Tuesday, 26 June 2012
Monday, 25 June 2012
Well the good news is that there was enough interest in the Virtually University course I was planning on running on the existence of Jesus for it to go ahead (and so are the other two classes in RS, which is great).
If you’ve already read my introductory post on mythicism, you’ll know that mythicist view of Jesus (that he did not exist historically), is rejected by an overwhelming majority of experts within the field of Biblical Studies.
One of the interesting questions raised by mythicism is how far we should accept the authority of experts, and how far we should consider challenges to their views? An argument frequently made by mythicists is that those who accept the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth do so because they accept the authority of experts without question, and do not consider the evidence fairly or rationally.
And perhaps they have a point: Experts said that the Beatles wouldn’t make it, that Muhammad Ali could not beat George Foreman, that Sadam Hussein had a whole bunch of nasty WMDs. If you’re one of my students, you’ll know that we have a house named after Jane Tomlinson, who ignored the prognosis of her very well qualified doctors that she only had six months to live, and not only lived for another seven years, but also went on to compete in a number of marathons, triathlons, and long distance bike rides.
History is full of examples people who have successfully defied expert opinion, and it has even been argued that science progresses as one accepted theory is gradually challenged and ultimately overturned by a new one. So not only are experts and authority figures sometimes wrong, but those who prove them wrong are often – rightly – the very people we admire most.
However, just because the experts are sometimes wrong, it can’t be the case that everybody who disagrees with the experts is always right. From your AS level RS, you’ll know that there is group we call creationists who disagree with evolution, and if you study A level History, you should have heard of Holocaust deniers, who claim that the systematic murder of the Jews during World War Two never took place. If you study English, you might even have about a theories that William Shakespeare did not write the plays attributed to him. Each of views of these views is rejected by qualified experts in the fields of, respectively, Science, History and English Literature, and (in my view) rightly so.
The problem is then, how do we distinguish between the next great theory that’s going to revolutionise our understanding and theories which are simply nonsense or worse, racist nonsense?
An obvious answer would seem to that if we just examine the evidence ourselves we can tell the good theories from the bad. But it’s not quite as simple as this: very often the evidence is complex or its value is disputed. So unless we are experts ourselves, at some point we have to rely on the authority of experts to interpret or assess the evidence for us.
If you don’t believe me, have a crack at reading Einstein’soriginal paper on the special theory of relativity.
Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Monday, 18 June 2012
Friday, 1 June 2012
Firstly to give my own thoughts on some of the topics we study in A Level Philosophy and Religious Studies and to give you an idea of how to approach exam or essay questions on these. Secondly, to highlight other topics or issues in Philosophy and Religion that I find interesting, and that you might find interesting too, particularly if you're considering studying Religious Studies or Philosophy at university.
Comments are welcome (and might even be part of your homework if I'm feeling particularly mean), but please observe the following house rules:
1) Remember that this is a public space. If you are one of my students, or a student at another school, please make sure that your comments do not reveal your surname or any other personal details about you. If you use an online profile to post your comments (e.g. a blogger account), again make sure that this does not contain any personal details, photos, etc. If anybody tries to make to contact with you via the blog, you must flag this to me (or another teacher) immediately. They might seem nice, but they are very probably candidates for a stranger danger warning.
2) If you are not an AS/A level student, then you are still very welcome to post your comments, but please note that any comments that fall below the standards I would expect of my own students when debating an issue (in terms of courtesy, relevance, and academic content) will be deleted.
Thanks and happy reading.