Friday, March 28, 2014

Ontological argument - some Religious Studies A2 notes

Notes on Ontological Argument from today's A2 Teachers First conference Bloomsbury (from ppt)

n  Ontological argument
n  Stephen Law
n  Heythrop College, University of London
n  The ontological argument
n  An argument that attempts to prove the existence of God a priori, from the definition or concept of God.
n  An “armchair” proof!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Notes for Holy Cross School on Religious Language from ppt

Notes for Holy Cross School on Religious Language from ppt

       Wittgenstein on religious language
       Stephen Law
       Threats to religious belief

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Post by Phil and Monica H. re William Lane Craig and Michael Murray on animal pain

This is a one-off guest posting. It's well worth reading. Apologies for awful unfixable formatting.

We are the creators of a series of videos debunking the neuroscience claims made by William Lane Craig (WLC) in his debate with Stephen Law.  WLC claimed animals are not aware of pain and that neuroscience backs his claim.  In Feb 2013 William Lane Craig devoted an entire podcast to addressing our video on the neuroscience of animal suffering; we quickly uploaded a video response, addressing the flaws in his arguments.  You can see all this back and forth here:

Craig promised his source author Michael Murray would write a written reply to our video response and one year later, this has now been published on Craig's web site:   

We would like to thank both Michael Murray and William Lane Craig for responding.  For those of you who don’t have the time to watch all these videos, here is Craig’s claim as made in his debate with Dr Law:
 “Now, let me say one other thing, however, that is a result of recent scientific discoveries that shed remarkable light on the problem of animal suffering. In his book Nature Red in Tooth and Claw, published by Oxford University Press, Michael Murray explains that there is really a three-fold hierarchy of pain awareness.   On the most fundamental level there’s simply the reaction to stimuli, such as an amoeba exhibits when you poke it with a needle. It doesn’t really feel pain. There’s a second level of pain awareness which sentient animals have, which is an experience of pain. And animals like horses, dogs, and cats would experience this second level pain awareness. But they do not experience a third level pain awareness, which is the awareness of second order pain, that is, the awareness that one is oneself in pain. For that sort of pain awareness requires self-awareness, and this is centered in the pre-frontal cortex (PFC) of the brain, a section of the brain that is missing in all animals except for the higher primates and human beings. And therefore, even though animals are in pain, they aren’t aware of it. They don’t have this third order pain awareness. They are not aware of pain, and therefore they do not suffer as human beings do.
Now this is a tremendous comfort to those of us who are animal lovers like myself or to pet owners. Even though your dog or your cat may be in pain, it really isn’t aware of being in pain, and therefore it doesn’t suffer as you would when you are in pain.” 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

CFI UK Surveillance Society event May 3rd

Centre for Inquiry UK and Conway Hall present

The Surveillance Society

Including Caspar Bowden, Tom Sorell, Judith Rauhofer.

Post Snowden, where do we go now? When is surveillance acceptable, and when is it wrong? Should whole swathes of public policy regarding surveillance now be junked? Three leading experts in the field present accessible and fascinating talks on our emerging surveillance society – and what to do about it.

Organized and chaired by Stephen Law

Saturday May 3rd 2014

Conway Hall (Main Hall)
25 Red Lion Square
(Nr Holborn Tube)

£10 (£5 students) Free to friends of CFI UK.
10.30am registration. 11am – 3.45pm

Tickets available at

11.00 Caspar Bowden. Caspar Bowden is an independent advocate for information privacy rights, and public understanding of privacy research in computer science. For nine years he was Chief Privacy Adviser for Microsoft for forty countries.
12.00 Tom Sorell. Professor of Philosophy, University of Warwick. Tom will be talking about the relation between the power of an agent of surveillance and the prima facie wrongness of surveillance.
1.45 Judith Rauhofer. Is a lawyer and lecturer in IT law at the University of Edinburgh. She will be speaking about about surveillance and the rule of law, the different understandings of "lawfulness" and the concept of privacy as a common good.
2.45 Plenary.
3.45 END

CFI UK reserves the right to change the programme due to unforeseen circumstances.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Notes from my slides today - evil and suffering, Augustine, Irenaus, sceptical theism

Notes from today's lecture on evil and sufering.

n  Problem of Evil
n  Stephen Law
n  The lecture
n  What are we going to do?
n  1. Outline the problems of evil (logical and evidential).
n  2. Outline and assess the free will solutions to evidential problem offered by (I) Irenaeus and (II) Augustine.
n  3. Introduce “sceptical theism”.
n  Prelim: natural and moral evils.
n  (1): logical problem of evil
n  (1) There is an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God.
n  (2) There is evil.
n  The logical problem of evil says (1) and (2) are logically inconsistent.
n  To assert both (1) and (2) is to produce a logical contradiction (like saying that there are round squares, or married bachelors).

Cosmological argument - some notes

Cosmological argument

Text from today's slides

       Cosmological Argument
       Stephen Law
       Cosmological arguments
       Cosmological arguments attempt to establish the existence of God by noting:
       (i) that the universe exists, and
       (ii) inferring that it must depend for its existence on something else, that something else being God.
       There are many versions.

Monday, March 10, 2014

God in the Lab - Book now for June 14th!

GOD IN THE LAB: The Science of Religious Belief

Centre for Inquiry UK and Conway Hall present

What lies behind exorcism and speaking in tongues? How rational are atheists? Does morality depend on religion? Profs. Chris French, Jon Lanman and Glen Carrigan discuss some fascinating recent research and findings re. religious and atheistic belief systems.

Presented by Stephen Law

Saturday June 14th, 2014

Conway Hall (Main Hall)
25 Red Lion Square
(Nr Holborn Tube)

£10 (£5 students) Free to friends of CFI UK.
10.30am registration. 11am – 3.45pm

Tickets available at…

11.00 Glen Carrigan. An introduction to a morality where God is not at its centre. Using the 4 S’s of science, skepticism, sarcasm and satire whilst employing neuropsychological research and a humanistic world view, we’ll look at what the alternatives are to a pious moral code and why people and groups might make the decisions they do. Glen is a neuropsychology researcher and senior demonstrator at the University of Central Lancashire specialising in moral psychology, youth engagement and with an interest in all things science.

12.00 Chris French. Chris French is Professor of Psychology at Goldsmith’s College, London and will be talking about, among other things, possession, exorcism, and speaking-in-tongues. His latest book is Anomalistic Psychology: Exploring Paranormal Belief and Experience.

1-1.45 lunch
1.45 Jon Lanman. "Atheism: The View from Cognitive Science" Cognitive Science is the interdisciplinary study of the mind and is in principle and in practice relevant to our understanding of atheism. In this talk, I will review how cognitive science enriches our understanding of belief and rationality, challenges commonly discussed theories of religion and atheism, and provides a more empirically grounded account of the mind that we can utilize to better understand the causes and effects of atheism and anti-atheist prejudice. Dr Jonathan Lanman is the Assistant Director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture and Lecturer in Anthropology at Queen's University Belfast.

2.45-3.30 Roundtable and QandA. 3.30 END 

CFI UK reserves the right to change the programme due to unforeseen circumstances.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Defence and development of Erik Wielenberg's argument re sceptical theism - forthcoming in Religious Studies

(revised 9 April 2014)

Sceptical theism and a lying God – Wielenberg’s argument defended and developed

Stephen Law
Department of Philosophy, Heythrop College, University of London, Kensington Square, London W5 8HX UK

Abstract: Sceptical theists attempt to block the evidential argument from evil by arguing that a key premise of that argument – that gratuitous evil exists – cannot reasonably be maintained. They argue that, for all we know, our knowledge of reasons God may have to permit such evil is radically incomplete. Thus the fact that we cannot identify reasons for God to permit the evil we observe does not allow us reasonably to conclude that no such reasons exist. In response, Erik Wielenberg has pointed out what appears to be, for many sceptical theists, an unfortunate further consequence of their position. According to Wielenberg, if sceptical theism is correct, then, similarly, the fact that we cannot identify reasons why God would lie to us does not allow us reasonably to conclude no such reasons exist. But then, for all we know, God’s word constitutes not a divine revelation but a divine lie. This paper examines sceptical theist responses to Wielenberg’s argument to date (from Segal, and McBrayer and Swenson) and develops two new Wielenberg-style arguments for the same conclusion.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Email from Centre for Intelligent Design

Centre for Intelligent Design
Beware State-sponsored Darwinian Indoctrination                          March 2014

Dear Dr Law,

When Theos, the London-based public theology think tank, published 'Rescuing Darwin' in 2009 they presented a remarkable statistic.  It was that two hundred years after Charles Darwin's birth in 1809, 'at least half' of the British population is still sceptical about the theory of evolution.[1]  This was consistent with a survey conducted for a BBC Horizon programme in 2006 which put the figure at 52%.

However, Theos was actually being a bit generous with its data.  It was 63% of the population they found to be sceptical about Darwin's theory of evolution.  It does of course depend on the form of the question you ask.  However, more embarrassingly, Theos found that some 51% of the population thought that some form of Intelligent Design (ID) was a credible explanation of origins.[2]

That only 37% of the population in 2009 found evolution convincing led Theos to comment on this 'sorry state of affairs' and Richard Dawkins to speak of a 'worrying level of scientific ignorance among Britons'[3].  Time, then, for the ideologues to redouble their efforts to 'rescue Darwin' and sort out the poor souls who just don't get it.  Mind you, with the universities and the media completely on board, you could be forgiven for wondering what else they might do.  If that combination can't get better commitment figures, what could?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Global Warming – Where Do We Go From Here? April 12th

CFI UK and Conway Hall present

Global Warming – Where Do We Go From Here?

Radical ideas ad suggestions on how to respond to the threat of global warming from some of the UK’s leading experts and campaigners.

Organized and presented by Stephen Law.

April 12th, 2014

Conway Hall
Red Lion Square
London WC1R 4RL
Near Holborn Tube

£10 (£5 students) free to friends of CFI UK.

Tickets available online at:

10.30 Registration

11am Dr Mayer Hillman. Senior Fellow Emeritus, Policy Studies Institute, London. What do we do now that society is demonstrating all too clearly its strong preference for downplaying the significance and implications of climate change?

12.00 Dr Rupert Read. Philosopher and Green activist. Rupert will speak about global over-heat, the end of denialism, and the self-destruction of libertarianism in relation to this issue - and a possible way forward, in terms of guardians for future people. (lunch)

1.45 Dr Vicky Pope. The Met Office. Vicky was a founding member of the Met Office Hadley Centre and is a member of the Advisory Board on the UNEP early warning project on climate related hazards. She will present an overview of the latest science from the IPCC report and talk about its relevance for the UK. Vicky will give some idea of weather extremes we might expect.

2.45 Saci Lloyd is an Ecological activist and internationally-acclaimed writer. She is the author of Carbon Diaries.

3.45 End

CFI UK reserves the right to change the programme.

Centre for Inquiry UK events at Oxford Literary Festival 2014

Bruce Hood

Introduced by Stephen Law

The Self Illusion: Why There is No You Inside Your Head

Saturday 22 March 2014
Experimental psychologist Bruce Hood argues that the self is an illusion but one that we cannot live without. He says most of us believe that we exist as a self – an internal individual who resides inside our bodies, making decisions, authoring actions and possessing free will. The feeling that a single, unified, enduring self inhabits the body – the ‘me’ inside me – is compelling and inescapable. This is how we interact as a social animal and judge each other’s actions and deeds. But that sovereignty of the self is increasingly under threat from science as our understanding of the brain advances. Rather than a single entity, the self is really a constellation of mechanisms and experiences that create the illusion of the internal you. We only emerge as a product of those around us as part of the different storylines we inhabit from the cot to the grave. It is an every changing character, created by the brain to provide a coherent interface between the multitude of internal processes and the external world demands that require different selves.

Hood is director of the Bristol Cognitive Development Centre in the experimental psychology department at the University of Bristol. He recently published The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity.

David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton talk to Stephen Law

Morality Puzzles - Would You Kill The Fat Man?

Monday 24 March 2014

Suppose you were out for a walk and whilst crossing a railway bridge you met a fat man. Would you push him over the bridge? One hopes not. But what if, by doing so, you could stop a runaway train from killing five people tied to a track? David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton discuss our moral intuitions in respect of this and other such cases and their fascinating implications.

Edmonds is a senior research associate at Oxford’s Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and a multi-award winning documentary maker for the BBC. He is the author or co-author of several books which have been translated into 25 languages. They include, with John Eidinow, the international bestseller Wittgenstein’s Poker. With Warburton he co-runs Philosophy Bites, the popular philosophy podcast which has had over 20 million downloads. Would You Kill The Fat Man? is his latest book.

Warburton is a freelance philosopher, writer and podcaster. His books include A Little History of Philosophy, and Philosophy: the Basics, and, with Edmonds, Philosophy Bites and Philosophy Bites Back. He is a frequent contributor to BBC radio programmes.

John Lennox and Stephen Law

Designed by God?

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Does observation of the universe provide us with evidence for, or against, the existence of God? Is there evidence of cosmic design? Might there be evidence against the existence of the Judeo-Christian God? These and other fascinating questions concerning God, design and our ultimate purpose are discussed by a Christian professor of mathematics and an atheist philosopher.

Professor John Lennox is professor of mathematics at Oxford University and a fellow in mathematics and the philosophy of science at Green Templeton College, Oxford. He is also interested in the interface of science, philosophy and theology and his recent books in this area include Gunning for God, Seven Days that Divide the World, God and Stephen Hawking and God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? He has participated in a number of debates with high-profile atheists including Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

Stephen Law is senior lecturer in philosophy at Heythrop College, University of London. He is also a well-known atheist and humanist writer and blogger, as well as the author of many popular philosophy books including The Philosophy Gym, The Great Philosophers and, for children, The Complete Philosophy Files. He has debated a number of Christian apologists including William Lane Craig. 

Chaired by Stephen Law

God and The Limits of Science

Saturday 29 March 2014

Is science our only route to knowledge? Are there questions science cannot answer? Might science provide us with grounds for supposing there is a God, or that there is not? Join three leading, provocative and controversial thinkers as they discuss these and other fascinating questions concerning the limits of our understanding.

Dr Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist and author of more than 80 scientific papers and 10 books, including The Science Delusion. He was a fellow of Clare College, Cambridge University, and a research fellow of the Royal Society. 

Dr James Le Fanu is a general practitioner in South London and writes a regular column on medicine and science for The Daily Telegraph and on natural history for The Oldie. His books include The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine, winner of The Los Angeles Times book prize in 2001, and Why Us: How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves

Martin Robbins is a researcher and writer who appears regularly in The Guardian, New Statesman and VICE Magazine. His writing explores themes of denial, conflict and mystery at the fringes of science and human understanding, where evidence and culture collide.