Monday, January 18, 2016

Milbank vs Law: Blood on the Carpet

Theologian Prof John Milbank and I exchange blows on God here.…/law-vs-milbank-belief-and-the-gods-…
We do not hold our punches.

Parts 3 and 4 will be up shortly but if you can't wait here is my response to Milbank's reply now (ie part 3):

Thanks to John Milbank for responding to my opening piece on God and science. I initially suggested many God beliefs are empirically - and even scientifically - refutable in the sense that we might establish beyond reasonable doubt, on the basis of observation, that the belief is false. I gave three examples: belief there's a God that answers petitionary prayer; belief that there's a God who created the world 6,000 years ago; and belief there's a God that's omnipotent and omni-malevolent. I then suggested that, for similar reasons, we can reasonably rule out a god that's omnipotent and omni-benevolent.

John rejects that last suggestion and defends the view that his particular omnipotent, omni-benevolent God is indeed off-limits to any sort of empirical or scientific refutation. So what is his counter-argument?

Continues here.

On liking and sharing political stuff on facebook, twitter, etc.

I like, share, and retweet quite a bit of left-wing stuff. Why?

Well, I am aware that doing so is often just indicative of cognitive bias - pay attention to that which supports your preferred narrative ignore what doesn't. Am I guilty of that? Almost certainly - we all are.

However, the MAIN reason I like and share political stuff is that:

(i) I am also aware that in certain academic circles people self-censor on this stuff given social/peer pressure, and I'm afraid that brings out the rebel in me (I'm wired in such a way that if I feel I am under pressure not to say something, I'm more likely to say it), and

(ii) MOST IMPORTANTLY, because I am VERY sure that the dominant narrative across the media is very skewed to the right and narrow in focus, so feel I need to do my bit to get other messages and evidence out there and discussion going. It's about moving the Overton Window.

Here's something I wrote back in 2012 on this subject.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

God, Evil, and Theodicies

Here's the penultimate draft of something in Free Inquiry, out now.

Evil God and Mirror Theodicies

Stephen Law

The problem of evil is perhaps the best-known objection to standard monotheism, that's to say, to belief in God defined as omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnibenevolent (all-good). In fact there are two problems of evil, the logical and the evidential. Here I focus on the 'evidential' problem, which is often presented as follows:

If gratuitous evil exists, then God does not exist.
Gratuitous evil exists.
Therefore, God does not exist.

'Evil', in this context comes in two varieties: (i) moral evils such as the morally bad things we do as free moral agents (we start wars, murder, steal, etc.) and (ii) natural evils such as natural diseases and disasters that cause great suffering. So-called 'gratuitous' evils are evils for which there exists no God-justifying reason. Perhaps God has good reason to allow some evils into his creation if that is the price that must be paid for greater goods (there are examples below). But surely God, as defined above, won't allow pointless, gratuitous evils: evils he lacks a good reason to allow. So it appears the first premise of our argument is true: if gratuitous evils exist, then God does not exist.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

John Gray's awful review of Dawkins's book

John Gray has a review of Richard Dawkins's An Appetite For Wonder at New Republic here. I review Gray's awful review here.
Gray begins with a quotation from Dawkins that, suggests Gray, exhibits several of Dawkins's 'traits' in his 'campaign against religion'. Here's what Gray quotes from Dawkins:
Intelligent life on a planet comes of an age when it first works out the reason for its own existence. If superior creatures from space ever visit earth, the first question they will ask, in order to assess the level of our civilisation, is: “Have they discovered evolution yet?” Living organisms had existed on earth, without ever knowing why, for over three thousand million years before the truth finally dawned on one of them. His name was Charles Darwin.
Gray claims this passage reveals three things:
1. Gray says: 'There is his equation of superiority with cleverness: the visiting aliens are more advanced creatures than humans because they are smarter and know more than humans do.'


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Louise Mensch's twitter use of a photo of Jeremy Corbyn

Louise Mensch tweeted this on Jeremy Corbyn. She appears to have taken the image from an article in the Spectator published the day after the rally. In the Spectator article, Corbyn is not even mentioned. So how did Mensch know it was Corbyn in the image? Not from the image, presumably: see the enlargement of his face, which is just pixels (below). Perhaps Mensch just guessed it was Corbyn?

In fact, I think it was Corbyn, given the clothes match ones Corbyn can be seen wearing that day. However, it is NOT a banner Corbyn spoke in front of, as many will have assumed from Mensch's tweet. You can easily find via Google pictures of Corbyn speaking that day 1st May 2014, in which it's clear the offending banner is nowhere in sight (please look here and here).

What's the significance of this? Not very much. Frankly I couldn't care very much if Corbyn had spoken in front of the ludicrous banner. However, he didn't, and in fact it is clear that in the picture he is deep in conversation, that the place largely empty, and that two people are just hand-holding the banner up. The banner was not a rally fixture, even. It's just being waved around by a couple of clowns while Corbyn looks in the other direction.

PS If the picture Mensch tweeted was taken early (and I guess it was - looks like Corbyn has a clipboard and is preparing for the event) then those holding the banner were actually told to clear off! So much for the thought that Corbyn is 'comfortable' about appearing with such banners.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Five morals on how the religious and atheists should approach each other in discussions

I here draw five morals concerning how atheists and the religious might usefully approach each other in debate and argument (from forthcoming book chapter).

1. There's a tendency among the religious to take offence at comparisons drawn by atheists between religious belief and other supernatural beliefs such as belief in ghosts, fairies, etc. No doubt some atheists do just want to belittle and bait the religious by making such comparisons. However, it seems to me that, given that the X-claim explanation of why Peter fails to recognise the unreasonableness of his Christian belief looks fairly plausible and certainly is no 'just so' story (I'll be posting on this shortly, but it's an explanation of religious belief based on drawing a parallel between beliefs in fairies, ghosts, and other invisible persons on the one hand, and belief in gods on the other), drawing such a comparison can be very appropriate. I certainly intend no offence by drawing it. I don't think the religious should take offence...

Continues at CFI blogs.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015



TEXT BOX What is an argument? Outside of philosophy, the word “argument” is used in a variety of ways. An argument in a bar may involve little more than people hurling insults at each other. In philosophy, the word tends to be used more specifically. Usually, when philosophers talk about an argument, they are referring to a sequence of one or more premises and a conclusion. The premises are supposed rationally to support the conclusion.
Arguments can be simple. But they can also be highly complex. Often, a philosophical book or treatise consists of one big argument made up of a series of smaller ones, which may in turn involve further subsidiary arguments, and so on. In order to assess the overall argument, you need to check whether each of the component arguments works properly.

Caption. The detective Sherlock Holmes relied on his powers of reason to uncover the truth. Reason, we suppose, has great truth-detecting powers.

Caption – shoes sticking out. It is reasonable to suppose there is someone standing behind the curtain, because that is the best available explanation of what we can observe – an example of inductive reasoning.

Caption – 5 peaches. The more peaches I observe with stones in, the more reasonable it is for me to conclude the next peach will contain a stone – an example of enumerative induction.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Many god beliefs are empirically confirmable and refutable

The theologian John Milbank will be responding to this in a sort of back-and-forth over at the IAI website in January. This is a preview of my first post. We engaged in a heated dialogue that you can see here
Hegel said 'God does not offer himself up for observation'. Many of us seem to think that claims about gods, and other supernatural phenomena, are claims about what lie behind a sort of cosmic curtain or veil. On this side of the veil lies the empirically observable realm, the realm, we are told, that is the proper province of the empirical sciences. But there is a further realm beyond the veil - a realm of non-natural or supernatural beings and forces. This realm, many suppose, is off limits to science. Science cannot adjudicate on what, if anything, lies behind this cosmic divide. Scientists should show some humility, and acknowledge there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in their naturalist philosophies. They should certainly cease claiming, as Richard Dawkins does, that science constitutes a significant threat to reasonable belief in God.
Continues over at CFI blogs.

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Monday, November 9, 2015

SCIENCE IN THE MEDIA - CFI EVENT on 12th December Conway Hall (my birthday!)

This is going to be brilliant. Book your tickets now. I am presenting.

Science in the Media: Dodgy Science Reporting, Ghostbusting, and Doctor Who

Hear about the science of Doctor Who from a scientist who is also a consultant to Doctor Who's scriptwriters, find out about the credibility (scientifically and otherwise) of ghosthunting TV programme from a former ghosthunter now turned ghostbuster, and discover just how much bullshit science reporting there really is in our national press.

12th December 2015

Conway Hall
25 Red Lion Square
London WC1R 4RL
Nearest tube: Holborn

10.30 Registration

11.00-12.00 Meet The Real Ghostbusters
Hayley Stevens

Welcome to the weird world of modern ghost hunting. A world inspired by reality paranormal TV shows where only the brave dare tread... but what is it that goes bump in the night? And why are the ghost hunters actually scarier that the ghosts they claim to hunt down? Join us on this whirlwind tour of the ghost hunting subculture, the nonsense that comes with it, and how it all came to be in the first place. 

Hayley Stevens is a skeptic paranormal researcher based in Wiltshire, England. Believer-turned-skeptic, with over a decade of ghost research under her belt, she is often sought for an expert opinion on weird stuff - from ghosts to monsters and fairies. Hayley has written for Skeptical inqurer, The Skeptic, Paranormal Magazine and more, and has spoken internationally about the paranormal. She blogs at

12.15-1.15 Follow the formula: the fake science behind real headlines
Michael Marshall

All too often we see stories which seem to be based on science turn out to be nothing more than marketing and PR. By highlighting and dissecting examples from the recent press Michael Marshall will show who is behind these stories, who benefits from them, and who can be said to be at fault when even legitimate science gets distorted in newspaper print.
Michael Marshall is the Vice President of the Merseyside Skeptics Society and Project Director of the Good Thinking Society. His Bad PR project exposes the often-unseen influence of public relations in the mainstream media.

2.15-3.15 The Science of Doctor Who
Edward Gomez

Travelling to alien worlds is one of the regular features of Doctor Who. But how could the TARDIS travel there and what would those alien worlds really be like? During this talk I'll discuss what we currently know about the several thousand alien worlds we've discovered in the last 20 years and if any of the worlds the Doctor has travelled to look familiar.

Edward Gomez is an astronomer and education director for Las Cumbres Observatory, based at Cardiff University. He is interested in searching for asteroids which travel close to Earth, and in open access for science and education. He has been a life long fan of Doctor Who and gave science advice to the script writers for several episodes.