About

I am an MSc graduate living in the southwest of the UK. I was born in 1989 and I eat too much sugar.

I blog for the simple reason that I like sharing reasonably complex ideas and opinions with an audience that is not shy about rebutting and criticising my views. I write both polemics and heuristics on an array of things, with an inexplicable focus on religion. I can’t really justify that: I agree with many of my atheist blogger colleagues that religion and the epistemology that underpins pure religion has a potential to be a retrograde force in the world and that immunising fundamentalist, bigoted views against criticism under the guise of “tolerance” is a politically and socially dangerous move. However, I live in the UK and save for extreme global examples like ISIS, we simply don’t see that kind of discourse actually taking place. Not to mention that I don’t believe that religious communities are actually filled with pure-religion philosophies; it is a source of great comfort that most religious people I have met actually have a great respect for science and ethical discussions that don’t rest on their personal interpretation a Holy Book.

I find religion a fascinating topic. Apologetics and apologists rarely find themselves criticised by other religious people, despite many of them offering patently misleading arguments; they are in violation of the 9th Commandment as can be pretty assured that criticism will not rain down on them. (Their willingness to deceive is also, I’d argue, evidence for their lack of conviction.) Apologist and theologian bloggers often find themselves trespassing on areas of science and ethics, which opens up sincerely interesting topics. I enjoy engaging with that, and I am under no illusion of being a social crusader in my criticism of religion.

I am, however, interested in a vast array of other areas: language, storytelling, food and water security, philosophy, science and social commentary are all areas I enjoy discussing. I plan to start to move away from religious conversation for this reason: there are more immediately important, interesting and polemic discussions to be had.

I used to be a teacher and that has impacted on how I think about blogging. I don’t like writing more than about 1,000 words for a post, even if the topic is quite broad and would lend itself to being an entire book. This is, in part, because I intend to write polemics and heuristics: I want my readers to critically engage with what I’m writing and that’s difficult over a 10,000 word treatise.

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52 thoughts on “About”

  1. “The simple fact is that the fossil record does not support gradualism. ”

    If this is true, then where the heck did we come from anyway? Please post your response to this question. Please don’t answer it in this comment. Thanks.

    robin claire

  2. For over 150 years evolutionists have been telling everyone just give us some more time and the transitional fossils will appear. We still are waiting. At what point do we say enough is enough and change the theory?

    robin claire

    1. I’ve already responded to this in the post that raised the points. I’m not interested in creationism and evolution here.
      Even if there was no fossil record there would be sufficient evidence for evolution in genetics alone.
      Eve if there were absolutely no evidence for evolution, we should be saying “I don’t know”, not “God did it”.

  3. nice blog. I’m glad you’ve contributed to the conversation with Caroline. As for transitional fossils, there are lots. Willful ignorance of paleontology is no excuse for making such nonsense up, Robin. Just google “transitional fossils list” or “transitional fossils vertebrate FAQ” or “Nova fossil evidence” and you’ll find all that you want. I’m guessing you won’t. Religion doesn’t handle facts well.

    1. I’m glad you like my blog. Caroline’s post seemed like an easy place to clear up some basic issues, especially considering the traffic that one post got. Plus, if she’s serious about facing the challenge, it’ll be interesting to see what evidence she brings forward.

      Before we get into telling people they won’t handle facts well, it’s best to try and figure out what people mean when they say “transitional forms” (or “kind”, or pretty much any language you suspect may be being misunderstood). You and I both know what we mean, but I suspect Robin would mean something different.
      I recommend trying to figure out what a creationist means when they say “transitional form” and why they expect to see -that-. Else you’re explaining the links between ancient land mammals and whales and they’re looking for a crocoduck. No progress is made that way.

      1. I understand that. My position is ff creationists want to use terms used and created by the scientific community, they should be using them with the correct defintion. Trying to change definitions is no more than creating strawmen.

        1. Absolutely. But if you come across creationists that are looking for a crocoduck, then presented transitional forms isn’t enough. If you come across a creationist that thinks all ancient species are distinct and not part of a lineage you need to get to the bottom of that.
          You rarely come across a creationist who is dishonest or stupid enough to outright deny that these fossils exist. Often they have been mis-educated and then made to tie that mis-education up with theology. So you have to take a more delicate approach.
          (Or ignore them. I rarely engage creationism any more. They lost the battle 150 years ago.)

  4. Well, I found your blog after you commented on mine. I am glad to have found it. Your thoughts are quite interesting. I would like to question something you wrote, however.

    You say, “My perspective is not ‘atheism’, rather atheism is a symptom of my perspective: critical and scientific thinking.”

    Are you suggesting that critical and scientific thinking necessarily entails atheism, that is, is atheism necessarily symptomatic of that kind of thinking? Surely, theists can be critical and scientific in their thinking as well. And, for that matter, many of them think critical and scientific thinking better supports theism rather than atheism.

    I myself am an atheist, so I am likely to largely agree with your points. However, I’m not the kind of atheist who dismisses theistic arguments (and theists themselves) out of hand – though I’m not saying you are. There are some brilliant theists out there, many of whom could altogether dwarf and dismantle my atheistic views. So, I like to give theism its fair hearing. Too many popular atheist disparage theism as something a kin to believing in the ever-invoked “flying spaghetti monster.” That, of course, is a horrendous caricature of theism….again, I’m not saying you are doing that. I’m just venting my own opinion.

    Cheers.

    1. I am actually saying that scientific thinking entails atheism. Do not get me wrong, there are some amazing religious scientists out there: Francis Collins is a great example, as was Newton. And there are literally hundred more to boot. Gregor Mendel wasn’t just religious, but a monk! But scientific thinking, when applied to religion, leaves to space for the truth of the religion. Although, I’m willing to be challenged on that. Religion gives no predictive power, and is therefore not a part of science (think: repeatability). Religion is unfalsifiable (so long as it remains flexible). But this is merely one issue on which great scientific thinkers simply didn’t apply that same great thinking.

      There are many that think science demonstrates God, or at least provides a good argument for Him. But I haven’t come across one and neither have I been able to develop one. Science is too happy for “I don’t know (yet)” to be an answer to start pencilling God in at the unknowns. And often that is what a “scientific” argument for God is. That is why I am accusing of “scientism” so often; because science cannot find God.

      Again, I am willing to be challenged on this.

      1. Yeah, I might accuse you of a form of scientism as well.

        It seems you are demanded that religion fit the methodological space of science. For example, you say religion doesn’t have any predictive power. However, science and religion are two different forms of human inquiry (though not necessarily mutually exclusive). Religion doesn’t aim to make scientific predictions about the mechanistic operations of the world. To demand that it make such predictions, find that it does not, and then indict religion as therefore flawed or false is simply to mistake what religion is.

        As far as scientific arguments for God, there are none, though some people erroneously tried to give such arguments. God, traditionally, is believed to be supernatural. By definition, then, science cannot make claims about God one way or the other. Science is limited to the natural realm. Rather, some people may infer, from their scientific study, that the existence of God best accounts for/sufficiently explains the science on any given issue. (After all, science does not justify itself.) Such arguments, like those of William Lane Craig, for instance, are not scientific arguments for God (nor are they meant to be); they are philosophical arguments for God, ones which REFER to science.

        I wrote a bit about scientism in the following post: http://leavingthecircus.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/chomsky-feyerabend-and-scientism/

        I think Feyerabend’s philosophy of science is definitively damaging to scientism.

        1. I did not say that things that cannot be thought about scientifically are false. I said that my atheism is a symptom of the fact that I think scientifically.

          There is no way of discerning the validity of any one religion or the falseness of another. The assumptions that some theists make in order to explain how science works (i.e. consistency in the universe) or how logic works (i.e. authored logic) is presuppositional — and thus is question begging and thus not an argument in favour of God.

          I’ve tried thinking about it before, and what I realise is this: if the universe were not a repeatable and consistent place, we would have discovered that very early on in the infancy of the scientific method.

          The same is true on the laws of logic: if, in fact, a square could be a circle (i.e. the law of non-contradiction did not hold — according to our best observations) then we would not consider it true. The laws of logic are our best descriptions of the universe, and the scientific method has demonstrated itself to be the most effective tool at probing our universe.

          And this is where I begin to weight on the “agnostic” side of the term “agnostic atheist”. We only have reliable methods for exploring truths about this universe. If God is outside it then we have precisely no reliable methods for knowing anything about it. So I’m (still) taken aback by the confidence and the depth of knowledge some people claim to have about this inherently unknowable concept: God.

          It gets worse, to my mind, though. The universe shows no need for a God to have interacted with our universe. So if people are right about there being a God then they got lucky with one wild stab in the dark.

          Again, I don’t mean to insinuate that religious people are lesser thinkers. Two of my best friends are religious (Christian, to be precise) and they are no less critical and analytical than I am (with regard to non-religious issues).

    1. I know quite well that human love cannot be counted on. And I don’t feel loved, I don’t even feel appreciated. I have been let down by a great number of my friends and those closest to me. I have been betrayed and I have been lied to. I have been slurred and I have been accused. I have been judged and I have been held accountable for things I have no guilt in.
      People are unreliable, selfish, hateful and vindictive. I am being asked to do things to exonerate myself from crimes no one can seem to account for. (For the record, my family is not like this to me. I do feel loved by my family. And I love my family. My family has been reliable and supportive for as long as I can remember).

      But I would not say that love is fickle. Love has inertia; love goes on; love is in places it has no reason to be; love, the bloody thing, powers through even when it hurts…
      “There can be no despair without hope”

      I’m happy for you that that is not the rollercoaster ride you are experiencing.

  5. Hi… perhaps you recall back in may 2013 you responded (brilliantly i must say) to a variety of theist claims for my Responding to Theist Claims Guide (RTCGuide) on Freeatheism.org ? Well it got rolling quick and then life happened. Im rolling it out again and I need clarification on the status of your submissions. Did you agree to have your submissions used verbatim by guide users? ( a copy and paste into their own debate) Please get back to me via email… freeatheism@gmail.com Thanks Artie

  6. Hi, you recently posted on the blog “Shadow to Light” concerning David Barash. I’d be interested to hear your perspective as an educator on the question I put to you in that thread:
    Here’s a good test for hypocrisy: take some of the statements put forward by people like Barash and ask whether you would allow the negations of those premises to be taught in a public classroom. E.g. Barash says “Before Darwin, one could believe that human beings were distinct from other life-forms, chips off the old divine block. ” and that if one holds to common descent, that’s not possible. Now, let’s take the reverse of that position: biology professor X takes some idea from the natural sciences and teaches his classroom that, in light of this idea, it’s just not tenable to maintain that humans aren’t radically different from other forms of life and aren’t made in the image of God. Do you think it’s appropriate for Barash, and others like him, to teach their philosophical/religious positions in a science classroom?

    1. The ethics of teaching is complex. It depends first on the age of the students; young students don’t have to learn about common descent, in the UK at least, only adaptation is necessary until you are about 16. But, if in a class of 12 year olds you’ve got 1 student disrupting the class because they refuse the science in favour of their religion, what is the teacher to do?
      Once we’re talking about 18 year old university students (thus students who chose the subject they’re learning) a teacher should be able to openly separate religion from the science (especially as the controversy is publicly known).
      I’ve taught adaption, biogeography and evolution and I refuse the talk about religion when I do.

      1. Thanks for your response. I couldn’t quite tell the position that you were taking, though. When you say “…a teacher should be able to openly separate religion from the science (especially as the controversy is publicly known).” what do you mean?

        1. I mean announcing that the theory will challenge our be incompatible with certain religious interpretations is perfectly fine.

      2. So, if an educator wanted to teach their students, say, that a particular idea in the natural sciences challenges or is incompatible with the proposition that “God doesn’t exist” and recommend that they abandon that position, would you support that?

        1. I would have issue with being in a natural sciences class and being told something synonymous with “this theory challenges the concept of natural sciences”, yes.
          But the case in question was not a case of students in a theology class, being told something synonymous to “this part of theology suggests theology is actually the study of nothing at all”. They were in a natural sciences class.
          I would not take issue with joining a theology class and being told “what we are about to learn precludes natural sciences”. In fact, in a theology class, I would very much expect that to be the case, stated or otherwise.

      3. In your first sentence, are you claiming that the truth of the proposition “atheism is false” would challenge the very concept of the natural sciences? That seems a bizarre view to take. Perhaps I have misunderstood you?

        1. Atheism is not the proposition that a god does not exist. Atheism is not having a belief in God.
          Atheism cannot be false, because it is not a position.

          So, yes, it seems you have misunderstood.
          What about the rest of my comment? Has it illuminated anything to you?

    2. “Atheism is not having a belief in God.”

      I’ve never liked this definition, because then one is left without a word to distinguish those who lack belief in God because they don’t know the answer, and those who lack belief because they believe that God doesn’t exist.

      Using the word agnostic to describe those who do not claim to know the answer, and the word atheist to describe those who believe that God doesn’t exist seems a lot more sensible to me.

      “Atheism cannot be false, because it is not a position.”

      Use whatever word you like to describe it, the statement “God doesn’t exist” can be either true or false. Would you support an educator who teaches his students that they ought to, on the basis of an idea from the natural sciences, believe in the truth of this proposition?

      1. There are more options than true or false. It can be unintelligible or paradoxical. But for now, I’ll follow your bivalent approach. That would make “‘God does not exist’ is false” identical to “‘God does exist’ is true”.
        If an educator were to say “this theory means a God exists”, in a natural sciences context, I would doubt whether that educator was really teaching natural sciences.
        If an educator of natural sciences were to say that gods have no place in explanations or answers to ideas in said classroom, that is perfectly in keeping with natural sciences (i.e science).
        If an educator of theology were to say that theories in their area preclude natural sciences, I would likely agree. If an educator of theology were to say that natural science explains everything and there is no need to discuss gods, I would doubt he was really an educator of theology.

      2. “If an educator were to say “this theory means a God exists”, in a natural sciences context, I would doubt whether that educator was really teaching natural sciences.”

        So would I: they would be giving a philosophical/theological interpretation of a scientific idea, not teaching science. The same is true of the negation of that statement.

        What I’m saying is that Barash and others feel free to propound their particular theological and philosophical views to their students, and yet, there seems to be this perception that it’s only those nasty Christians who keep on trying to “put theology into the science classroom”. People don’t realise the asymmetry and hypocrisy.

        Personally, I think we should either, as Paul Nelson put it, “jettison the arguments, or the rule”
        http://www.arn.org/docs/nelson/pn_jettison.htm

        1. I’ve never understood the tactic of ignoring large parts of a conversational partner’s comment; who are you trying to convince? I know what I said and any audience we have accrued has read the comments. I gave 4 scenarios.

      3. Who am I trying to convince? Well, what I was trying to show is that if you support Barash’s right to teach his philosophical views in a science classroom, but don’t support the right of people to argue against the kinds of positions he advances, there is an inconsistency. That’s what I’m trying to get at.

        Sorry if I haven’t I’ve adequately addressed what you’ve said. Let me know what I haven’t covered.

        1. 1) If an educator were to say “this theory means a God exists”, in a natural sciences context, I would doubt whether that educator was really teaching natural sciences.
          This is the only one that you actually acknowledge that I have written.

          2) If an educator of natural sciences were to say that gods have no place in explanations or answers to ideas in said classroom, that is perfectly in keeping with natural sciences (i.e science).
          This one you seem to be ignoring. God didn’t get mentioned in my Geography degree, because people don’t have theological objections to plate tectonics.
          In my Human Evolution shared elective, God did get mentioned because people do have theological objections to evolution. We addressed the appearance of design, what we expect from the designer, and whether we really see that (i.e. imperfections — which your linked post didn’t do away with). It is not a theological claim to say that science doesn’t accept a personal explanation (of which God is one): science also doesn’t allow answers like “the heart wants to pump blood around the body”, or “kidneys don’t like high salt environments”. If evolution were not criticised from theological stances, evolutionary scientists would never need to mention God or Intelligent Design (or other things that you seem to have confused with theological claims).

          3) If an educator of theology were to say that theories in their area preclude natural sciences, I would likely agree.
          Where’s the hypocrisy? In the same say as science precludes personalised answers, theology often precludes scientific ones.

          4) If an educator of theology were to say that natural science explains everything and there is no need to discuss gods, I would doubt he was really an educator of theology.

        2. Hello again allalt. I wanted to continue with this exchange last year, but things began to heat up with preparing for exams.

          “This one you seem to be ignoring. God didn’t get mentioned in my Geography degree, because people don’t have theological objections to plate tectonics.”

          God didn’t get mentioned in your Geography degree for two reasons.
          1.Educators don’t take plate tectonics (a scientific theory) and attempt to derive philosophical or theological conclusions from it.
          2.Theological assertions have never been a part of the case for plate tectonics.

          “If evolution were not criticised from theological stances, evolutionary scientists would never need to mention God or Intelligent Design”

          I think this is historically false. There is theological content present from the very beginning as part of the core of the case for evolution, not as a later response to “theological objections”. Take the classic example of the homology of the vertebrate pentadactyl limb. In the 13th chapter of the Origin, Darwin contrasts functional and historical explanations and concludes that, if it were created, we would expect to see a functional reason for the similarity of this structure in different taxa. He argues that there is no functional reason, therefore we can explain this structure in terms of descent with modification. Implicit within this argument are numerous claims concerning notions of design, optimisation, the intentions of God, etc. See also his arguments concerning biogeography. Did the earliest proponents of plate tectonics advance similar arguments? I think not.

        3. I hope your exams went okay.
          I understand that you are excited to continue this conversation. However, having just read over our previous dialogue i think we are unlikely to make progress.
          I have made my position clear: theological discussions belong in theological classes. Science discussions belong in science classes. Saying that science has not provided evidence for God is not a theological claim. Teaching evolution without mentioning God is not a theological choice. Preempting the using of evolution by saying ‘this is a science class room, we won’t be discussing God’ is also not theological.
          But you seem to want me to say ‘not talking about God is a science classroom is a theological position’ and that educators of science should be showed to show their theological preference (so long as they’re not religious). You want me to say that, which i don’t agree with, so you can accuse me of hypocrisy. It’s not a conversation, it’s sophistry. I’m not interested.

        4. Thanks for your comment about my exams. They did go well.

          “But you seem to want me to say ‘not talking about God in a science classroom is a theological position’”

          That’s not what I’ve been trying to say.

          If Barash merely taught:
          “Human beings share a common ancestor with all other forms of life.” he would indeed be “not talking about God in a science classroom”.

          The point I’ve been trying to make is that that’s not what Barash does:
          He teaches:
          “Human beings share a common ancestor with all other forms of life AND that “Before Darwin, one could believe that human beings were distinct from other life-forms, chips off the old divine block”

          And this is a very different kettle of fish indeed.

        5. Not really. It restates the same thing. We’re not chips of the divine block if we have common ancestors (unless everything is a chip off the block).
          I don’t see an issue with saying ‘evolution is incompatible with creation’. You can day that in religious studies, and you can say that in science.

  7. I am finding your blog quite intriguing, very significant, and equally engaging. I believe I will be visiting, reading, absorbing, pondering, and maybe… just maybe commenting a little.

    Warm regards

  8. Also, you mentioned over on John Zande’s post (superstitiousnakedape)…

    I started an organisation called Scientists for the Vigorous Investigation of Facts (‘SVIF’). It released a paper last February titled ‘Bigots, in psychological terms, are retarded’.
    To fans of scientific fact, as well as fans of tolerance, the release of the SVIF Bigot Report is a blast of oxygen to people being smothered in a blanket of ideological fallacy.

    Where might I find more information please? Many thanks!

    1. Ah, no, sorry, that was a satire of the barely-legitimate research group mentioned in the post.
      You are welcome to start such a foundation. I won’t claim copyrights on the name.

        1. Very kind of you to say. Thank you. I try to at least make the various subjects, “arts”, humanity, and inline with you Sir, theology/religion and its severe stranglehold (via fear & intellectual suicide) that it has on so many millions of minions. 😉

        2. Apologies for that semi-incoherent response above. I was interrupted, lost my train-of-thought — no survivors by the way — and didn’t correctly complete it!

          At some point at the end of my rambling, I meant to finish with… “make it all interesting.” OH LOOK! A glittering squirrel!!! 😮

          (joke)

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