Friday, February 27, 2009

Presuppositionalism

The presuppositional apologetics of Sye's Sinner Ministries kept us busy for ages on this blog. Paul C. drew my attention to this very clear treatment of presuppositionalism from the philosopher Gene Witmer. It's good.

I am also reading Greg Bahnsen's book "Always Ready" (Greg being a [now deceased] presuppositionalist Sye knew and clearly admires).

What's interesting, reading this other stuff, is that while Sye clearly uses a lot of standard presuppositional stuff, some of his moves are novel. Here is an illustration:

Sye asks "What's your account of logic, etc.?"
Me "You mean, what makes the laws of logic hold? Well, I 'm not sure. But here are three answers I quite like." [I present them - one is Quinean and one Wittgensteinian. At least two explain why the laws of logic may not even require an "explanation" or "underpinning".)
Sye "But what's your account! You must have one! I am not going to deal with positions you don't even hold."
Me "But I am not committed to one."
Sye "Ah! So your world view cannot account for logic!"
Me "No. It may be one of these answers is correct. Or perhaps some other non-Christian view is. I am just not sure, that's all. But you say you have an argument that no non-Christian account can possibly be correct. What is it?"
Sye: "But what's your account of logic?"

And round and round we go. These moves are pure Sye, I think - all his own handiwork.


By the way, my own version of presuppositionalism is available here. It's fun using some of Sye's own "moves" against him.

Incidentally, there is one move open to presuppositionalists that Witmer does not deal with, which we might discuss. As Witmer says, it's open to an atheist to say, "Hey the laws of logic, moral principles, etc are just "brute" - they are basic features of reality not further explicable. They constitute our presuppositions. As we atheists are allowed to have presuppositions too, what's the problem with our world view? Where is the internal contradiction?"

I did point this out to Sye fairly early on, in fact (back in July/August).

Anyway, a presuppositionalist could reply:

"But what about simplicity? The God hypothesis is highly economical - on my world view, one single, simple thing accounts for logic, morality etc. etc. But on your world view, you need a whole load of different presuppositions to account for these different things. As your world view values simplicity, so it does at least contain an internal tension (you favour simplicity, yet your world view ends up being complex, requiring also sorts of things to be presupposed, rather than just one thing) - your own commitment to simplicity gives you reason to favour my world view over your own!"

I have my own ideas about how to deal with this move, but put it up for debate....

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Public Favours Religious Values

This piece on BBC website is interesting.

A BBC poll suggests that most people want religion and the values derived from it to play an important role in British public life.
Of 1,045 people questioned by ComRes, 62% were in favour.
Meanwhile, 63% of those questioned agreed that laws should respect and be influenced by the UK's traditional religious values.


Thanks to anticant for drawing my attention to it.

Jade: My Amazing New Hope For Life


...is the headline of today's Daily Star. Non-Brits may not know that Jade Goody is a celeberity known for her appearances on Big Brother. She became notorious second time round for calling an Asian actress called Shilpa Shetty "Shilpa Popadom" - which resulted in her being branded a racist chav. Jade is certainly pretty poorly educated.

Anyway, Jade, now 27, was then diagnosed with cancer, and then terminal cancer. She has two young boys, and got married this weekend to her partner Jack. Her imminent early death is a tragedy, and it's being covered in pretty much every newspaper (orchestrated by PR guru Max Clifford).

Today, The Daily Star reports:

"Jade Goody is having secret healing sessions in a final bid to beat the cancer that is overwhelming her body - with amazing results, she revealed last night."

"...her condition took an immediate positive turn after the the first session with a mystery New Age 'healing hands' spiritualist. And his actions had such a profound effect medics are talking up the prospects of restarting chemotherapy to stop her cancer spreading."

"Jade also talked about embracing religion, saying 'I'm still reading my Bible. I take a lot of comfort from it, which is why I decided to get the boys Christened. I want them to know I'll be in heaven watching over them."


I wonder how much of this story has been invented (the bit about medics, I'm guessing)? Perhaps Jade is using the healer to reduce pain, but the spin put on the story ("new hope for life", "beat the cnacer", "little miracle", etc.) is - she's hoping for a miracle cure.

News here.

Baggini on Hume (II)

Julian Baggini's second post on Hume is up at the Guardian.
Julian explain's Hume's position on miracles. But we don't get, yet, to Julian's defence of his view that:

The most pressing and telling critiques of religion not only cannot, but should not, attempt to deliver any fatal blows...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Dorset Humanists tomorrow

Speaking tomorrow (Sat 19th) at a Dorset Humanist group event. Go here.

Where: Moordown Community Centre, Coronation Avenue, Moordown, Bournemouth, BH9 1TW
When: Saturday, 21 February 2009, 1.30pm (for 2pm) to 3.30pm

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Baggini on Hume

There's a Guardian series of posts from Julian Baggini on Hume on religion. In the first, Julian says:

The most pressing and telling critiques of religion not only cannot, but should not, attempt to deliver any fatal blows...


Cannot? Should not?

Julian does not explain why he makes these claims in the first post. Looking forward to hearing his arguments, though, which I'll certainly be discussing - and, I anticipate, criticising - here.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

International Conference in Gothenburg/Sweden - Why is Secularism Essential?

8 March 2009

Why is Secularism essential?

Organization for Women's Liberation is organizing a one day conference in commemoration of 8 March, International women's day on the impact of religion on the situation and status of women. Why is secularism essential? In this conference veteran women's right activists and scholars are coming together to analyze the devastating effects of rise of religious movements and religion's influence in the running of state in many countries on the situation of women: the effect of catholic church, orthodox church, Judaism and political Islam will be discussed.

We are pleased to announce that following organisations have supported our conference:

Centre for Inquiry

European Feminist Initiative

International Network against Honour Crimes

Women for Peace (Sweden)



Guest speakers so far confirmed:



Homa Arjomand; coordinator of No Sharia Campaign; Canada/Iran

Soad Baba Aissa; European Feminist Initiative; France/Algeria

Imma Barbarossa; Partito della Rifondazione Communista, Italy

Julie Bindle Journalist; a founder of feminist law reform NGO Justice for Women, and of the Feminist Coalition against Prostitution; England

Malene Busk; women's right activist, Center for Inquiry; Denmark

Buthina Canaan Khoury; Film maker; Palestine

Beth Ciesielski; Centre for Inquiry, Rumania/USA

Hugo Esterla; Centre for Inquiry, Italy/Argentina

Caroline Fourest; writer; columnist, activist and a Member of Libre Pense; France

Maria Hagberg; MD in social work and chair of Network against Honour Crimes; Sweden

Lilian Halls French; sociologist, President of the European Feminist Initiative; France

Boriana Jonsson; Member of the Coordinating Committee of European Feminist Initiative, Bulgaria/Sweden

Parvin Kaboli; coordinator of White Carnation; Sweden/Iran

Khanum R. Lateef, manager Asuda women's center Suleimania; Iraq/Kurdistan

Azar Majedi; President of OWL, writer; England/Iran

Azza Kamel Mohamed Abdel Meguid, Appropriate Communication Techniques for Development, ACT, Egypt

Lia Nadaraia; President Feminist Club, Georgia

Layla Naffa Hamarneh; Director of Projects Arab Women Organisation of Jordan

Karim N. Noori; Mäns nätverk mot hedersförtryck, Sweden/Iran

Frances Raday: Chair, Israeli Association for Freedom of Science, Religion and Culture; Israel

Nina Sankari; Polish Rationalist Organisation and EFI Poland

Sabine Salmon; President of Femmes Solidaires; France

Lisa Sorush; women's right activist; Afghanistan

Susana Tampieri; writer, women's right activist, Argentina

Nawal Yazeji, researcher and activist on women issues, Syria



Moderator: Maryam Kousha; editor of Women's Liberation,



We invite all concerned feminists, secularists and human right activists to participate in these events. We need to demonstrate a show of secularist force against religious inroads in the society.



Date: 7 March 2009



Venue: Folkets Hus Göteborg
Olof Palmes Plats

Järntorget



Admission: 100 SKr or 10 Euros



Details of the events will be published as soon as they become available.

For more information or to register please write to:

Majedi.azar@gmail.com;

Phone:

Azar Majedi:+44 (0)7886973423

Shahla Nouri: +46(0)737262622

Medusahuset Göteborg

wlmedusahuset@gmail.com

maria.hagberg@minheder.nu

Or visit our website: www.womensliberation.net/

Friday, February 13, 2009

School defends stance on girl who told classmate she would "go to hell"

Interesting article in Ekklesia. It's hard to comment, though, without more information.

[pasted in below]

The head teacher of a Devon school has defended its actions in relation to the mother of a young child who upset a classmate by telling her that she would "go to hell" if she did not believe in God and Jesus.

Gary Read, head teacher of Landscore Primary School, Threshers, in Credition, says he spoke "respectfully" to parent Jennie Cain - also the school receptionist - after her daughter had made the remark, and after the child herself was told it was inappropriate.

Mrs Cain, who says her five-year-old's religious beliefs are "not being respected" is being backed by Christian campaigners who say that this is another case of "persecution" against Christians.

But the school strongly denies this. Its governors are also challenging Mrs Cain over remarks she made about it's handling of the issue in an email sent to friends, which has been forwarded to them.

Mrs Cain has not been suspended or disciplined, but she did not go into school yesterday after the publicity.

Mr Read, the headteacher, explained: "We have 271 children in our school from a diversity of backgrounds... We encourage children to discuss their beliefs. What we do not condone is one child frightening a six-year-old with the prospect of 'going to hell' if she does not believe in God."

He added: "“We are a very, very open school and are in no way intimidating people. Unfortunately the context of the conversation between the two girls had a religious nature, but it could have been over any issue. When one pupil is upset by another and is crying, we take action.

“In absolutely no way are we trying to suppress discussion or make it difficult for pupils to discuss or express faith. The school has had a lot of support from teachers and parents.”

Many media reports of the incident have so far downplayed the question of offence and fright, concentrating on allegations that the school told off the child for "talking about God" - the headline in the Exeter Express and Echo this morning.

The Telegraph reported the incident yesterday but made no reference to the "going to hell" remark. The exact wording of the conversation is now being disputed.

Archbishop of York John Sentamu has weighed into the dispute in support of the parent. And MP Ann Widdicombe, a convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism, has referred to the schools's actions as "Christianophobia".

But Simon Barrow of the religion and society thinktank Ekklesia commented: "Before shouting 'persecution' Christians need to reflect much more seriously on how they would feel if their children received similar treatment by non-believers or those of other faiths, and the school tolerated it.

"The issue here seems to be that one young child frightened another. It is surely right that behaviour of this kind is respectfully challenged. I am sure the great majority of Christian parents will want to encourage children to speak with love and respect, rather than condemnation, towards others."


Notice how the Telegraph's report omits one crucial detail - that the schools objection was not to a child talking to another about God and Jesus, but to one child scaring another to tears with threats of eternal damnation - thereby putting a very different spin on the story.

George Pitcher in The Telegraph backs Cain here. Note how Pitcher also misses (i) the key fact that the issue was a child being frightened to tears, (ii) that the school's inquiry into possible misconduct has nothing to with Cain (the school receptionist) emailing other parents "for prayers", but because she may have deliberately misrepresented to other parents what actually occurred.

The omission of these details from its initial report suggests the Telegraph author is either guilty of sloppy journalism, or else is deliberately seeking to spin this story into a case of "Christians being persecuted". Ekklesia's Christians, as usual, give a much more balanced account.

The Archbishop of York picked up on the story as the Telegraph reports today. This report does include the school's side of the story, finally.

Paul Bettany interview about playing Darwin


Paul Bettany is interviewed about playing Darwin in the upcoming film "Creation". The podcast is here, from Nature.

There's a transcript here at The Guardian.

Nigel Warburton's weblog on free speech

Well worth a look: go here. There's a podcast, lots of free speech links, etc.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

An odd thought

Here is a website I just stumbled across. It sets out, in a few paragraphs, exactly what many millions of Evangelical Christians believe. Many of them are smart. Many are at least reasonably well-educated. Yet what they believe is, in truth, at least as insane as any of the beliefs you are likely to find down your local mental asylum.

How are such utterly ridiculous beliefs able to install themselves so successfully in the heads of so many smart, educated people?

Consider just how potent the mechanisms involved must be!

Surely we should all acknowledge religion has this extraordinary power, and, once we've properly acknowledged it, shouldn't every religious person then be asking themselves: "Isn't it entirely possible that I too believe some pretty nutty things, and that the reason I struggle to recognize that they are nutty is that these same mechanisms are operating on me?"

Or do you find this thought is one your mind seems strangely unwilling to entertain for very long?

POSTSCRIPT: I imagine many religious folk will respond: "But many atheists believe in the powers of psychics and astrologers to foretell the future, etc. Which is also ridiculous." Which is true. But does it undermine the moral I'm drawing above?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Please join Centre for Inquiry at Meetup.com


Centre for Inquiry UK now has a Meet Up site.

Please join!

You'll get advance notice of events, socials, and be put in contact with like-minded people, etc. How can you refuse?! Go here.

Also, check out our increasingly glamorous website here: www.cfiuk.org.

What is a cult?


I previously provided advice to "aspiring cultists" - pointing out a bullshitter's technique commonly employed by religious folk.

But what is a cult? And how does it differ from a mainstream religion?

Clearly the term has a negative connotation - there's something sinister about cults.

Trouble is, when we try and identify what is sinister about them (there's a family of or cluster of characteristics - see cult checklist), we find many mainstream religions also qualify.

This leads some to reject the use of the term "cult" as obviously there is nothing objectionable or sinister about mainstream religion (heaven forbid!). Here for example, is a bit from wiki on "cults":

According to professor Timothy Miller from the University of Kansas in his 2003 Religious Movements in the United States, during the controversies over the new religious groups in the 1960s, the term "cult" came to mean something sinister, generally used to describe a movement at least potentially destructive to its members or to society. But he argues that no one yet has been able to define a "cult" in a way that enables the term to identify only problematic groups. Miller asserts that the attributes of groups often referred to as cults (see cult checklist), as defined by cult opponents, can be found in groups that few would consider cultist, such as Catholic religious orders or many evangelical Protestant churches. Miller argues:

"If the term does not enable us to distinguish between a pathological group and a legitimate one, then it has no real value. It is the religious equivalent of the racial term for African Americans—it conveys disdain and prejudice without having any valuable content."[30]


Stephen adds: Check out various cult checklists here. Notice that most of these lists do indeed make many mainstream religions come out as cults. One notable exception is that most mainstream religions rarely now encourage you to spurn friends and family, whereas some (but by no means all) cults do. But perhaps that's because, within these faiths, your friends and family are likely to be members of the same broad cult (or at least be not unsympathetic to it). Notice that C.S. Lewis suggested Christians spurn non-religious friends (in the Screwtape Letters) and Jesus himself instructed his followers to abandon their families to follow him.

Sye's brand of Christianity, by the way, very strongly checks many of the boxes for being a "cult". Even if we don't want to say that all brands of religion are cult-like (there's a sliding scale, I'd suggest, with different belief systems being more or less cult-like), Sye's brand is certainly pretty cult-like. Fundamentalist Islam also checks pretty much all the boxes very strongly indeed (i.e. even the spurning non-believers - even if friends or family - bit).

Image: David Koresh.

Perhaps some cults are innocuous.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

GOD IN THE LAB, Sat. 21st March - book now


Title: God in the Lab
Location: Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R

Description: A day with some of the World's leading scientific researchers into faith, many from Oxford University. We'll be looking at hearing voices, possession, etc. What goes on the brain of someone hearing voices? Come and see the MRI scans. Is religious belief hard-wired into us? Yes, says one of our scientists, and provides the empirical evidence. One of our speakers was recently featured in NEW SCIENTIST magazine: Born believers: How your brain creates God.

A unique opportunity to hear and question those working at the cutting edge of this growing field of scientific research. Presented by CFI London and the Ethical Society.

To book, send a cheque payable to “Centre for Inquiry London” to: Executive Director Suresh Lalvani, Centre for Inquiry London, at the above address (Include names of all those coming). Alternatively pay by PAYPAL. Use the “Support CFI UK” button at www.cfiuk.org and follow the instructions. £10 or £5 concessions.
Start Time: 10:30 (for 11.00)
Date: 2009-03-21
End Time: 16:00

Snow


Took this on Christchurch Meadow, Oxford, last week. This and my other black and white 35mm film photos on www.flickr.com.

Monday, February 9, 2009

How to bullshit: The way of questions

More advice for aspiring cultists.

Oh dear, someone has just made a very telling objection to one of your cult's core beliefs. How do you respond? Why not use that time-honoured bullshitter’s technique: the way of questions. First, suggest your critic is being crude and unsubtle in his or her thinking. Then ask them a rather vague question that is only tenuously related to their objection (but make sure it contains some of the same key words as the objection, so it seems like it could be relevant).

For example, if they point out there’s way too much evil in the world for it to be the creation of your all-good–and-powerful God (key word: "evil"), ask them, in a serious tone: “But how do we deal with evil, then?” Notice that because you are asking a question, you do not commit yourself to anything at all.

Your opponent is now stuck having to answer your vague and thorny question (which is of course pretty much irrelevant to the issue at hand), a question they’ll probably struggle with. So, if they try to answer it, they look weak. If they refuse to answer it, they look evasive. And your suggestion that their position is not as “nuanced” as yours will further suggest to your audience that you were aware of these difficulties, whereas your opponent seems not even to have considered them.

Your opponent will also be baffled as to where you're going with this question, and how exactly you think it relevant, and their hesitation and puzzled look will help further to create in the minds of your devotees the impression that your opponent is the one in trouble in the debate, not you.

Even if your opponent manages to deal successfully with your question, you can just ask another, and another, tying them up in knots, leaving your audience with the impression that you have won.

The truth, of course, is that YOU never dealt with THEIR devastating objection. But the chances are, no one will notice this, or even remember what your opponent's objection was, after a few minutes of “the way of questions”!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Tickets Now On Sale! CFU UK's Oxford Literary Festival events

SERIES OF EVENTS IN APRIL IN OXFORD. CFI UK has three high-profile events lined up in conjunction with the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival:

1. Is Britain Too Secular Now? A discussion between philosopher Professor Roger Trigg (Oxford University Ian Ramsey Centre), author of Religion in Public Life, and Stephen Law, author of The War For Children’s Minds. Great Hall, Christ Church College, Oxford. 2pm, Friday 3rd April.

2. Ian Rowland on Mind Power. Ian, a skeptic and professional magician well known to CFI, will be presenting a very entertaining session on behalf of CFI UK. Christ Church College, Oxford. 12pm Friday 3rd April.

3. KID'S EVENT: Weird Science for kids. An event for children aged 12+ that aims to foster a critical attitude towards paranormal and other wacky claims. With Stephen Law and Ian Rowland. Christ Church College, Oxford. 6pm, Sat 4th April.

Go here for the website. Hit relevant day on left sidebar and then scroll down to the right time. There is a button to book tickets.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

My son the radical atheist

This chap at Atheist Tuesday says some flattering things about me...

No I am not working on a book explain why Pokemon is rubbish, I'm afraid.

Israeli Philosopher: "There is no logic to comparing...the number of Israelis killed by Qassam rockets to the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza."

The philosopher who gave the IDF moral justification in Gaza

By Amos Harel

Source: Haaretz.

When senior Israel Defense Forces officers are asked about the killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians during the fighting in the Gaza Strip, they almost all give the same answer: The use of massive force was designed to protect the lives of the soldiers, and when faced with a choice between protecting the lives of Israeli soldiers and those of enemy civilians under whose protection the Hamas terrorists are operating, the soldiers take precedence.

The IDF's response to criticism does not sound improvised or argumentative. The army entered Gaza with the capacity to gauge with relatively high certainty the impact of fighting against terror in such a densely populated area. And it operated there not only with the backing of the legal opinion of the office of the Military Advocate General, but also on the basis of ethical theory, developed several years ago, that justifes its actions.

Prof. Asa Kasher of Tel Aviv University, an Israel Prize laureate in philosophy, is the philosopher who told the IDF that it was possible. In a recent interview with Haaretz Kasher said the army operated in accordance with a code of conduct developed about five years ago for fighting terrorism.

"The norms followed by the commanders in Gaza were generally appropriate," Kasher said. In Kasher's opinion there is no justification for endangering the lives of soldiers to avoid the killing of civilians who live in the vicinity of terrorists. According to Kasher, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi "has been very familiar with our principles from the time the first document was drafted in 2003 to the present."

Kasher's argument is that in an area such as the Gaza Strip in which the IDF does not have effective control the overriding principle guiding the commanders is achieving their military objectives. Next in priority is protecting soldiers' lives, followed by avoiding injury to enemy civilians. In areas where Israel does have effective control, such as East Jerusalem, there is no justification for targeted killings in which civilians are also hit because Israel has the option of using routine policing procedures, such as arrests, that do not endanger innocent people.

Prof. Kasher has strong, long-standing ties with the army. He drafted the IDF ethical code of conduct in the mid-1990's. In 2003 he and Maj. Gen Amos Yadlin, now the head of Military Intelligence, published an article entitled "The Ethical Fight Against Terror." It justified the targeted assassination of terrorists, even at the price of hitting nearby Palestinian civilians. Subsequently Kasher, Yadlin, and a team that included IDF legal experts wrote a more comprehensive document on military ethics in fighting terror. Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon, who was the IDF Chief of Staff at the time, did not make the document binding but Kasher says the ideas in the document were adopted in principle by Ya'alon and his successors. Kasher has presented them to IDF and Shin Bet security service personnel dozens of times.

"The article was translated into English and published in a military ethics journal and is still being debated around the world," Kasher said. "The feedback is generally positive, although the message is difficult to digest. In the end, everyone acknowledges that they conduct themselves this way. There is no army in the world that will endanger its soldiers in order to avoid hitting the neighbors of an enemy or terrorist. The media don't understand the nature of international law. It's not like tough traffic laws. Much of it is customary law. The decisive question is how enlightened countries conduct themselves. We in Israel are in a key position in the development of law in this field because we are on the front lines in the fight against terrorism. This is gradually being recognized both in the Israeli legal system and abroad. After the debate before the High Court of Justice on the issue of targeted killings there was no need to revise the document that Yadlin and I drafted even by one comma. What we are doing is becoming the law. These are concepts that are not purely legal, but also contain strong ethical elements.

"The Geneva Conventions are based on hundreds of years of tradition of the fair rules of combat. They were appropriate for classic warfare, where one army fought another. But in our time the whole business of rules of fair combat has been pushed aside. There are international efforts underway to revise the rules to accommodate the war against terrorism. According to the new provisions, there is still a distinction between who can and cannot be hit, but not in the blatant approach which existed in the past. The concept of proportionality has also changed. There is no logic in comparing the number of civilians and armed fighters killed on the Palestinian side, or comparing the number of Israelis killed by Qassam rockets to the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza."

When asked whether the IDF should be guided in its operations in Gaza by the concept that there should be zero tolerance for endangering the lives of soldiers, Kasher responds, "The soldiers' lives are endangered by virtue of their very presence in Gaza, by virtue of the fact that we send them to an area where there are enemy snipers and explosives set to go off in areas where the IDF is present. Sending a soldier there to fight terrorists is justified, but why should I force him to endanger himself much more than that so that the terrorist's neighbor isn't killed? I don't have an answer for that. From the standpoint of the state of Israel, the neighbor is much less important. I owe the soldier more. If it's between the soldier and the terrorist's neighbor, the priority is the soldier. Any country would do the same."

The decision regarding the magnitude of force used to protect the lives of the soldiers is up to the commander in the field. "The commander must be skilled in gauging the appropriate use of force," Kasher said.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Alps 2009



Getting quite excited about going to Alps this summer (with a guide). We may well do the Dent Du Geant - which has fixed ropes but looks spectacular. You abseil off the top (see video).

I have added couple of black and white ones I took last time I was climbing in the Alps which was ages ago. Midi-Plan traverse and Aiguille de la Perseverance.

The Appeal to Mystery

There are more things in heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio. Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Oh dear - your cult’s belief system is patently nutty. Not only do you have little in the way of argument for it, there also seems to be a great deal of evidence against it. If you want, nevertheless, to get lots of people to believe it, what do you do?

Why not appeal to mystery? By appealing to mystery, you can portray your critics as arrogant, unspiritual know-it-alls who think they have the answers to everything. You will appear humble and spiritual by acknowledging that, when it comes to the deepest questions, we must acknowledge our powers of reason have their limits. You can neutralize your opponent's use reason, and make yourself look good and them look bad all, at the same time!

There are several versions of this move, including:

(i) “Well, YOU explain it, then!” Find something that science and reason cannot explain or answer. Build an answer into your belief system. Then, whenever it’s pointed out that you have no supporting argument, say, “Well, YOU explain it.” This puts your accuser on the defensive – they now have to do all the work. As they will fail to provide an explanation, your theory will appear to “win” by default! (N.b. this is the fallacy known as ‘argument from ignorance’.)

(ii) “Beyond reason to decide.” When the Christian Stephen Green recently complained to the Advertizing Standards Authority about the atheist bus posters, the ASA said the adverts were allowed because the claims made (“There is a God” and “There is no God”) lay beyond the ability of reason to decide. The idea that religious claims are in principle beyond the ability of reason to decide is popular. So, as a cultist, try claiming there’s a supernatural being X who created the universe, and then, when people say your belief system is irrational, point out that their rejection of your belief must be just as irrational, because whether or X exists is something that it is in principle beyond the ability of reason to decide. So theirs is a faith position too! Keep saying this over and over and there’s a good chance no one will notice that actually such claims are not necessarily beyond reason to decide. Take the claim that the universe was made by a supremely powerful and evil being. This claim is straightforwardly falsified by observation – the world is just too nice a place for it to have been created by such a being. Even the religious will reject the claim as just obviously false, given the evidence! Yet, when it’s pointed out to them that there’s way too much pain and suffering in the world for this to be the creation of an all-powerful all-good God (i.e. the exact same type of objection), they typically say, “Ah, but this is something that’s necessarily beyond the ability of reason to decide!”

These moves are designed to render religious beliefs immune to rational criticism. But the truth is that, just as a detective who does not yet know who dunnit may still be able rationally to rule out certain suspects, so atheists unable to explain why the universe exists may still be able rationally to rule out certain answers. As even a religious person will typically admit there’s overwhelming evidence the world was not created by an evil God, so they must also admit there could be overwhelming evidence it was not created by a good God either. But then it’s not something it’s necessarily beyond reason to decide.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Advertizing events - ideas?

We had a great turn out for the CFI WEIRD SCIENCE event. The next two events are:

GOD IN THE LAB (extraordinary findings from leading scientific researchers) March 21st.
RELIGION AND SCIENCE (with Mary Warnock and Simon Singh) April 25th.

Need to stir up interest. If you have any suggestions as to how we can get free publicity (or cheap publicity) do let me know. We will let Time Out, etc know. But what else..?

Thanks
Stephen

Monday, February 2, 2009

Galileo and revisionist history

Talking of the Galileo affair, there is another load of revisionist twaddle here from Peter Klein.

Read it, and then, if you are interested, try this piece I wrote earlier...

A quote from the first piece:

Consider these facts:

1. Neither Galileo, nor any other scientist, was put to death by the medieval Church. Giordano Bruno, a 17th-century Dominican, was indeed condemned by the Inquisition, not for his scientific views, but for preaching a quirky, New Age-ish view called hermeticism, which was only incidentally connected to heliocentrism.

2. The Catholic authorities of Galileo’s day had little trouble with heliocentrism per se. Many of the leading Catholic scientists were actually Copernicans. Copernicus’s treatise on heliocentrism had been in print for seventy years prior to Galileo’s conflict with the Church.

3. Galileo remained a devout and loyal Catholic until the end of his life. He held no animosity toward the Church over his conflict with Church authorities.

4. Most important, the conflict between Galileo and the Church took place in the context of the Protestant Reformation, a context that is almost always omitted from popular accounts of Galileo’s trial. The key issue in this conflict was not heliocentrism per se, but the authority of the individual Believer to interpret Scripture. Galileo’s argument that scientists should interpret the Bible to conform to their scientific views was close to Luther’s view that the Believer should be his own interpreter of Scripture. It was Lutheranism, not heliocentrism, that alarmed the Church leaders.

POSTSCRIPT. My piece does not contain the following bit of information
which is also pertinent:

The Vatican's own documents now confirm Bruno was questioned on his cosmogeny conception. Go to: http://asv.vatican.va/en/doc/1597.htm, where you will find this:

In one of the last interrogations before the execution of the sentence (maybe in April 1599), the Dominican friar was questioned by the judges of the Holy Office on his cosmogony conception, supported above all in the “La cena delle Ceneri”(Ash-Wednesday Dinner) and in the “De l’infinito universo et mundi”. Even then, he defended his theories as scientifically founded and by no means against the Holy Scriptures (left side, from the first line: Circa motum terrae, f. 287, sic dicit: Prima generalmente dico ch’il moo et la cosa del moto della terra e della immobilità del firmamento o cielo sono da me prodotte con le sue raggioni et autorità le quali sono certe, e non pregiudicano all’autorità della divina scrittura [...]. Quanto al sole dico che niente manco nasce e tramonta, né lo vedemo nascere e tramontare, perché la terra se gira circa il proprio centro, che s’intenda nascere e tramontare [... ]). (Circa motum terrae, f. 287, sic dicit: Firstly, I say that the theories on the movement of the earth and on the immobility of the firmament or sky are by me produced on a reasoned and sure basis, which doesn’t undermine the authority of the Holy Scriptures […]. With regard to the sun, I say that it doesn’t rise or set, nor do we see it rise or set, because, if the earth rotates on his axis, what do we mean by rising and setting[…]).


Note Bruno was questioned on his “cosmogony conception”. And he defended his theory as “scientifically founded”. Note the phrase "even then" - clearly he'd been questioned on this topic before. Bruno was a contemporary of Galileo. The other documents relating to Bruno's trial and execution have mysteriously disappeared. Of course, Bruno's other unorthodox ideas also got him into trouble with the Church. But his cosmogeny conception - his scientific views - clearly had him in trouble too. Now read 1 above again. Puzzling, isn't it?

POSTPOSTSCRIPT: re claim 2 "Many of the leading Catholic scientists were actually Copernicans" - check out my linked article where you will see that you were allowed to use the helicentric model as a hypothesis. But you were not allowed to say it was literally true, on pain of torture/death. Galileo did say that, and that is what got him into trouble. The records of his interrogation confirm this. So the above quoted line is, if not false, extraordinarily misleading. Many Catholic scientists would have used the heliocentric model to make predictions? Perhaps. But assert it was literally true? Only if you wanted to be handed over to the Inquisition.

How the Vatican saved Eichmann


I have been reading Double Cross: the Code of The Catholic Church, by David Ranan, which was recommended to me by someone commenting here – anticant I think it was.

Anyway, it’s certainly a page-turner.

The book runs through Catholic behaviour down through the centuries, right up to the current problems with child-abusing priests. There are many jaw-dropping revelations.

Of course, it’s wise to approach such books with a sceptical eye, but it does seems very well researched and careful. Those bits of Catholic history I know a little about, such as the Galileo affair, are certainly accurate. Ranan doesn’t slide into the easy and sloppy exaggerations that less fair-minded books sometimes make.

One of the most shocking claims Ranan makes is that Catholic Bishop Hudal, a Nazi and Hitler supporter who actually published a book called “The Foundations of National Socialism”, worked from the Vatican to rescue Nazis and help them escape to South America.

Hudal was helped by SS Colonel Walter Rauff, the inventor of the mobile gas van.

This was a major Vatican-based operation involving other Catholic bodies including Caritas International, the Catholic relief agency, and spread over many countries.

The Vatican went to great lengths to save many prominent Nazis including:

Franz Stangl, commander of Treblinka, who killed nine hundred thousand.
Gustav Wagner, deputy commander of Sobibor, who killed a quarter of a million Jews,

and, wait for it…

Adolf Eichmann - architect in chief of the Final Solution.

Yes, Eichmann was shipped off to Argentina by the Vatican.

Ranan says:

“The Church did not forsake the Nazis. She may try to maintain that any action undertaken to help them flee justice was carried out by persons acting as individuals representing their own interests. However, the collective magnitude of these actions, the number of people involved, and the resources used in terms of money, properties and personnel, tell a different story…. It was a Church operation.”

If true, that's absolutely extraordinary.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sye's Presuppositional Apologetics

I had a thought - not one that's going to convince Sye, of course, but anyway, here it is, for discussion:

Sye's proof appears to be:

1. Logic cannot exist without God
2. Logic exists
Conclusion: God exists

This is a deductively valid argument (necessarily, if the premises are true, so is the conclusion).

Of course, for a "proof" you need more than validity. So what else? Self-evident premises? Well, if so, then Sye will say: my premises are self-evident (and of course to him they seem to be). So it is a proof!

Trouble is, what he is really supposed to be doing is proving to us that God exists. Now you cannot prove something to an audience in this way if the premises are not self evident to your audience.

Illustration: I can prove I just drew a three-sided figure:

1. I just drew a triangle
2. Triangles are three sided figures
Conclusion: I just drew a three-sided figure

Have I "proved" to you my conclusion? Of course not. You still have no idea whether I drew a three sided figure or not. It might be evident to me that the premises are true. But of course the first premise is not evident to you. So the "proof" fails.

The same of course is true of Sye's "proof" if it's not self-evident to us that his premise is true. Which it is not.

Now, this is where Sye gets ingenious - he says, in effect, "It IS self evident to you - God HAS given you this knowledge - but you choose to hide it from yourself, being miserable sinners. That means I HAVE proved it to you that God exists."

This is a key move for Sye, then. He relies on saying that we are somehow deluded.

Of course, someone is deluded here about the self-evidence claim. The fact that even most Christians - many of whom I would guess are far more holy and virtuous than Sye - scratch their heads and say "But it isn't self-evident!" (I include here even those who think the premise is true - they don't think it's self-evident!) should certainly suggest to Sye that he's the deluded one.

At the end of the day, all he's got is an assertion - that we're all (including the majority of Christians) deluded and that's why we can't see he's got a proof.

That's the sort of thing nutters always say, of course!

As I say, any fair-minded reader of the posts over at Dan's blog surely won't be able to avoid the conclusion that Sye is either a bit mental (religion can do that to you, of course, as I'm sure even Sye will recognise when it comes to certain other religious folk) or just a willful bullshitter.