Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Only two of us left in the office now, me and one other colleague (who happens to be Chinese and therefore doesn't really "do" Christmas) hopefully I'll be shutting up shop around midday and heading out into the frenzy that is last minute shopping. The stillness of our normally bustling, noisy office offered me a moment to reflect, so what is Christmas supposed to be about anyway?
Well I think that depends on your perspective, like most cultural phenomenon there is no hard and fast definition and the whole thing seems to be a mash up of all the different elements and traditions that have sprung up and evolved alongside us as the Homo-British-sapiens species has moved through time. Personally I like most of the things in this diagram, vive la difference! would be my philosophy, just be wary of any particular community who claim to have sole ownership of the season, no one really does and that's probably why it persists.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 11:44 am
Monday, December 23, 2013
When is it OK to make exceptions?
In life we make exceptions all the time, we don't force family members or work colleagues to eat things they don't like even though no harm would come to them if they did; we are tolerant of different choices in entertainment, sport and all manner of interests and hobbies even when sometimes those activities impinge on others; even in the thorny area of politics we celebrate diversity and equate it with the health of our society. Organisations and societies make exceptions for people all the time, so why then would some people get upset about a Muslim shop worker refusing to serve someone with alcohol in M&S, isn't this just another justifiable reason for exception making?
There are of course two sides to this story, some of us look at it and think how trivial, what's all the fuss about, a classic "non-story", exceptions are made for things like this all the time. On the other hand some look at it and think, is this a slippery slope?, should a line in the sand be drawn? Personally I think this is an overreaction by some, there are clear precedents for dealing with certain goods such as alcohol, cigarettes and pornography in most shops. In most supermarkets there are already procedures in place for under 18's to sell products only intended for over 18's, i.e. a supervisor comes over and authorises the purchase, in a well run shop this needn't delay the customer at all. I don't understand why M&S couldn't employ a similar process if certain employees have "problems" with certain products.
I guess a slight delay in buying Christmas Champagne brings the clash of cultures into sharp relief for some middle class commentators, shame it took so long.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 11:41 am
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Continuing on the "war on Christmas" theme I came across this article today. The right-wing news station Fox News (owned by Rupert Murdoch) ran a piece by the well known American Christian Theologian/Philosopher William Lane-Craig titled "A Christmas gift for Atheists - Five reasons why God exists". Now, WLC is supposed to be (according to many Christian commentators in the USA) the leading Christian light in terms of rational, philosophical debate, he is pitched as some kind of "Atheist's worst nightmare". You can imagine my excitement when I saw this headline, perhaps finally, the theistic side of the house will be presenting some decent arguments, something that isn't just the usual strung out, circular dribble of wish thinking, scientific ignorance and moral cherry picking, something we can all get our teeth into.
I've copied and commented on Craig's 5 points below, so let's have a look..
1. God provides the best explanation of the origin of the universe. Given the scientific evidence we have about our universe and its origins, and bolstered by arguments presented by philosophers for centuries, it is highly probable that the universe had an absolute beginning. Since the universe, like everything else, could not have merely popped into being without a cause, there must exist a transcendent reality beyond time and space that brought the universe into existence. This entity must therefore be enormously powerful. Only a transcendent, unembodied mind suitably fits that description.
Hold on a minute, these assertions are based on a flawed premise, this is just the old cosmological argument, the assertion that everything has a first cause is unjustified, it's an argument from intuition. You'll need a lot more than simple "intuition" to convince the theoretical physicists on subjects such as infinity and causality. Where's the Maths WLC? And why would an "unembodied mind" be the only possible explanation, why not an as yet undiscovered natural phenomenon, or the multi-verse, or quantum fluctuation?
2. God provides the best explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe. Contemporary physics has established that the universe is fine-tuned for the existence of intelligent, interactive life. That is to say, in order for intelligent, interactive life to exist, the fundamental constants and quantities of nature must fall into an incomprehensibly narrow life-permitting range. There are three competing explanations of this remarkable fine-tuning: physical necessity, chance, or design. The first two are highly implausible, given the independence of the fundamental constants and quantities from nature's laws and the desperate manoeuvres needed to save the hypothesis of chance. That leaves design as the best explanation.
But, the universe isn't "fine-tuned" for intelligent life (like Human beings)? It may have escaped WLC's attention but 99.99999999 (and so on) % of what we currently know as our "universe" is totally uninhabitable for our kind of life, in fact most of planet Earth is the same, too cold, too hot, too dry, too wet or simply devoid of the essentials for life. In addition to this fundamental point, I have to ask, with what is Craig comparing our universe, how many universes were sampled to come up with this assertion?
3. God provides the best explanation of objective moral values and duties. Even atheists recognize that some things, for example, the Holocaust, are objectively evil. But if atheism is true, what basis is there for the objectivity of the moral values we affirm? Evolution? Social conditioning? These factors may at best produce in us the subjective feeling that there are objective moral values and duties, but they do nothing to provide a basis for them. If human evolution had taken a different path, a very different set of moral feelings might have evolved. By contrast, God Himself serves as the paradigm of goodness, and His commandments constitute our moral duties. Thus, theism provides a better explanation of objective moral values and duties.
But we do have an objective moral source, it's us, homo sapiens sapiens! We would not have thrived so long as a social species unless we developed our own moral values and cultural frameworks (of which Christianity is but one example). Atheists can be demonstrably good without God, Christians can be demonstrably bad with him and our moral standards change over time, so a much more likely explanation is that Atheism is the correct position and simply that people will be people, the good the bad and the psychopathic.
4. God provides the best explanation of the historical facts concerning Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Historians have reached something of consensus that the historical Jesus thought that in himself God’s Kingdom had broken into human history, and he carried out a ministry of miracle-working and exorcisms as evidence of that fact. Moreover, most historical scholars agree that after his crucifixion Jesus’ tomb was discovered empty by a group of female disciples, that various individuals and groups saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death, and that the original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection despite their every predisposition to the contrary. I can think of no better explanation of these facts than the one the original disciples gave: God raised Jesus from the dead.
So WLC can't think of a better explanation for the disappearance of a body from a tomb than divine intervention? really? (Roman medical experiments?) Assuming Jesus even existed (and that's a stretch) all the work still remains ahead of Craig in terms of proving that this person was in fact a God and that his legend was not simply created after the fact, like Craig must think all other religious myths were, there is nothing remarkable or exceptional about the Christian one. Does Craig's God explain how Mohammed flew to heaven on a winged horse or how Krishna was the eighth incarnation of Vishnu?
5. God can be personally known and experienced. The proof of the pudding is in the tasting. Down through history Christians have found through Jesus a personal acquaintance with God that has transformed their lives.
And so says every other religious person throughout history! Atheists do not claim that religious people don't experience subjective psychological phenomena that can affect how they see the world, this is well known. Our brains are predisposed to such phenomena through a myriad of chemical interactions and environmental effects. The essential ingredient missing from Craig's analysis is some critique of the nature of the experience, simply stating that "I had a dream" or "I felt warm and fuzzy whilst singing hymns" is simply not enough to prove anything beyond normal (natural) human experience.
How disappointing, I guess I'll stay an Atheist then, merry Christmas WLC..
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 11:34 am
Monday, December 16, 2013
Is the Anglican Church starting a war on Christmas?
I read today that Wiltshire Canon, Simon Tatton-Brown spilt the beans to a group of primary school pupils attending his "festive address", causing a furore of angry parents and leaving a sobbing crowd of upset youngsters. Apparently the good Canon told his audience that Father Christmas was based on the legend of St. Nicholas and not a cherubic fat man dressed in a red suit that lives at the North Pole surrounded by elves and reindeer! I can't help but sup deeply from the cup of irony here, I sympathise with the chap since it's an easy slip to make, but, having spent a life-time in the Church he of all people he should have been well versed in perpetuating mythology and going with the flow because it makes people feel warm and fuzzy inside.
I would suggest a more honest course of action in situations like this, simply tell children what we know and what we don't know, teach them to take the risk of thinking for themselves; much more happiness, truth, beauty and wisdom will come to them that way.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 4:02 pm
You see a lot in the press these days on the subject of "rights", interest groups up and down the land put forward their claims to various "rights"; from Christians wearing crosses to work through to Islamists demanding that alcohol be removed from sale in our high streets, people demanding the right to equal treatment and people demanding the right to be free to deny equal treatment. Sometimes these rights are supposedly handed down from supernatural forces on high through middle-men and sometimes they are just common sense measures to protect a minority from a majority, one thing is for sure and that is Human beings are the purveyors of what we call "rights", we invent, package, barter, sell and donate them to each other and have done for centuries.
So far so good, but what about the "rights" of other species of animals, how about our closest relatives the great apes? Back in 1772 in England there was a famous legal case that established the right of habeas corpus in our legal system; this means that someone being held captive may seek relief by having a judge force his captors to explain why he is being held. In the 1772 case the person being held was an escaped American slave and the ruling concluded that the slave was not a piece of property but a person and as such could not be held captive for no reason. However, this basic "right", one that we've all taken for granted in this country over the 250 odd years since this ruling is not extended to animal species other than humans, we still treat our closest cousins in the animal kingdom like plantation slaves, worse in fact. So do apes have a right not to be imprisoned? Some people think they do and campaign on behalf of chimpanzees and other apes for basic "human" rights, for example habeas corpus; as with all questions on rights, its up to us.
Personally I think we should be guided by science on this, as we know, species boundaries are not fixed over time and since we've been aware of genetics it has become obvious that the differences between species are much smaller than previously imagined, as the photo above shows even our most primitive reactions (to things like cold stethoscopes) are identical.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 12:07 pm
Monday, December 09, 2013
Some people, particularly American Christians, seem to get hot and bothered about what gets said and what gets celebrated at this time of year. For me it's a battle that was lost a long time ago, Christmas is one of those generic holidays where people these days do whatever the hell they want to do, shop till they drop, drink, eat, pray, sing, work, celebrate, moan about the TV or whatever. Who cares, it's a couple of days off, the least we can do as human beings is be civil with one another (as if we need a special holiday to do that!). As usual Jesus, Saturn and/or (insert your Deity of choice) is irrelevant for most of the rest of us on the planet however the period provides some much appreciated family time and relaxation for a lucky minority, let's just leave it at that.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 5:47 pm
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
I had some Jehovah's Witnesses knock on my door the other day, now, usually I don't mind being polite and taking five minutes for a little theological debate with my superstitious brothers and sisters but on this occasion I had somewhere to go so I cut them off at the pass quickly. Surprisingly they seemed relieved, thanking me for my honesty, perhaps it was all a ploy to make me feel sorry for them or perhaps they'd just reached their quota for the day and wanted to get back to the hive for a cuppa. Anyway, I saw this cartoon today, it made me think of them, you have to wonder what goes through the minds of people who would take their half-baked philosophy and childish (anti-science) pamphlets door to door. I can only admire (in a sociology experiment kind of way) the thickness of their skins and the strength of their toecaps as doors all over the globe slam shut on them, I guess it makes them feel special.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 8:41 pm
Been really busy at work lately so I haven't been reading the news much; however I did take a look for 5 minutes this morning and what struck me was the shear quantity of banal content about Tom Daily and what he prefers to do with his genitals (I don't give a flying half-pike!) and a little side story about the fact that for the first time, the UK does not make the top 20 in any subject, in international tests taken by 15 year olds in maths, reading and science.
I have reached the conclusion that I'm not compatible with mainstream media, my interests are far to adult in nature.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 10:51 am