Sunday, May 31, 2009

Can Your Prove God Doesn't Exist?

Austin Dacey and William Lane Craig talking about proving God does or doesn't exist.

If you are familiar with this blog, you will know I think we can prove beyond reasonable doubt that there is no God just by appeal to empirical evidence (and I also think it is possible to prove there is no God by conceptual means). See The God of Eth.

Incidentally, I think maybe Dacey at the beginning misses out a third kind of proof that X does not exist. He mentions:

(i) conceptual proofs
(ii) proofs based on looking for a thing and failing to find it (note this seems to require X be observable, which God supposedly isn't)

But there is also this method:

(iii) show that if there were an X, there would not be Y (Y being observable). Y is observed to exist. Therefore X does not exist.

Note that (ii) takes absence of evidence to be (under certain circumstances) evidence of absence, whereas (iii) does not. My God of Eth "proof" is of the third kind.

P.S. Perhaps (ii) should also include: if there is an X, there would be Y (observable). Y is not observed. Therefore X does not exist. This does not require God be observable (as Dacey's formulation seems to require). But it is not as effective as (iii), as one might insist that our failure to observe Y does not show Y does not exist (again, we are still treating absence of evidence as evidence of absence). However, if Y were something that would be observable everywhere if God existed, such as "an absence of gratuitous evil", then the observation that there is no absence of gratuitous evil round here would directly entail there's no God. (iii) thus becomes a variant of (ii) after all.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Is rape a sex act?

Here's a short response I wrote in THINK Issue 21 to a preceding piece in which Timothy Chambers argued that rape is not a sexual act (because a sex act requires consent).

Rape is a Sex act

In ‘No, You Can’t Steal a Kiss’, Timothy Chambers argues that rape is not a sexual act. But rape is a sexual act, and a violent one too. To say that rape is sexual is not to say, or imply, the woman enjoys it or consents to it in some way. It does not entail that the two individuals ‘have sex’ (which does suggest consent on both sides).

‘Rape is not a sex act’ is actually, I think, a rather silly thing to say. It involves redefining ‘sex act’. I take a sex act to be an act of a sexual nature, i.e. probably involving sexual organs, and certainly engaged in for the purpose of sexual gratification or titillation. That seems a pretty safe, standard definition of ‘sex act’ to me.

Rape - as performed by the man, is, then, such an act. The woman victim does not rape, so we do not have to say she is performing a sex act (which would imply consent).

Note that the sexual aspect of rape is typically why the man does it. He does not rape to be violent, and it just happens to be violence of a sexual nature (as if he would have been just as happy to, say, hit her). The sexual aspect is no accident. Refusing to call rape a sexual act obliterates this aspect – an aspect which usually makes it a more serious form of assault than mere physical, violent assault (in which, say, one man physically assaults another by forcing his fingers into the other’s mouth).

Yes, we can redefine ‘sex act’ so that, in order to qualify as a ‘sex act’, all involved parties must consent to it. Rape would then no longer qualify as a ‘sex act’. This redefinition would allow feminists to say, condescendingly, "Oh no, it's not a sex act!" to any man who has not yet bought into their redefinition, implying that somehow he is suggesting that women enjoy or consent to rape. "What a brute - he's saying rape is a sexual act!" But of course this veiled accusation relies on a cheap sleight of hand with words. Using the expression “sex act” with its usual meaning, “rape is a sex act” does not imply that the woman consents.

I think saying rape is not a sex act is an example of what the Philosopher C.L. Stevenson calls a "persuasive definition".

Ropetrick drumming MP4

There is an mp4 track with my drumming on here if anyone is interested. I said I might do this ages ago... (the file is called "13 slow it down")

It is just a pretty simple groove with couple of fills.

You have to download file as I have not figured out how to get it to play from the webpage yet.

Friday, May 29, 2009

mp4 upload question

anyone know how I can upload an mp4 track to blogger. Just tried but it did not work...

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
18 Chenies Street, London, WC1E 7PA

Dr Nigel Warburton, Philosophy Lecturer & Author
Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, International Public Speaker &
Researcher for the Hittin Institute


Please book your place:

Tickets: £2.00 at the door

Chaired by: Dr Mark Vernon Writer, Author & Broadcaster

According to a recent poll carried out by YouGov nearly half of the British public think that religion is harmful. However more than half also believe in God or “something”.

Many argue that belief in God is irrational and harmful to society, they also maintain that religion fuels hatred, bigotry and war. Critics on the other hand say that religion produces great good such as charities, dealing with bereavement and that is the only rational basis for morality.

So who is right? Are we better off without religion or should society have more of it?
To discuss this and other related issues join our distinguished panel.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Mindelheim trip

Just back from Bavaria where I had a wonderful time in Mindelheim, where I received the first ever Mindelheim philosophy prize. It was an extraordinary experience - unforgettable, in fact. My partner Taryn and I stayed in a hotel in town (great view of the square), visited the local school and met the jury of 17 year olds, who were an exceptionally gifted and friendly group. We met the mayor at a little reception in the Town Hall, participated in a Philosophy Cafe one evening, and had a great time with everything laid on. The award ceremony itself was very splendid with a cello concert by the cellist David Grigorian, followed by the ceremony with a speech from the former Bavarian culture minister. Afterwards there was a big band and fire show in the town square. I even got to play the drums.

My thanks to everyone in Mindelheim for making this such an unforgettable trip. Especially Hubertus Stelzer whose idea the prize was. Some rather crappy iphone photos attached. Obviously they provide considerable scope for humour at my expense. That's the (deputy?) Bishop of Munich, whom I liked very much. He said in his speech, "It is more important to have questions than to have answers."

And of course I got to see Neuchwanstein castle as well, on a beautiful sunny day. Child catcher wasn't in, though.

Newspaper report here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Quackometer on BCA vs. Singh

Excellent article on the Quackometer on libel law and the Simon Singh case here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor: atheists are "not fully human"

Thanks to Steven Carr for the link. I will comment later...

At first I thought the Cardinal was just saying anyone who fails to consider the transcendent has an impoverished conception of what it is to be human. But at the end he is clear that those who fail to consider such bigger questions are themselves not fully human.

Well, in a way, I would agree. The Cardinal's mistake, I think, is not in suggesting that someone who never thinks about the bigger questions is lacking in an important dimension of human existence - that may be true (it's a weaker claim than the Socratic assertion that the unexamined life is not even worth living) - but in supposing that atheists never think about such questions, and indeed have no time for them. This is the popular straw man fallacy endlessly wheeled out against atheists: they don't even ask such big questions, but just dismiss them as worthless. I have previously commented on it here (where I point out Rowan Williams also commits the fallacy).

I could spend more time unpacking the various muddles the Cardinal gets into here (such as e.g. he seems to conflate (i) saying that a conception X of humanity is importantly deficient re humanity, with (ii) saying that those who have conception X of humanity are importantly deficient re humanity), but it is also worth just drawing attention to the fact that going round saying that those with whom one most profoundly disagrees are "not fully human" is an extraordinarily insulting and dangerous thing to say, whether true or not.

Religious folk regularly moan about Dawkins being rude and insulting to religious people. This, surely, is far, far more insulting. I get the impression it's intended to be.

Isn't the Cardinal at least aware of the disturbing connotations of the phrase, "They are not fully human"? It is surely most closely associated with mass-murdering dictators and eugenicists. If I really am not fully human, according to the Cardinal, I wonder to what lengths he might be prepared to go to make me fully human? And does he consider my not-fully-human existence worth less than that of a fully-human religious person? The use of this chilling phrase is, at the very least, bad PR for the Catholic Church.

BCA vs. Singh - New Scientist Comment

New Scientist article on the BCA vs. Singh libel case:

Comment: Don't criticise, or we'll sue, by Dave Allen Green

Here's a quote:

It is against this troubling background that on 7 May a preliminary hearing of a case brought against the science writer Simon Singh by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) was held in London. The case concerned an opinion piece in The Guardian newspaper in which Singh criticised as "bogus" the use of chiropractic for treating various children's ailments. The BCA complained that it had been libelled, and launched an action against Singh (but not The Guardian). The hearing went against Singh (see "Libel victory for alternative medicine").

The BCA's case is part of a trend in that many of the recent threats and actions are responses to criticisms of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). In some of these cases one could fairly argue that simply producing scientific evidence would settle the issue. Despite this, it is not unusual for CAM practitioners to threaten a libel action against anyone who publishes doubts about the scientific validity of their treatment.

In one such case, writer Ben Goldacre and The Guardian were sued by Matthias Rath, who has promoted vitamin supplements in southern Africa for people with AIDS. Rath eventually withdrew the action, but there are other examples outside of CAM.

Scientists and journals are also finding themselves on the wrong end of libel threats and actions. Peter Wilmshurst, a consultant cardiologist at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital in Shropshire, UK, is being sued for libel by the medical devices company NMT Medical of Boston, Massachusetts, over comments he made to a US online news service about one of its devices. Wilmshurst was the co-leader of a clinical trial of the device.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"Middle class children have better genes"

A while back I wrote this about "Blair's Meritocracy":

Dig down a bit, however, and I suspect you’ll find yourself harbouring a slightly less savoury view. It’s not just that we middle classes are the fortunate beneficiaries of better life-chances and a better education. Yes, there may be one or two bright people living on that council estate, but generally speaking, we’re a breed apart, aren’t we? Something akin to natural selection has divided society roughly along class lines into the more and less able. That’s what many right-wingers believe, though they generally admit it only to each other. And it is, I suspect, what the rest of us broadsheet readers believe too, if we're honest with ourselves. Go on. Tell the truth. Isn’t that what you really think?

Today I discover it's what Blair's old school inspector Chris Woodhead really thinks:

Middle-class children 'have better genes', says Chris Woodhead
Children from middle-class families do well at school because they have "better genes", according to Chris Woodhead, the former head of Ofsted.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Church hails court decision affirming same sex marriage

From Ekklesia...

United Church of Christ leaders in the USA have hailed a unanimous decision by the Iowa Supreme Court to reject the state's ban on same-gender marriage as unconstitutional - writes J. Bennett Guess.

Iowa now joins Massachusetts and Connecticut in becoming the third state to allow same-sex couples to marry.

"Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa are three states whose cultures were shaped profoundly by the Congregational experience," said the Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC general minister and president. "I can't help but believe and affirm that there is a connection at work here."

The United Church of Christ has 179 local churches in Iowa and Grinnell College - one of state's most prominent liberal arts schools - is historically related to the denomination.

"Words can hardly express how delighted and relieved I am for same sex couples in Iowa - more than a few of whom are my friends - for whom the Iowa Supreme Court's ruling is a gift," said the Rev Rich Pleva, UCC Iowa Conference Minister. "I'm also aware that the people and churches of the Iowa Conference are not of one mind on this issue. This is a time to underscore and affirm our covenant to being of one heart and one body, even at times when we may not agree."

More at Ekklesia.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Careful how you use "bogus"

The Simon Singh court case had its preliminary hearing on the 7th and the news was very bad for Singh.

The two key decisions made by the judge are reported by Jack of Kent here.

The passage from the article in question is this:

"The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments."

The judge ruled that this passage is not "comment" but statement of fact. Second he ruled that "bogus" means deliberate and targeted dishonesty. Singh maintains this was not his intended meaning (he just meant the BCA was being reckless advocating treatments for which no evidence), but the judge has decreed that is the meaning - the meaning on which the case will turn: Singh was claiming the BCA were actually being dishonest, rather than just, say, stupid and reckless.

I do find this a very peculiar reading of Singh. Look, for example at the following piece by Robert Park (link below) about "bogus science". Park clearly is not suggesting that those promoting bogus science are necessarily dishonest (though some are of course). His criteria for bogusness are not criteria for dishonesty.

The seven warning signs of bogus science.

This author also clearly is not suggesting deliberate and targeted dishonesty when talking about the "bogus science of second hand smoke".

Yet the judge has now declared that by "bogus" Singh meant deliberate and targeted dishonesty. As a result, it is hard to see how Singh can win.

So, be very careful how you use the expressions "bogus science" and "bogus treatment", for the legal precedent has now been set, and you may be sued. Perhaps "bullshit science" and "bullshit treatment" are safer (following Penn and Teller).

Obviously there will need to be a whip round to support Singh.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Are Christians being gagged?

THEOS has this interesting article. This is very a much a flavour of the month issue - Christians being persecuted and gagged because of their beliefs.

Personally, I have no problem at all with Christians expressing their Christian points of view in the public sphere.

I'd be interested to learn more about these cases. For often, on closer examination, they turn out to be a little different to the way they are initially presented. In this case, as in others, we have only heard one side of the story so far - it might yet turn out that the reasons for Mr Booker's suspension are not exactly as described. Here is an earlier example.


On 27 March 2009, David Booker was suspended from work for expressing his beliefs.

This is the latest in a series of incidents involving Christians taking their faith into the workplace.

Nurse Caroline Petrie was suspended for offering to pray with a patient (though she has now been reinstated). Council worker Duke Amachree was suspended for suggesting to a terminally ill woman that she could turn to God for comfort.

It could be argued that Petrie and Amachree were abusing their positions of authority and taking advantage of the vulnerability of clients in their care.

You can believe whatever you want in private, Christians are often told. It is when you try to impose those beliefs on others that there is a problem, particularly if you do it under the auspices of your secular employment.

David Booker’s case, though, is different in several key respects....
(article continues)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Big Question

I was on the live programme The Big Question on BBC 1 this morning. The relevant part starts at 43mins 30secs, and my main contribution is at about 47 mins.

The link to the show is here. This week's show will be up for 7 days, then disappears.

God I look old...

Young Earth Creationism in British Schools

Here's an interesting anecdote. A friend of my wife's from Exeter says that she discovered her primary school was teaching her child Young Earth Creationism (YEC). When she went to the head teacher to complain, the head said that the school needed to combat the work of atheists and the anti-Christ. When this parent then went to the Local Education Authority to complain, it did nothing, citing the school's excellent performance as evidence that all was well. It is one of the top performing primaries in Exeter. Understandably, this parent feels helpless and frustrated.

It's just an anecdote. But it is yet another example of Young Earth Creationism being taught in schools without parents' knowledge (or even, in some cases, the schools' knowledge).

As I remarked earlier, it seems there is a lot more YEC being taught in schools than most of us realize.

Quoting from an earlier post:

Students from British Universities were surveyed on a range of questions, including whether they were Young Earth Creationists, and whether Young Earth Creationism had been taught to them by their parents, school, sunday school, etc.

Amazingly, 12% of these undergrads were Young Earth Creationists. But the real stand-out statistic for me was that 19% of students said that they had been taught Young Earth Creationism "as fact" in school.

19%! One in five students. We are not talking mostly Muslim schools either. The figure for those who were of other non-Christian religion was actually much lower.

If 1 in 5 British students are taught in school that it's a fact that the entire universe is less than ten thousand years old and that God made all species as literally described in Genesis, that's a national educational disgrace.

As comparatively few schools (esp. non-Muslim schools) publicly admit to teaching children Young Earth Creationism "as fact", it would appear that much of this teaching is going on under the public radar.

If you become aware of YEC being taught in your local schools, do let me know. I would also suggest contacting the local press, as Local Education Authorities seem uninterested in the problem (perhaps because their hands are, in effect, tied).