Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Public talk in Ghent, Belgium on Wednesday

"Does God exist?" - professor Stephen Law (Heythrop College University of London)

alle activiteiten
Wat Lezing
Wanneer 31-10-2012
van 20:00 tot 23:00
Waar Zebrastraat 32, 9000 Gent
Organisator Vakgroep Wijsbegeerte & Moraalwetenschap & Onderzoeksgroep The Moral Brain
Contact maarten.boudry@ugent.be of johan.braeckman@ugent.be  
Dr. Stephen Law presents a novel challenge to belief in an all-powerful, all-good God. Law's "Evil God challenge" has been discussed widely on the internet, and featured in a high profile debate with Christian apologist William Lane Craig. It offers a novel and entertaining way of bringing out the irrationality of this traditional brand of theism. If you believe in an all-powerful, all-good God, dare you take the "Evil god challenge"?

Stephen Law is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Heythrop College University of London, editor of the Royal Institute of Philosophy journal THINK, and author of several best-selling introductions of philosophy, including The Philosophy Gym and Believing Bullshit. His latest book is the children's primer on science, philosophy and skepticism Really, Really Big Questions About Me and my Body.   Gratis inkom, iedereen welkom.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Rock climbing yesterday

Went rock climbing in Cornwall and took this short video clip yesterday afternoon, looking down Flannel Avenue, on Chair Ladder cliffs, very close to Land's End. Tom Pilling climbing upper section and abseiling down to start of route in the photos below.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Heythrop College Open Day Wed 31st Oct

Event Details
To book your place at this event at my own college, or find out more, go here.

12.00 -15.30pm.

You'll be able to see the facilities on offer and speak to staff and students to find out more about studying and student life.

Please view our Open Day programme (.pdf) and book your place.

You'll be able to see the facilities on offer and speak to staff and students to find out more about studying and student life.

If you have any queries about undergraduate open days or foundation degree open evenings please contact us at opendays@heythrop.ac.uk or by telephoning 020 7795 4124

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I am tutor for admission BA Philosophy at Heythrop (repeat post)

I happen to be tutor for admission for the BA in philosophy at Heythrop College University of London. If you want to find about more about our BA programme, or an evening MA in philosophy, get in touch (email address is in the header to this page). Obviously with the new fees system, all colleges are focusing on recruitiment, and so are we of course. Obviously we're not as well known as some other colleges. But we are quite exceptional.

So here are a few facts about Heythrop you might be interested in, if you're thinking about pursuing a degree in Philosophy or Theology.

(1) Heythrop is the University of London college that specializes in just Philosophy and Theology. It's all we do.

(2) Heythrop students achieve remarkably good results, despite our comparatively modest entry requirements. We have outperformed other better known colleges in terms of number of first class hons degrees achieved, for example

(3) This is because, astonishingly, Heythrop runs a one-to-one tutorial system. Students receive individual one-to-one tutorials on all their second and third year essays. This is unheard of outside of Oxbridge, of course, and is one of the main reasons are students are so academically successful.

(4) Heythrop is the oldest college of the University of London, being founded by the Jesuits in 1614, though one of the most recent member colleges of the University). However, despite its religious foundation, it is highly diverse in its membership (I'm there, for goodness sake. And I'm made to feel very welcome too.) The philosophy students are no more "religious" than at other London colleges, and the staff have all sorts of views on the subject. There's no religious agenda whatsoever in the philosophy teaching on the BA Philosophy. We just ask that you think and question with an open mind.

(5) Heythrop is small, friendly, and located in beautiful, leafy Kensington Square, very close to Kensington High Street tube station.

(6) Heythrop has some excellent philosophy research going on. Tom Crowther is doing cutting edge work in the Philosophy of Perception, for example (recent paper in Philosophical Review). But our greatest strength is in Philosophy of Religion. We have Professors Keith Ward and John Cottingham working in this area as part of Heythrop's Centre for The Philosophy of Religion. And of course I am regularly publishing in philosophy of religion too (and other areas).

Here's a recent letter of mine published in the Independent:

Dominic Lawson ("A Private Sector Oxbridge? Not Exactly" 7th June) rightly celebrates the one-to-one tutorial system, offered by Oxford and Cambridge, which he describes as "the single most valuable aspect of their educational offering". But Lawson is wrong to say the system is only offered by Oxford and Cambridge. It is also offered by Heythrop College, University of London for undergraduate degrees in philosophy and theology.

If you want to know more, get in touch with me directly. Our website is here. Open days and student conferences available (I run the A Level Philosophy and Philosophy of Religion Conferences - free entry, with speakers like Nigel Warburton, John Cottingham and Keith Ward).

Stephen Law
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy and Tutor for Admissions BA Hons Philosophy, Heythrop College, University of London.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Event (arranged by myself) tomorrow with Chris French, Andy Lewis, etc. - see some of you there I hope

CFI UK and Conway Hall present


Chris French, Andy Lewis, Mike Heap, Serena Roney-Dougal

Do some people have the power to heal others by psychic means? Would medicine benefit by being more aware of our “spiritual” dimension? Where do psychic and spiritual approaches to medicine end and quackery begin? Does hypnosis work, and if so, how? Does meditation offer real benefits – and if so, what are they?

Saturday, 20th October 2012

Conway Hall
25 Red Lion Square
London WC1R 4RL

11am-4pm (10.30am registration)

£10 (£5 students concessions). Free entry for Friends of CFI UK.

Tickets from the BHA website now or on the door.


11am-12.00 Chris French (Professor of Anomolistic Psychology at Goldsmiths) on psychic healing

12.00-1pm Serena Roney-Dougal (parapsychologist and Director of the Psi Research Centre) "Is long-term meditation related to psychic awareness?"

2-3pm Michael Heap (Clinical and forensic psychologist working in Sheffield who has published widely on hypnosis in scientific journals and books and has taught and lectured on the subject throughout Europe and North America.) ‘Hypnosis: Suggestion or Trance?’ 

3-4pm Andy Lewis (Quackometer) on “Anthroposophy and Spiritual Science”.

Introduced by Stephen Law (Provost of CFI UK)


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Myself talking with Peter Atkins, Richard Swinburne, Ard Louis (and Richard Dawkins)

Here is a fairly long video of a discussion between myself, Richard Swinburne (philosopher), Peter Atkins (chemist), Ard Louis (physicist), and also Richard Dawkins (who was in the audience) at one point. The theme was Life, The Universe and Everything - The Quest for Truth.

My main contribution is at 39 mins 30sec.

(nb. Dawkins is at 1hr 18 min 20 sec [he has a pop at Swinburne and me] and my response to Dawkins at 1hr 24 min 30 sec).

I posted on this before, shortly after the recording. Go here.

This included quite a good discussion on the nature and value of philosophy, I thought.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Heavy Dexters live at Bullingdon Arms last week...(me on drums)

Problem of Induction explained simply... (from my book The Philosophy Gym)

Why Expect the Sun to Rise Tomorrow?

Philosophy Gym category:

Warm up
More challenging

Every morning we expect the sun to appear over the horizon. But according to one the philosopher David Hume (1711-76, our expectation is wholly irrational. This chapter gets to grips with Hume’s extraordinary argument. 

An absurd claim?

MacCruiskeen, a scientist,is watching the sunrise. She’s accompanied by her close friend Pluck, a student of philosophy.

Pluck. Beautiful sunrise.
MacCruiskeen. Yes. And right on time too.
Pluck. Yet there was no good reason to expect it to rise this morning
MacCruiskeen. But the sun has risen every morning for millions of years. Of course it was going to rise this morning as well.
Pluck. There’s no reason to suppose it will rise tomorrow, either. In fact it’s just as sensible to expect that a huge million-mile wide bowl of tulips will appear over the horizon instead.


MacCruiskeen. I agree we can’t be certain the sun will rise tomorrow. Some cataclysmic event might destroy the Earth before then. But it’s very unlikely that anything like that will happen. The probability is that the sun will rise, surely?
Pluck. You misunderstand me. I’m not just saying we can’t be certain the sun will rise tomorrow. I’m saying we have no more reason to suppose that it will rise than we have to suppose that it won’t.
MacCruiskeen. That’s absurd. The evidence – such as the fact that the sun has risen every morning for millions of years – overwhelmingly supports my belief that the sun will rise tomorrow too.
Pluck. You’re mistaken.

Pluck’s position might seem ridiculous. But Hume has an argument that appears to show that she’s right. Not only is our belief that the sun will rise tomorrow wholly unjustified, so too are all our scientific theories.
Before we look at Hume’s argument I need briefly to explain the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Following Osborne's latest suggestion, here's a further modest proposal

George's Osborne's new proposal to let workers sell off their employment rights to employers reminded me of this Swiftian satire from 2010...

A Modest Proposal to Transition to a "Cater to the Rich" Economy

by: Dan DiMaggio, t r u t h o u t | Satire

In an article in The New York Times titled "Some Very Creative Economic Fix-Its," New York University economics professor Andrew Caplin calls for workers to put their stakes in a "cater to the rich" economy.(1) According to Caplin, growing inequality is a fact of life in the future of the US and global economy - "some people will succeed and others will not." Rather than judging this to be bad or good, the poor and middle class would do best by trying to "understand the needs" of the wealthy and attempting to provide services to meet their demands.

Rand Paul recently expressed a similar sentiment in the immediate aftermath of his Senate victory. "We're all interconnected in this economy," he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "There are no rich, there are no middle class, there are no poor. We all either work for rich people or sell stuff to rich people."(2) For Paul, the "cater to the rich" economy is already here. The key now is to expand it, starting with extending tax cuts for the wealthiest to spur their spending and investment and create more jobs.

From the perspective of someone who is currently unemployed and has worked a variety of low-wage temp jobs over the past year, I think both Caplin and Paul are onto something. Based on my experiences, I want to submit a modest proposal for a "cater to the rich" jobs program that would provide guaranteed jobs, housing and food to millions of Americans.

My most recent job in the "cater to the rich economy" was picking orders and assembling bracelets for the upscale jewelry company Chamilia. Most Chamilia beads for their charm bracelets sell for between $25 and $65 each, though gold ones can cost over $400, so I doubt they are in the price range of most working people.(3)

My co-workers and I were almost all temps hired through temp agencies like ProStaff (recently renamed Attero Human Capital). We were happy to have this job, but frustrated when it ended after fewer than two weeks. We're more than willing to "cater to the rich," but we'd like, more than anything else, to have some job security, rather than the instability that comes from working through temp agencies. Many of us had just recently been among 550 workers hired for a call center job we were told would last a month, but only lasted a single day.(4)

Across the country, there are millions of people suffering from a similar fate, either unemployed or lacking even minimal job security. And nearly two million long-term unemployed will exhaust their unemployment benefits by the end of December, raising the grim prospect of even more homelessness, and even starvation. In exchange for job security, I think we'd be willing to make some sacrifices.

Therefore, my proposal is that state governments urgently organize big job fairs of a new type: "The Cater to the Rich Job Extravaganza." Workers participating in this job fair would be guaranteed jobs, housing and food by employers at the fair - for life. In exchange, workers would agree to give up their wages, which would hopefully spur the type of long-term hiring that companies have been hesitant about despite record corporate profits. I was only making about $10.50 an hour anyway (when I could find work), and when you add up rent, utilities, transportation, food, and other bills, there's really not much left over - especially when you don't work regularly. Any money saved on wages could also be used to provide more guaranteed jobs for other unemployed or underemployed workers. In order to insure that workers are free from pre-existing conditions that might impede their work abilities, employers would be free to fully inspect their potential employees at the job fair, from head to toe. Insurance company representatives would be on hand to aid these inspections.

I can imagine that this proposal would be quite attractive to many workers. For example, it might appeal to the "Amazon gypsies," the 500 temporary workers living in RVs and campers near an Amazon.com warehouse in Kentucky, where they will make $10 an hour until Christmas, after which they will drive on in search of another job.

I believe it would be most convenient and efficient if employers provided the guaranteed housing and meals in my proposal on or near the premises where workers will be working, and I think this would definitely help attract workers. I say this because several of my co-workers on the evening shift did not get home until nearly 1:00 AM (after finishing at 11:00 PM), since there are so few buses running at night and they couldn't afford cars. By the time you wake up in the morning, it's time to head back to work anyway. Plus, a lot of us are currently living (miserably) with relatives or in our parents' basements, so a change of scenery would be appreciated.

Living on or near the premises would also help us spend more time with our kids, who we don't get to see much. Working from 2:30 PM to 11:00 PM means that you're asleep when your kid goes to school and at work when they get home - but it'd be easier to see them without a long commute.

Speaking of kids, we are all very worried about their future given the state of the economy. Perhaps, in exchange for our employers' housing and feeding them, they could promise to work for them once they are of age. If employers could guarantee them employment for life, I think this is a deal we would be willing to make. And if it turns out that another company or wealthy individual could use their services better, they could pay a transfer fee to their current employer. This would help our children avoid the same instability and insecurity that we have gone through.

There could be additional incentives put in place to encourage workers to sign up for this jobs program. For example, many of us are in over our heads with mortgage payments we can't afford, meaning it would be hard for us to sign up for a scheme requiring us to forgo wages. Perhaps mortgage, credit card, student loan, and other debts could be forgiven to those who sign up - a bailout for workers kind of like that given to Wall Street. In exchange, the big banks and others owed money could be given the services of a certain number of workers in this jobs program. The investment banks will pay out $89.54 billion to their employees in 2010, so there should be no shortage of opportunities to cater to them.

Of course, if we ever want to leave the jobs program and try our luck in the job market again, we would reassume our debts, with heavy interest rate penalties. This is the only fair way to prevent people from signing up just to get rid of their debts.

There are many potential benefits to this proposal in addition to providing jobs. For example, many have bemoaned the decline of community in modern America. As it is right now, workers on temp jobs rarely build ties with one another, since we are rapidly laid off or shuffled from project to project and we all come from different communities. If we were all living together and guaranteed employment for life, this would certainly aid a revival of community spirit and end the days of "bowling alone." Instead, in our free time, we could organize activities like dances, sing-alongs and Bible study groups.

This proposal might also help the environment by reducing the commute to work and, thus, cutting carbon emissions. Further, rich people love organic produce (Caplin envisions small-scale farmers succeeding in the "cater to the rich" economy), so perhaps some employees could be given jobs setting up gardens to provide locally-grown food.

This is also a politically realistic program. Jobs programs usually involve proposals to dramatically increase public spending, which is politically unfeasible these days. Not only do the Republicans control the House of Representatives, but the leaders of the Democratic Party long ago recognized that America's future lies in a "cater to the rich" economy, and smartly oriented themselves toward policies that would help concentrate wealth at the top in exchange for campaign donations.

Luckily, my jobs program requires minimal public expenditure and is mainly dependent on private sector initiative. Tax cuts for the richest Americans could (and should) be extended, helping them to guarantee more workers jobs, housing and employment. I do, however, think it would make sense for the government to pay for a 2011 Census of rich Americans, asking them what types of stuff they like and how they can better be catered to. This "cater to the rich" Census would provide temporary jobs and also help workers prepare for future job fairs. In addition, since private employers would be guaranteeing jobs, housing and food for life, this proposal would help reduce the number of people on Social Security, thereby helping to reduce the long-term deficit and fulfill the goals of Obama's deficit commission.

Other countries facing high unemployment might also consider this program, though they could implement versions reflecting their political systems and their own peculiar institutions. For example, Britain and Ireland have a larger public sector than the US (though it is increasingly under attack) and, therefore, it might be easier for the government to provide guaranteed jobs, housing and food in "workhouses."

Finally, and perhaps most controversially, it would make sense to bar anyone signing up for this jobs program from voting, because they might have an incentive to vote according to their employers' wishes or interests. But more than 40 percent of Americans don't vote anyway, and both political parties can be trusted to steward the transition to a "cater to the rich" economy, so this shouldn't be a big deal.

Some might worry that this proposal sounds peculiarly like certain previously discredited economic schools of thought in American history, but I think we have to put everything on the table to confront this jobs crisis, rather than prematurely judging proposals based on abstract moral arguments. As Professor Caplin explains, it's ineffective to start arguments with "should," which cuts off creative thinking and problem solving. Instead, I hope we can apply the best insights from the history of American economic policy to creatively tackle the challenge facing us today of how to provide jobs for the 15 million unemployed.

P.S. Even the great economic thinker Karl Marx understood the potential benefits of such a proposal: "If [the worker] resigned himself to accept the will, the dictates of the capitalist as a permanent economical law, he [or she] would share in all the miseries of the slave, without the security of the slave."(5) Marx recognized that if workers are to accept growing inequality, they might at least be provided with some security.

1. David Segal, "Some Very Creative Economic Fix-Its," New York Times, 11/27/10.
2. CNN, 11/2/10.
For a glass bead that sells for $35, they pay $1.90 to a factory in South Africa. They pay similar prices to factories in Thailand and China, countries whose employers and workers seem to have recognized the benefits of committing to the "cater to the rich" economy.
4. See my article, "Hundreds of Twin Cities Workers Learn How to Become a Commodity."
5. Karl Marx, "Wages, Price and Profit."

Dan DiMaggio is an independent writer, temp worker and member of Socialist Alternative in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has an MA in history from Tufts University and was an activist with the Harvard Living Wage Campaign. His article "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Test Scorer" will be published in the December issue of Monthly Review. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

My New Kid's Book is On Sale Now!

My new kids book is on sale! Go and buy it! Science, philosophy and skeptical primer age 12+.

Endorsed by the Science Museum.

amazon U.S.
amazon U.K.

CFI UK: Upcoming event with Richard Carrier (on Historical Jesus etc.)

This should be a really interesting talk (organized by myself for CFI UK) from one of the world's leading skeptics. He is the author of a controversial new book on the quest for the historical Jesus. Hope to see some of you there...

Richard Carrier: Bayes' Theorem and Historical Reasoning: How Historical Methods Can Be Improved and Why They Need to Be

16th November 2012

Stamford Street Lecture Theatre
7.30pm - 9pm (7.00pm registration)

Drawing from his new book Proving History: Bayes's Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus (Prometheus, 2012), Dr. Carrier will explain what Bayes' Theorem is (in terms anyone can understand), how it underlies all valid historical methods even when we don't realize it, and why knowing this can improve historical reasoning and argument in all fields of history.

£7 - General
£5 - Students / BHA members
Free - "Friends of CFI"(and LAAG)


Stamford Street Lecture Theatre
Franklin Wilkins Building
Waterloo Campus
King’s College London
127 Stamford Street
Nearest tube: Waterloo

19.00 for a 19.30 start

About the speaker

Richard Carrier is an American historian and philosopher and author of several books which have received international attention, including The Empty Tomb and Why I am Not a Christian. Richard now specializes in the modern philosophy of naturalism, the origins of Christianity, and the intellectual history of Greece and Rome. Richard also writes for and was Editor in Chief of the Secular Web (Internet Infidels).