Entries from January 2011 ↓

News: Seminar Feb 2011 Melbourne – alternatives to dogmatic atheism

Hegel Summer School 2011:

The New Atheism: Just another Dogma?

Saturday, February 12th 2011

Oases/Borderlands, 2 Minona Street, Hawthorn

10.00 – 5.00, followed by drinks
This year’s speakers and topics are:

Tamas Pataki: „The New Atheism: Just Another Dogma?“

Cameron Shingleton: „Overkill: Richard Dawkins and The Limits of Pop-Scientific Atheism“

Petra Brown: „Messianic Atheism: Giving the Golden Calf a Good Roasting“

Stephen Stuart: „Dangerous beliefs: Zealotry, Wisdom and Public Health“

The „new Atheists“, notably Christopher Hitchins and Richard Dawkins, have been getting a lot of media time, setting up a choice between narrow-minded and dogmatic atheism versus religious faith. This is a false dichotomy. Belief in God is consistent with a perfectly rational materialism, just as not believing in God does not necessarily imply a dogmatic assertion of the non-existence of God.

Our four speakers explore non-Deist alternatives to the dogmatic brand of Atheism now being promoted and expose the questionable foundations of the New Atheists. The need for a third way, over and above religious tolerance is important if a genuinely humanist way of life is to be possible in modern conditions.

For more detail and further program and abstract updates go to:


The Hegel Summer School invites you to a day of fruitful philosophical discussion in a collegial environment. The cost will normally be AUD 30 but we can offer a concession rate of AUD 20. Lunch and tea/coffee included.
Please pay in cash on the day and RSVP (including your dietary requirements) by COB on Tuesday, 8th of February 2011 to Lea Campbell on Lea.Campbell@gmx.net

News: Richard Dawkins Celebrates 400 years of King James Bible

KJB was first printed in 1611 and this is the 400th year. Richard Dawkins, outspoken religious critic, assists with the celebrations as he, like many of us, recognise the major literary influence of the 1611 Bible.


Alex McCullie

News: Three new CAE courses Feb-Apr 2011 – Historical Jesus, Views of Morality, and World-views

I’m running three courses Feb to Apr this year at the Centre for Adult Education in Melbourne.

Centre for Adult Education: Melbourne


What is Reality?
We shall examine two competing ways of understanding reality. Naturalism with its strictly physical world-view and traditional Christianity with a divine creator and organiser. Since the 18th Century Enlightenment, western society has moved away from traditional Christian understandings to a more naturalistic view of existence. We shall compare the two views.

What is Truth?
Modernism (there are universally reasoned truth) and Post-modernism (we can have personal truths only) also compete with different explanations on the status of knowledge and truth. This conflict lead to the (in) famous science and history wars of the late 20th century.

5 sessions:
Tuesdays 6.00PM-7.30PM: 19/04/11, 03/05/11 to 24/05/11

Venue: CAE Building B – 253 Flinders Ln, Melbourne

Click to book

Centre for Adult Education, Melbourne

Explore the historical Jesus, separate from the figure of devotion. In doing so, review the use of Christian and non-Christian sources and treatment of miracle claims, society, political and religion of early first century Israel and Middle East, analysing the primary source – the Gospels, review of research from the past 300 years, how Jesus, the man, is profiled by today’s scholars.

Class details
5 sessions:
Tuesdays 6.00PM-7.30PM: 22/02/11 to 22/03/11

Venue: CAE Building B – 253 Flinders Ln, Melbourne

Click to book
Centre for Adult Education: Melbourne

We think about moral issues every day. Newspapers, television programs, and internet web-sites tell us what is immoral and moral.

Class details
5 sessions:
Tuesdays 7.30PM-9.00PM: 22/02/11 to 22/03/11

Venue: CAE Building B – 253 Flinders Ln, Melbourne

We explore two traditional foundations of Western moral attitudes – traditional Religious beliefs and Philosophical thinking – with the more-recent and challenging research of Moral Psychology and ask the questions, does morality exist? Can there be universal moral rules? How do we know right from wrong? What is evil? How does culture influence morality?

Click to book

Comment: Eradicating the free-will myth – the ‘always’ illusive dream

Like most naturalists, I consider the concept of human free-will, ability to rationally choose one action over another independent of or inspite of prior causes, as one of the last great myths to which most people subscribe.

I grew up in a very secular family with a ‘what is the evidence’ mentality. So seeing ourselves as an intrinsic part of the physical world has always been an obvious approach to life. Moreover, overlaying a supramundane existence on that physical world that happens to address coincidentally human needs seemed all to fanciful to be plausible. Over the years of studying and lecturing in philosophy, religion, and science (with some history thrown in), I have softened my criticisms of those who actually believe in the supramundane. My position isn’t quite as ‘obvious’, as I have always assumed.

Free-will is another intrenched example for all of us. We all know the dilemma. Our best conception of the world seems to be that of direct observation guided by subsequent reasoning, the methods of the (natural) sciences. The sciences offer our best hope of disassociating our wishes and desires from the understandings of the world about us, the ‘It’ in Martin Buber’s terms. Similarly ’cause and effect’ is a model that well explains our experiences in that world. Only experimental results in Quantum Physics have presented dilemmas for the cause and effect model.

However our scientific approach with its causes and effects seems most unsatisfactory and unintuitive when it comes to our ‘I’ world – the potentially imaginary world of free-will, self, consciousness, love, and so on. Take free-will. Despite my lifetime of naturalism (even before knowing the term), I still get mad at rude drivers, discourteous waiters, violent people, and mass murders who presumably had not chosen to do the things they did. And to further complicate things I imagine I didn’t choose to get mad either. Their rudeness and violence and my reactions were the inevitable results of prior causes and none of us are immediately responsible for these acts (though perhaps partially for our specific makeups that contributed to these acts). My last bracketed comment asks whether our prior thoughts can be part of the causal mix for future actions. This thought is consistent with ‘us as conscious riders of our subconscious elephants’ analogy used by moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt, University of Virginia. Either way most people out there will give me short-shift, if I put this ‘not responsible’ argument, especially for the committers of heinous crimes. Perhaps my audience was caused to do so.

So I see a disconnect between abstract and interesting discussions of free-will by philosophers and the assumed free-will practice on the ground. Fianally I’m probably fortunate, at least compared to fellow travellers in the US, that our justice system in Australia seems less driven by retributive punishment, which would be so offensive to the non-free-willers. We are not into consecutive 99 year jail terms for serious offenders, for example, or for jail time for relatively minor offences. This may not always be so if the conservatives have their way here.

Alex McCullie