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Showing posts from April, 2012

Excellent opportunity for undergrads - 3FF

The War For Children's Minds

I was billed as the author of The War For Children's Minds on BBC1 Big Questions - this coming Sunday (see previous post). Hope a few more people will now read it... '...this volume has a hugely significant contribution to make. It is also highly readable, and provides a useful pocket guide to current philosophical thinking - a sort of religious Bill Bryson.' - Church Times ' The War for Children's Minds is a brilliantly clear and convincingly argued defence of liberalism in moral education. Stephen Law examines and demolishes all the arguments in favour of authoritarian ways of teaching, and shows that in spite of the insistence of popular commentators from the religious right, a liberal and rational examination and discussion of moral questions does not lead to relativism and the decay of ethical behaviour, but can in fact be the best defence against them. This book won't be read by popular journalists: they will attack it without reading it.

Liverpool talk May 17th

Merseyside Skeptics Society Skeptics in the Pub: Stephen Law Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole by Stephen Law When: Thursday, May 17th, 2012 8.00 – 11.00 PM Where: The Head of Steam, 7 Lime Street, Liverpool Info here . Wacky belief systems abound. Members of the Heavens Gate suicide cult believed they were taking a ride to heaven on board a UFO. Muslim suicide bombers expect to be greeted after death by 72 virgins. And many fundamentalist Christians insist the entire universe is just 6,000 years old. Of course its not only cults and religions that promote bizarre beliefs significant numbers of people believe that aliens built the pyramids. How do such preposterous views succeed in entrenching themselves in the minds of sane, intelligent, educated people and turn them into the willing slaves of claptrap? Believing Bullshit is a witty and insightful critique that will help immunise readers against the wiles of cultists,


(Published in Faith and Philosophy 2011. Volume 28, Issue 2, April 2011. Stephen Law. Pages 129-151) EVIDENCE, MIRACLES AND THE EXISTENCE OF JESUS Stephen Law Abstract The vast majority of Biblical historians believe there is evidence sufficient to place Jesus’ existence beyond reasonable doubt. Many believe the New Testament documents alone suffice firmly to establish Jesus as an actual, historical figure. I question these views. In particular, I argue (i) that the three most popular criteria by which various non-miraculous New Testament claims made about Jesus are supposedly corroborated are not sufficient, either singly or jointly, to place his existence beyond reasonable doubt, and (ii) that a prima facie plausible principle concerning how evidence should be assessed – a principle I call the contamination principle – entails that, given the large proportion of uncorroborated miracle claims made about Jesus in the New Testament documents, we should, in the absence of indepen

PZ Meyers and Sye Bruggencate video

Below is a bit of my book "Believing Bullshit" that refers specifically to Sye Bruggencate's notorious argumentative strategy with which PZ Meyers (Pharyngula) has to cope above at 10 mins onwards ... interesting follow up discussion on the video. This is not Myers's finest hour. Sye's approach is an example of one that scientist atheists such as Myers tend to struggle with. You really need some philosophical knowledge and skill to cope at all well with Sye (and even then he is an extremely slippery customer).... Linked to with thanks to Myers's site here . [if you want to know what "Going Nuclear" is, go here .] Beyond Going Nuclear There is an interesting twist on Going Nuclear popular in certain religious circles – a twist that involves combining Going Nuclear with “I Just Know!” It runs as follows. God, some theists maintain, has provided them direct and certain knowledge of his existence. So, they suppose, they don’t have to assume God ex

Quick thought on Dawkins' argument against God

Richard Dawkins offers an argument against theism in The God Delusion . The key issue is complexity. How do we account for the complexity of the world we see around us? Not, says Dawkins, by invoking the God hypothesis, because a God would have to be at least as complex as the complexity he is invoked to explain. But is this an argument against the existence of God, or merely a refutation of one argument for the existence of God (the argument from complexity)? If the latter, Dawkins can hardly claim to have established there is no God. Even if the argument from complexity is a poor argument for the existence of God, maybe there are better arguments? Maybe there is a God nevertheless? But actually, Dawkins claims to have shown that God must indeed be highly improbable because, if unexplained complexity entails improbability, then God must himself be highly improbable. Indeed - God must be even more improbable than whatever complexity he is invoked to explain. In response, theists h

WLC debate

By the way I'd definitely be up for a round 2 with William Lane Craig if anyone wants to invite me at any point.... Earlier overview here . Plus see "Craig debate" in my sidebar.

Some Ways of Defending Theism That Don't Work

Here are a few ways of defending Theism against e.g. the evidential problem of evil that don't work (which is not to say there aren't better responses, of course). “I may not be able to prove there is a God, but no one can prove that there isn’t.” When presented with a rational challenge to their belief, Theists sometimes say, ‘Look, I cannot prove there is a God; but then it is not possible to prove that there isn’t. So Theism and atheism are both “faith positions”. But then it follows that they are equally reasonable or unreasonable.’ But what, exactly, does ‘prove’ mean here? Prove beyond all possible doubt? It may well be true that we cannot prove beyond all possible doubt that there is no God. But then we cannot prove beyond all possible doubt that there are no fairies or unicorns or Santa. It’s just possible these things exist (perhaps there has been a huge and elaborate CIA-led conspiracy to hide the truth from us). But of course, no one insists that belief in the n

Gig on Tuesday

I will be playing drums with the Heavy Dexters - jazz funk, at The Bullingdon Arms on Cowley Road in Oxford this coming Tuesday (tomorrow). Photo from the last gig at Joe's Cafe, Summertown.

Letter from Sanal Edamaruka defence committee

‘FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION UNDER ATTACK’ Sanal Edamaruku, well known rationalist, under threat of arrest for exposing the “miracle” Dear friends, On 10th March, Sanal Edamaruku, President of the Rationalist International, flew to Mumbai. The TV channel TV-9 had invited him to investigate a “miracle” that caused local excitement. He went with the TV team to Irla in Vile Parle to inspect the crucifix standing there in front of the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni. This crucifix had become the centre of attraction for an ever growing crowd of believers coming from far and wide. The news of the miracle spread like wild fire. For some days, there were little droplets of water trickling from Jesus’ feet. Hundreds of people came every day to pray and collect some of the “holy water” in bottles and vessels. Sanal Edamaruku identified the source of the water (a drainage near a washing room) and the mechanism how it reached Jesus feet (capillary action). The local church leade

Religious Freedom and Equality: Emerging Conflicts in North America and Europe

Just off to take part in this... here . Here's the blurb... n both Europe and North America, an increasing emphasis on equality has pitted rights claims against each other, raising profound philosophical, moral, legal, and political questions about the meaning and reach of religious liberty. The questions emerge in several areas -- for example, questions of religious conscience, an all male Roman Catholic clergy, or the prospect of establishing a separate Muslim system of family law within a democratic state. No question is more salient in the West, however, than the emerging conflict between new equal rights claims on behalf of homosexuals and existing claims of religious freedom. The conference at Magdalen College will focus on this issue as the primary exemplar of the broader conflict. Three examples illustrate emerging conflicts surrounding the principle of equality and the rights of religious groups and individuals. - The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington DC ceased its