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Mr. A. P. Lloyd "efctony" (London)
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Looks much nicer in real life than in the picture, 26 May 2014
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Seriously, that's a bad photo. It makes the badge look a little "tacky" which it isn't at all. I've bought it to wear on my lapel as my tiny stand against the ubiquitous anti-EU messages we see. I'm very pleased that it actually looks rather classy and is not at all out of place on a business suit.


The Case for God: What religion really means
The Case for God: What religion really means
Price: £4.68

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars What case?, 23 Feb. 2014
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By the question in my title I don't mean to imply that Armstrong has put forward a *bad* case for God. She has put forward *no* case for God. Whatsoever. What we have is a breathless run through of certain aspects of religious behaviour from way back until the present day. There is little theme, little theory, and no "message". We are just presented with little snippets of information arranged in chronological order.

It might be very interesting that prehistoric cave paintings require a long arduous journey to get to see them. Or that Luther obeyed the monastic rulle to the letter before rejecting "rule" in favour of "faith". But what does it all mean? What does it say about God? Or our approach to God? Or, well, anything.

Fact follows fact follows fact follows fact and we wait in vain for any revelation of just why we have to sit through this stream of little factiods.

Just pointless.


Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them)
Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them)
Price: £5.03

4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, 23 Feb. 2014
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Ehrman gives us a popularisation of just what historical methods can tell us about the life of Jesus.

My first surprise was that there was anything in history that could be formalised enough to be called a "method". My second was just how much one could figure out using it. Especially with the Bible, texts that disagree with each other, show signs of obvious manipulation (and, even, forgery) that have little corroboration from non-partisan sources.

But Ehrman takes us through all sorts of stuff, Jesus' teachings, the motives of the Gospel writers, the early history of Christianity. All the while he tells us just how firm a conclusion can be drawn. It seems that Jesus' home town being Nazareth, His baptism and His death are secure. Ehrman is reasonably confident that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher whilst Ehrman's hunch about Judas is just that: a hunch (Ehrman's word). All the while Ehrman tells us *why*, the evidence (or lack of it) and reasoning behind the judgements. It's a fascinating insight into the discipline.


Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions
Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions
Price: £4.35

4.0 out of 5 stars Well that was a pleasant surprise, 7 Jan. 2014
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I thought the "tactics" of the title would be sneaky, devious, dishonest tricks. You know the type thing. I thought Koukl would be discussing how to trick the "mark" into presuming key "facts" (Habermas). Or how to misrepresent your opponent's argument (Craig). Or how to run the "Gish Gallop".

But Koukl's advice is designed to facilitate a good discussion, largely, by getting positions clear and out in the open. And doing that without being annoying and offensive. He recommends questions to establish the other party's position and the reasons they hold it. He gives ways of asking for this clarification ("why do you think that?" is so much better than "HOW DO YOU KNOW"), and what to do when you have it. He looks at ways of diffusing aggression when presented to you and how to avoid being aggressive yourself. He even gives advice on when to stop and leave people alone. This last one was a big surprise. My picture of the typical apologist is someone who just will not stop banging on and on about God. Incessantly. Now here's one recommending that, occasionally, you just might just leave people alone!

The examples given of Koukl's own arguments are incredibly weak. I assume that they work because of the weakness and ill thought out nature of the other points of view he has come across. In these situations Koukl's arguments, weak as they are, do the job they should do: criticizing and revealing the weaknesses of other's positions.

I do have three criticisms of the book, bits where it falls short.

1. Koukl often, at least in the examples he gives, isolates particular parts of an argument. This risks misrepresenting the argument. For example Koukl counters the "we used to say mixed race marriages were wrong" argument ("A"): "It is not sound to argue that just because people were wrong in the past about interracial marriage, they are now wrong about same-sex marriage". The key word here is "just". Very few argue that same-marriage is right "just" because "A". Often "A" is not an argument for same-sex marriage at all: it's revealing a trap that the "A"-proponent thinks the other party may have fallen into. For all his emphasis on making positions clear Koukl appears to leap in ahead of time.

2. Questions beyond the need for clarification are, to say the least, irritating. At the extreme they can even be dishonest "tactics". Koukl comes perilously close to this with his recommendation to use "leading", not just clarifying, questions. Koukl, towards the end of the book, acknowledges his dislike of being asked leading questions. So if you don't like them being asked of you, don't ask them yourself. Do unto others and all that.

3. Lack of epistemic humility. Whilst relativism is an absolute menace, there is related error of conflating the existence of truth with actually having it. We do not all have our own (relative) truths, but we are limited to our relative opinions on the one truth. Koukl assumes, in several places in the book, that he has the truth. His epistemic humility is limited to conceding that his understanding of that truth may be suspect. He does not seem to accept the possibility that he might be out and out wrong. I don't expect him to think he is wrong (otherwise he wouldn't put his opinion forward) but I do expect him to be open to the possibility.

These might be quibbles, though, and correctable quibbles if the desire to clarify arguments and discuss the issues is followed. It's a light book, an engaging read and an enjoyable one. I think I might be following some of his advice.


Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels
Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels
Price: £6.17

5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I don't believe it, 6 Jan. 2014
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It was raining. It always rains in England. I don't know why I live in the goddam country. Maybe I'm a sap. Maybe it's because I'm English.

I wasn't going out in this weather, though. I poured myself a slug of whisky (no ice) and browsed for something to read. And here was this book by some cop. Homicide. Hard-nosed and cynical. He specialised in "cold cases". He cracked the ones no one else was able to. Then he turned his attention to Christianity. Hard-nosed atheist cop became hard-nosed Christian cop.

This was going to be interesting. I was going to get someone who went through the evidence and sifted what's reliable from what's not. He'd knock down the easy arguments, the curve balls of the usual apologist. So I bought the book and started to read. There was some good stuff: interesting anecdotes about past cases here, good principles of detection there. He's a bit weak on his understanding of abduction. But what did I expect? C. S. Peirce with a badge?

But as I went on I had a creepy feeling. It all sounded too familiar. Why is he giving me the spiel about pre-suppositions? Where does the Kalam Cosmological Argument fit into evidence? Or the Teleological, Axiological, or Ontological arguments? The TRANSCENDENTAL argument? Gimme a break. That's not evidence. That argument is put forward by people who think giving evidence is sinful! Then there is Habermas' (Gary's, not Jurgen's) "facts" surrounding the resurrection. Most scholars, apparently, agree on these facts. So this hard-nosed detective, supposedly able to really get to grips with evidence, who tests his witnesses, who takes nothing for granted just accepts these "facts" because, hell, "they say".

What's going on? Maybe I should take a tip from the author: pay as much attention to how it is said as what is said. How is the guy arguing? False dichotomies? Check. Glossing over obvious difficulties? Check. Conflation of "Christian" with "Fundamentalist Christian"? Check. Oh and what's this? Misrepresentations of others statements. Bingo!

This is a guy with the same fundie belief as the rest of the fundies. He's got the same set of weak arguments as the rest of them. And he's come to this book with those beliefs and arguments already in place.
I don't believe the subtitle. I don't believe this is a homicide detective investigating the claims of the Gospels. I suspect this is a fundie apologist who thinks he has a gimmick. "Hey" he thinks, "I'm a homicide cop, why don't I use that to add some gloss the usual spiel".

Well, I suppose he suckered me into buying the thing.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 5, 2014 8:31 AM BST


Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense Of The Old Testament God
Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense Of The Old Testament God
by Paul Copan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing and fatally flawed, 2 Jan. 2014
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Well, is God a moral monster? In looking at Copan's answer to the question I'll draw a distinction between "factual" monstrosity and "moral" monstrosity.

A factual statement does not automatically coincide with a moral statement. If person A clenches his fist and brings the fist, at speed, into contact with the face of person B then person A has punched person B. This is just a plain fact.
Whether person A, though, did wrong depends on other factors. If person B was trying to rob person A then person A has a good case for arguing that he bears no guilt for the punch. The fact is unavoidable, the guilt not.
Absent God and a certain view of ethics, though, there are some actions that are universally condemnable and, so, we can move straight from establishing the facts to (adversely) judging the morals of the situation. Genocide, for example, has no excuses. If person A attempted to wipe out a complete people, then there is no argument about whether they did so wrongly. Establishing that person A did attempt to wipe out a complete people is enough to establish the fact of genocide and moral culpability.

Let's call acts and characteristics where establishing the facts also establishes the moral judgement "monstrous". Dawkins' characterisation of the Old Testament God gives some examples:

"(J)ealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."

Whether someone is jealous is a fact, as is whether they are proud, or petty or (given a concept of "justice") unjust, and so on. If they exhibit these characteristics we can say that they are "factually monstrous" and, as all of these (especially together) need only the fact to be established to establish moral culpability, if they are factually monstrous then they are morally monstrous.

There is a problem with this reasoning where one subscribes, as Copan does, to the idea that morality derives from God ("divine command ethics" or "DCE"). If morality derives from God then God can do no wrong. Were God to exhibit these characteristics then He would not be morally monstrous, under DCE the idea is absurd. God would, though, still be factually monstrous: if He were jealous then it would be a fact that He was jealous.
- Ignoring DCE anyone who is factually monstrous is also morally monstrous,
- With DCE the factual and moral monstrosity are separate issues.

As a result, without DCE, a defence of the Old Testament God requires an argument that these apparent facts are nothing of the sort. Either that the events described did not happen, or they have been mischaracterised as jealous, proud, petty and unjust ethnic cleansing, misogyny, homophobia and so on.
DCE, though, gives Copan an alternative defence. Yes, God may be a jealous, proud, petty and unjust....but He is morally entitled to be. A God may be a jealous, proud, petty and unjust.... and still be good.

And this argument Copan relies on.

Perhaps, rightly, thinking that showing that God is not a factual monster is more persuasive, Copan begins by arguing that the straightforward reading is incorrect. Things have been misinterpreted, the Mosiac law was an "interim" measure, the laws on slavery were a great improvement on other laws in the region at the time, and so on. But there are places where this argument fails.

Copan seems to realise that he is not persuasive in arguing that the genocides and ethnic cleansing were not genocides and ethnic cleansing and argues, in effect, that God judged and if He judged then it's right. No argument is offered to persuade us that the supernatural killing of Uzzah for touching the ark in order to protect it was not petty, unjust, and vindictive other than it not being petty, unjust, and vindictive if God decides that's what should happen. Copan defends the death penalty for breaking the Sabbath by referencing other draconian punishments. "Often, when first-time violations were committed in the midst of this fledgling nation, a harsh punishment came with it." (p 89) Copan admits the facts of the monstrosity and relies on this being God's decision for a moral defence.

The starkest example of the application of DCE comes when Copan references a study on attitudes to the destruction of Jericho. Two versions of the story of Jericho were put to schoolchildren, the biblical story and one re-set in China without the intervention of God. The children disapproved of the actions when in a non-theological setting but assessed the self-same facts approvingly when God was involved. Copan approves of this difference: God could morally require factually monstrous acts because He had judged the Canaanite culture "irredeemable" and had the right so to do (p161).
This is disturbing. That there are adherents to DCE means there is a class of person for whom nothing is so vile, so monstrous, so disgusting that, were they to believe it was commanded by God, they would give the vile, monstrous, disgusting actions their wholehearted approval. More, we must be wary that there might be no act so vile that these people would not, on that account, refuse to believe that it was commanded by God.

Disturbing, but is the book any good? I do not hold to DCE, but there are arguments for the view that can be made. Following from this there is a defence of the Old Testament God that could be made: it doesn't matter how factually monstrous He is, He is not morally monstrous.

As noted above, though, Copan does not limit himself to this defence. Copan also seeks to remove the impression that the Old Testament God is factually monstrous. It's a difficult task and, ironically, the attempt just makes matters worse (at least to this reader). There is always the retort to the Dawkins-like objector that they simply misrepresent the Old Testament. Perhaps the objector has not even read the Old Testament. Or, if they have, they haven't studied it. Or if they have then they have missed out historical context, or their understanding of Hebrew is poor, or... But here we have someone who has studied the Old Testament, who has researched the historical context, who has looked into the Hebrew behind the translations. Reading Copan we can be confident that, no, the death penalty for dissolute sons is not a misreading. Neither are God's fits of rage when the Israelites flirt with other gods, or His prohibitions against intermarriage. As one, vicariously, studies the Old Testament it seems to be better established that God really is all those things Dawkins accused him of being, not less. Together with that, many of Copan's defences fall well short of the mark.
Take God's "jealousy". Copan points out, rightly, that some jealousy is good. He gives the example of a woman who, hyperbolically, threatens to shoot her husband if he were ever unfaithful. (p 35). This would be fine for a defence of a God who emphasised His devotion to a people by, jokingly, threatening to enslave them all if they ever crossed him. It's not a defence of a God who actually does that (Judges 3:8). The jealousy of God described by Copan is not the jealousy of the not-actually-trigger-happy wife. God's jealousy is the jealousy of the husband who slaps his wife for smiling at the waiter. It is the jealousy of the wife who hits her husband because he went to the office Christmas party, were there were other women in a social situation.

Misogyny? One of Copan's counter-arguments is that mothers are mentioned alongside fathers in a number of places! His counter to the enforced marriage of a raped woman is that was for her benefit. I find this argument rather repulsive, it's reminiscent of slave owners and colonialists pleas that their actions were there to help the (inferior) slaves and natives.

The nadir is Copan's argument that the Israelites' interactions with the Canaanites, Amorites, Perizzites, Amalekites et. al. weren't "ethnic cleansing".

There were other peoples in Canaan when the Israelites turned up. Sometimes the Israelites moved in and intermingled, sometimes the Israelites accepted others into their lands, sometimes the Israelites had good relations with their neighbours. But sometimes the Israelites invaded other people's lands with the express aim of moving them off the land and the Israelites on.

To move into a people's territory with the express intention of removing that people from that territory so the territory can be occupied solely by another people is ethnic cleansing. And when Israelites invaded other people's lands with the express aim of moving them off the land and the Israelites on they ethnically cleansed. It is as clear as forming a fist and bringing it rapidly into contact with someone's chin is punching them. It's a simple fact of the matter.

Copan argues that, elsewhere in the Bible, God issues demands for racial inclusivity. That, elsewhere in the Bible, the Israelites followed this command. That, elsewhere in the Bible, the Israelites were pretty hard on themselves. (p 163) This is all utterly irrelevant. It matters not whether they had a consistent policy of ethnic cleansing, whether ethnic cleansing was an aberration or whether they were otherwise really nice guys. It matters not whether the Canaanites deserved to be ethnically cleansed (p 164): if x is an instance of justified ethnic cleansing then x is an instance of ethnic cleansing.
Copan though, just will not have it. We can add to the faults of the DCE adherents the tendency not just to justify the monstrous, not just to accept the monstrous as the word of God but also the willingness to deny the clear evidence of monstrosity staring them in the face.

And a simple refusal to accept the facts in front of you cannot make for a worthwhile work.


The Odyssey (Penguin Classics)
The Odyssey (Penguin Classics)
Price: £3.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars *This* translation is the one., 7 Jun. 2013
Tell me muse of the great translator who razed the obstacles to the Hellenic classics and crafted a translation fit for the 21st Century.

The translation is wonderfully readable, clear, precise and in thoroughly modern English. It's a prose translation, which I can imagine some might think inauthentic. You can get verse translations but they are difficult to read with the translator having to choose words to fit the rhythm rather than clearly represent what is being said. You can get free translations: but they are just *awful*. Free translations, verse translations and, in fact, most translations other than this one also have the really irritating habit of changing the names of the characters to their Roman versions. I find it far less authentic to have Jove discussing the fate of Ulysses with Minerva than to have Odysseus speaking in prose. It is, after all, the Odyssey and we are entitled expect Odysseus. And for that matter Zeus, Athene and Poseidon. And for the Romans to get lost.


Mere Christianity
Mere Christianity
by C. S. Lewis
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars The book is good, it's the subject matter that is the problem, 17 Mar. 2012
This review is from: Mere Christianity (Paperback)
This is, by far, the best book of popular Christian apologetics I have read.

Whilst Lewis, naturally, believes; he does not take that belief to be shared by his reader and keeps the distinction between what needs to be argued for and what does not. As a result we are spared the awful quoting a Bible passage as proof that so many apologists indulge in. The awful dishonesty; the quoting out of context, the sophistry and the insulting arrogance are also missing.

It's refreshing to have someone honestly and openly discussing, and attempting to encapsulate, the basis of Christian thought.

Lewis succeeds in making a lot of things a lot clearer. That he is unconvincing is probably down to the quality of the philosophical thought and the nastiness of the doctrines of Christianity rather than Lewis. The "Lord, liar or lunatic" trilemma, to give an example of the former, is vapid. The doctrine of sin an example of the latter.

Lewis' conception of sin, clear and in accordance with Christian thought, is that one sins against God. In doing so one puts oneself at one remove from God, one corrupts oneself into the type of person for whom close association with God is inappropriate. What needs to happen is that you fix yourself and start turning yourself into the type of person God wants you to be. To give a modern example a priest raping a child is decidedly not the type of person God wants to be with. The priest has seriously corrupted his soul, dreadfully offended against God and needs serious sorting out if he is to get himself back in a right way with God. I think this doctrine is vile as, with it, I can give an analysis of what is wrong with rape and what needs to happen to fix matters *without mentioning the victim*.

This, though, is a fault with Christianity, not with Lewis. Lewis makes the matter clear and accessible, no matter who expounds the doctrine the doctrine will remain vile. Lewis' book is probably the best book that could have been written on the subject and should, if one has an interest in the subject, be read.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 6, 2012 12:43 AM BST


Dealing with Dawkins
Dealing with Dawkins
by John Blanchard
Edition: Paperback
Price: £2.48

5 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very poor, not even worth reading for "completeness", 16 Mar. 2012
This review is from: Dealing with Dawkins (Paperback)
I'll admit that it must be difficult to write a short work rebutting anything whilst still keeping that work accessible. It cannot, though, be made easier by a lack of focus either on the arguments you are seeking to rebut or on your own counter arguments. What you really need to do is encapsulate the argument you're trying to rebut and then show where it's gone wrong. Blanchard does neither.

Three examples:

Blanchard quotes bits of the "proof beyond all doubt" and "proof beyond reasonable doubt" distinction in the opening chapter of The Greatest Show on Earth without clearly stating it. Blanchard then argues against evolution as "beyond reasonable doubt" by quoting Dawkins using "proof beyond all doubt" in another context on a wider subject.

Blanchard criticises Dawkins for trying to base arguments in the improbability of God. But Dawkins simply does no such thing. Dawkins uses probability to *characterise* his attitude to God not to *determine* it.

Blanchard attacks Dawkins criticisms of the behaviours caused by religions. His counter argument is that Christianity would like its followers to behave differently.

Throughout all this is the irritating attitude that to quote the Bible is relevant in an argument against an atheist. In a book of less than ninety pages we could do without biblical quotes and references crowding out actual arguments about the actual matter at hand.

All in all, far from dealing with Dawkins this book fails even to engage with him.
Comment Comments (21) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 8, 2013 1:07 PM BST


Arko Shaving Cream Soap Stick
Arko Shaving Cream Soap Stick
Offered by COSMOMARKET
Price: £2.10

4.0 out of 5 stars Great, but no bowl, 15 Feb. 2012
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Since starting to shave my head I have been trying loads of different shaving gear; razors, blades, brushes and soaps.

This stuff is the business. It foams, it glides, it foams some more. By far the best soap I have tried.

So why not five stars? Because it only comes in stick form. Bowls work better for heads and sticks don't work at all if you prepare your face with oil. If it came in a bowl it would be perfect but...
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 26, 2012 8:24 PM BST


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