New Book - Intellectual Black Holes

Friday, April 30, 2010

Apologies for the infrequent posts - having work meltdown situation re new book. I will post bits here for your comments shortly...

The book is on Intellectual Black Holes (an analogy I came up with back in Feb 2008, if anyone remembers?).

I will be giving a talk on intellectual black holes at the Oxford Humanists:

Fri. 21st May, 7.45 for 8.00pm, Restore Centre off Manzil Way, East Oxford OX4 1YH. Details from John White jdwhite (AT) (nb this address has been spamproofed - you need to fix it)

post script it may now be 8.30 as the room cannot be dimmed for my powerpoint,

OXFORD UNIVERSITY course based on my Philosophy Gym

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Go here for details - Philosophy Gym: starting to think philosophically (Online) Sept 2010. I wrote this online course (but don't actually run it myself). Sept - Dec 2010.

"Test of Faith: Do we need God, now we have science?"

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I just recorded an hour long show for Premier Christian Radio to be broadcast this Saturday at 2.30pm (1st May). It will also be available as permanent podcast then. Go to: Denis Alexander was my "opponent" (from the Faraday Institute in Cambridge - nice guy).

Almighty row over ethics in schools

Friday, April 16, 2010
Interesting row developing in Australia about alternatives to religiously-based ethics teaching. Go here.

Almighty row over ethics in schools:
Democracy and the welfare of children

By Dr Simon Longstaff

The Sydney Morning Herald (Saturday 26 September 2009) is to be congratulated for having helped to initiate public debate about discrimination against children whose parents make a conscientious decision that they not attend classes in special religious education (scripture). It is unfortunate that, rather than engage with the serious arguments advanced on behalf of many parents and their children, Mark Hillis of the InterChurch Commission on Special Religious Education in Schools (ICCOREIS) is reported as having said “I don’t see how having a small interest group coming into a school and ramping up things helps”. But who is this small interest group to which he refers?

The NSW Federation of P & C Associations has been promoting a review of NSW Education Department policy since 2003 – the year in which St James Ethics Centre was first approached by parents with a request that it examine the issues at the heart of this matter on their behalf. The NSW Federation of P & C Associations represents parents in 2,200 schools across NSW, making it the largest parent organisation in the Southern Hemisphere. It has twice passed motions calling for an ethics-based complement to scripture, most recently at its July 2009 AGM. In 2004, widespread support was demonstrated in a survey indicating a clear majority of parents felt it was important or very important that their child be offered an ethics-based option to scripture.

Mark Hills gave the impression that there is a monolithic lack of support, amongst religious groups, for the modest trial being proposed to the Minister for Education, Verity Firth. This is not entirely true. As part of a lengthy and comprehensive consultation process, St James Ethics Centre engaged with a broad cross-section of leaders including those within the faith-based realm. The vast majority of all respondents viewed this as a social justice issue — agreeing that all children should be treated with equity. The core curriculum does a certain amount of important work to aid ethical formation. However, if it is good enough to provide an additional opportunity in this area to some (who attend scripture) then it should be good enough for all. The denial of opportunity, on the basis of religion, is discriminatory and should not be endorsed by any government. Beyond this, there is a deeper question about the NSW Government’s commitment to democracy. We might ask: ought the untested fears of some, determine the plight of up to 80% of children at NSW primary schools who do not attend scripture? Does the government turn its back on the unmet needs of the majority of students in order to satisfy the demands of the few who cater for the needs of the few?

ICCOREIS may represent the official views of the faiths represented on its committee. It does not necessarily represent the views of ordinary members of faith-based communities. Many practising members of faith-based groups argue that all children have a right to an equal measure of meaningful instruction during the period allotted to scripture and have offered support for an ethics-based alternative. So do representatives of faith communities who are unable to mount their own scripture classes.

Seven P & Cs across NSW have already voted to take part in the proposed pilot that is awaiting ministerial approval to proceed. We encourage the Minister to base her decision on principles of democracy and social justice. In a modern, pluralistic and progressive Australia all children ought to be treated fairly. The major churches need to ask themselves a fundamental question that they have faced before: should children bear the costs of institutional self-interest?

Dr Simon Longstaff is Executive Director of St James Ethics Centre.

Mountain biking in Afan yesterday

Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Went to Afan Argoed in South Wales to do some biking yesterday. First time mountain biking since the Spanish incident. The guy going past is an Italian chap I met up with on the way round. Did the Wall, then up the Wall and down Whyte's level.

Trigg's THEOS report - a silent downgrading of religious rights in Britain

Sunday, April 11, 2010
Prof Roger Trigg and I had a debate about whether Britain is too secular now last Easter at the Ox Lit Festival (a CFI event). Trigg has since produced a report for the think tank THEOS that takes much the same line as he took in the debate and his earlier book. He says there has been a silent downgrading of religious rights in Britain. His conclusion is religious beliefs are special and do deserve special privileges and protections - which are currently being eroded with potentially dangerous consequences. Go here.

Several of Trigg's arguments are explicitly discussed in an early draft of the secularism chapter of my forthcoming Very Short Introduction to Humanism (OUP 2010) available here.

Edinburgh Festival - Children's event

Saturday, April 10, 2010
Really, Really Big Questions at the EDINBURGH FESTIVAL 2010.

Really Big Questions with Stephen Law
1:00pm on Sunday, 29th August 2010 | RBS Corner Theatre | RBS Children's Programme (age 8-12). Tickets available nearer the date.

The mystery move - examples please

I am looking for examples of how people attempt to protect their belief system - immunize it against rational criticism - by appealing to mystery.

Religious examples are good (do provide them), but I also want non-religious examples, e.g. people dealing with apparent scientific refutations of the claims of crystal healers, etc. by suggesting that science is limited in its scope and we must acknowledge "there are more things in heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio", etc.

If the examples can be accessed on the internet, that helps. It's for forthcoming book. I imagine there are skeptical websites that have many examples but I am struggling a bit to find them...

Simon Singh interview and news

Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Singh interview here. Jack of Kent is one of best places to go for the latest news on the ongoing legal case.

Labour's election strategy: bring on no-nonsense hard man Gordon Brown

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I have already bought my "Step Outside Posh Boy" t-shirt. Go here for the new strategy. I seem to be one of the few people in the UK that are actually rather fond of Gordon Brown.

"230 volts" "AAAARGH!"

Friday, April 2, 2010
There is an interesting article about the Milgram experiment here.

And here's a video:
The Milgram Experiment

James | MySpace Video

Moral Philosophy links

Thursday, April 1, 2010
Very useful set on links on moral philosophy here if you are interested. At