Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Playing the Mystery Card (including discussion of McGrath vs Dawkins)


(from my book Believing Bullshit - go buy it!) 

Suppose critics point out that not only do you have little in the way of argument to support your particular belief system, there also seems to be powerful evidence against it. If you want, nevertheless, to convince both yourself and others that your beliefs are not nearly as ridiculous as your critics suggest, what might you do?

Perhaps Play The Mystery Card. As we will see, this sort of strategy is particularly popular when it comes to defending beliefs in the supernatural – beliefs in ghosts, angels, psychic powers and gods, and so on. By far the most popular version of the strategy – the version on which I focus here – is to say, “Ah, but of course this is beyond the ability of science/reason to decide. We must acknowledge that science and reason have their limits. It is sheer arrogance to suppose they can explain everything.” Some things may indeed be beyond the ability of science and reason to decide. However, as we’ll see, those who say “But it’s beyond the ability of science/reason to decide” in order to try to immunize what they believe against rational criticism are often erecting little more than a smokescreen.

 “But it’s beyond science /reason to decide”

The view that science can ultimately explain everything – can answer every legitimate question – is called scientism. Actually, even most scientists consider scientism a dubious doctrine. Many of them accept that there may be questions science cannot answer.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Religion and Philosophy in Schools

Religion and philosophy in schools
(from Hand and Winstanley, Philosophy in Schools, Continuum 2008))

Stephen Law

Is philosophy in schools a good idea? The extent to which early exposure to a little philosophical thinking is of educational benefit is, of course, largely an empirical question. As a philosopher, that sort of empirical study is not my area of expertise.
But of course there is also a philosophical dimension to this question. As a philosopher, conceptual clarification and the analysis of the logic of the arguments on either side certainly is my field. That is where I hope to make a small contribution here.
This chapter is in two parts. In the first, I look at two popular religious objections to the suggestion that all children ought to be encouraged to think independently and critically about moral and religious issues. In the second part, I explain a well-known philosophical distinction – that between reasons and causes – and give a couple of examples of how this conceptual distinction might help illuminate this debate.

PART ONE: Two popular religious objections

Philosophy in the classroom involves children thinking critically and independently about the big questions. These questions include questions about morality and the origin and purpose of human existence. Examples are: “Why is there anything at all?”, “What makes things right or wrong?” And “What happens to us when we die?” These questions are also addressed by religion. The subject matter of philosophy and religion significantly overlap. And where there is overlap, there is the possibility of disputed territory. Proponents of philosophy in the classroom may find themselves coming into conflict with at least some of the faithful. While many religious people are enthusiastic about philosophy in the classroom, there are also many who are either totally opposed to it, or else want severely to restrict its scope. Some Christians, Muslims and Jews consider the introduction of philosophy an unwelcome intrusion into those parts of the curriculum that have traditionally been deemed theirs. They have developed a whole range of objections.

Monday, January 20, 2014

I'm on Iran's 24hr news channel

I was at a philosophy of religion conference in Tehran, Iran last week - invited as an atheist to speak to and engage with assembled philosophers, cleric. etc.

I appeared briefly on TV - unfortunately the bit of the interview they chose to broadcast was misleading as they cut the "but"...

Go here.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Freewill determinism resource (for A Level etc.)

5. Does Murderous Mick Deserve To be Punished?

Here’s Murderous Mick. He’s just been captured trying to rob a bank.


Mick shot a bank guard in the back, just for fun.
Obviously we think very badly of people like Murderous Mick. We hold them responsible for their dishonest, selfish and cruel behaviour. We believe that they deserve punishment. Mick will end up locked up in jail for years.
I guess you think, “And quite right too. That’s what Mick deserves.”

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

What is Humanism?

What is Humanism?

“Humanism” is a word that has had and continues to have a number of meanings. The focus here is on kind of atheistic world-view espoused by those who organize and campaign under that banner in the UK and abroad.

We should acknowledge that there remain other uses of term. In one of the loosest senses of the expression, a “Humanist” is someone whose world-view gives special importance to human concerns, values and dignity. If that is what a Humanist is, then of course most of us qualify as Humanists, including many religious theists. But the fact remains that, around the world, those who organize under the label “Humanism” tend to sign up to a narrower, atheistic view.

What does Humanism, understood in this narrower way, involve? The boundaries of the concept remain somewhat vague and ambiguous. However, most of those who organize under the banner of Humanism would accept the following minimal seven-point characterization of their world-view.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Complete Philosophy Files - India

I would like to thank Anjali Dugar for her excellent work in setting up a philosophy club in a school in Mumbai - using my book The Complete Philosophy Files. I'm honoured to have a played a small part in what appears to have been a great success - read Anjali's comments below. My thanks also to Orion - my publisher - for supplying books free of charge. The children sent me some very nice thank you letters which won't display, but here are some photos which I now show with permission.