way or another. Fashions change. Nowadays, the tendency is to say that of course children should be encouraged to think and question, even when it comes to religion (though this may well immediately be qualified by "But not too early or too much!"). I think many religious schools are in something of a quandry on this point. On the one hand, they want to pay at least lip service to the idea that children should be raised to be autonomous critical thinkers; on the other hand, there's a suspicion that this might erode the faith, and perhaps also lead children into immorality, etc. My view is that we certainly should raise children to be very robust critical thinkers even about morality and religion. It's easy to pay lip service to the idea of fr

Problem of evil - Burmese cyclone piece

The Rev Sam has forwarded me a link to a piece on the problem of evil/suffering. Worth a read... here . What is the author's point ? Seems to be that belief in God provides hope in the face of such horror. But this is irrelevant to the objection raised by the problem of evil - that such horror is surely extremely good evidence against the existence of such a God. It's like saying: "But believing in Santa provides these starving orphan children with hope" after those children realize that there's overwhelming evidence there's no Santa. How does that deal with the evidence? It doesn't. But I may have misunderstood.

Blair's "meritocracy"

Tony Blair claimed to want to create a genuinely meritocratic society in which those who rise to the top do so because of talent and ability rather than a privileged background. As Blair put it, “New Labour’s big idea is the development of human potential, the belief that there is talent and ability and caring in each individual that often lies unnurtured or discouraged.” Blair desires a “just and fair society where life’s chances are given to all”. There’s no doubt in my mind that Blair is right about that untapped potential. I used to be a postman, working on the sorting office floor for four years. Then my life chances changed and I ended up an academic teaching and researching at a number of Oxford colleges. I have taught philosophy to Etonians and foreign royals. I’ve run admissions interviews there too, so I know how the system works. I believe the children of the upper middle classes have no more native wit and intelligence than the rest. Most of us left-leaning middle-clas

Australia: SBS TV Insight programme

I'll be live on Australian TV SBS, 7.30pm Sydney time on Monday 26th May - Insight programme. They are making a show about faith schools. It's a forum/discussion type programme. I shall be contributing via satellite link. CORRECTION: It's Tuesday 27th, not Monday 26th (thanks to Nigel).

Talk on moral and religious education

My final talk in Romania has been posted on you tube, I've just discovered. In segments: – ep. 1 – ep. 2 – ep. 3 – ep. 4 – ep. 5 – ep. 6

Why is there anything at all?

Sally and Mike N commented on previous post about the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" As Mike suggests, it is a very popular recruiting device among theists. It puts atheists on the defensive: "Well, we theists can explain why the universe exists - so what's your explanation, then?" The atheist must admit they have not got one, which makes their position look weak. At the very least, the theist may think that, by getting the atheist to admit they don't know the answer, the atheist is, in effect, admitting that, for all they know, God might be the answer. Theism and atheism end up on an equal footing, rationally speaking. But of course, the Judeo-Christian explanation is just one among countless answers that might be offered. Why the Judeo-Christian God rather than, say, an evil God or a morally neutral God? Or countless other explanations. Actually, the question: "Why is there something rather than nothing?" may well not ma

"God", or merely "some intelligence"?

Author@ptbooks has been defending a form of creationism, and also arguing for the existence of God. I pointed out that the arguments for authors specific God are weak, and that the problem of evil provides seemingly overwhelming evidence against the existence of any such being. Author's response has been to say that that are "too busy" to discuss the issue of whether God is good or not, and that they are merely defending belief in God, not his goodness. But this seems highly evasive to me. Surely it is now misleading for author to continue to use the term "God" here, as, for most people, "God" means something far more specific - a personal God who is supremely benevolent and powerful, among other things. Indeed, author's arguments from design really only support, at best, the hypothesis that there is some intelligence behind the universe. This intelligence may not even be divine (for example, perhaps this universe is the virtual, Matrix-like

On demonizing religion

Following on from my post on Romania, I want to add that, as a matter of fact, I met only one Orthodox priest while I was there, and he was a lovely chap for whom I've the greatest respect. We stopped off at an Orthodox Church which we spotted to take a look. There turned out to be a funeral in progress, with an open casket in the back of the hearse and the priest doing his thing. Straight after, he beckoned us over and was extremely welcoming, giving us a very informative tour of his church, of which he was rightly proud (it all had to be translated via our taxi driver and host). So let me clarify - I am not attacking religious people per se, many of whom are wonderful. Nor am I really attacking the institution of religion much (though I do argue against religious belief on the grounds that it is false, and, in some forms, dangerous). Fact is, religions aren't all bad. Indeed, I wouldn't like to say they are more bad than good (as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins do, for

Letter from Romania

I'm currently in Romania, guests of some fabulous people. I am also doing some talks with Paul Kurtz and Norm Allen for CFI . Religion in Romania: some interesting facts: Only 0.2% of the population claim to be atheists. The main church is the national Orthodox Church, which gets to teach religion to all kids in state schools, unless their parents pull them out. They are teaching creationism. The church has great political influence. As a result evolution has been pulled from the curriculum, as has any philosophy of religion in which religion is critically examined. Only 14% of 10-18 year olds believe the theory of evolution. I spoke to a young woman today who says that because she is an atheist, her academic boss victimizes her and is destroying her career. And this sort of bullying and victimization, she tells me, is not at all unusual. Our CFI sponsored discussion/conference of secularism today was, to the organizer's knowledge, the first ever in Romania. All the press were