Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Neo-Gnostics and ID - So What?

In the current edition of Skeptic magazine Tom McIver has a confused piece called 'Who Designed That? Creationisms Doubts about Intelligent Design' in which he notes that it is not just some Christians who embrace Intelligent Design Theory:

'Neo-Gnostics today specifically praise Intelligent Design theory for supporting Gnosticism. The "Gnostic friends Network"... in articles such as "Intelligent Design: Proof of the Demiurge?" refer to the creator god Yaldabaoth as a Demiurge, a fallen angel or evil space alien:

"The Gnostics taught that God was a mad scientist names 'Yaldabaoth' who had been created by accident and built the earth as a prison for pre-existent human souls. He cloned Adam, raped Eve, and kicked them both out of Paradise when Christ came in the form of a serpent to liberate them."

Would IDers really accept this?'

- Tom McIver, 'Who Designed That? Creationisms Doubts about Intelligent Design', Skeptic, Vol. 13, No. 2 2007, p. 60.

McIver obviously means his question to be a rhetorical question that puts the cat among the Christian ID pigeons. It is no such thing, for, of course, since an ID theorist just is simply anyone who embraces Intelligent Design Theory, and since Neo-Gnostics clearly embrace Intelligent Design Theory, then Neo-Gnostics just are 'IDers'! Would I, a Christian ID Theorist, 'accept this'? Well, it depends upon what 'this' refers to doesn't it! If 'this' refers to ID Theory then yes, as an 'IDer' I do indeed accept 'this'. But then 'this' doesn't contradict my Christian beliefs. On the other hand, if 'this' instead means the Neo-Gnostic hypothesis as to the name and nature of the intelligent designer, then no, I do not accept 'this'. Hence the answer to McIver's question is a clear 'yes and no' - Christian IDers accept ID theory but not Gnosticism. Gnostic IDers accept ID theory but not Christianity. Both Christians and Gnostics can accept ID theory, whilst disagreeing about the nature of the designer, because the specific metaphysical nature of the designer is not a part of ID theory, since this question cannot be settled on scientific grounds. ID has always been a 'big tent' welcoming people of various different and mutually contradictory worldviews. Just as an atheist and a Christian can both accept the theory of evolution, so a Christian and a Gnostic can both accept ID theory. So what?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Talking About . . . Intolerance

A web-published copy of my latest article for IDEA magazine, the magazine of the Evangelical Alliance in the UK: 'Talking About... Intolerence' - includes a deconstruction of A.C. Grayling's recent intolerence towards religion in his book Against All Gods.

Friday, August 24, 2007


Richard Dawkins Recants on Memes

'I am not going to utter the "m" word [memes]; everybody else keeps saying it and then looking at me, and I am going to duck out of that. I used not to think this, but I am incresingly thinking that nothing but confusion arises from confounding genetic evolution with cultural evolution, unless you are very careful about what you are doing and don't talk as though they are somehow just different aspects of the same phenomenon. Or, if they are different aspects of the same phenomenon, then let's hear a good case for regarding them as such.'

Richard Dawkins, quoted in Michael Shermer, 'The Skeptic's Chaplain: Richard Dawkins as a Fountainhead of Skepticism', Skeptic, Vol. 13 No. 2 2007, p. 45.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Demons, levitation and a priori skepticism

First off, read this recent post and the comments (many of them silly ad hominem attacks on Dembski and Behe) over at Panda's Thumb, sparked by a passage from my book The Case for Angels (Paternoster, 2002). Then reading the following response will make a lot more sense:

As it happens, to answer GuyeFaux's question, I am perfectly happy with the suggestion that demons might simply have the innate capacity to cause someone to levitate as what philosophers call a 'basic action' - I was suggesting that it is not levitation per se that skeptics balk at - levitation per se is not physically impossible, but rather levitation without a naturalistic cause. And if something can be levitated by affecting its atoms, and demons both exist and can causally interact with physical things, then of course it is logically possible for demons to cause physical things to levitate. A 'miracle' at one stage remove is indeed still a 'miracle', of course, but I fail to see how noting the possibility of such a thing counts as 'hyper-pseudo-rationalism' - either way I am quite plainly and openly positing a frankly supernatural being supernaturally causing an event to occur - there is no attempt to 'explain away' the supernatural element of the hypothesis here.

The other objections given in these posts to such a one-step remove explanation is that: a) this explanation suffers when Occam's razor is applied - why not cut out the mechanistic middle-man as it were, and b) (from Mike Elzinga) that using the magnetic mechanism would have inevitably been accompanied by other phenomena that were not observed in the case quoted - so the thesis is falsified.

As for Occam's razor, that would be a good point if I had actually been proposing this explanation as being the best explanation, rather than as a mere possibility which made the point about it not being levitation per se being the problem, and not any inherent physical impossibility about levitation being the problem, with believing such a story. Rather, the problem is the supernatural element it contains.

As for the falsification point, (and I gladly admit my ignorance of this scientific field - if you'll excuse the pun - and gladly accept tuition) it would seem to carry genuine weight against using this mediate explanation in this case. Of course, one might propose a miraculous prevention of the side effects mentioned - but that would make the explanation more complex - which brings us back to Occam. So good point epistemologically speaking, although not one which shows the explanation must be false.

Talking of weight, I would have thought it obvious that Dembski meant the term metaphorically and not literally - as in C.S. Lewis's famous sermon 'The Weight of Glory'.

As for the actual case quoted, it was interesting to read the other interviews with LaBar that had been tracked down, which only went to show that LeBar claims to have seen someone levitate at pew height (but not during an exorcism), as well as to have witnessed various other 'classic' possession phenomena, but that he claims never to have seen someone levitate at a great height, as in the Exorcist. He obviously counts pew height as not being very high. Indeed, he also claims to have seen a person who glided across the room on a chair, without touching the ground, during an exorcism. So I fail to see how my initial report is meant to constitute a 'misapprehension of what James LeBar actually said'. It seems perfectly clear and straight forward what he is claiming.

Feel free to doubt his word - note that I do not actually argue that his report is true - but do note that his word is evidence to be taken into account, that there is a fair amount of similar evidence, and that what one makes of this general type of evidence has a lot to do with the worldview one brings to the table in its assessment. Those whose worldview excludes the existence of God, or the truth of an interactionist-dualist account of the human mind, will of course rule out (or all but rule out) the truth of such reports as LaBarr's a priori. Those who believe in God, or dualism, on the other hand, will be more open to their truth. Which is not to say that theists and/or dualists must be gullible about such reports. Such things might be faked, people do lie, people can be mistaken about their perceptions. And this is important, because as LeBar says in the Court TV interview:

'In most cases, people with serious mental illness are not at all possessed by the demon. They may be seriously battered by the demons, they may act in ways that look like possession, but in most cases that's more of a deception, or an attempt at deception of the treatment team. To treat the mental illness, as we treat exorcism, there would be no results at all, no good results. Mental illness needs to be treated as a mental illness, not a spiritual malady.'

The major point of my book is that while there is evidence for the existence of angels and demons - one's assessment of this evidence depends upon one's assessment of wider philosophical issues. And there is an interesting paradox concerning those who demand empirical evidence for belief in demons, which must be be experience of unusual occurrences by definition, but who display an a priori bias against believing any reports of occurrences unusual enough to count as evidence for the demonic! I rather think that the general tenor of the other posts here goes to re-inforce this point.

Saturday, August 04, 2007


A small piece of vanity...

The Wikipedia article on Nihilism lists my book I Wish I Could Believe in Meaning: A Response to Nihilism amongst its recommended reading list. It's nice to be referenced!

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