Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Monday, March 29, 2010

Hitchens and Maher



Some "gloating" from Hitchens. But Hitchens is correct - this is going to get worse and worse, I'm afraid.

Ekklesia: Bishops should substantiate or desist over ‘persecution’

Here.http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/11627

In a letter to the Sunday Telegraph today, a group of Church of England bishops and retired bishops / archbishop (Lord Carey; Michael Scott-Joynt, Bishop of Winchester; Michael Nazir-Ali, Former Bishop of Rochester; Peter Forster, Bishop of Chester; Anthony Priddis, Bishop of Hereford; and Nicholas Reade, Bishop of Blackburn) claim widespread discrimination against Christians and that:

“There have been numerous dismissals of practising Christians from employment for reasons that are unacceptable in a civilised country.”

Predictably it has given rise to yet another misleading Sunday Telegraph headline: “Britain is persecuting Christians, say bishops”

This Britain that allegedly persecutes Christians, of course continues to afford many privileges to Christians. It has state funded church schools for example which legally and routinely discriminate in employment against those who aren’t Christians. There would be justifiable outrage if the situation were reversed with ‘secular’ state schools giving priority to atheists (or even those of other religions), in the same way.

But putting aside the institutionalised discrimination which exists in the opposite direction, what of the claim that there have been “numerous dismissals of practising Christians from employment for reasons that are unacceptable in a civilised country.” ?

To my knowledge, even the most extreme pressure groups like Christian Concern for our Nation and the Christian Legal Centre who are stoking and reinforcing the Christian persecution complex, haven’t made the claim that there have been “numerous dismissals”. So far they have pointed to only a handful of examples where there is some alleged injustice. Rarely have this small number involved dismissal. And even where (if?) they have, upon further investigation, the claims have tended to fall apart. Indeed, in one case, it even seemed to be the intervention of Christian campaigners which brought the dismissal about, after confidential client details were given to a national newspaper. In another, CLC claimed dismissal and then reinstatement, when dismissal never actually seems to have occurred.

The bishops should cite these “numerous” cases, or stop making such allegations. Why?

Continues...follow this link.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

CFI events at Oxford Lit Festival


Ben Goldacre speaking this afternoon for CFI at Oxford Literary Festical to an audience of 500. Any suggestions for next year?

Friday, March 26, 2010

What sort of faith schools are acceptable, if any? Three minimum recommendations


Photo - Grayling, Stanford and myself.

Photo courtesy of Chris Street.

On Wednesday I had a debate with Peter Stanford, former editor of the Catholic Herald about faith schools, at the CFI event "What sort of faith schools are acceptable, if any?" in the Great Hall at Christ Church. A.C. Grayling was Chair and Richard Dawkins showed up too.

Peter (after several goes by me to get him to address the specific recommendations) agreed with my three minimum recommendations that all schools, faith or not, state funded or not, should be expected to meet:

ONE. EVERY CHILD SHOULD BE CLEARLY TOLD THAT WHAT RELIGIOUS FAITH, IF ANY, THEY HAVE IS A MATTER OF THEIR OWN FREE CHOICE. Why is this important? Because, for example, a 2007 poll of young British Muslims aged 16-25 revealed 36% thought that that any Muslim who converts to another religion should be punished by death. This should apply to no-faith schools too. Many children feel they are automatically Sikh, Muslim or Catholic by birth, and have little or no choice about what they must believe, and there are British schools that reinforce perception. They should all be challenging it.

TWO. EVERY SCHOOL SHOULD EXPOSE CHILDREN TO A RANGE OF RELIGIOUS AND ALSO ATHEIST AND HUMANIST BELIEFS, EXPLAINED WHERE POSSIBLE BY THOSE WHO ACTUALLY HOLD THEM.

Schools are often ok about other faiths but can still be very antsy about exposing children to an atheist for half an hour (as I know from experience).

Surely, say, Catholic schools would have no problem about children being exposed to other moral points of view? Some won't. But not in diocese of Lancaster under Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue who told all Catholic schools schools that:

“Under no circumstances should any outside authority or agency that is not fully qualified to speak on behalf of the Catholic Church ever be allowed to speak to pupils or individuals on sexual or any other matter involving faith and morals”

O’Donoghue also called for any books containing polemics against the Catholic Church to be removed from school libraries. Here is a Bishop with the authority to tell the staff of state-funded schools to strip their libraries of books critical of Catholicism. Unacceptable (O'Donoghue may now be gone, but the point remains valid).

THREE. CHILDREN AT ALL SCHOOLS SHOULD BE ENCOURAGED TO THINK CRITICALLY AND INDEPENDENTLY ABOUT ALL RELIGIOUS AND MORAL BELIEFS AND VALUES.

This might seem unobjectionable, but when just this was suggested by the think tank Institute of Public Policy Research back in 2004 there was outrage from the Telegraph and from Melanie Phillips.

The fact is, there are religious schools that do strongly discourage the questioning or critical examination of the school’s own faith. One example is the Islamia (Independent) School in Nottingham, run by Headmater Ibrahim Lawson. R4 Today Programme.

 IL: [t]he essential purpose of the Islamia school as with all Islamic schools is to inculcate profound religious belief in the children.
 ER: You use the word "inculcate": dies that mean you are in the business of indoctrination?
 IL: I would say so, yes; I mean we are quite unashamed about that really…
 ER: Does that mean that Islam is a given and is never challenged?
IL: That’s right…

Of course there may still be plenty of discussion and debate at a school like Ibrahim Lawson’s – about how the Koran should be interpreted, about how its teaching should be applied, and so on. But if all this vigorous intellectual activity is predicated on the unquestioned assumption that Islam is a given that must never be challenged, then it’s not good enough.

Incidentally I offered to go to Lawson's school and talk (for free) about atheism and humanism for an hour with his kids. The school wouldn't allow it.

I am now thinking it would be useful if we could get a coalition of people of various faiths and none to endorse these three minimum requirements - and to press for their introduction. Many liberal religious people would surely do so (Stanford has said yes in principle). So would the guys at Ekklesia, I think. But of course many religious conservatives will not (Ibrahim Lawson won't and neither would the Chief Rabbi, I think). This would be a way of reorienting the debate about faith schools as a debate between liberals vs conservatives, rather than atheists vs religious, which would be very constructive, I think.

The British public are increasingly concerned about faith schools - about their growth and what goes on in them. The vast majority, I would guess, would support the introduction of these requirements. A campaign organized along these lines might well have a result.

Simon Singh speaking


Simon Singh speaking at the CFI event "Trick or Treatment" at Oxford Literary festival last night. Today we have "Does the universe point to God?" with the scientist the Rev John Polkinghorne and atheist philosopher Prof David Papineau. 2pm in the Big Marquee, Christ Church Oxford. £10 (tickets at venue)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

New pharmacy code continues opt-outs over beliefs

Pharmacists across the UK have been told they can continue to refuse to prescribe items that might clash with their personal religious beliefs.

A revised code of conduct from the new industry regulator will allow staff to opt out of providing items such as the morning-after pill and contraception.

Continues here. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8586344.stm

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Has God a Future?

Has God a Future, debate. Shermer says "I can't prove a negative" at the start, which was disappointment. But bear with it...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sam Harris on why Science can answer moral questions



What do we think? My thanks to David Sutherland.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

CFI events at Oxford Literary Festival next week

What Sort of Faith Schools Are Acceptable, If Any? Stephen Law vs Peter Stanford

Wed March 24th, 6pm. Main Hall, Christ Church.

Do faith schools help build communities, or divide them? Do they educate, or indoctrinate? Do they raise principled moral citizens, or dangerous moral sheep? Should a school that discriminates against staff and pupils on the basis of faith receive state funding?

Peter Stanford is a former editor of the Catholic Herald, and an award-winning journalist and broadcaster. His biographies have included Lord Longford, C Day-Lewis, Bronwen Astor and the Devil. His latest book, The Extra Mile: The 21st-century Pilgrim, is published in March. Peter had two children at faith schools and is a foundation governor of one.

Stephen Law is a philosopher and the author of a book on faith schools called The War for Children's Minds. Stephen will argue that the state funding of faith schools should be abolished, and that every child at every school should be reminded regularly that religious belief is something each one of them is free to accept or reject. Indeed, Stephen is not convinced faith schools should be permitted at all.

Simon Singh – Trick or Treatment?

Blue Boar 6pm. Thursday 25th March.

Simon Singh is the science author responsible for a string of best-sellers that include Big Bang, Fermat’s Last Theorem and The Code Book. In his latest book, Trick or Treatment: Alternative Medicine on Trial, Singh and his co-author Professor Edzard Ernst subjects a number of alternative medicines to critical scrutiny, investigating what works and what doesn’t. Singh is currently being sued by the British Chiropractic Association for questioning the evidence behind some chiropractic treatments. This has become a landmark legal case, of huge importance to the scientific community, many of whom (e.g. Richard Dawkins) believe English libel law has now become a threat to open scientific debate. Singh will be discussing the significance of this ongoing legal case, now being widely reported in the media.


Ben Goldacre


Sat 27th Garden Marquee, 2pm.

Ben Goldacre is the award winning writer, broadcaster, and medical doctor who writes the weekly Bad Science column in the Guardian. Goldacre is widely known for his scathing, satirical attacks on medical quacks, health scares, mumbo-jumbo and pseudo-science, and his book Bad Science has become a best-seller. His approach is passionate, charming, funny and merciless. While investigating television nutritionist Gillian McKeith's membership of the American Association of Nutritional Consultants, Goldacre bought a "certified professional membership" on behalf of his deceased cat, Henrietta, from the same institution for $60.


Does Science Reveal The Mind of God? Polkinghorne vs Papineau

Friday 26th March. 2pm, Garden Marquee.

After a distinguished career, John Polkinghorne retired as a Professor of Physics to study for Church of England Ministry, becoming an ordained Anglican priest in 1982. He is the author of several books arguing that science is not in conflict with religion. Polkinghorne suggests that God is the answer to the question of "why is there something rather than nothing?" and that "theism explains more than a reductionist atheism can ever address." David Papineau is Professor of Philosophy at King’s College London, one of the country’s foremost philosophers and atheists, and the author of the excellent philosophy primer, Philosophy: Essential Tools For Critical Thought. Debate chaired by Stephen Law (Provost, Centre for Inquiry UK).

Richard Wiseman – Science of The Weird

Sunday 27th Blue Boar, 4pm.

An introduction to the science of the weird - from psychic powers to fire walking. Prof Richard Wiseman has gained an international reputation for research into quirky areas of psychology, including deception, humour, luck and the paranormal. He is also a trained magician, providing wonderfully entertaining and interactive events that help audiences sharpen their thinking and observational skills and spot more easily when someone may be trying to pull the wool over their eyes. Prof Wiseman is author of The Luck Factor – a best selling book exploring the lives and minds of lucky people.

To book tickets go to http://www.oxfordliteraryfestival.com/#Home

Friday, March 12, 2010

Free speech is increasingly under attack in the world's most populous democracy

Free speech is increasingly under attack in the world's most populous democracy.
BY SALIL TRIPATHI | Wall Street Journal, Mar 12 2010

Indians boast of living in the world's most populous democracy, and rightly so. Regular elections and vigorous public debate are a rebuke to anyone who thinks that liberty can't flourish in a large, largely poor, culturally and linguistically diverse country. But in one area of life officials' concerns for keeping peace between various religious and ethnic groups is threatening a core freedom: speech.

In a little-noticed case on Feb. 26, police in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh arrested Macha Laxmaiah, an author who writes using the pseudonym Krantikar ("revolutionary"), and his distributors, including Innaiah Narisetti, president of the Hyderabad-based nonprofit Center for Inquiry, for "hurting the sentiments of Muslims." Their alleged crime? The distribution of "Crescent Over the World," a book including contributions from Salman Rushdie, Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen, and a cartoon from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Mr. Narisetti is out on bail now; Mr. Laxmaiah remains in custody.


Continues here.

Narisetti is a friend of mine and a CFI representative.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

“arrogant&naive2say man over­pwers nature”

Article in Scientific American about nutcase Sarah Palin and End-of-Days danger.

I don’t know how many e-mails I have received from children who are terrified that 2012 will somehow involve the end of life as we know it, all because of an unfounded fringe religious prophecy that has received mass-market exposure with the release of a recent Hollywood movie. I have tried to reassure those children (and not a few adults) that this date represents nothing more cosmically special than the year of the next presidential election.

Having said that, however, I just realized there might be a genuine connection between 2012 and an end-of-days menace!

On the conclusion of the less than stellar Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change in December, ex-governor and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who many think may make a White House run herself in 2012, twittered the world with the following:

“arrogant&naive2say man over­pwers nature”

Although the Copenhagen conference could have been criticized on many fronts, it is hard to imagine that Palin’s remarkable statement represents anything other than a misplaced religious end-of-days argument of the type that asserts confidence in human dominion over the earth—and that God will ensure the planet remains fine in the face of human progress, until God decides to end it all and the worthy ascend to heaven.


Article continues...

Monday, March 8, 2010

MONSTERS VS ALEINS - Paul Vella and Adrian Shine




Paul Vella and Adrian Shine speaking at Monster vs Aliens. Pictures courtesy of Andrew West. They gave hugely informative and fun talks with loads of images, video and even sound. Nick Pope was also on form. Below is: myself, Shine, Vella and Pope.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

My notes from Kingston University debate with Tzortzis.


This debate went pretty well I thought. I went first. It will go up on youtube soon and I will provide a link. Obviously this talk was designed specifically for Tzortzis, having done some research on him.

Is God a Delusion? - My notes for the debate (details here)

INTRO

Which God? Not Zeus, or Thor, or merely morally neutral god. A very specific God hypothesis. The God of traditional monotheism – as believed in by Jews, Christians and Muslims. All-powerful, all-knowing, all-good.

Dictionary definition of “delusion” is “a false belief or opinion”

So my AIM is to establish BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT that belief in this particular God is false. I’ll raise two objections.

FIRST OBJECTION

According to Andreas, my opponent today, God is supposed to be something like a person - an agent. He has beliefs and desires. He is supposed to be intelligent. He listens to our prayers. He performs actions, including the act of creating the spatio-temporal universe.

First worry I’ll raise is: can we even make sense of anything remotely like a person or agent that is the creator of the spatio-temporal universe?

The idea that there exist supernatural persons or agents is one that we humans find very attractive. We find it particularly tempting to posit supernatural agents when we observe things we cannot explain.

• When we couldn’t explain the movement of the planets in terms of natural causes and laws, we supposed they must be moved by agents – gods.
• When we couldn’t otherwise explain natural diseases and disasters, we supposed they must be caused by witches and demons.
• When we couldn’t understand how plants grew, we supposed they were forced up by invisible sprites or fairies or whatever.

Of course, none of these supernatural beings really exist. The mysteries we used them to explain have all now been largely solved by science. But there remain mysteries, and always will, including of course, why is there anything at all. Why something rather than nothing?

This is a fascinating question. There’s no obvious answer to it. And so, again, it’s tempting to suppose the universe must be the creation of some sort of super-person!

But does the idea of a super person the created time, and so exists outside of time, make sense?

Suppose I claim there exists a super-mountain. Only it does not exist in space. It exists non-spatially. That idea might seem to make sense for a moment. But when we start to think about it, it’s nonsensical nature becomes apparent. A mountain needs a summit. By a summit requires one part be higher than another, and so do steep sides. The concept of a mountain is a concept of something essentially rooted in the spatial. Try to apply the notion of a mountain in a non-spatial setting, and you end up talking philosophical gibberish. We can know, just by thinking about, that there are non-spatial mountains.

But now consider talk about a person existing outside of time. Does that make any more sense? The concept of a person is the concept of an agent who has beliefs and desires, and who performs more or less rational actions as a result. But the concept of belief is a temporal concept – a belief is a psychological state, and states have temporal duration. So do desires. Actions, too, require a temporal setting. You can’t do something if there’s no time to do it in. And so on. The concept of a person is a concept essentially rooted in the temporal. Persons necessarily exist in time, just as mountains necessarily exist in space. But then to talk of a person existing prior to the beginning of time, a person who designed and created the temporal universe, is also philosophical gibberish. It makes no more sense than talk of non-spatial mountains.

Of course, religious people typically happily talk about God being a person in an apparently quite literal way until you point out this problem, when they tend to say – “Oh, how crude and unsophisticated you are! You have interpreted my talk of a person literally!” I am of course drawing an analogy. God is not a person like you or I, but something merely like - analogous to, a person.

Of course, someone could say exactly the same thing about the non-spatial mountain. They are talking about something merely analogous to a mountain. But what, exactly? If, every time we ask them to explain what they mean, they just come up with more analogies, or insist they are talking about something that’s like a mountain only in some mysterious way they can’t clearly explain, we’d surely conclude that, rather than raising the debate about the possible existence of this mountain to the level of profundity, they were simply engaging in endless evasions and obfuscations.

Similalrly, if, every time we ask someone who claims god is something merely analogous to a person to explain what they mean, they just come up with more analogies, or insist they are talking about something that’s like a person only in some mysterious way they can’t clearly explain, we’d surely conclude that, rather than raising the debate abot the possible existence of this person to the level of profundity, they were simply engaging in endless evasions and obfuscations.

As we have seen, we humans find it very tempting to a reach for super people to deal with deep mysteries. That’s why we invoked witches and demons to explain plagues and disasters, planetary gods to explain the weird motions in the heavens, and so on. And so, when faced with the mystery of why there is anything at all, it is, again very tempting to reach for a super person.

But actually, in this case, appeal to a super person makes even less sense than reaching for witches, demons and planetary gods. For at least those super people were supposed to exist in time. Andreas’s super-person is a person that does not exist in time. Personally, I can make no more sense of a person existing non-temporally than I can make sense of the claim that there’s a mountain that exists non-spatially.

The temptation to appeal to a super person is strong, so, when this problem about God being a person is raised, people tend to start appealing to analogy, metaphor, mystery etc. to try to retain their grip on the idea. But I can make little sense of it.

So that’s my first worry about this particular God. I can’t even make sense of the idea. There is an interesting puzzle about why the universe exists, but appealing to one or more supernatural persons or agents to solve it seems not just hopelessly anthropomorphic - but literally nonsensical.

Perhaps there’s a necessarily-existent something-or-other back there. I just can’t see how it makes sense to call it a person. Talk of a non-temporal super person seems to me to be little more than philosophical gibberish dressed up as profundity.


B.

I come to my more my second, more serious objection. Even supposing there is indeed a cosmic super person that is the intelligent designer and creator of the universe, why on Earth suppose that this super person is Andreas’s God – a being that is both all-powerful and all-good?

The objection I am raising now is known as the evidential problem of evil. The problem is – isn’t there just way, way too much pain and suffering in the world for this to be creation of an all-powerful, all-good God? Perhaps such a God would allow some pain and suffering as the price paid for greater goods. Perhaps, for example, we need to experience some bad stuff, so that we can properly appreciate the good stuff? Perhaps in order for goods like charity to exist, God had to create some needy people to whom we could then be charitable.

So perhaps a good god would put some bad stuff in his creation. My question is: why did he have to get quite so carried away? Why is there so much pain and suffering? Why is there so much pain and suffering in the natural world, for example? Surely, if there Andreas’s god existed, he would not allow any pointless and gratuitous suffering. Not an ounce. So what about the literally unimaginable quantities of pain and suffering unleashed on the other sentient inhabitants of this planet over hundreds of millions of years? Why does he torture children to death with diseases, bury thousands of them alive in earthquakes, to die alone in the dark over many days? Why has he being doing this to us humans for thousands, indeed, millions of years? And, if he’s so keen on preserving human life at every stage of its existence, why does he flush two out of three fertilized human eggs down the toilet?

Surely, even if there is some sort of intelligent person behind the universe, there’s overwhelming evidence that it is not Andreas’s all-good God of infinite love, peace and justice.

Now those who believe in God have come up with all sorts of moves to try to explain away this enormous quantity of evidence against what they believe.

To anticipate some of them, and indicate why I don’t find them at all plausible, I want to finish by conducting a little thought experiment. I want you to mentally transport yourself across the universe to an imaginary planet very much like this one. Planet Eth. There’s even a debate going on like this one right now. There is one key difference between Eth and Earth. On planet Eth they also believe that the universe was created and fine-tuned by a single, all-powerful intelligent transcendent super person.

Only the Ethians believe this super person is not all-good, but all-evil. They believe his maliciousness is beyond the comprehension of mere mortals. His depravity knows no bounds. They even have ancient Ethian prophets who claim to know all this by means of some sort of revelation.

Now, how likely is it, do you think, that the universe is indeed the creation of such a supremely malignant and evil being? How reasonable is it to believe in the god of Eth?

I am guessing most of you think it very unreasonable indeed. Indeed, it’s scarcely more reasonable than believing in say Santa or fairies. It’s pretty obvious there is no such all-powerful and all-evil being.

But why? Well, because of the evidential problem of good. There’s clearly way, way too much good stuff in the universe for this to be the creation of an all-powerful, all-evil God.

Surely an all-evil God would create us to torture us mercilessly, right? So why, for example, would he:

• Create beautiful sunsets and scenery for us to enjoy, which give us so much pleasure.
• Give us children to love who love us unconditionally in return. Evil God loathes love!
• Give some people immense health wealth and happiness. Surely an evil God would want to torture everbody.
• Allow some people to help others and relieve the suffering of others. Surely an evil god would clamp down on that sort of activity straight away.
• Give us fit healthy young bodies.

Given all these great goods exist, surely it’s obvious there is no evil god? Yes, there s a lot of bad stuff in the universe – Earth quakes and Eth quakes and diseases and so on. But there’s still way too much good stuff for it to be the creation of an all-powerful and all-evil god.

So, those of us, like Andreas, who believe in an all-powerful, all good-god, face the problem of evil. The Ethians face the mirror problem that if you believe in an all-powerful, all-evil god, you face the problem of good. Surely the problem is fatal to their belief.

However, that’s no how the Ethians see it. Like us, they are ingenious and have constructed all sorts of explanations for the good stuff they see around them. Here are some examples of their explanations.

First of all, just as Christians Jews and Muslims appeal to free will to explain why god allows bad things to happen, so Ethians appeal to FREE WILL to explain why good things happen. Evil God could have made us puppet beings that he made do unpleasant things all the time. Trouble is, puppet beings are not morally responsible for what they do. The universe would not contain free moral agents, and so would not contain any moral evil. In order for moral evil – probably the most important form of evil - to exist, evil God had to cut our strings and set us free. Then we can freely choose to do evil, which is much worse than if we were simply made to do terrible things. Unfortunately some of us choose to help each other and reduce suffering. But those goods are more than outweighed by the moral evil free will introduces. That explains why evil god does allow us to help each other.

You can see that I have just taken a standard Christian or Muslim defence of belief in a good god and just turned it round to defend belief in an evil god.

Here are some other Ethian explanation for good, which I imagine will also sound very familiar to you.

1. Why does evil god create beautiful scenery and sunsets for them to enjoy? As a contrast – they can only truly appreciate the ghastliness and dreariness the exists if we have some good things to compare it with.

2. Why does an evil God give a few people, such as the Ethian David Beckham, health wealth and happiness? To make the rest of the inhabitants of Eth feel worse. God gives a few people immense wealth and success to make the rest of them seeth with jealousy and resentment. Who can rest content knowing a few have so much more…..– a recipe for seething resentment and jealousy. Jealousy is, if you like, a second order evil, that requires first order goods – such as the Ethian David Beckham’s success and wealth – in order to exist. People can’t feel the psychological pain of jealousy unless a few people are given things worth being jealous of. That explains why a few people are immensely wealthy, successful and happy. It’s the price evil God pays for greater evils.

3. Why does an evil God give Ethians healthy fit bodies? Why doesn’t he give them painful decrepit bodies? Well yes, he gives them beautiful fit bodies for a short while. And them slowly he takes them away, leaving them old, withered, arthritic and smelling of wee. How much more painful to have known something wonderful and then have it taken away, than if you had never had it in the first place, say the Ethians. That explains why evil God gives Ethians fit healthy young bodies.

The Ethians have developed may other explanations for the goods they see around them. Still, some of them admit it’s not that easy to explain why there is quite so much good stuff in their world. So there are two further cards they play to deal with the problem of good.

First, they say “Let’s not forget that there’s an after life. Evil God allows us to live on Eth for a while, where we may enjoy some goods. But remember that after that, we spend eternity being tortured by him with a red hot poker. And that more than outweighs all the goods we have enjoyed!

Secondly, when they find themselves really stuck, some play the mystery card. They say “Who are you, you arrogant sceptic, to think that you can know the mind of evil God?’ You are a mere fallible human of limited intellectual ability. Of course you can’t understand evil god’s fiendishly complex and evil plan. Of course you and I cannot explain why there is so much good in the world. Show a little humility! This really is the worst of all possible worlds. It’s just that you, being a mere human, fail to understand that.”

So what do we think about the Ethians? Their belief in an evil god does seem very odd to us Earthlings. But then the Earthling belief that there is a good god seems very odd to the Ethians. Tell them you believe in a good god and they’ll roll their eyes and say “Really? Come on – pull the other one! – Look at just how much bad stuff there is in the world. God is clearly evil!”

Yet the fact is that it is obvious, isn’t it, that there is no evil god? We can all see that. True, the Ethians have developed all sorts of explanations to try to deal with the overwhelming evidence against what they believe. But the fact remains that their belief is downright ridiculous, given the evidence against it. It’s not just not unreasonable, it’s downright unreasonable, given the evidence.

It’s possible there’s an evil god, I guess. But surely the evidence shows, beyond reasonable doubt that there is no such transcendent super person.

So here’s my challenge to Andreas, and those Jews, Christians and Muslims who believe in his all-powerful and supremely benevolent god. Why should we consider belief in such a good god significantly more reasonable than belief in the Ethian’s evil god?

Notice that the Ethians will also use fine-tuning and cosmological arguments to justify belief in their god. And they are just as justified in doing so, because these arguments are completely neutral on the question of the super person’s moral properties. All those two arguments show, at best, is that there’s a cosmic designer.

Worse still, not withstanding all the ingenious maneuvers the Ethians have devised to try to defend their belief in an evil God, their belief just is straightforwardly falsified by the available evidence. Their defences are in some cases quite literally a joke. Yet notice that they closely mirror exactly the sort of defences Jews. Christians and Muslims make in defence of their good God.

If the Ethian defences of their belief in an evil god are ridiculous and ineffective, why should we consider the Earthling defences of a good god any less ridiculous and ineffective?

The truth is, any belief, no matter how irrational, can be defended against counter evidence ad nauseum, given a little ingenuity. Try debating a Young Earth Creationists who believes the entire universe is only 6 thousand years old, or a mental patient who believes dogs are spies from planet Venus. I guarantee that, no matter how much evidence you come up with against their belief, they’ll be able to come up with ever more elaborate moves to explain it away (add examples). That doesn’t mean that their beliefs are, after all, pretty reasonable.

So my challenge to Andreas is – can you explain why it’s significantly more reasonable to believe in your good god than an evil god? Aren’t both god hypotheses actually pretty unlikely? Surely, if there is some sort of super person behind the universe, isn’t it pretty obvious that it is neither all-powerful and all-evil, nor all-powerful and all-good?

We may not be able to answer the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” But we can be rightly confident the answer isn’t “Because a supremely powerful and evil person made it.” So why can’t we be equally confident that the answer isn’t “Because a supremely powerful and good person made it”?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Kingston God debate - update.

IMPORTANT IF YOU ARE COMING TO THE KINGSTON EVENT ON FRIDAY BOOK OR YOU WON'T GET IN (SECURITY ISSUES).

Contact ruwayda.m@live.co.uk or M.Thorpe@kingston.ac.uk

ALSO IT STARTS AT 6PM NOT 5.30 AS ADVERTIZED.

GUARDIAN: Furious backlash from Simon Singh libel case puts chiropractors on ropes

Furious backlash from Simon Singh libel case puts chiropractors on ropes

One in four chiropractors in Britain are under investigation as a result of campaign by Singh supporters, reveals Martin Robbins (in the Guardian).

As the British Chiropractic Association's battle with Simon Singh continues to work its way through the legal system, chiropractors are counting the financial costs of a major backlash resulting from a libel action that has left the Lord Chief Justice "baffled". What was originally a dispute between the BCA and one science writer over free speech has become a brutally effective campaign to reform an entire industry.

A staggering one in four chiropractors in Britain are now under investigation for allegedly making misleading claims in advertisements, according to figures from the General Chiropractic Council.

The council, which is responsible for regulating the profession and has 2,400 chiropractors on its books, informs me that it has had to recruit six new members of staff to deal with a fifteenfold increase in complaints against its members – from 40 a year to 600. While it declined to comment directly on the costs inflicted by the reaction to the BCA's actions, it is clear that a six-figure sum will be involved for the extra staffing costs alone, to which will have to be added the considerable costs of any misconduct hearings.


Continues here.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Threat issued to me....?

Regarding previous post, I received this comment which was then deleted.

I HAVE DELETED THE COMMENT AS IT WAS IN FACT NOT ISSUED AS A THREAT.

I strongly suspect this is not from a Muslim at all. Is it a threat? Merely a prediction by a concerned citizen? An attempt to smear Muslims by a non-Muslim (who also thinks it's a mistake to give the other speaker the honour of debating with some minor academic?)? Probably the last, I think.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Is God a Delusion?


Big debate Friday 5th March (i.e. this coming Friday) 2010 5.30-7.30 [CORRECTION NOW STARTS 6PM]
Clattern Lecture Hall
Penrhyn Rd
Kingston Upn Thames
KT1 2EE

(not too far from rail station)

Hamza Andreas Tzortzis vs Stephen Law

I am anticipating this will be a largely Muslim audience.

PS IMPORTANT IF YOU ARE COMING BOOK OR YOU WON'T GET IN: CONTACT M.Thorpe@kingston.ac.uk OR ruwayda.m@live.co.uk