"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, June 22, 2008

As you may remember... I love a good storm.

A recent nighttime storm provided the opportunity to try my hand at photographing some lightning. Out of the thirty some odd shots I took this is the only one that turned out. As randomly composed as it is, honestly, I'm pretty happy with it.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008


This "13 questions for atheists" meme seems to be doing the rounds at the moment. (Although 3 of the questions seem to have vanished somewhere). No-one's tagged me as such, but I thought it might be interesting to give it ago. So...

Q1. How would you define "atheism"?

Well... the a- prefix denotes "the absence of" and theism refers to belief in a divine being, so: "the absence of belief in a divine being".

Makes sense, doesn't it?

Q2. Was your upbringing religious? If so, what tradition?

My mum is more "spiritual" than religious and my dad is too pragmatic to really bother with all that stuff. I was baptised though, and assemblies at my primary school were pretty CofE in content: Hymns and parables but no real attempt to establish any serious dogma. Both my brother and I turned out more-or-less atheist.

Q3. How would you describe "Intelligent Design", using only one word?


Q4. What scientific endeavour really excites you?

The search for life (intelligent or otherwise) on other planets.

Q5. If you could change one thing about the "atheist community", what would it be and why?

We have a community?

This might just reflect my own prejudices, but I think those atheists who engage in debate with theists tend to underestimate the intelligence of the other side. Mocking religious believers and calling them stupid is neither big, nor clever, and makes it more difficult to separate the moderates from the extremists.

Q6. If your child came up to you and said "I’m joining the clergy", what would be your first response?

I imagine: "Huh?"

Followed by various questions.

Depending on the reasons my child gave for their decision, I wouldn't necessarily have a problem with it. We all need to find our own path through life.

Q7. What’s your favourite theistic argument, and how do you usually refute it?

Personal revelation is usually pretty interesting - although it doesn't constitute an argument and so doesn't actually need refuting.

Q8. What’s your most "controversial" (as far as general attitudes amongst other atheists goes) viewpoint?

Not sure.

I don't see the point in arguing with deists who base their views on some form of intuition: After all, they're not causing any trouble.

Q9. Of the "Four Horsemen" (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris) who is your favourite, and why?


Probably... Dawkins. Solely on the basis of his books on evolutionary theory.

Q10. If you could convince just one theistic person to abandon their beliefs, who would it be?

The Pope.

'Cause it'd be funny.

I'm not going to tag anyone, but people should feel free to post their answers in the comment box below. Any theists are also welcome to adapt it for their viewpoint as well.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Timmo on Plantinga

ISOHP regular Timmo is currently writing a series of posts on Alvin Plantinga's reformed epistemology over on his own blog. I won't attempt to summarise as, frankly, it's just too difficult. So, part 1 can be found here, part 2 here and the 3rd and final part here.

As an atheist I obviously have issues with Plantinga's argument (as it seems to suggest that I'm probably either delusional, defective or lying about my - lack of - a divine sense), but it's interesting nonetheless.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Love is all you need

There's a moment in the film 'Contact' (no idea whether it's in the book) where, after listening to Jodie Foster defend the scientific worldview, Matthew McConaughey asks her if she loved her father. He then asks her to prove it.

She's left stumped.

The same question is wheeled out every so often by religious believers as what they seem to think is a trump card against the empirical view of the world.

Yet, as far as I can see, it's a pretty easy question.

The only real problem with it is our definition of love: If we believe it to be a “simple” physiological state then evidence isn't too difficult to come by – we can look at the person's behaviour (do they behave in a way consistent with people who claim to be in love), check their physical reaction (heart-rate, pupil dilation, etc.), maybe even bring in some neuroscience. If, as I suspect those asking the question do, we believe it to be a “spiritual” state, above and beyond the physical, then the onus is on us to provide a way of studying this state. Neither presents that much of a challenge to the empirical view.

Of course, the question could be seen as challenging the empiricist to prove that they have subjective experiences – but then such an extreme scepticism poses a challenge to all worldviews, including the religious.

Any thoughts?

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Atheism, aliens and Anglicans

A little while ago, Linda flagged up this newspaper article on the Church of England using 'Doctor Who' in order to spread the good word. Now it seems that the folks at Pharyngula have got hold of the news – and aren't best pleased.

So I thought I'd use this opportunity to write a quick post on an idea that's been floating around my head for a while.

It's impossible to call yourself a real science fiction fan without being aware of Clarke's 3rd Law.

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Reading through the comments on the Pharyngula post, specifically some peoples' dislike of 'The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit' episode of Doctor Who (essentially because of its agnostic stance towards the protagonist: Alien or Satan? Who knows?), made me realise that the law could be rephrased/expanded as follows:

“Any sufficiently advanced alien would be indistinguishable from a god.”

Science fiction, in all forms, is replete with such ideas: Egyptian/Roman/Greek gods as alien beings is pretty much cliché.

I'm not suggesting that believing what's commonly referred to as God is an advanced alien is more rational*, but I'd certainly argue that such a belief is as rational as believing god(s) to be divine beings.

(*Although I suspect some would.)

It's entirely possible to conceive of a being or beings sufficiently advanced enough to explain the so-called miraculous events of all religions in perfectly naturalistic, though alien terms: Angels, revelation, resurrection, prophecy... maybe even the creation of the universe itself.

Just a thought.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

A slightly different voice

A while back on my own blog I reviewed 'In God We Doubt: Confessions of a Failed Atheist' by BBC broadcaster and journalist John Humphreys.

Humphreys is essential someone who wants to believe in God, but finds himself unable to do so.

He's recently been interviewed by BBC radio's religious affairs programme 'All Things Considered' on the subject of his search for faith and the interview (30mins) is available on the Internet for the next week.

All Things Considered

Those of you with slightly more time on your hands might also be interested in the series of radio shows that preceded the book:

Humphreys in search of God.

(Transcripts of his interviews with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Professor Tariq Ramadan and Britain's Chief Rabbi are available on the site as well).