Friday, December 23, 2011


CFI UK and The Ethical Society present:
Arranged by Stephen Law (Provost CFI UK)

Saturday 14th January 2012
Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, Holborn, London

Bookshop by Newham Bookshop


General: £10 general public. Members and students: £8 BHA, AHS and SPES members and students with valid ID. Free to members of the Centre for Inquiry UK.

***Special offer*** Tickets to this event and the Blasphemy! event on the 28th January £16 general, £12 members and students):Members and student ticket offer and General public ticket offer.



Spirits on the brain: Insights from psychology and neuroscience

Chris French is a Professor of Psychology and Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association and former editor of the Skeptic.

Belief in spirits can be found in all human societies and a substantial proportion of the population claim to have had direct contact with a spiritual realm beyond ordinary experience. This talk presents an overview of scientific research into sleep paralysis, near-death/out-of-body experiences and reincarnation claims in support of the claim that such topics can be understood without recourse to paranormal explanations.


'Is there anybody there?'

A ghost hunter that doesn't hunt for ghosts, Hayley Stevens has been researching paranormal reports since 2005. She is the co-host of the Righteous Indignation Podcast, blogs at 'Hayley is a Ghost', occasionally writes for numerous publications, and has spoken internationally about ghosts and critical thinking.

As someone who used to actively hunt for proof that ghosts existed, Hayley has first hand experience with the weird and scary lengths that ghost hunters will go to, to contact the dead and prove they exist in spirit form. 'Is there anybody there?' will give insight into the modern world of ghost hunting where a scientific approach is more likely to be an updated version of seance parlour antics - from the evolution of table tipping, to the revolution of the Ghost busting Smart phone apps.

1.00-1.30 LUNCH BREAK


Mediums at Large

Paul has been a professional trickster for almost thirty years during that period has appeared countless times as performer, presenter and pundit on numerous TV shows across many genres. As someone who spent a brief period (in his admittedly misguided youth) as a fortune-teller and 'psychic', and as a lifelong student of cons, scams and swindles, he is well qualified to talk about the current crop of mediums and the media bias towards their promotion. He would like to take the precaution of prefacing his entire talk with the word 'allegedly'.

A mild rant about TV mediums and the similarity to their predecessors of a century ago.



Richard Wiseman is the Professor for the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He has been active in the skeptical movement for many a year, does Twitter stuff, has recently written 'Paranormality: Why we see what isn't there', and likes dogs.

Do ghosts really exist? What actually happens at seances? How do you go about testing mediums? Why do these sorts of paragraphs often involve a long list of questions? All of this and more will be revealed in an exciting talk that will dig deep into the psychology of belief. Free packet of peanuts for the best question.


You Are The Magic

Ian Rowland is a writer and entertainer with an interest in various aspects of how the mind works or sometimes doesn't. He taught FBI agents how to be persuasive, and taught Derren Brown how to read fortunes. In America, in front of 10 million TV viewers, he proved that he could talk to dead people - or at least fake it well enough to convince complete strangers. He knows an awful lot about cold reading (look it up), but tries not to drone on about it at parties. He is good at drinking tea and waiting for interesting invitations to come his way. Ian will perform a few miracles, just because he can and it's fun, while explaining the truth about psychic powers, miraculous gifts and the afterlife. He will also demonstrate that you are just a little bit more magical and miraculous than you may realise.

4.00 END

Talking of blasphemy, Tim Minchin cut from tonight's J. Ross show

Tim Minchin's blog has very cross post about ITV's decision to cut his recorded appearance on the J Ross show tonite. Tim writes...

"And then someone got nervous and sent the tape to ITV’s director of television, Peter Fincham.

And Peter Fincham demanded that I be cut from the show.

He did this because he’s scared of the ranty, shit-stirring, right-wing press, and of the small minority of Brits who believe they have a right to go through life protected from anything that challenges them in any way."

Here's what was cut...

PS Tim's "I am not saying I'm Jesus" reminded me of king of the blasphemers (Jerry Springer musical case) Stewart Lee - go to 1min30.

I have sent my thoughts to Their explanation is: "We often make changes to programmes before transmission and on this occasion we felt that the song didn’t quite work editorially."

BLASPHEMY EVENT 28th January! CFI UK event!

I have organized this upcoming event for CFI UK. Really excellent, knowledgeable and entertaining speakers...

“Blasphemy!” - Blasphemy, religious hatred, and human rights: Who speaks for the sacred?

This event focuses on the criminalization of religious hatred, defamation, and insult under European human rights, and how this functions as a de facto blasphemy law.

Jointly presented by Centre for Inquiry UK and SPES.

Saturday 28th January 2012
Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square Holborn EC1R 4RL

Tickets: £10 (£8 student).


11.00AM Kenan Malik
Beyond the Sacred

Kenan writes: The idea of blasphemy is closely linked to the concept of the sacred. Detachment from the sacred, the former Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor claimed at the installation ceremony for his successor, has been responsible for war and terror, sin and evil. In this view the acceptance of the sacred is indispensable for the creation of a moral framework and for the injection of meaning and purpose into life.

I want to deconstruct the concept of the sacred and to challenge the idea that without a notion of the sacred there can be no boundaries to human behaviour, no anchor for our ethical beliefs, no meaning to our existence. The sacred, I want to argue, is less about the transcendent than it is about the taboo. ‘The sacred order’, as Leszek Kolokowski, the late Polish Marxist-turned-Christian philosopher, observes, ‘has never ceased, implicitly or explicitly, to proclaim “this is how things are, they cannot be otherwise”.’
The certainties of the sacred, I will argue, provides false hope and in so doing undermine our humanity by denying human choice.

Kenan Malik is a writer, lecturer and broadcaster. He is a presenter of Analysis, BBC Radio 4's flagship current affairs programme and a panelist on the Moral Maze. He used to present Nightwaves, BBC Radio 3's arts and ideas programme. He has written and presented a number of radio and TV documentaries including Disunited Kingdom, Are Muslims Hated?, Islam, Mullahs and the Media, Skullduggery and Man, Beast and Politics.

Kenan Malik’s latest book is From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and its Legacy. The book was shortlisted for the 2010 George Orwell Book Prize.

12.00 Andrew Copson
Blasphemy laws by the back door

Andrew Copson has been chief executive of the British humanist association since 2010 before which he spent five years coordinating the association's campaigns work including on blasphemy and free speech issues.

After decades of campaigning the criminal offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel have been abolished but censorship of blasphemous content and even threatened prosecution of blasphemes continues in the UK. Andrew explores how corporate interests, opaque advertising regulations and new criminal laws continue to stifle free expression and free criticism and mockery of gods and religions.

1.00-1.30 Lunch

1.30 Austin Dacey
The Future of Blasphemy

Austin Dacey, Ph.D., is a representative to the United Nations for the International Humanist and Ethical Union and the author of The Future of Blasphemy. He writes:

If blasphemy is an affront to values that are held sacred, then it is too important to be left to the traditionally religious. In the public contestation of the sacred, each of us—secular and religious alike—has equal right and authority to speak on its behalf and equal claim to redress for its violation. Laws against blasphemy and "religious hatred" are inherently discriminatory because they give traditional faith communities a legal remedy that is not available to religious minorities and secularists when their sense of the sacred is violated.

2.30 Jacob Mchangama
Between blasphemy and hate speech: How hate speech laws are being used to enforce blasphemy norms

Most European states have abolished or ceased enforcing blasphemy laws. Yet “controversial” criticism of religion still risk falling afoul of speech restrictions in the form of hate-speech laws prohibiting incitement to religious hatred. A term which is defined differently in many jurisdictions and may include anything from satirical religious cartoons to harsh criticism of religions. Rather than securing tolerance and social peace modern hate speech laws reinforce group identities and illiberal religious norms to the detriment of freedom of expression and conscience.

Jacob Mchangama is director of legal affairs at Danish think tank CEPOS and an external lecturer in International Human Rights law at the University of Copenhagen. Jacob has a special focus on freedom of expression and has published articles in international newspapers such as Wall Street Journal Europe, Jerusalem Post, Spiked, Globe and Mail, The Australian and Jyllands Posten. His work on human rights and free speech has been mentioned in The Economist, and Courrier International.

3.30 Maryam Namazie
Blasphemy, Offence, and Islamophobia limiting Citizen Rights

Maryam will be speaking on how accusations of blasphemy, offensive speech and ‘Islamophobia’ censor and restrict free speech, limit citizen rights, and aid and abet Islamism.

Maryam Namazie is Spokesperson of the One Law for All Campaign against Sharia Law in Britain, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and Equal Rights Now - Organisation against Women's Discrimination in Iran. She is also National Secular Society Honorary Associate and the NSS' 2005 Secularist of the Year award winner and was selected one of the top 45 women of the year 2007 by Elle magazine Quebec.

4.30 end

Thursday, December 22, 2011

THINK contributions welcome

I am looking for contributions to THINK: Philosophy For Everyone, which is a journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy published by CUP three times per year I'm the editor).

Pieces must be 4k words max and very accessible and clear. No endnotes or footnotes and minimal refereneces.

Mostly we publish stuff by professional philosophers but do include other pieces too if they're good. I also encourage unusual approaches, such as using dialogues. If you have a piece or an idea that might be appropriate let me know.

If you're a professional philosopher with a short piece for which you hold copyright that would be suitable, do please send it over.

Word documents sent as attachment to my email address (see the title bar above) are best, please.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Illustrator needed

I am putting together a philosophy poster for my college and need an illustrator who can do, e.g. fun Quentin Blake style cartoon illustrations in colour. Preferably not too expensive! Anyone out there?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Glenn Peoples' moral argument for God

Glenn Peoples' blog has been interesting me lately. He has just out up his version of a moral argument for the existence of God.

Glenn argues, as does Craig:

If there's no God, there are no objective moral values.
There are objective moral values
Therefore there is a God.

Of course, Glenn realizes his premises, especially the first premise, will require considerable support, so he makes his case for it here.

Here's part of my comment on People's moral argument...

Glenn – I’m tempted to start investigating your argument more but it would be really helpful if you could set out the argument more formally, so that the most basic premises supporting your conclusion are clearly identified. Make it very clear why there is objective moral value only if there is an all-powerful, all-good, personal God. E.g. why moral Platonism won’t do, for example. Why non-natural objective moral facts won’t do either. Why it’s got to be a person. Exactly how the is-ought gap plays a role in delivering the conclusion. It would also be good to see what your assessment of the probability of each of the basic premises of the argument is.

Notice by the way that as more premises are introduced that you may consider to be much more probable than not – that have, say, an 80% probability of being true – the probability of your conclusion being true may nevertheless drop like a stone. With, say, just five required basic premises of 80% probability each, the probability that your conclusion is true drops to just 32%.

That’s to say, the probability that your conclusion is FALSE is nearly 70% (p.s. given just those premises).

(Wes Morriston also points this out, I believe)

However some theists (not you) are very good at disguising this problem of plummeting probabilities with amazing rhetorical flourishes!

Post Script.

In case it's not clear, I am pointing out that a deductively valid moral argument based on even say five basic premises with an 80% probability of truth each, produces a conclusion that has 68% probability of being false, given just those premises. It's much more likely to be false than true!

Now your moral argument, which you putting up against the problem of evil (which it apears you've entirely failed to deal with, and which itself renders the moral argument more or less useless, even if its first premise *could* be established), seems on the face of it to be based on a series of thoughts which you find fairly plausible which you think entail your God exists. But even if (i) your argument makes say just 5 basic assumptions with an 80% probability of truth each, and (ii) they do collectively deductively entail your god exists, your argument is still a dismal flop.

I asked that you clarify what your argument is so we can check if this obvious seeming flaw in your argument is really there. But you say you haven't got the time.

POSTSCRIPT 21 DECEMBER. I have just added this comment...

Glenn and others want to create a smokescreen of technicality to disguise the fact that his argument, looks, prima facie, like a dismal flop given its based on a series of "more probable than not" premises. The rule I am applying is: to get the highest probability you can assign to the conclusion in a valid deductive argument, you just multiply the probabilities of the basic premises.

Now yes, there are some exceptions to this general rule. So for example, when a premises is redundant, like so: A, B therefore A. Here, you don't factor in the probability of B, for obvious reasons. Also, when the conclusion is a tautology, its probability will be 1, irrespective of the probability of the premises (though the premises are then all redundant, of course). Also, simple multiplication is not appropriate where there's a logical or known causal connection between premises. The probability of the conclusion may then be either higher or lower than the figure you get by simple multiplying. E.g.

A is male
A is female
Therefore A is male and A is female.

Given our background knowledge that being male makes it highly unlikely you are female (unless a hermaphrodite), it's clear we should not give a value of 26% to the conclusion given a prob of 51% to each premise. The probability is LOWER than you get by simply multiplication. Given that further background knowledge. Ditto (and here the we’re dealing with logical exclusion – the conclusion has a mathematically guaranteed probability of 0):

A is 60 years old
A is 61 years old
A is 60 years old and A is 61 years old.

Other times the probability of the conclusion can indeed be higher.

So yes, there are exceptions to the rule. But the point is they are exceptions to a general rule that does otherwise generally apply and which we'll be entitled to suppose applies in the case of Glenn's moral argument too, unless Glenn can explain why it doesn’t. At this point, we cannot tell for sure, because Glenn won’t even clearly set out what the basic premises of his argument actually are. In which case, we should just shrug and walk away. Glenn’s given us nothing.

Incidentally the “upper bound” stuff, while it looks awfully impressive especially when articulated using long strings of formulae, appears to be based on some rather dubious ideas. I cannot find any reference to it outside of theistic circles (e.g. Tim McGrew). Can you point me to some?

Craig’s reference to it is opaque, btw, in the context of what he says. That looks like an attempt to baffle with bullshit.

But I note in any case that the “upper bound” point, even if it is correct, appears to give us no reason at all to suppose that we cannot, on the basis of saying that Glenn’s basic premises are five with a probability of 0.8 each, draw the conclusion that the probability of his conclusion cannot reasonably be estimated as higher than 0.32, given knowledge of just those premises. Indeed, that’s exactly the conclusion we’re usually entitled to draw in such cases (noting, of course, that there are indeed a few exceptions – perhaps Glenn will say “God exists” is a tautology? In which case the premises will have a lower probability than the conclusion but will be redundant!). So why not in this case? That’s what Glenn would need to explain, once he’s actually identified what his premises are (hint: Glenn might insist there’s some connection between the premises that means the probability of the conclusion should be higher – but the onus is surely then on him to identify this connection). Remember, I am not saying the probability of Glenn’s conclusion will be low. I am saying that if it’s based on a series of merely more-probable-than-not basic premises then (unless this is some sort of special case – see above) the probability of the conclusion cannot be considered, on that basis alone, very high.

POST SCRIPT 23 DEC. Well, I have been getting clearer about how all this upper bound of 1 stuff works, largely thanks to Tim (McGrew?) who is v knowledgeable about it and has been commenting on Glenn's website. It now seems to me that the logic concerning an upper bound of 1 is indeed impeccable. And, it turns out, once all the logical symbolism etc. has been unpacked and understood, completely irrelevant to the point I'm making.

I'll explain exactly why in another full post. It's important to get this stuff straight because, if I am correct, saying "Ah but that's just the lower bound of the probability; the upper bound of the probability of the conclusion is 1" in response to the objection that the probability of the conclusion (assuming independent, non-redundant premises) given just validity and the probabilities of the premises is just those probabilities multiplied, is a complete red herring (indeed, the person who says this is committing the straw man fallacy).

Friday, December 16, 2011

Glenn Peoples on the Evil God Challenge

I have been having an exchange with Glenn Peoples on his blog about the Evil God Challenge. Glenn thinks the problem of evil (and reverse problem of good) is neutralized by the theodicies (and reverse theodicies). Hence there's no reason provided by the vast quantities of evil/good we observe to conclude that belief in a good or evil god is unreasonable. So all Glenn has to do to show that belief in a good god is quite reasonable is, he thinks, to come up with e.g. a fairly good moral argument for the existence of God. So here's my latest comment...

Let me explain how things look from my end.

I give you what appears to be overwhelming empirical evidence against the existence of your particular God - the evidential problem of evil (e.g. hundreds of millions of years of horror before humans show up, a million plus generations of children around half of which are killed through disease and/or starvation before they reach the age of 5 before Jesus shows up, etc. etc.)

You appear to respond, in effect, by saying: (i) but we theists have all sorts of explanations for all this evil (theodicies), which I think are quite good explanations (ii) even if they are not that good, they can be supplemented by sceptical theism which I don’t rule out, so (iii) the onus is on you to show all these theodicies collectively fail and that sceptical theism is untenable, before you can say that you have provided good evidence against the existence of my God.

But the thing about the theodicies, Glenn, is that they are what Popper calls ad hoc. They lead to now new tests. Or, if they do, but the further test fails, there’s always another gerrymandered explanation for the failure that can be cooked up. Similarly, appeals to God’s mysterious ways and facts-beyond-our-ken are ad hoc. There’s no way empirically to test the claim that such facts-beyond-our-ken is indeed the correct explanation for why there’s so much evil.

Much the same intellectual strategy that you are employing to defend theism is also employed by Young Earth Creationists (YEC), conspiracy theorists, Erich von Daniken style alternative historians (aliens built the pyramids) and countless other wackos to convince themselves and their followers that what they believe cannot be so silly after all.

For of course, if I present a series of evidence-based arguments against YEC, its proponents can say, “Ah, but we have some, we think, quite good explanations of the order of the fossil record, for light from distant stars, etc. - hundreds of such explanations in fact” (explanations cooked up at the Institute for Creation Research and other multi-million dollar funded “research” institutions), and (ii) in any case, God might have his mysterious reasons for arranging the fossils, etc. like that, so (iii) the onus is on you to show all these YEC-type explanations collectively fail and that such appeals to God’s mysterious reasons is untenable, before you can say that the facts to which you point provide good evidence against YEC.

Of course, when we then try to show the failings of the YEC explanations offered, the proponent of YEC can always gerrymander up yet more explanations, and then even more, thereby continuing to make their theory “fit” the evidence. They thus render their theory empirically unfalsifiable (this is the strategy I call “But it Fits!” in my book Believing Bullshit).

But that is, indeed, all bullshit, isn’t it? The fact is, YEC IS pretty straightforwardly falsified by the available empirical evidence, notwithstanding the possibility of endlessly explaining that evidence away by ad hoc means and/or appeals to mystery. Most of us can see that straightaway (those of us whose minds have not been captured by YEC, that is). The endless ad hoc-ery and mystery-mongering is just a smokescreen.

The onus is clearly not on us to refute all the explanations on offer by the YECs. In fact that’s an impossible task given the ad hoc character of their explanations and the fact they're prepared to keep constructing them ad nauseum. It’s entirely reasonable for us to insist that the available empirical evidence DOES indeed very effectively undermine YEC, and that it does so precisely because the YECs’ method of explaining it away is so hopelessly ad hoc.

This is why, before we are presented with any argument FOR classical theism or YEC that might be furnished to save or support the theory, it is indeed entirely reasonable to conclude, on the basis of the kind of observational evidence outlined, that classical theism/YEC is false.

POSTSCRIPT. Glenn has responded with three points, to which I've responded. Here's the points with my responses...
PPS 18th Dec. I have now expanded the explanations below because they were too sketchy.

Hi Glenn

my quick response to your three comments.

First, here's what an ad hoc hypothesis actually is (as Popper and I use the term). It's a hypothesis introduced to save a theory from refutation, a hypothesis that is not independently testable.

Illustration. The Aristotelean cosmology said the heavenly bodies are perfectly spherical. Galileo observed mountains on the moon through his telescope. One Aristotelean attempted to save his theory by insisting there was an invisible substance on the moon that covered the mountains, making it perfectly spherical. This theory-saving hypothesis was ad hoc because (at the time) it was untestable.

Not all theory-saving hypotheses are ad hoc. Newton's theory of universal gravitation predicted a smooth orbit for Uranus. Uranus was observed to have a wobbly orbit. To save Newton's theory, scientists introduced the hypothesis that there was a further planet tugging Uranus out of orbit. This new hypothesis was not ad hoc as it led to new tests - astronomers looked at where the mystery planet would have to be, and found it - that's how Neptune was discovered.

Even when individual theory saving hypotheses are not individually ad hoc, they can be collectively rendered ad hoc if the defender of the theory is prepared endlessly to cook up new hypotheses to save the theory. Or appeals to mystery, of course, which are also, in effect, ad hoc. This is the strategy I call "But it Fits!" in the book Believing Bullshit.

Now to Glenn's response. He says...

GLENN: 1) I’m not even close to being persuaded that the plausibility of theodicies is anything like the plausibility of explanations for why we should believe in a young universe.

ME: What you’re persuaded of is irrelevant. I have pointed out why your method of dealing with the problem of evil is essentially similar to that employed by Young Earth Creationists to deal with counter-evidence.

GLENN: 2) Theodicies don’t strike me as ad hoc. Things like the free will defence or the soul building defence (etc) are generalisable. E.g. the might be stated something like “For any perfectly good and all powerful being, it would still be conceivable that they allow X provided it has some outcome that is compatible with their good character, such as Y.” Ad hoc explanations are really one-off explanations of a sort that are just made up to explain one very specific situation by appealing to principles that are of no use otherwise. So it’s not ad hoc at all.

ME: That’s not what ad hoc means, Glenn. Ad hoc explanations lead to no new tests. The theodicies are ad hoc, by Popper’s definition (he coined the phrase). Look it up. Or, when the theodicies are not ad hoc, and the further test is failed, they are salvaged by yet another defensive manouevre, just as in the case of YEC, thereby rendering the theory unfalsifiable (or an appeal to mystery, of course). Nutters who believe dogs are spies from the planet Venus, etc. employ the exact same strategy.

Ad hoc hoc defences CAN be generalizable. For example, to defend my theory that the Earth is ruled by alien lizards, I can deal with an apparent counter-evidence by saying: "Ah, but that evidence was of course planted there by the alien lizards to fool us." That's a great general, blanket immunizing strategy. it's not one off.

GLENN: 3) Even if things were different and theodicies were ad hoc, they are intended as explanations for why a person might do or allow something that you didn’t expect them to. If anything is allowed to be ad hoc, surely it’s something about why so-and-so might do something. If you rejected the explanation because it was ad hoc, you’d be effectively stacking the deck against any explanation in terms of a person’s intentions, which would be unfair in this case, to put it mildly. But this is moot, since theodicies aren’t ad hoc in any important sense anyway.

ME: The theodicies are indeed ad hoc in Popper's sense. They lead to no new tests (either that, or further explaining away is done ad nauseum to deal with further explanatory failures, or they're supplemented by appeals to mystery). This is NOT like when someone does something out of character and we say, ah, but they probably had this reason for doing it. Often, we can test our hypothesis. So the suggestion is not ad hoc at all. And the occasional ad hoc explanation for anomolies is in any case acceptable (even Popper thought so). However, when there’s considerable evidence against a theory and it’s all dealt with by ad hoc means (and/or appeals to mystery), then that counter-evidence is NOT neutralized.

You’re strategy is, in short, very much like a wife who, when presented with a husband who very often acts in seemingly cruel and vicious way, beating her and her children, maintains he is nevertheless entirely noble and virtuous. She simply explains all the bad stuff away in a manner that is entirely ad hoc (or, when her excuses and explanations for his behaviour clearly fail, just constructs yet more explanations ad nauseum, and/or appeals to his having mysterious unknown reasons).

You, Glenn, say: "If you rejected the explanation because it was ad hoc, you’d be effectively stacking the deck against any explanation in terms of a person’s intentions". This is just false. You have misunderstood what "ad hoc" actually means, as I and Popper use the term. Explanations in terms of people's intentions usually aren't ad hoc, as it's usually possible to test the explanation. E.g. We believe Tom is kind and non-violent. We discover he has killed someone with a knife. We postulate that he killed in self-defence. That it was a case of self-defence is something that can be investigated and indeed potentially shown to be false. It's not ad hoc. But even if it were, it would acceptable if it's a one off example. What's not acceptable is to rely almost entirely on ad hoc means to save your theory from refutation. That's what you are doing, Glenn.

To return to the beaten wife - the wife is being irrational if she insists there’s no prima facie good evidence that her husband is NOT entirely noble and good. She’s deluded. You seem, to me, are a similar case.

Now of course, the wife might insist she has these other very good reasons for thinking her husband really is noble after all. Perhaps she has. But, as things stand, her husband’s horrific behaviour really is excellent evidence that he’s not entirely noble and good, notwithstanding the wife’s endless supply of untestable excuses and explanations.

That’s right, I am suggesting you’re deluded, Glenn. Not very gracious of me, but it’s what I think. Clearly, when we are both so very confident of the reasonableness of our respective, but mutually exclusive, positions, one of us very probably is pretty deluded. The above considerations suggest it’s you.

PPPS. That this is the fundamental problem with the theodicies (and skeptical theism, actually), a problem that the EGC brings out at an intuitive level, is something I'm writing up as an academic paper.

Postscript 20 Dec. Glenn has responded again. Here's my (slightly edited) reply (quoting him):

Glenn you say: "you've got to insist that even explanations that are compatible with all the facts an are true will be discarded by your method of labelling explanations as ad hoc, basically ensuring that no explanation at all will get through your filter,"

Of course true explanations can quite rightly and justifiably be rejected. Happens all the time. But in any case you haven't shown your explanations are true, at this point (considering just the evidential problem of evil prior to considerations favouring theism). You are just assuming they are, at this point!

"No explanations at all will get through your filter." Not sure what this means. Non ad hoc explanations of counter-evidence are fine. Even the occasional ad hoc explanation is acceptable. The only thing I am ruling out is a theory defended against seemingly very powerful counter-evidence more or less entirely by ad-hoc means (plus mystery-mongering). I'm saying, very sensibly, that that does NOT neutralize the counter-evidence! This must, by now, be blindingly obvious to you.

But the key point, Glenn, is, once explaining away all counter-evidence by more or less entirely ad hoc means (plus mystery mongering) is allowed - and that IS your strategy, as you seem finally to have realized - EVERY NUTTY THEORY BECOMES ENTIRELY IMMUNE TO COUNTER EVIDENCE. Indeed, this is the preferred method of dealing with counter-evidence by nutcases the world over.

I can now quite reasonably believe the world is ruled by evil, shape-shifting alien lizards. A wife can quite reasonably believe the husband who beats her and her children is wholly noble and good. Any counter-evidence can quite reasonably be endlessly explained away by ad hoc means (supplemented, if required, by mystery-mongering). Our absurd beliefs will be just as reasonable as yours. And yours as reasonable as ours.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Naturalism, Evolution and True Belief

This article on Plantinga i just published in Analysis. It's a fairly short attempt to refute Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. Go here. PDF is here.


Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism aims to show that naturalism is, as he puts it, ‘incoherent or self defeating’. Plantinga supposes that, in the absence of any God-like being to guide the process, natural selection is unlikely to favour true belief. Plantinga overlooks the fact that adherents of naturalism may plausibly hold that there exist certain conceptual links between belief content and behaviour. Given such links, natural selection will favour true belief. A further rather surprising consequence of the existence of such links is this: even if semantic properties are epiphenomenal, unguided evolution will still favour true belief.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Answers in Genesis responds to my 4thought slot

Answers In Genesis, the bonkers Young Earth Creationist website headed by Ken Ham (who gets special mention in my book Believing Bullshit), singled out my Channel 4thought slot for comment. Go here and scroll a little over halfway down. I am very pleased.

All I need now is to be attacked by "Mad Mel" Melanie Phillips and I can die happy.

P.S. This guy at "They Don't Fool Me!" has also got cross about the Channel 4 thing, after reading the above Answers in Genesis post. Apparently anyone who thinks the world is older the 6k years is a "leftist". I just posted this comment (which I suspect won't ever appear):

Stephen Law December 8, 2011, 8:04 am Reply
Your comment is awaiting moderation

Yeh, let’s string up this leftwing atheist commie punk for insisting the Earth is older than 6 thousand years.

P.S. 12th December: As I predicted above - They Don't Fool Me! blogger refused to put up the above comment and instead put this up in a post: "Today in the House of Horrors, we have the Christian hating philosopher Stephen Law responding to my post that included “Are Christians Mentally Ill?” in comments saying something nutty about ‘stringing up atheists’ and linking to a youtube video."

Seems They Don't Fool Me! is not too keen on me posting a link to William Lane Craig Lane explaining why the universe is very probably 13.7 billion years old and Young Earth Creationism is implausible.

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The next event is this pretty amazing one on ghosts, spirits, etc, btw. Sat 14th Jan. Magicians are involved so it will be entertaining as well as educational.

To subscribe to email updates about Heythrop and other conferences and events of interest to pupils doing A Level RS and/or Philosophy, please email me the phrase "subscribe Heythrop".

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The next Heythrop Conference is this one on Sat 21st Jan 2012 with Keith Ward, Richard Harries, John Cottingham and myself. It's free but you need to book.

Philosophy Conference Sat 21st Jan

Here's an upcoming event I have organized for my college. Venue is Heythrop College, Kensington Square. It's free. Aimed especially at VIth formers and their teachers.To book email me or Karoline Wilhelm-Brown



21st Jan 2012

Particularly aimed at students of RS, though all are welcome.

Bookshop by Newham books. Book signings.

Life, the Universe, and Everything

Keith Ward is a Fellow of British Academy, one-time Professor of the Philosophy of Religion, King's London, Regius Professor of Divinity, Oxford, and now Professorial Research Fellow at Heythrop.

Ethics and Religion: How They Fit Together

John Cottingham is Professorial Research Fellow at Heythrop College, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Reading University, and an Honorary Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford. He is Editor of Ratio, the international journal of analytic philosophy.”

1.00-2.00 lunch

The Evil God Challenge

Stephen Law is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Heythrop College, university of London, editor of THINK (journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy) and author of The Philosophy Gym (Headline) and The Philosophy Files (Orion).

Justice for hedgehogs: Ronald Dworkins’ ‘value holism’ in theological perspective

Richard Harries is Gresham Professor of Divinity. His latest books include Faith in Politics? Rediscovering the Christian Roots of our Political Values (DLT) and The Re-enchantment of Morality (SPCK) which was short-listed for the 2011 Michael Ramsey Prize for Theological writing.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Al Jazeera - my contribution to discussion

Here's the Al Jazeera discussion programme I appeared on last night. It was a very good discussion I thought. Al Jazeera produce exceptionally high quality TV. The other contributors were Salman Hameed and Imam Joe Bradford from the US.

The discussion was prompted by an article by Geneticist Steve Jones in the Telegraph. In fact I had not seen this earlier interview in the Australian where Jones does say the problem of students boycotting evolution classes is predominantly with Muslim students.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Stream, Al Jazeera tonight

I'll be on the Stream programme this evening, talking about Muslims who (it's alleged) walk out of or boycott lectures on evolution that form part of their university course.

Steve Jones has previously expressed a concern.

From 7.30-8.00 via Skype, along with some others.

I'll be tweeting afterwards....@stephenlaw60

Monday, December 5, 2011

Believing Bullshit chpt 2


“But It Fits!” is one of the most popular strategies for immunizing beliefs against refutation. In fact, “But it fits!” does double duty. Not only is it a great immunizing strategy, it can also be used to create the illusion that a ridiculous belief system is not, after all, ridiculous, but at least as well confirmed as its rivals. I’ll explain how “But It Fits!” works by means of a particularly impressive example: Young Earth Creationism.

Young Earth Creationism

Young Earth Creationism is a theory based on a literal reading of the Old Testament. Young Earth Creationists maintain that the entire universe is less than ten thousand years old (a typical estimate is about six thousand years old). They claim that the universe, the Earth, and every living species were created literally as described in Genesis, over a period of six days.

So, according to Young Earth Creationists, the theory of evolution, which says that new species can evolve, and have been doing so over many millions years, is false. So are current cosmological theories that say that the universe came into existence several billions of years ago (between 13 and 14 billions years ago).

Young Earth Creationism is popular. Polls fairly consistently indicate that around about 45% of U.S. citizens believe it. Nor is it restricted to the uneducated. A 1972 Gallup poll suggested that about a third of U.S. graduates believe we are all descendents of Adam and Eve. For many, Creationism is a moral crusade. According to H. M. Morris, a leading proponent,

Evolution is the root of atheism, of communism, nazism, behaviourism, economic imperialism, militarism, libertinism, anarchism, and all manner of anti-Christian systems of belief and practice.

Young Earth Creationists typically see themselves fighting a battle over the souls of coming generations, and are particular keen to have their beliefs taught in schools.

Extraordinarily, not only do many millions of Americans believe the universe is only about six thousand years old, many also believe that Young Earth Creationism is good science. They consider the Biblical account of creation to be at least as scientifically well-confirmed as the theories of evolution and a billions-of-years-old universe.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Gig Tonight in Oxfordshire

I will be playing drums with The Heavy Dexters tonight at the Chequers Pub, Burcot, OX14 3DP. Jazz funk.