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Showing posts from June, 2008

Comment on Copson piece

Andrew Copson has responded to Christina Odone's report on faith schools . Copson begins: According to a pamphlet published today by the Centre for Policy Studies , penned by Cristina Odone, they [faith schools] are under threat as never before from "a government … aligning itself with a stridently secularist lobby". Here's my comment [further developed 3/7/08] on Copson's excellent piece, which I just posted at comment is free. The UK has seen a huge increase in the number of religious schools over the last decade. Having looked into how they are monitored, I was shocked to discover just how little monitoring there is. There are no national statutory requirements , not even for state funded schools; there are some non-statutory guidelines for state funded schools but they are toothless waffle (focused mainly on providing kids with knowledge of some other faiths). State funded schools are guided by the local Standing Advisory Committee on Religious Education

Problem of evil

OK enough silliness. let's get back to the problem of evil. We did not yet properly tie up the discussion of the Rev Sam's various strategems for dealing with the problem. I'll do that next...

Philosophy in Schools seminar

I am involved in the launch of Philosophy in Schools , a book about - philosophy in schools. If you wish to attend next Wednesday (free wine), see this link , or below. Flyer for book here . Philosophy in Schools Seminar What is Philosophy in Schools? Philosophy in Schools is a collection of original philosophical essays that together make a robust case for teaching philosophy in schools. Leading philosophers of education explode the myth that philosophy is somehow too difficult or abstract for children to set out a series of compelling articles for its inclusion in the school curriculum. Philosophy in Schools Seminar When: Wednesday 2 July 4PM - to 6PM Where: Clarke Hall, Institute of Education, University of London Speakers Professor Robert Fisher (Brunel University) Dr Michael Hand (Institute of Education) Dr Stephen Law (Heythrop College, University of London) Dr Judith Suissa (Institute of Education, University of London) Dr Carrie Winstanley (Roehampton University) Re

Jessel the Trifelge Putinard

While we are gently, or not so gently, pulling the legs of the religious, here 's Adam Buxton's (of the Adam and Joe show) rather amusing video of a recent inauguration (in case you missed it). This video perhaps inspired the following addition to the bishops making their way into the cathedral for the recent Icelandic synod (thanks to BHA for link) [image right]. Clearly Buxton is not going to heaven .

The invisible pink unicorn

I am ashamed to say I have only recently discovered the invisible pink unicorn - rival to the flying spaghetti monster. And possibly a more sophisticated deity, as, like the Judeo-Christian God, it involves profound mysteries - such as the mystery of how it can be both pink and invisible. In the words of an early follower: "Invisible Pink Unicorns are beings of great spiritual power. We know this because they are capable of being invisible and pink at the same time. Like all religions, the Faith of the Invisible Pink Unicorns is based upon both logic and faith. We have faith that they are pink; we logically know that they are invisible because we can't see them." The invisible pink unicorn "raptures" socks - which explains why they go missing. For more see: wiki entry The Revelation of St. Bryce the Longwinded. Virtual temple of the Invisible Pink Unicorn

Evangelical Outpost on the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Here is a post from Evangelical Outpost: You have to pity the modern atheist who attempts to present arguments for her cause. Unmoored from any respectable intellectual tradition, each generation is forced to recreate anti-theistic arguments from scratch. The result is that the claims which they believe to be clever and damning often turn out to be, to use a technical philosophical phrase, just plain silly. Take for example, the Flying Spaghetti Monster. According to Wikipedia, The Flying Spaghetti Monster is the deity of a parody religion founded in 2005 by Oregon State University physics graduate Bobby Henderson to protest the decision by the Kansas State Board of Education to require the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to biological evolution. In an open letter sent to the education board, Henderson professes belief in a supernatural Creator called the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which resembles spaghetti and meatballs. He furthermore calls for the "Pastafar i

Sally Morgan - more bullshit

Incidentally, following on from previous post, I just checked out psychic Sally Morgan's amazing video of her identifying, while blindfolded, the famous owner of a jacket at the Hard Rock Cafe London "vault" (where they keep several prized rock and roll relics: jackets, guitars, etc.). Sally fondles the jacket and gradually figures out - he's was an artist, he's dead. "I am seeing Paul McCartney." "I can see the Dakota building in New York - it's John Lennon!" Even Sally is amazed at her astonishing ability. "Isn't that unbelievable? I can't believe I've done that!" Well, maybe she went to visit the Cafe vault the previous week - entry free - and saw Lennon's jacket there, a prized possession, hanging in a case. Then when she runs her hands all over it in this clip, she quickly figures out which of the exhibits it is. This is just embarrassing crap. Go here to see the jacket. I have already commented on Sally M

Challenging the psychics

Sally Morgan, the gifted psychic who appears in her own TV show (her website here offers live readings by one of her "hand picked psychics" for £1.50 per minute - note the disclaimer "entertainment purposes only") could easily pick up over two million dollars in prize money. On TV, Sally can provide quite astonishing bits of information. I was particularly impressed with the way she could pair six or seven dogs with their owners, without any prior knowledge of either. Yet, despite the fact that Sally, and countless other spectacularly gifted psychics, demonstrate these abilities, very very few submit themselves to scientific scrutiny. None whatsoever have ever passed James Randi's (magician and psychic debunker) $1,000,000 challenge . The challenge is simple: demonstrate your occult power under proper scientific scrutiny, and win. The form of the test is to be determined by an independent scientific body, to be approved by both the Randi organization and also

The meaning of life - part II

Following on from the previous post on this theme, and your many excellent comments... When the religious insist God, and only God, can make life meaningful, they often exhibit a pattern of thought that crops up again and again in religious circles. First, they spot a philosophical puzzle regarding e.g. ultimate meaning, or the justification or ground of ethics, or source of existence, or whatever. “What, ultimately, makes things right or wrong?” “What, ultimately, gives life meaning?” etc. They then say, “God is what solves that puzzle”. E.g."God is what ultimately explains the meaningfulness of life"," God is what ultimately explains all existence", "God is what ultimately lays down right and wrong” or whatever. But rarely do they actually explain how God solves the puzzle. In fact, usually the puzzle is merely postponed, for the same old problem crops up again at the level of God. That’s what happens with the divine command theory in ethics, for example (O

Who Owns Britain?

I spoke last night in London at a meeting of Central London Humanists , which was great fun. One of their organizers, Josh Kutchinsky, mentioned an upcoming event which looks v interesting so I plug it here. Contact the London Interfaith Centre (details below) to get yourself invited. 29 June 3-5 p.m. Who Owns Britian? (I) … democracy … secular state … social cohesion … established church … faith communities … human rights … theocracy … shared values A conversation led by Josh Kutchinsky , Trustee of the British Humanist Association. Chair - H.E. The High Commissioner of Belize, Laurence Sylvester (in his personal capacity) To be part of this conversation, RSVP to London Inter Faith Centre: or 020 7604 3053, so we can add your name to the invited guest list. See also ‘Who Owns Britain? II’ on 5 October 2008 from 5 - 7 pm with the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, the Bishop of Willesden.

The meaning of life

The Rev Sam says here : "What does it mean to believe in God? Specifically, what does it mean for a Christian to believe in God? As I understand it, the essential element is about meaning or purpose - to believe in God is to believe that life is meaningful, is purposeful, and this meaning is by definition independent of personal choice or preference, it is something that stands outside of our desires and it is something to which we need to conform in order to flourish." That may be true. But I just want to point out that having an objective, externally given purpose does not necessarily give life a meaning. Even if it does help us flourish. In his book Atheism - A Very Short Introduction , Julian Baggini has a nice analogy, which I now develop somewhat here. Suppose it turns out that we do have a purpose. Human beings are being bred on Earth by aliens. And for a purpose too. To clean their toilets. They are coming next week to pick us up and take us to where we can fulfill ou


[from The Great Philosophers ] Peirce, like William James, is not always consistent in his remarks about truth and reality. What I present here is the “consensus theory” of truth that Pierce does, in several places, appear to advance. The consensus theory of truth What do we mean by truth and reality? These questions lie close to the heart of philosophy. Peirce offers some very surprising answers. Suppose several scientists are investigating the speed of light. They use different methods and experiments. But gradually, though their answers may diverge to begin with, they will gradually close in on the same answer. The more research they do, the closer to a consensus they come, until finally, agreement is reached. Now Peirce defines truth in the following way – it is what those who investigate a matter will all eventually agree on. The opinion which is fated to by all who investigate is what we mean by truth and the object represented by this opinion is the real. Note that

Israel, Palestine and Terror

Jerry Cohen's chapter from the new book is available on-line here . I think it's one of the strongest pieces in the book. My own contribution (three thousand words) is pasted in below. Terror in Palestine: A Non-Violent Alternative? Stephen Law In this volume, the philosophers Ted Honderich and Tomis Kapitan argue that Palestinians have a moral right to use terrorism. Honderich’s and Kapitan’s arguments differ. For example, Honderich’s is rooted in his Principle of Humanity, while Kapitan develops a justification within something like the framework of ‘just war theory’. Nevertheless, both arguments conclude that Palestinian terrorism has been justified in at least some instances. And both rest on a key premise: that the Palestinians have had available to them no viable alternative to the use of terrorism. Honderich writes: that the Palestinians' only means to a viable state has been and may still be terrorism is something about which I myself have no doubt. Evidently it is

Sam's vanishing solution to the problem of evil

A final thought on the often made suggestion that atheist critics of religion, such as myself, don't understand what we are criticizing. (I am thinking of Alisdair McGrath's "I don't believe in that God either" riposte to Dawkins, and the Rev Sam's suggestion, following Hart [ "It would have at least been courteous, one would think, if he had made more than a perfunctory effort to ascertain what religious persons actually do believe before presuming to instruct them on what they cannot believe." ], that we critics don't fully comprehend what Christians understand by "God" and, if we did, we would see the problem of evil is not such a problem after all). As a matter of fact I was raised in a religious household, and my father trained to be a minister, though never took it up. I also attended a church school. So as a teenager I read lots of e.g. C.S. Lewis, Tillich, etc. And since then I have read a ton of philosophy of religion, inclu

Rev Sam pulls on Wittgenstein's mantle

Sam has been trying to get himself off the hook re. Celtic Chimps's perceptive comment on this blog, produced below: "I eventually had to give up arguing with Sam. His beliefs are so vague and insubstantial that I have come to doubt that Sam himself knows what he believes. I think 'God cannot be the member of any set' was the straw that broke the camels back. I offer fair and honest warning to anyone with a healthy respect for actually taking a definable position. Debating with Sam is like going to the movies to see a film. There are tons of adverts for forthcoming movies and then the credits roll." Sam's response to Celtic Chimp is to invoke Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein said it is a mistake always to look for philosophical definitions of terms, i.e. in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions . Sure, we can define "triangle" and bachelor" like that ("A bachelor is an unmarried male" - gives singly necessary and jointly sufficien

Rev Sam on evil - a bit more....

Let’s return to Rev Sam’s response to the problem of evil. To most of us, many theists included, the problem of evil looks like a very serious problem indeed for theism. Indeed, to me, it looks fatal to belief in a good, or worship-worthy, god. Now Rev Sam’s response is to suggest that it isn’t such an insurmountable problem after all. The problem is figuring out exactly what Sam’s response to the problem amounts to. So far, my impression is that he’s got two key responses. The first is to say that “God exists” etc. is not used propositionally: “I think the biggest difference is that you see religious beliefs as abstract and propositional, whereas I see them as gaining sense from what they do in the context of a life.” The other is to say (about my point that a God who, say, buries thousands of children alive, and unleashes literally unimaginable horror on sentient creatures over hundreds of millions of years, is surely not worthy of worship): “I suspect the logic of worship work

CFI London

I have been asked to head up the new Centre for Inquiry in London (in effect, in charge of all academic programmes), and I have agreed. Will be planning various talks and events once we get it going. Should be a lot of fun, I hope. I'll be soliciting suggestions.... You will have the option of joining the mailing list and/or becoming a "friend" for a modest sum (about £30 I think). Website here . I do not yet have an appropriate title. I was thinking "Grand Poo-Bah Extraordinaire" or "Supreme Authority". You may have suggestions..... Incidentally, one of the reasons I am very pleased to be associated with CFI is that a founder was the late, great, Carl Sagan, whom I idolized as a kid (remember "Cosmos"?). I hope we can put on some really interesting events that avoid just preaching to the choir.

Israel, Palestine and Terror

Israel, Palestine and Terror is out at Edited by me, it features contributions by many very eminent philosophers (and also myself). Noam Chomsky, Igor Primoratz, William McBride, Jerry Cohen and Ted Honderich, among others. Some very fiery and provocative papers among them. Tony Benn was kind enough to provide a flattering comment for the back cover. Back to the vanishing God shortly....

Problem of evil - Rev Sam again

Following on from previous post - we are trying to get to grips with the Rev Sam's contention that the problem of evil is not really such a serious problem for believers. He's made two suggestions, I think. The first is that "good" when applied to God, means something other than what it means when applied to humans. God is "beyond good and evil", yet God is still something the Rev Sam wishes to worship. "what's at stake is what is meant or understood by 'God' in that sentence. I'm not persuaded that we can put much flesh on the bones of 'good' when that term is ascribed to God; the God I worship is beyond good and evil, he doesn't fit within those categories. Though I'd still want to call him 'good'..." Quick comment from me: But, notwithstanding your reluctance to put much flesh on the bones of "good" when applied to God, you do think God worthy of worship , right? But then there's the prob