Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from September, 2009

Review of Karen Armstrong’s The Case For God

Armstrong’s latest book offers a defence of religious belief against recent attacks by those she terms “the new atheists” – Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, et al. These critics, she maintains, have fundamentally misunderstood what religion is, and what “God” means. “God”, says Armstrong, is “a symbol of indescribable transcendence”, “pointing beyond itself to an ineffable reality” (307). This reality should not be thought of as a thing or person. We must not anthropomorphize God or make of him and idol, in the way the religious fundamentalists and literalists do. They too have misunderstood the meaning of the term. Rather, says Armstrong, “God” is a symbol pointing us in the direction of something essentially unknowable, and certainly unknowable in a rational, intellectual way. Armstrong is an apophaticist, insisting that “the ultimate cannot be adequately expressed in any theoretical system, however august, because it lies beyond the reach of words and concepts”. This

Life is short

I am having a work meltdown what with beginning of term and impending book deadline. There will be more of the book up for comment shortly. In the meantime here is a short video that I think should be shown to every teenager in the land (without the XBox plugs). As a matter of fact, the ad was banned. I am not sure why. Incidentally, I cannot think of a worse ad for computer games. Life's short, so I should go and sod about on a computer console for a few hours? POSTSCRIPT. Here is why it was banned. Actually I am not sure it should have been banned. I am not sure the reasons given are good reasons, or even the real reasons people complained. My guess is, this very short film manages to present a rather horrific aspect of the human condition in a way that many people would prefer not to have to think about. I am not sure they have a right to be protected from having to think about it.

Debate with Alister McGrath

SPES/CFIUK PRESENT DEBATE: DOES THE NATURAL WORLD POINT TO GOD? Speakers: Alister McGrath, author of The Dawkins Delusion, Dawkins’ God, and A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest For God In Science And Theology. Stephen Law, CFI UK Provost. Philosopher, author of The Philosophy Gym, editor of THINK. Thursday October 29th. 7pm. Venue: Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, Holborn, London WC1R 4RL – Main Hall. £5 on the door. Free to Friends of CFI UK, PLUS GLHA, SPES, BHA, NEW HUMANIST SUBSCRIBERS. To book go to www.cfiuk.org and hit button "support cfiuk" and follow instructions. Credit and debit cards welcome. Alternatively send a cheque payable to ‘Center for Inquiry London” to: Executive Director Suresh Lalvani, Center for Inquiry London, PO Box 49097 Centre for Inquiry London N11 9AX, and include names of those coming, phone number, return address, etc.

A popular anti-humanist argument

[bit of upcomoing OUP Humanism book - for comment] Religious people sometimes present humanists with a challenge. Religion, they say, provides answers to some profound questions about the nature of morality and how knowledge of moral truths is possible. Where did morality come from? From God! How can we know what’s morally right and wrong? By turning to religion! Indeed, many religious people offer these answers as certainties. But what, then, is the humanist’s answer to these questions? If no answer is forthcoming, many religionists conclude that this is an excellent reason for preferring their own religious position over humanism. But this is poor reasoning. True, there are several thorny philosophical puzzles about both the nature of morality and how moral knowledge is possible. However, on closer examination, appeals to God and religion do not provide satisfactory answers to these questions. Indeed, the religious solutions on offer typically provide little more than a conveni

The apophatic theologian - again

REVISED VERSION - in lght of your helpful comments, thanks. Some theists will be unmoved by the kinds of argument discussed in this and the previous chapter. They may say something like this: “The god that you don’t believe in, I don’t believe in either! You are working with an outdated and unsophisticated conception of God. My understanding of God is different. When you say, “There is no such thing as God” I agree with you! For God is not a thing or entity that can be said to exist or not exist. Nor can God be categorized as belonging to this kind of thing or that kind of thing. I define God as something wholly other, something ineffable, unknowable, beyond our understanding. I cannot say what God is, only what he is not.” The view that God is unknowable is sometimes termed apophaticism. The apophatic view has its attractions, perhaps the most obvious being that, if you never actually make any positive claim about God, you can never be contradicted or proved wrong. Indeed, at fir

The apophatic theologian

[Bit of draft book for comment.] Some theists will be unmoved by the kinds of argument discussed in this and the previous chapter. They may say something like this: “The god that you don’t believe in, I don’t believe in either! You are working with a very outdated and unsophisticated conception of god. My understanding of God is very different. When you say, “There is no such thing as God” I agree! God is not a thing or entity that can be said to exist. Nor can God be categorized as belonging to this kind of thing or that kind of thing. I define God as something wholly other, something necessarily unknowable, beyond our understanding. I cannot say what God is, only what he is not.” The view that God is necessarily unknowable is sometimes termed apophaticism. The apophatic view has its attractions, perhaps the most obvious being that, if you never actually make any positive claim about God, you can never be contradicted or proved wrong. Indeed, at first sight, apophaticism appears t

Linkoping

Many thanks for the comments on draft. Will put up another shortly. I am in Stockholm from tomorrow till Friday, and speaking at Linkoping University Wednesday (a seminar and a public lecture, both on moral and religious education based on my book "The War For Children's Minds"). Link here .

Natural selection

Comments invited on this first draft of bit of the humanism book. It would be easy to get some detail about the science wrong. Please offer corrections or suggestions, however minor... Another popular argument for the existence of God is the teleological argument or argument from design. Arguments from design begin with the observation that the natural world, or items within it, appears to have certain remarkable features – such as order and purpose - and conclude that God is the only, or at least the best available, explanation of those features. Perhaps the best-known argument from design is that presented by William Paley in his Natural Theology, published in 1802. Paley argues that, were one to find a complex object such as a watch lying on the ground, it would be unreasonable to suppose that the watch came to exist by chance, or that it had always existed in that form. Given the clear purpose of the watch – to tell the time - and its highly complex construction geared to fulfil

Does the concept of an intelligent designer make sense?

Human beings explain features of the world around them in two main ways. One way is to supply naturalistic explanations that appeal to features of the natural world, such as natural events, forces and laws. The explanations of physics and chemistry fall into this category. The other way is to offer intentional explanations – explanations that appeal to the beliefs and desires of more or less rational agents. Why is there a tree in this spot? Because Ted wanted to see a tree from his bedroom window, and so planted a sapling here correctly supposing it would grow into a handsome tree. When we are unable to explain something naturalistically, it is, of course, tempting to look for an intentional explanation instead. When we could not offer naturalistic explanations for why the heavenly bodies moved about as they did, we supposed that they must be, or must be moved by, agents - gods of some sort. When we could not otherwise explain diseases and natural disasters, we put them down to the a