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Showing posts from March, 2008

King's Philosophical Theology Seminar

I am giving a short presentation on the evil god challenge at 11am 29th April. Details and full programme here . King's Philosophical Theology Seminar 28-29 April 2008 King's College London, Strand, River Room A workshop providing a forum of discussion for work in progress in philosophical theology. Organized by the *Centre for the History of Philosophical Theology*. Please contact Dr Maria Rosa Antognazza (maria.rosa.antogna ...

Religious experience - more on the telescope analogy

Following on from the telescope analogy - here's a further couple of points. 1. The "fuzzy image" move First, some will say (have said, in fact) that the faculty by which we experience the divine is not perfectly transparent, but hazy and misty. That is why there is so much disagreement between believers (be they ancient Norse, or ancient Greeks, or ancient Mayans, or modern day Buddhists, or whatever) about what is experienced. 2. The appeal to "training" and "experts" Second, just like the use of, say, sonic imaging equipment, or a primitive telescope, such as Galileo's, perceivers need to be trained . Acquiring the ability to discern a baby in the swirling, milky images produced by a scanner requires years of practice. Without this practice, causal observers may "see" all sorts of things that are not there. Indeed, while we are not justified in trusting the testimony of untrained users of ultra-sound scanners, the testimony of trained,

Mountain biking

This is my Specialized S-Works Epic . And er... yes, that is Lycra. I sometimes drive to South Wales for the day to ride at Afan Argoed . I do White's Level, then The Wall, then the Penrydd, or whatever it's called. Then drive home. Then it takes me two days to recover. I am going next Tuesday if it's not raining.... Perhaps it is "the fastest suspension bike in the world", but not with me riding it, unfortunately. Video of The Wall here . Gets faster and faster...

Religious experience - Sam Norton's analogy with moral conscience

The rev. Sam has tried defending religious experience by drawing an anology with our moral conscience. It's a popular move, I think. Here it is: SAM SAID: “Stephen, if we substituted 'conscience' for 'religious experience' would it make any difference to your arguments? This too is something which people claim to experience, and which leads them to do very different things etc, so why should we trust our conscience?” STEPHEN REPLIES: Interesting analogy. Well, first off, you shouldn’t be entirely trusting of your conscience; I’m not of mine. If reason etc. otherwise indicates your moral intuitions are in error, then you should reject them. So, for example, common moral intuitions on homosexuality, the role of women, on other species, etc. – are mistaken. But note there's also good reason to suppose that e.g. your religious experience of an all-powerful, all-good God is mistaken (the evidential problem of evil). Second, and more importantly, is your moral co

Religious experiences - the telescope analogy

Here's another analogy with religious experience. It's supposed that we (or some of us) are equipped with what Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga calls a sensus divinitatis - an extra "sense" that allows us to experience God directly. If someone experiences God by such means, then, it's suggested, they can know God exists. It's also reasonable for them to believe God exists. But is it? After all, there are so many different religious experiences, experiences which contradict each other in so many ways (about the number of Gods, character of these Gods, and so on). The power of suggestion is also clearly heavily involved in shaping these experiences - as the experiences tend to be culturally highly specific. Here's my analogy. Suppose a new kind of telescope is developed to reveal otherwise unobservable and unknowable portions of reality. Scientists know, however, that on at least a majority of occasions, this telescope produces at least very significa

Religious experiences - and alien abduction

Thanks for the very interesting comments on the previous post . As you are not all persuaded, I thought I would develop the argument a bit by means of a further analogy. Very many people claim to have been abducted by aliens . In the U.S. it's an astonishing number. Aren't these people justified in taking their experiences at face value? And aren't we justified in supposing, on the basis of their testimony, that at least some of these subjects have indeed met, been probed by, etc. aliens? I think not. There are obvious reasons to be sceptical. First, the power of suggestion is clearly often involved in these experiences. For example, very many abductees claim to have been abducted by a flying saucer. Trouble is, the saucer story originates with a pilot back in 1947. Kenneth Arnold was asked by a reporter what he saw and he said the craft were boomerang shaped and moved like saucers skipped across a pond (they bounced along). The reporter said they looked like saucers,

THERE IS NO GOD - talk at Oxfringe Festival

On 3rd April, I am giving a talk at The Corner Club | 01865 261 500 | 16 Turl Street, Oxford, OX1 3DH. Title: THERE IS NO GOD. Time: 7:30pm Price: £6.50 BOOKING: Call Joe on 01865 261 507 or email: More details here . Venue is number 13 on this map.

Religious experience

What is it like to be a true believer? For many, it’s something like a perceptual experience – like just directly seeing that there’s an orange on the table in front of them, say. If you ask them why they believe, then of course they may give reasons and justifications of one sort or another. But even if such grounds for believing are provided, typically, not that much weight is placed on them. Such evidence, the theist may say, is not what really explains why they believe. They don’t infer that God exists from evidence. Rather, they “just know”. They directly experience God, perhaps in something like the way I just directly experience that orange on the table in front of me. To them, it is as obvious as that (perhaps even more obvious than that) that God is present. When they look at the world, it seems perfectly clear to them that it’s imbued with a divine presence. They may even find themselves baffled that you can’t sense this presence. So what's going on here? Giving re

Thought for the Day

I recently did an alternative "Thought for the Day" for the HSS. You can hear my effort here , along with those from A.C. Grayling, Stewart Lee, Arthur Smith, Nigel Warburton and many others. They are offered, of course, as an alternative to the T4TDs on BBC Radio 4, from which humanists and non-religious folk are banned.