Thursday, 31 March 2011

Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins event 12th April in Oxford

Tuesday 12 April 2011, 7:30pm (doors open at 7:00pm)
Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford
with Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins

TICKETS ON SALE FROM 10 a.m. FRIDAY 1 APRIL at BHA website here.

In his new book 'The Moral Landscape', neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris challenges the commonly held view that science has nothing to say about moral issues and that religion is the best authority on meaning, values and a good life. For Sam, the goal of 'The Moral Landscape' is to begin a conversation about how moral truth can be understood in terms of science. Richard Dawkins is known for his persistence in demanding a rational and scientific approach to solving life's most fundamental questions wherever and whenever it can be applied. So, can science help us to determine how we should live in the 21st century?

Join us as these two pinnacles of rationalist thought discuss how the science of morality might be formulated and applied to human well-being.

This, **the first ever appearance of Sam and Richard together in public**, will be followed by a book signing. You can buy copies of books by Sam and Richard at the Sheldonian after the event, or bring your favourites with you.

Tickets are £4. Tickets go on sale Friday, April 1st and can be purchased through the BHA website. Net proceeds from the event will be donated to Amnesty International and Non-Believers Giving Aid.

This talk is brought to you by The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, UK, The British Humanist Association, The Centre for Inquiry, UK, Oxford Atheists, Humanists, and Secularists, and Project Reason.

Monday, 28 March 2011

THE HEAVY DEXTERS, featuring me on drums.

My band The Heavy Dexters has a website. It's here

There are some slightly iffy one-take recordings, but they give you an idea.

Available for Bar Mitvahs, Weddings, etc....

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Why philosophy degrees are among the MOST useful. Evidence demolishing myths peddled by philosophy bashers.

Here is an excellent resource on why philosophy degrees make especially smart and successful businessmen and women, lawyers, journalists, etc. (you are actually dramatically better off doing a first degree in philosophy than business administration for a career in business).

Some very good answers to "Philosophy? What are you going to do with that?" question. Go here.

Includes GRE test performance (philosophers do staggeringly well - look right), comparative salary information, and various other useful bits of evidence that collectively puncture the peculiar modern myth that philosophy isn't "useful".

I previously commented on the GRE scores comparing philosophy students with all other students here.

A quote from Fordham:

"In addition, as the marketplace becomes more competitive, graduate degrees become more desirable, and that entails a strong performance on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), the exam most business schools require their applicants to take. Philosophy majors consistently outperform other majors on the GMAT, including all business majors, all humanities majors, and all social sciences majors. Philosophy majors enjoy enormous advantages going into business."

The first and last testimonials are especially good. Opening quote from the final "testimonial" on linked page:

"Most of management theory is inane, writes our correspondent, the founder of consulting firm. If you want to succeed in business, don’t get an M.B.A. Study philosophy instead."

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

March on Saturday!

It's absolutely vital as many people as possible support the march against cuts on Saturday the 26th March. A big turn out won't be enough to stop the Government but it is necessary: they will be looking at numbers to gauge strength of opposition. If you only attend one march, make it this one.

Assemble Victoria Embankment, 11am to march to a rally in Hyde Park. Events

See you there, I hope.

More details at:

Thanks to Chris Horner for his poetic words...

Monday, 21 March 2011


Hear Stephen Law, Nigel Warburton, Chris Horner and Michael Lacewing.

Due to last minute cancellations we have several places available at the Heythrop College A Level Philosophy Conference, suitable for those doing A Level Philosophy or Religious Studies incl philosophy, or indeed anyone interested in philosophy!

The venue is Heythrop College, Kensington Square, London W8 5HN. It runs from 10.30am to 4pm.

Cost is just £12 for students, £15 staff and any one else (free sandwich lunch for staff). I organize the event. Here's the programme. Let me know asap if you want to come. I'll be giving the "evil god" talk. Or email direct to book:

A-Level Philosophy Conferences
Friday 18 or Friday 25 March 2011
HEYTHROP COLLEGE University of London
Kensington Square, London W8 5HN Tel: 020 7795 6600 Fax: 020 7795 4200
University of London
10.30 – 10.50 Registration and Coffee
11.00 – 11.50 Personal Identity, Nigel Warburton, Open University, Author of Philosophy: The Basics; Thinking from A to Z
12.00 – 12.50 Why Should We Be Moral? Chris Horner, Co-author of Thinking Through Philosophy
13.00 – 14.00 Lunch Break
14.00 - 14.50 The Problem of Evil, Stephen Law, Heythrop College, University of London Author of The Philosophy Files; The Philosophy Gym; Editor of THINK
15.00 - 15.50 Tolerance, Michael Lacewing, Heythrop College, University of London, Director of ALP; Author of Philosophy for AS, Philosophy for A2: Unit 3 and Philosophy for A2: Unit 4
16.00 Conference Ends
• The same programme applies to both days
• Heythrop College reserves the right to alter the programme due to changing circumstances
• Heythrop College cannot arrange for the provision of transport or accommodation

Saturday, 19 March 2011

CFI UK tickets now on sale at BHA website


Tickets for 10th May "Does Science Support Belief in God?" event with Swinburne and Philipse are on sale now.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Peter Atkins vs Mary Midgley on whether science has all the answers

Peter Atkins vs Mary Midgley on whether science has all the answers. Available here for a short while.

Funnily enough I had exactly this debate with Atkins a couple of weeks ago in Oxford over about 2hrs (part of THINK week). Dawkins sat right in front of me and chipped in too. I believe there will be some sort of recording available shortly...

Anyway, Atkins is not the sharpest philosophical pencil in the box, I think (though he's obviously good at chemistry). Strong on assertion but remarkably weak on argument. But Mary Midgley is unfortunately not great either.

Midgeley's is a depressingly weedy and waffly defence of philosophy. Her slide from why there's something rather than nothing to the obscure "meaning of life" question plays right into Atkins's hands.

The Complete Philosophy Files

Comes out September. It is the two volumes of The Philosophy Files combined into one volume. For kids age 11 up (though has been read by some younger children).

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Steven Poole exchange with myself

I am now having a bit of banter with Steven Poole on the Guardian webpage on which his very negative review of my book appears, if you are interested. Go here.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Steven Poole's Review of my VSI Humanism, yesterday's Guardian

It's, er, not entirely flattering!

Humanism: A Very Short Introduction, by Stephen Law (Oxford, £7.99)

Price-allergic? Perhaps you can instead find meaning in a "humanist funeral", as advertised in this guide to being the kind of slightly smug person who congratulates himself on seeing "the world as it is", unlike religious folk. Evidently, no one has a monopoly on epistemological hubris. Much of this book is low-grade anti-theology, arguing against arguments for the existence of God, which rather tests the opening claim that humanism is not primarily an insistent atheism.

A happy, positive story is told about philosophy classes in primary schools, which does sound like an excellent idea. Once so primed, young readers might see something wrong with the author's taking himself to have shown that belief in God is not "reasonable", or his claim that morality is "written into our genes". Law gets testy about the fuzzy gods of modern theologians, though he has himself defined "humanism" so broadly as to encompass just about anyone who is a good egg and doesn't believe in a sky-god. This "humanism", he announces proudly, cannot be "refuted". Of course it can't: it's not the sort of thing that could be. This cup of coffee can't be refuted either. Now excuse me; I have to go to a coffeeist mass.

Source here. I find the final comment particularly odd as I don't announce, proudly or otherwise, that humanism cannot be refuted. Nor do I claim anything so crude as that morality is written in our genes. Weird.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Private Language Argument paper

My paper on Crispin Wright's take on Wittgenstein's private language argument is online here is anyone is interested.

Wright's version is not well-known, decades old, and pretty obscure. But anyway here's my try at refuting it, for what it's worth.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The case of the Christian would-be foster parents

The case of the Christian couple who lost their court case (brought by Christian Legal Centre) over their right to discriminate against homosexuals is interesting.

The couple want to foster children, but a condition of being a foster parent is that one not discriminate against homosexuals by e.g. telling children that a gay lifestyle is morally wrong. That's exactly what these prospective parents wanted to do.

The reaction of the couple's lawyer is that the verdict represents "intolerance of religious belief".

I think that if people believe homosexuality is morally wrong, and believe children should be taught that, then it is their right to lobby parliament, etc to get the law changed (and the rules re foster parents).

But the view, not that the law or the rules re fostering themselves be changed, but that certain individuals should be exempt on religious grounds, strikes me as unjustified.

This couple were denied the right to foster not on the grounds that they are Christians but on the grounds that they hold bigoted views likely to harm children in their care. Plenty of Christians aren't bigoted in this way. So there's no objection to them fostering. It's not the Christianity that's the obstacle. It's the bigotry (which happens to be religiously motivated)

That it's okay to bar non-religiously motivated bigots from fostering, but religiously motivated bigots should be exempt from such a rule, seems to me perverse. Unless it can be shown that there's something special about the religious that means that the rules that apply to everyone else needn't apply to them.

Perhaps that is what this couple think? But then I wonder what this same couple, who also happen to be black, would say about members of a hypothetical religious group that wanted to teach children that black people are morally inferior, or can justifiably be used as slaves, similarly insisting that they are discriminating on religious grounds? Should the fact that these people's racial bigotry is religiously motivated mean that they, too, should be exempt from the rules concerning discrimination that apply to everyone else?

Of course not. And I doubt this couple would say otherwise. Which rather undermines their case for exemption from anti-bigotry rules or laws on specifically religious grounds.

I don't doubt some will say, "But what a shame that children in need of a home should have to go without these loving and caring parents". I don't doubt that this couple are (otherwise) loving and caring. But of course this is irrelevant so far as specifically exempting Christians is concerned. It would just be a case for exempting all loving and caring parents who hold homophobic views. Perhaps such a case can be made. But it's got nothing to do with making exemptions on the basis of religion.


Of course plenty of Christians would agree with the above. But many don't, and perhaps the most common complaint is that in effect we are saying the rights of homosexuals trump those of the religious. Indeed: "The courts are effectively ruling that Christians are not protected by indirect discrimination laws." (Christian Today website).

This is confused. Consider a political party that, as a consequence of their fascist ideology, publicly discriminated against black people. Members would be barred from fostering too. But now what if they said, "But what of the right to hold and promote political views? That's a basic democratic right. Don't we have such a right? And why should that right be trumped by the rights of black people? Why, when such rights come into conflict, should our right be one that gives way? The rights of members of political organizations such as our own are clearly not being protected by indirect discrimination laws. We demand our rights!"

Obviously, the right to hold and promote political views is, and should be, upheld. But that right doesn't extend to racist political views. At that point, certain laws and rules (including re fostering) kick in. Such political racists are not, in any sense, being unfairly discriminated against. Nor are their political rights being trampled. It is, frankly, ridiculous to claim otherwise. Ditto the suggestion that the rights of the religious are being trampled by this judicial decision.