Monday, August 11, 2014

The Mirror Puzzle

4. The Mirror Puzzle

 (This is a chapter I wrote for a children's philosophy book called The Outer Limits (now part of The Complete Philosophy Files). This chapter was thought too abstract by the editors, and was not included).

Sometimes it is the things that are most familiar to us that turn out to be the most deeply puzzling. Take mirrors, for example. How many times do you see yourself reflected in a mirror each day?


At least ten or twenty times, I should think. Most of us never stop to think about what we see. But, as you are about to discover, mirrors are very strange and puzzling things.

An adventure in the mirror

Aisha and Kobir are visiting Kobir’s auntie. Auntie Anaximander lives in an enormous, fusty old house deep in the moors.


It’s a wild and stormy night and the phone and power lines are down. Auntie Anaximander has gone off in her car to report the powercut leaving Kobir and Aisha all alone in the dark house.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Religion and Philosophy in Schools

Religion and philosophy in schools

Stephen Law

Is philosophy in schools a good idea? The extent to which early exposure to a little philosophical thinking is of educational benefit is, of course, largely an empirical question. As a philosopher, that sort of empirical study is not really my area of expertise.
But of course there is also a philosophical dimension to this question. As a philosopher, conceptual clarification and the analysis of the logic of the arguments on either side certainly is my field. That is where I hope to make a contribution here.
This essay is in two parts. In the first, I look at two popular religious objections to the suggestion that all children ought to be encouraged to think independently and critically about moral and religious issues. In the second part, I explain a well-known philosophical distinction – that between reasons and causes – and give a couple of examples of how this conceptual distinction might help illuminate this debate.

PART ONE: Two popular religious objections

Friday, June 27, 2014

Appealing to mystery

It is sometimes tempting to appeal to mystery to get oneself out of intellectual hot water. Suppose a scientist offers a science-based criticism of Mary’s paranormal beliefs. In response Mary might say something like this: ‘Ah, but this is beyond the ability of science and reason to decide. You, Dr Scientist, are guilty of scientism, of assuming science can answer every question.’ Mary might follow this response up with a quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet: ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy’. 
Of course, most scientists admit they can’t explain everything. There probably are questions science cannot answer. Mary attempts to protect her beliefs by placing them in this category of beliefs science can’t touch. She draws a veil across reality and says, ‘You scientists can apply your methods this far, but no further.’ Behind the veil Mary might place angels, psychic powers, fairies, dead relatives, and so on. She might also insist that, while such phenomena lie beyond the bounds of scientific investigation, there are special people – mediums, mystics, gurus, and so on – who can see, if only dimly, through the veil and so inform us about what lies beyond.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

My thoughts on Religious Discrimination in the UK (and the supposed gay rights vs religious rights clash)


(This is from a conference atttended by John Finnis and Chris McCrudden, and responds specifically to their comments on my peiece at the end (you might especially enjoy the endnote where I discuss Finnis's accusation that I am guilty of anti-Catholic sentiment.) The plan is for it to appear in an OUP collection. As there's no movement in that direction I am posting here in the meantime.
The UK has seen a revolution in its moral and legal attitudes over the last couple of centuries, particularly with regard to discrimination.
One of the earliest beneficiaries of changes to the law to protect minorities from unfair discrimination was the Roman Catholic community. The Catholic Relief act in 1829 aimed to protect Roman Catholics from such discrimination. Legislation to protect Jews was soon to follow. Today, our freedom to hold and espouse, or reject and criticise, different religious beliefs, is protected by law.
Our moral attitudes towards women, black people and gay people have also shifted dramatically, and this too has been reflected in the law. Gone are the days when women could be refused employment or the vote because they are women. Gone are the days when hotel owners could put up signs saying “No blacks”. Gone, too, are the days when men having sex with men in private risked imprisonment.
Today, most of us subscribe to the principle that the State and the law ought to treat all citizens equally. They should not discriminate between citizens or groups of citizens, granting privileges to, or penalizing, one group but not another, unless there is some difference that justifies that difference in treatment.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Draft paper on sceptical theism - part 1 for comments

Sceptical Theism and Divine Deception

1. Sceptical Theism

Evidential arguments from evil often take something like the following form:

If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
Gratuitous evil exists.
Therefore, God does not exist

God is a being that is omnipotent, omniscient and supremely good. Gratuitous evil is evil there is no adequate reason for God, if he exists, to permit (the evil is not necessary to secure some compensating good or to prevent some equally bad or worse evil). Why suppose the second premise is true? A no so-called ‘noseeum’ inference has been offered in its support. It is suggested that if we cannot identify any God-justifying reason for much of the evil we observe, then it is reasonable to believe no such reason exists.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I'm on at Cheltenham Science Festival June 7th

Event Title:
Pillar Room
Saturday 7 June 2014
What is the role of religion?

Religion has been helping us find our place in the world for millennia. But with the scientific understanding we now have, could we be growing out of a need for religion? Without its guidance and moral teachings would society collapse? Author of The Young Atheist's Handbook Alom Shaha leads a discussion, with philosopher Stephen Law and sociologist Linda Woodhead, about the role of religion in modern society.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The argument from minimal facts for extraordinary/miraculous events

Here is a template for an argument from the minimal facts used for example, to argue for the resurrection (see Gary Habermas here for example).

1)      These facts are agreed on as our starting point.
2)      There is a variety of explanations of these facts, including the explanation that [insert preferred extraordinary and/or miraculous event E] happened
3)      All of these explanations fail to have the explanatory scope or power for all of the facts, apart from the explanation that [E] happened.
4)      There is no compelling reason to exclude the explanation that [E] happened.
5)      Therefore (probably) [E].

This is a an interesting schema, I think. You find it employed to justify a wide variety of "extraordinary" claims. I am compiling a list of examples, so if you have any, do please let me know (include as a comment, with web link, or whatever). Quotes or clips would be particularly useful.

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.”