Friday, November 30, 2012

I am speaking at this event assuming I can remain sober...

Crystal Head
Here's the blurb (not written by me). Note I am introduced by Ghostbuster Dan Ackroyd - possibly the highlight of my entire career...

Have you heard the world is coming to an end on December 21st? So said the Mayans. Not sure how I feel about these things, but think I might put off Christmas shopping until the 22nd just in case.

On December 5th, hidden beneath St Andrews Church, in a lock 13th century crypt there is a head, shaped from solid quartz that offers it’s bearer spiritual power and enlightenment. Oh wait, it’s filled with vodka – even better!

Crystal Head Vodka, who are clearly fans of a mystery – having named themselves after the 13 crystal heads that were found and polished into shape from solid quartz that are said to offer enlightenment – are hosting a discussion on the Mayan prediction. Dan Aykroyd (the man behind the iconic vodka and more than a few iconic films) will introduce the discussion (via the medium of film); philosopher Dr. Stephen Law and Professor Elizabeth Graham, expert in Mesoamerican archeology, will take to the stand to provide insight into the 2012 prophecy debate, and explore its history and, more importantly, its reality.

Crystal Head’s mixologists will be on hand to guide you through this troubling time with a series of specially-created cocktails and signature serves.

I’ve always said, if the world is really coming to an end, I’d rather it came when I had a drink in my hand.

There are still spaces but like the world, they are soon coming to an end too, RSVP now to

‘End of the World’ Lecture with Crystal Head Vodka | 5th December at 7pm – 10pm |St.Andrews Crypt Holborn, 7 St Andrews Street, EC4A 3AB

I am playing drum kit with Heavy Dexters at the Bully, Oxford Tuesday 11th December

The Heavy Dexters Christmas funk up
Details here.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Berkeley's Idealism

(from my book The Great Philosophers)

‘To be is to be perceived.’

Just as younger children sometimes wonder whether the refrigerator light stays on once the door is shut, so the more  philosophically minded older child may question whether  physical objects continue to exist when they are not observed. George Berkeley’s answer to this question is that they do not. According to Berkeley, the physical world exists only while it is being perceived. So what led him to this astonishing conclusion?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Israel, Palestine and Terror


Jerry Cohen's chapter from my book Israel, Palestine and Terror is available on-line here. I think it's one of the strongest pieces in the book. My own contribution (three thousand words) is pasted in below.

Terror in Palestine: A Non-Violent Alternative?

Stephen Law

In this volume, the philosophers Ted Honderich and Tomis Kapitan argue that Palestinians have a moral right to use terrorism. Honderich’s and Kapitan’s arguments differ. For example, Honderich’s is rooted in his Principle of Humanity, while Kapitan develops a justification within something like the framework of ‘just war theory’. Nevertheless, both arguments conclude that Palestinian terrorism has been justified in at least some instances. And both rest on a key premise: that the Palestinians have had available to them no viable alternative to the use of terrorism. Honderich writes:

that the Palestinians' only means to a viable state has been and may still be terrorism is something about which I myself have no doubt. Evidently it is a factual proposition in need of support. There is enough in the history of Palestine and Israel to lead me to think that the disinterested people who say the Palestinians had and have an alternative to terrorism are less moved by history and fact than by abhorrence for terrorism. The feeling cannot settle the question (Honderich 2008, xx).

Kapitan argues that non-violent methods are unlikely to end the existential threat he believes the Palestinian community faces. He says,

[t]he Palestinians have repeatedly used techniques of non-violence in combating the Israeli occupation… and have sought and received the help of like-minded Israelis, but to no avail. (Kapitan 2008, xx)

Here I raise a question mark over this denial that there is an effective, non-violent alternative to terror open to the Palestinian people.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

From Geoff's Shorts (not by me)

Here's a post from Geoff's Shorts. He did an analysis for me, which is interesting and kind of amusing. Read on. The original is here. You should follow Geoff's blog, btw.

Craig's List And The People Of The Law

Sometimes it's nice to start from a point of idle curiosity. In a previous installment I prepared a word cloud of the Twitter biographies of those who follow Stephen Law and William Lane Craig. I drew no conclusions from it; there really wasn't enough hard data.

Stephen Law was kind enough to take an interest and we had a brief Facebook chat. I showed him another post of mine on the Discovery Institute. For that one, I'd pulled a list of everyone who follows the Discovery Institute. They're an anti-evolution group with delusions of science, saying their belief in an Intelligent Designer is not motivated by prior theological conclusions. Taking this list of their followers I then found out what each Intelligent Design fan followed. I put the results into a matrix and found that the majority of Discovery Institute fans have a pronounced primary interest in Christian apologetics and no interest in science.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Word clouds my and WLC followers - from Geoff's Shorts

From Geoff's Shorts. I draw no conclusions. It's just kind of interesting...


Stephen Law Vs William Lane Craig

I quite enjoy Stephen Law. Reading his books helped rid me of an irrational prejudice against philosophy while teaching me something new and in sections giving me a good laugh - do check out the free chapter of Believing Bullshit. I've mentioned William Lane Craig a couple of times on this blog.

They debated some time ago. It was rather good, and at ten to midnight I can't give it a worthy summary but I encourage you to track it down on YouTube if you missed it. About an hour ago the mood struck me to pull a list of each of their followers, pull each person's Twitter biographies, and do a word cloud of the results. No commentary, it's past my bedtime. I'll leave you to guess which is which. Click for big, feel free to reuse the images elsewhere if you like.

A Land to Die For, by David Ranan

Great book by my friend David Ranan, which I am very much enjoying reading right now. 
Israeli governments have for many years maintained a consensus concerning the need for the nation’s citizens to serve in the army. This consensus was based on the ethos of a Jewish state surrounded by Arabs who want to destroy it. The Iranian nuclear program is the most recent of the many threats to the Israeli state. But for some time Israel’s black and white view of itself has been eroding. Conscientious objection to conscription and ‘draft dodging’ as well as the rights and wrongs of occupation and settlements have become explosive issues for all shades of Israel’s political spectrum. Can we expect young Israelis, who are called to serve their country at eighteen, to have the maturity to weigh such complex issues? Does Israeli society really want them to? For this stimulating book, David Ranan held interviews with Israelis aged between eighteen and thirty. The twenty-seven monologues presented here reveal some of the difficult moral questions that concern this generation. First published in German in 2011, this English-language edition contains a comprehensive introduction to Israel’s history that has been revised and updated to maintain its relevance.

This is what happens when you cut your own hair

I have learned my lesson. From Swedish newspaper article.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Atheist Prayer Experiment

Justin Brierley reviews the results of an experiment in which atheists pray for 40 days for God to reveal himself to them. Go here.

Thanks to The Atheist Missionary for drawing attention to this on twitter.

This is a win-win experiment to set up for the purposes of evangelizing of course.

Reasons why you should perhaps expect some positive reports include:

(i) Atheists who agree to sign up to this fairly onerous prayer regime are more likely to think there might be something to religious belief (one positive was clearly already flip-flopping - see the letter below).
(ii) Power of suggestion: if you tell people to pray, meditate, etc. and that something unusual may be experienced, it's rather more likely to be reported. Chris French's experiment on crystals confirms that people will tend to report unusual psychological effects whether they hold a real or fake crystal - in short the effect, such as it was, was all in the mind. There's reason to expect a similar effect here.
(iii) Events (coincidences, say) can easily be interpreted as divine signs, even when they are not.
(iv) We have a natural propensity to religiosity. Some religious response is therefore to be expected whether or not there's any truth to religion.

Any positives can function as anecdotal evidence (psychologically very effective in underpinning belief, even if typically worthless as evidence) and the negatives can be quietly downplayed or forgotten.

In addition, negative results can be explained away (and were by some commentators) as being due to the atheists not praying properly, with commitment, etc. If all results are negative, the entire episode can be dismissed as a mere absence of evidence, not evidence of absence. Brierley himself suggests God cannot be "put in a test tube" (a very useful immunizing move).

Philosopher Theist Tim Mawson (who is a friend of mine) does a pretty interesting commentary, I think (which is not to say we agree about everything). The experiment actually grew out of a paper of his.

PZ Myers's thoughts on the experiment here.

A letter received by Brierley below:

Hi Justin,

I am married to an atheist and together we have listened to your show since nearly the beginning. I have always fought against believing in God, always hearing that science and God can't mix. I tried and tried to not believe but I have always been drawn back in. I flip-flopped between fierce atheist to wishy-washy occasional Christian. I guess I felt ashamed wanting to believe so I would look for reasons and excuses not to. I would seek out anything related to Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and others and sort of make fun of believers. All the while I was conflicted.

I then heard about the experiment and decided to test God once and for all. I also tried to get my husband to do the experiment but he refused.

I think I was hoping he would join me so I could use the experiment kind of as a way to just admit it. I then realised that I could no longer live without God. With God I feel like I have hope and positivity. I feel safe. I feel like I have direction. I found that when I was an atheist I felt lost and alone. I just couldn't deny my belief any longer.

And so now thanks to you, your podcast and the experiment I have decided to commit my life to God. I have found peace and meaning.

No one in my family attends church so I know this will be a bit of a struggle. My husband is supportive thankfully since our 11 year-old daughter has also decided that she wants to be a Christian as well.

Until recently we weren't really pointing her in any specific faith journey. Once I decided to come out as a Christian she actually told me she was one as well but was afraid to say anything about it.
I suppose miracles do happen :)

Thank you Justin!


Carrier talk on Jesus, history and reason this Friday - see you there?

This should be a really interesting talk (organized by myself for CFI UK) from one of the world's leading skeptics. He is the author of a controversial new book on the quest for the historical Jesus. Hope to see some of you there...

Richard Carrier: Bayes' Theorem and Historical Reasoning: How Historical Methods Can Be Improved and Why They Need to Be

16th November 2012

Stamford Street Lecture Theatre
7.30pm - 9pm (7.00pm registration)

Drawing from his new book Proving History: Bayes's Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus (Prometheus, 2012), Dr. Carrier will explain what Bayes' Theorem is (in terms anyone can understand), how it underlies all valid historical methods even when we don't realize it, and why knowing this can improve historical reasoning and argument in all fields of history.

£7 - General
£5 - Students / BHA members
Free - "Friends of CFI"(and LAAG)


Stamford Street Lecture Theatre
Franklin Wilkins Building
Waterloo Campus
King’s College London
127 Stamford Street
Nearest tube: Waterloo

19.00 for a 19.30 start

About the speaker

Richard Carrier is an American historian and philosopher and author of several books which have received international attention, including The Empty Tomb and Why I am Not a Christian. Richard now specializes in the modern philosophy of naturalism, the origins of Christianity, and the intellectual history of Greece and Rome. Richard also writes for and was Editor in Chief of the Secular Web (Internet Infidels).

Monday, November 5, 2012

Commentary on parts of my debate with William Lane Craig

Someone was kind enough to take the trouble to make this video going through some of the exchanges between myself and Bill Craig in our debate.

In Sweden till thursday publicizing Believing Bullshit

Flying to Stockholm tomorrow to mark launch of Believing Bullshit in Swedish. Here are the details of the main public event on the 7th.

Datum: onsdag 7 november 2012
Tid: 18.00.
Plats: Teater Brunnsgatan Fyra, Stockholm

Den 7 november kl 18 gästar Stephan Law Teater Brunnsgatan Fyra. Kom och bli vaccinerad mot skitsnack! Biljetter bokas på
Stephen Law besöker Stockholm den 6-8 november i samband med att Bluff släpps. För pressbiljetter eller intervjuförfrågan, kontakta Emma Ulvaeus,, tel: 0709 66 26 45
Läs mer eller köp boken Bluff här.