Saturday, January 27, 2007

Ethics via the the Biology of Consciousness? (or réchauffé Hume ?)

MY OWN VIEW IS THAT THIS IS backward: the biology of consciousness offers a sounder basis for morality than the unprovable dogma of an immortal soul. It's not just that an understanding of the physiology of consciousness will reduce human suffering through new treatments for pain and depression. That understanding can also force us to recognize the interests of other beings--the core of morality.

Steven Pinker in Time (via

Monday, January 22, 2007

(from the Holy Grail) Help, I'm being Repressed!

Excluding Exclusion

Deogol argued that the antipathy against exclusiveness (see here, here and elsewhere for material) was misguided and destructive. The argument is unsound, or so I've argued in comments.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

World Social Forum comes to Kenya.

Nairobi hosts the WSF this year. From the blurb:
WSF Nairobi 2007 will be an opportunity to showcase Africa and her social movements; Africa and her unbroken history of struggle against foreign domination, colonialism and neo-colonialism; Africa and her rich heritage of natural wealth, cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity; Africa and her reputation for embracing communities from around the world; Africa and her contributions to world civilization; Africa and her role in the quest for another possible, more progressive global human society.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Martin Amis is a pompous t**t

From today's Independent profile:

Have you made up with your old friend Christopher Hitchens after your spat over Stalin? MARLIJN EVANS, London

We never needed to make up. We had an adult exchange of views, mostly in print, and that was that (or, more exactly, that goes on being that). My friendship with the Hitch has always been perfectly cloudless. It is a love whose month is ever May.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Union

This is the 300th anniversary of one of the most successful, if tumultuous marriages in all of history. Long may the Union continue, since nationalism just is tribal nationalism, and tribal nationalism is a bad thing.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Plantinga Contra Dawkins

This* appears to be Alvin Plantinga's response to Dawkins' The God Delusion. I say appears because it's not obvious why the review has been issued on a Norwegian website. However, it's written in the forthright style familiar to fans and (non-fans) of Plantinga's earlier work, and it employs the anti-naturalist argument Plantinga has expounded in many places. (e.g. here) So caveat lector and all, but it looks genuine.

Anyway, here's Plantinga's take Dawkin's complexity argument (Which seems to be the only new anti-theist argument that Dawkins advances):

Now suppose we return to Dawkins’ argument for the claim that theism is monumentally improbable. As you recall, the reason Dawkins gives is that God would have to be enormously complex, and hence enormously improbable (“God, or any intelligent, decision-making calculating agent, is complex, which is another way of saying improbable” (109)). What can be said for this argument?

Not much. First, is God complex? According to much classical theology (Thomas Aquinas, for example) God is simple, and simple in a very strong sense, so that in Him there is no distinction of thing and property, actuality and potentiality, essence and existence, and the like. Some of the discussions of divine simplicity get pretty complicated, not to say arcane.[1] (It isn’t only Catholic theology that declares God simple; according to the Belgic Confession, a splendid expression of Reformed Christianity, God is “a single and simple spiritual being . . . .”) So first, according to classical theology, God is simple, not complex.[2] More remarkable, perhaps, is that according to Dawkins’ own definition of complexity, God is not complex. According to his definition (set out in The Blind Watchmaker), something is complex if it has parts that are “arranged in a way that is unlikely to have arisen by chance alone” (7). But of course God isn’t a material object at all and hence has no parts. God is a spirit, an immaterial spiritual being, and therefore has no parts at all.[3] A fortiori (as philosophers like to say) God doesn’t have parts arranged in ways unlikely to have arisen by chance. Therefore, given the definition of complexity Dawkins himself proposes, God is not complex.

[1] See my Does God Have a Nature?

[2] The distinguished Oxford philosopher (Dawkins calls him a theologian) Richard Swinburne has proposed some sophisticated arguments for the claim that God is simple. Dawkins mentions Swinburne’s argument, but doesn’t deign to come to grips with it; instead he resorts to ridicule (110-111).

[3] What about the Trinity? Just how we are to think of the Trinity is of course not wholly clear; it is clear, however, that it is false that in addition to each of the three persons of the Trinity, there is also another being of which each of those persons is a part.

* Link removed by request.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

A singularly powerful argument for atheism

Somebody wondered whether Barack Obama was the anti-Christ. The consequences must be read to be believed. (via Jackmormon)

ANC Anniversary

January 8th was the 95th anniversary of the founding of the ANC. There's no finer time to remember Oliver Tambo, very much the forgotten man of the Struggle, who died only a year before the full democratization of South Africa.

Also, here's a BBC piece on the occasion.

Happy New Year

Best wishes for 2007, everyone.

GWOT has come to East Africa, as everyone now knows. It was probably inevitable, and may even turn out well. (Though not if the Americans keep missing targets and blowing up what look remarkably like civilians). What is annoying is the recent closure of the Kenya/Somalia border. As far as I can tell, this means Somalis fleeing the fighting are buggered. Since it's not impossible to vet refugees at the border, and leaving vulnerable people cooped up in Somalia is a bad idea, why doesn't the govt. just ask for help vetting and housing the refugees?