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Showing posts from February, 2009


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

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 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

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...

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

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.

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 B

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

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 .

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

Please join Centre for Inquiry at

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:

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 descr

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 and f


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

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 proba

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

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

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

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 i

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 W

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 whet