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Stephen Law

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Stephen Law is Provost of Centre for Inquiry UK, and Reader in Philosophy at Heythrop College, University of London. He regularly speaks and debates on religion and humanism (many examples online). Stephen is also author of many popular philosophy books, including The Philosophy Gym – 25 Short Adventures in Thinking (Thomas Dunne 2003), Believing Bullshit: How Not Top Fall Into An Intellectual Black Hole (Prometheus 2011), and Humanism – a Very Short Introduction (OUP 2011). He has also written books for children, including The Complete Philosophy Files (Orion 2011). Stephen currently lives in Oxford, UK.

A breezy piece on celebrities, woo, and warning signs of bullshit

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 11, 2016
A breezy piece on celebrities, woo, and warning signs of bullshit

Do you believe in ghosts? In psychic powers? In communication with the dead? In alien abduction?

 

If you do, you’re not alone. Belief in the weird and wacky – or “woo” as some sceptics disparagingly call it – is as strong as ever. Science is taking huge strides forward. Yet many of us continue to believe in stuff that, according to science, is at best dubious and often downright absurd.

 

Trump and the who-to-blame game

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 9, 2016
Trump and  the who-to-blame game

So Trump
is elected. He was not my preferred candidate. At times like this, I
find that I, like all human beings, want SOMEONE TO BLAME (revised 12th Nov ‘16)

Islam - No Mockery Allowed: A New Case

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 3, 2016
Islam - No Mockery Allowed: A New Case

Athlete Louis Smith has been disciplined by British Athletics for mocking Islam.

Evil God Challenge: The Movie

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 13, 2016
Evil God Challenge: The Movie

A new animated video asks: If belief in an evil God is absurd, then why isn’t belief in a good God?

 

‘But…but…it’s the best available explanation!’ Part 3

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 12, 2016
‘But…but…it’s the best available explanation!’ Part 3

A final post on dodgy arguments to the best explanation. An amazing UFO encounter!

‘But…but…it’s the best available explanation!’ part 2

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 12, 2016
‘But…but…it’s the best available explanation!’ part 2

In my preceding post I introduced a popular form of inference called argument to the best explanation, and illustrated how it is popular with folk arguing for the existence of weird, wacky, and supernatrual stuff. Now we start to diagnose what’s gone wrong…

‘But…but…it’s the BEST AVAILABLE EXPLANATION!’

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 1, 2016
‘But…but…it’s the BEST AVAILABLE EXPLANATION!’

Folk who believe in fairies, or miracles, or alien visitation, are generally fond of an argument called ARGUMENT TO THE BEST EXPLANATION.

 

Here’s an example of argument to the best explanation:

 

I see feet poking out from under the curtain and the curtain twitching slightly above them. I can also hear breathing. I infer there’s someone standing behind the curtain. Why? Because that’s the best available explanation of what I observe. True enough, the twitching might be caused by an open window and the shoes were just coincidentally placed in the same place. But I reckon that’s a bit less likely than that there’s someone standing there (for what explains the breathing noise?)

 

What’s so great about the sword of reason?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 26, 2016
What’s so great about the sword of reason?

There are (at least) two ways in which we can attempt to influence the beliefs of others:

 

(i) We can use reason. We can provide scientific and other evidence to support beliefs, subject them to critical scrutiny, reveal contradictions and inconsistencies, and so on.

 



(ii) we can appeal to such mechanisms as peer-pressure, emotional manipulation, humour, sarcasm, repetition, fear (especially of uncertainty), tribalism, vanity, and so on.

 


Now, we free thinkers put a lot of emphasis on (i) rather than (ii), don’t we? Why is that?

 

The X-Claim Argument Against Religious Belief

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 25, 2016
The X-Claim Argument Against Religious Belief

You can read a prepublication draft of my forthcoming paper here.

Religious Freedom and Gay Rights, OUP book, just published. Read my chapter.

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 14, 2016
Religious Freedom and Gay Rights, OUP book, just published. Read my chapter.

A new book - Religious Freedom and Gay Rights - has just been published by OUP. I have a chapter in it. You can read the pre-publication version of the chapter here.

Why ‘Faith’ and ‘Hope’ Are Vastly Overrated

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 23, 2016
Why ‘Faith’ and ‘Hope’ Are Vastly Overrated

‘Faith’ and ‘hope’ are feel-good words with a built-in rosy glow. People who have faith and hope are held up for our admiration and emulation. We are encouraged to be like them - to believe that, ultimately, all will be well. But don’t place faith and hope at the top of your list of virtues, and be very wary of those who say you should.

 

‘That may be true for you, but it’s not true for me!’ - chapter from my book, “The Philosophy Gym”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 21, 2016
‘That may be true for you, but it’s not true for me!’ - chapter from my book, “The Philosophy Gym”

According to the relativist, people who speak simply of what’s ‘true’ are naïve. ‘Whose truth?’ asks the relativist. ‘No claim is ever true, period. What’s true is always true for someone. It’s true relative to a particular person or culture. There’s no such thing as the absolute truth on any issue.

Are safe spaces a threat to free speech?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 30, 2016
Are safe spaces a threat to free speech?

Safe spaces are receiving a lot of discussion lately. Universities, for example, are encouraged to be, or to have, ‘safe spaces’ for students - places where students - particularly LGBT students - can feel safe from being persecuted, harassed, and so on.

However, ‘safe spaces’ are increasingly being a seen as a threat to free speech. For example, when Maryam Namazie, an ex-Muslim critic of Islam, spoke at Goldsmith’s College University of London, her event was disrupted by some Muslim students who shouted ‘Safe space!’ - they believed that their University should protect them from such speech. Many, myself included, thought this was a ridiculous abuse of the concept of safe space.

So where does acceptable safe space end and unacceptable  threats to freedom of speech begin? Here are a few useful key distinctions:

 

Islamophobia and antisemitism: What is, and what isn’t, bigoted?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 27, 2016
Islamophobia and antisemitism: What is, and what isn’t, bigoted?

Where lies the boundary between criticism of Islam and Islamophobia? Where lies the boundary between criticism of Israel and antisemitism?

How Believers Try to Defend Their Faith by ‘Going Wittgensteinian’

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 14, 2016
How Believers Try to Defend Their Faith by ‘Going Wittgensteinian’

Among supposedly ‘sophisticated’ religious folk, Wittgensteinian defences of religious belief are all the rage. They are also infuriating (often little more than semantic sleight-of-hand). I have a paper coming out in European Journal of Philosophy that demolishes the leading examples. Here is a brief introduction to Wittgensteinian defences of religious belief, and a link to my paper.

James Bloodworth, Islamism, and a fallacy to watch out for

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 30, 2016
James Bloodworth, Islamism, and a fallacy to watch out for

James Bloodworth says the West is not to blame for jihadist attacks. I question his logic.

AUDIOBOOK: The Tapescrew Letters: Letters from a senior to a junior guru

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 10, 2016
AUDIOBOOK: The Tapescrew Letters: Letters from a senior to a junior guru

A free audiobook by Stephen Law. Narrated by Michael Larkin, this hour long recording presents The Tapescrew Letters, a paordy of C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters.

The Witch Hunters: how shaming accusations of bigotry are used to shut down legitimate debate

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 4, 2016
The Witch Hunters: how shaming accusations of bigotry are used to shut down legitimate debate

It’s increasingly common to level  charges of bigotry and prejudice on very flimsy or even non-existent grounds in order to stifle legitimate debate.

Scientism - for comments

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 29, 2016

Here is an updated final section for my chapter on Scientism, and how religious apologists use the label confusedly to try to protect their beliefs from scientific refutation.Comments welcome.

ICYMI Here is me talking about whether atheism is a faith position

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 31, 2016
ICYMI Here is me talking about whether atheism is a faith position

In case you missed it, here is an interview with me on whether atheism is a faith position. On Closer to Truth.

Scientism, The Limits of Science, And Religion - Part 2.

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 30, 2016

The last part of the preceding post.

Scientism, the limits of science, and religion

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 30, 2016

Here’s a penultimate draft of a forthcoming book chapter. Alister McGrath is one of my various targets. Dawkins is discussed too.This includes and extends a previous post.

Milbank vs Law on God: Blood on the Carpet

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 18, 2016
Milbank vs Law on God: Blood on the Carpet

Prof John Milbank and I exchange blows on God. We did not pull our punches.

The Tapescrew Letters (part 2)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 8, 2016

Continuing from the previous blog post.

The Tapescrew Letters (inspired by C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 8, 2016

Here’s something from a while back, in case you missed it (been posted elsewhere before). Letters from a senior to a junior Guru in a new religious movement. I aim to expose the methods by which people become ensared by cults.

Short podcast on god and science that will be basis of a CFI animated short

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 2, 2016

Audio recording of myself that will form the basis of a short video for CFI animated by Steph Hope.

John Gray’s awful review of Dawkins’s “An Appetite for Wonder”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 29, 2015

John Gray has a review of Richard Dawkins’s An Appetite For
Wonder
at New Republic here. I review Gray’s review here.

Animation script - for comments please

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 17, 2015

Here’s a short animation script - for comments please.

Some
suppose reality is divided by a veil. On this side of the veil is the
natural, observable world. Beyond the veil lies another realm - of
ghosts and spirits, angels and demons, and of course gods. These beings
are supposed to inhabit an unobservable, supernatural realm that science
can’t touch…

How should the religious and atheists approach each other in discussion? Five morals.

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 14, 2015

Conclusion of a forthcoming chapter in a book (editor by others) on this theme.

 

 

 

Many God beliefs are empirically confirmable and refutable

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 7, 2015

The theologian John Milbank will be responding in a sort of back-and-forth over at the IAI website in January. This is a preview of my first post.

Just why can’t we atheists see that religious belief is reasonable? Some religious answers

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 29, 2015

Why do we atheists reject religious belief, and consider it irrational? Here is a survey of some of the explanations that have been offered by the religious. They’re not good. This is part of a forthcoming book chapter - it’s long article length.

Is Philosophy a Grand Waste of Time?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 5, 2015

What is philosophy? Is it largely a grand waste of time, as some scientists (like Peter Atkins and Stephen Hawking) suppose?

Why we are entitled to point a finger at Islam on oppression and bigotry

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 19, 2015

If we can say that the Christian religion was a root cause of much European anti-semitic bigotry and oppression for many hundreds of years, which it was, then there is no principled reason for supposing Islam can’t similarly be a root cause of much contemporary bigotry and oppression.

What’s so bad about religious schools?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 6, 2015

Why shouldn’t parents be free to send their kids to a religious school if they so wish? Even many non-religious folk seem to think, ‘Where’s the harm?’

‘But…but…I JUST KNOW!’

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 27, 2015

Can we ‘just know’ fairies exist or god exists, without hard, publcily available supporting evidence?

 

Humanism and naturalism

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 4, 2015

Here’s a few thoughts on whether we should actually define humaism in such a way that it requires naturalism.

Could a Machine Think?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 31, 2015

Here’s a (long) animation script I wrote that introduces the philosophical puzzles of whether machines could think. The idea is it would be one of a series on the ‘Big Questions’. Anyone interested in producing it, let me know…

Might it be pretty obvious there’s no Judeo-Christian God?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 6, 2015

Er, yes it might be pretty obvious. In fact, it is pretty obvious, And we shouldn’t shy away from saying so.

The God of the Ethians - a cautionary tale

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 10, 2015

On the far side of our Galaxy live the Ethians, many of whom believe in God. Only a God with a twist… (This is adapted from my The God of Eth, for the HTLGI Festival at which I am appearing this month).

Skeptical theism - quick primer for the uninitiated

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 8, 2015

Heard of skeptical theism? Perhaps not. But it’s all the rage in certain religious circles. So, to get you up to speed, here’s a quick primer.

 

For those who regularly engage theists in discussion: There’s a good chance your religious opponent will be familiar with skeptical theism and will use it against you in arguments about the existence of God.  So it’s wise to be prepared.

 

Is Feeling Good Always What Motivates Us?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 14, 2015

Here’s an introduction to some of the most fascinating philosophical issues about happiness. We look at three key questions:

 

Is happiness just about feeling good, or is there more to it than that?

 

Is feeling good always what motivates us? And:

 

Is increasing happiness always morally the right thing to do?

 

Has Science Buried God? My opening statement from today’s debate

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 10, 2015
Has Science Buried God? My opening statement from today’s debate

Here’s my opening statement from today’s debate with Christian evangelist and debater Peter Payne in Trondheim, Norway today.

In one of his online resources Peter Payne says, and I quote:

“The net of scientific method, namely the net of hypothesis and experimental/observational test, is unable to demonstrate either the truth or falsity of the Christian faith, for it is simply the wrong kind of net to capture what is relevant.”

 

Baudrillard - J’accuse! (again)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 26, 2015

The Radio 3 The Verb
programme, in which I discuss pseudo-profundity (with some analytic vs
continental philosophy discussion), is repeated tomorrow night at 10pm
GMT on BBC Radio 3. It will be available for a week on bbc radio iplayer.
Below is my old post concerning that programme. Link to programme
website here.

Enlightened citizens vs. moral sheep

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 16, 2015

Here’s the text from my talk at the British Academy in London tonight (I am one of six panellists that also include Rebecca Goldstein. I wonder what she’ll say? The even is called “What’s the point of philosophy?)

The ‘no punching down’ case against satirising Islam

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 8, 2015

After the Charlie Hebdo affair, there was a lot
of ‘I am for free speech but…’ talk and finger wagging directed at those who
would continue to satirise Islam. It was suggested satire should always ‘punch up not punch down’. But is that true?

William Lane Craig and ruling out an evil God by observation

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 18, 2015

Here is a post for the philosophers of religion amongst you. Can we rule out an evil god or creator on the grounds that the world is not nearly good enough? Of course we can. But then why can’t we similarly rule out a good god on the grounds that the world isn’t nearly evil enough?

Podcast of me discussing ‘Does Humanism Need God?” with Angus Ritchie is now available

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 17, 2015

Atheists ‘saw off the branch on which Humanism sits’, argue the authors of a report by Theos, Britain’s leading religious think tank. The Case for Christian Humanism argues we atheist humanists should be Christians.

Podcast of me discussing this report with author Angus Ritchie now available on itunes: Unbelievable? (Premier Christian Radio) ‘Does Humanism Need God?’ presented by Justin Brierley. It will also be up here later today.

THEOS respond directly to my post below here.

Charlie Hebdo and avoiding offence - two popular liberal arguments refuted

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 10, 2015

In the gallery of satirical art there’s a largely blank space where the work satirizing Islam should be. Here I argue that, where satirical work has been removed out of fear, it should be put back. I also deal with a couple of objections against doing so.

What’s the point of lampooning religion? To upset the religious?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 8, 2015

In the wake of the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, attention is focussed on the causing of offence to religious people. Is that the point of lampooning religion? Is causing offence to Muslims the aim of someone who draws a cartoon of Mohammad? No, usually it’s not (though this point is usually lost on the offended).

Humanists Should be Christians, Argues New THEOS Report

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 8, 2014

Atheists ‘saw off the branch on which Humanism sits’, argue the authors of a report by Theos, Britain’s leading religious think tank. The Case for Christian Humanism argues we atheist humanists should be Christians (2,800 words).

POSTSCRIPT: Podcast of me discussing this report with author Angus Ritchie now available on itunes: Unebelievable? (Premier Christian Radio) ‘Does Humanism Ned God?’ presented by Justin Brierley. Also be up here shortly.

POSTSCRIPT: THEOS respond directly to my post below here.

 

What’s wrong with Young Earth Creationism? (part 3 of 3) The strange case of the car-stealing elves.

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 5, 2014
What’s wrong with Young Earth Creationism? (part 3 of 3) The strange case of the car-stealing elves.

A final post on Young Earth Creationism. So when is your theory strongly confirmed? And when are you justified in believing elves stole your car?

The Vision Thing and the Tinfoil Hat (post 2 of 3 on Young Earth Creationism)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 3, 2014
The Vision Thing and the Tinfoil Hat (post 2 of 3 on Young Earth Creationism)

How the strategy of explaining all evidence against what you believe can have soke interesting psychological effects. Start making that tin foil hat now…

‘But it Fits!’ (What’s wrong with Young Earth Creationism - post 1 of 3)

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 25, 2014
‘But it Fits!’ (What’s wrong with Young Earth Creationism - post 1 of 3)

Why the way things ‘fit’ together can sometimes be misleading. We start with the strange tale of a puddle sitting in its hole….This is the first of three related posts on Young Earth Creationism.

Open Letter To Karen Armstrong on ‘The Myth of Religious Violence’

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 29, 2014

An open letter to Karen Armstrong on her Guardian article ‘The Myth of Religious Violence’. I invite Karen to either come out as a Secularist with a capital ‘S’, or come up with a better argument.

Are Religious Rights and Freedoms Being Trampled?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 9, 2014
Are Religious Rights and Freedoms Being Trampled?

Some religious people suppose that certain laws or rules that bind others
should not bind them. They should be exempt on religious grounds. So, for
example, in the UK a Christian employee of an airline claimed she should be
exempt from a company dress code that prevented her from publicly displaying a
crucifix. Christian hoteliers have maintained they should be exempt from
anti-discrimination laws requiring that they not refuse same-sex couples double
rooms. In the US, a photography company has argued that it should be exempt
from the law requiring it offer the same services to same-sex couples as other
couples wanting their occasion filmed.

The God of Eth

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 29.5, September / October 2005

Feature
The God of Eth

Are the usual religious defenses of belief in God really up to the job? A dialogue.

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