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Showing posts from January, 2008

Butler Society talk - Oxford

I'm speaking at Oxford University's Joseph Butler Society (devoted to philosophy of religion) this Monday, 4th Feb. I'll be reading a paper that develops my "evil god hypothesis" in some detail (it's a work in progress, so the discussion will be useful). For a brief and breezy intro to the main idea, see my The God of Eth . The event is open to all. Be at Oriel College 8.15pm for 8.30pm

religion - and arguments from authority

William Hawthorne comments here : I did not argue from (1)Many of the brightest philosophers believe in God to (2) Therefore, God exists, or even to (2*) Therefore, belief in God is reasonable. What I suggested is this. The fact that many of the brightest philosophers believe in God should give us pause before we join atheist apologists (like Dawkins) in dismissing theism as delusional. And in general, I would argue that if many extremely brilliant people have thought about p carefully, subjected p to rigorous logical analysis, and have come to believe that p, this should give us reason to refrain from lazily dismissing p as childish or delusional. A more thorough investigation would be called for. So I have not committed a fallacious appeal to authority. For evidence that many of the brightest philosophers reject naturalism and endorse theism, visit the following webpage: In fact, when it comes to C

Frustrating bloody copy-editors

Just want to get something off my chest. I have just received a hard copy of my forthcoming book The Great Philosophers . I always receive these new books with trepidation, because I know I'll quickly stumble on something that' s slipped through the editorial net. The problem with writing philosophy books for trade publishers is the copy-editing. Philosophy text is extremely easy to screw up. Miss out a quotation mark, change "a" to "the" etc. and you turn very carefully written philosophical prose into gibberish. Copy editors make literally hundreds of such little changes (I guess more than 500 in this one). And they don't flag them up. In both the DK book and, to a lesser extent, this one, the copy editor, by trying to "improve" my writing, has turned it into embarrassing crap. Most of the crap I spot in the short time I am given to proof read the text (in this case, a week, while on family holiday in foreign country). Inevitably some

The Ibrahim Lawson correspondence

I have had a long dialogue with Ibrahim Lawson, head of an Islamic school, about faith schools. Ibrahim had said on Radio 4 that in any good Islamic school "Islam is a given and never challenged". I said that such schools (Islamic, Christian, or indeed, atheist) should no longer be tolerated. He got in touch... Here are links to the correspondence so far (which has become very spread out). Nov 27th My Original Post, which provoked Ibrahim into getting in touch. Ibrahim's original email to me , which I then posted. The correspondence that followed this initial exchange can be scrolled through here (in reverse order). Note that some of Ibrahim's responses appear not as posts, but as comments on posts. To see the comments on a post, click on "comments" at end of post, or click on the orange title of the post. Scrolling backwards through these posts will give you the gist of the dialogue to date. My latest response to Ibrahim is here .

Latest response to Ibrahim Lawson

[this is part of an ongoing dialogue I am having with the head of an Islamic school]. Ibrahim has recently responded to my last post to him. He thinks our dialogue is running out of steam, and wants to try to move things on… “One last attempt to move things along (or move the goalposts, I am sure some people will think). I am absolutely prepared to admit that I know very little and am wrong about everything I think. With the exception of a sole domain: against all human reason and experience, I know as an absolute, incontrovertible certainty that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet and messenger. This CLEARLY puts the whole thing on a totally different basis. How to understand this? Well, that’s precisely the task Islam puts to me. In this, I have found thinking based solely on induction and deduction to be singularly useless, except, via negtiva, in showing where the answer does not lie. Instead, I find this sort of thing a useful place to start:
“If thinking is n

NEWS FLASH: The Resurrection of L. Ron Hubbard!

I want to share some evidence with you today. I am a scientologist. And (like St Paul) I offer you this personal eye-witness testimony: that I saw L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the movement, with my own eyes, and spoke with him, recently (he died in 1986). In addition, I can provide documents, written by scientologists (I don't know who they are exactly but let's call them Maurice, Mick, Louise and Jane) which report not only Ron's life, but also that he was seen and spoken to by many scientologists shortly after his death. And these documents agree perfectly. I think you have to agree that this is pretty good evidence that L. Ron Hubbard was resurrected, right? Of course, I guess you don't. But if you don't - if you think my evidence is something of a joke - yet you do consider the evidence for Jesus' resurrection provided by St Paul and Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to be pretty good, can you explain why? Of course there are important differences between this

"But many leading philosophers/Biblical scholars believe!"

I said a while ago that we'd discuss arguments from authority regarding religious belief. For example, you often hear people say "Many leading philosophers are believers, so it can't be that unreasonable, can it?" William Hawthorne earlier made this sort of move (correct me if I am wrong, William). Another example I heard from philosopher Gary Habermas (paraphrasing) "The vast majority of Biblical scholars agree that the historical evidence for the crucifixion of Jesus is strong" (he then proceeds to argue that what they agree on then provides ample evidence that Jesus was resurrected. I am reading his "The Case For The Resurrection of Jesus" at the moment. My view is these arguments from authority are very weak. But at this point I merely invite comments... Go here for examples of fallacious appeals to authority. Are the above fallacious appeals?

Question re secularism

Here is a question for you relating to the dialogue we are having with Ibrahim. Justification always has to come to an end somewhere. So, there will be basic beliefs or principles for which no further justification can be given. Why make these foundational principles secular rather than religious?

Reply to Ibrahim Lawson

This is part of an ongoing discussion with the head of an Islamic school, Ibrahim Lawson, focusing on his suggestion that in any good Islamic school "Islam is a given and never challenged". Apologies to Ibrahim for delay in responding. I think this has been a very interesting and useful exchange, myself, and am very pleased Ibrahim has contributed. Certainly I have a somewhat clearer idea of what he believes. Ibrahim says: “I have been trying to suggest that the total chaos of his ‘nuclear option’ might be avoided by appeal to some other criteria of justification than those of the ‘techno-rationality’ (or ‘calculative thinking’ or whatever it might be) of the rational-empirical intellectual tradition characteristic particularly of the European enlightenment up to modern times. Within that tradition, I see no room for religion: it becomes absurd. And I think this cannot be stressed enough.” As I see it, I am not applying some modern Western phenomenon - “techno-rationali

Wittgenstein Summer School at Oxford University

I am running a week on Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations for Oxford University Depart. of Continuing Education. 12th-19th July. Details available here . There are lots of excellent courses available. Go here .

Ibrahim Lawson' last post

Here's the last response from Ibrahim Lawson. He is responding to this . See link to left for the thread. Dear Stephen et al, I have been away on holiday, but in any case thought that this discussion had petered out. However, since you have replied then I will make one last effort to respond. I have been quite disappointed with the way the discussion has turned out, confirming my doubts about the usefulness of this kind of cyber-conversation as an act of genuine communication. This is partly because the issues are extremely complex to unpack so we end up shouting at each other from our respective entrenched positions. The other reason is the regrettable prevalence of the kind of point-scoring mentality which I suggested characterises debate as distinct from dialogue; perhaps I have been as much to blame as anyone else. I have, though, learned from some of the contributions that my view of religion is evidently even more esoteric than I had previously realised; as such, it is no

The Incarnation

I promised Chris something on the incarnation. This is from The Xmas Files. Are we, at Christmas, celebrating the birth of an entity as contradictory as a round square? Christmas is a celebration of the incarnation. Jesus of Nazareth is supposed to be God incarnate: both God and man. That might seem a fairly straightforward sort of claim. People may argue over whether it is true, of course. But that what is being claimed is clear and coherent is largely taken for granted on both sides. Which is odd, because the dispute over exactly how divinity and humanity are combined in the person of Jesus is actually one of deepest and most-ill-tempered in Christian history. Philosophers and theologians have been struggling to make sense of the incarnation for over two thousand years. The early church fathers fought bitterly over the issue and it remains a source of contention to this day. So what, exactly, is the difficulty? Here’s an analogy. Suppose I tell you that I have drawn a circle on a she