Monday, 23 July 2012

Notes on Hume and Kant

For any AS Philosophers out there, here is a link to a useful PowerPoint file that recaps some key vocabulary for the AQA unit on Reason and Experience, plus the views of Hume and Kant. Remember that any of these keywords could come up in AS exam questions, so make sure you know them inside out.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Thank you and goodbye

Just a short note to say how much I’ve enjoyed my time at RGS and that I'm really going to miss my fellow teachers and all my amazing students. Thank you for being patient with me when I occasionally lose an essay or two, for your dazzling knowledge of seminal 90s rock bands (even when the exam question wasn’t really about that Nirvana), and for generally being such a pleasure to teach.  Thank you also for the goodbyes, cards, chocolate, games making kits, music bucket lists, books, and death metal CDs. They were much appreciated.

Years 12 and 13: I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for you come results day, and I’ll try to pop into school to congratulate you on your results (which I’m sure will be stunning). Year 9 Philosophers: you’re a brilliant class and I’m sure you’ll do really well in your AS. I’ll be keeping in touch with Mr G to check you’re not slacking off!

I’ve got a few things I want to blog about over the Summer following on from my VU sessions, and then when I start at my new school in September, I’m planning to blog regularly about the topics I’ll be teaching. They won’t be exactly the same as the things you’ll be studying at RGS, but there should still be plenty of overlap, so I hope you’ll still drop in on the blog from time to time.

Thank you and goodbye.

Mr R

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Questions on Mythicism and Denial Movements

A big thank you to those of you who participated in my Virtually University sessions on Mythicism and the question of Jesus’ existence. From talking to other teachers, I wonder if my class was more a chat about some stuff I find interesting than a proper university style lecture, but hey - it was more fun than teaching the ontological argument.

I was really impressed by the quality of some of the thinking and the questions you raised, and pleasantly surprised that many of you could anticipate some key Mythicist arguments and the counter-arguments to these. I was also pleased that a couple of you had even heard of exciting things like Q and the apocryphal gospels... though on reflection, perhaps you’ve just been watching The Da Vinci Code?

I did say that I would post some follow up work for you, so here it is. Below are a few questions that I think were raised in the course of our sessions:

  • How strong is the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus?
  • How convincing is the mythicist case against the existence of Jesus?
  • Why makes some people reject the consensus view of experts in particular field?
  • What is the role of ideology in shaping way denial movements use evidence and the conclusions they draw?
  • Is mythicism a denial movement?
  •  Is rejection of human-caused global warming a form of denial?
  • Is denying scientific consensus (such as evolution or HIV as a cause of AIDS) different to denying historical consensus (such as the existence of Jesus)?

Please could you pick one of these questions, research the issues raised, and write me a response.  I won’t ask for it to be done by Monday – I’d rather you took your time doing some reading and thinking and came back to me later, even if it’s in the holidays. I’m also planning to post my own thoughts on a few of these questions over the next week or two, so you may wish to read those posts too.

You can either email me your work to my school account or post them as a comment below, though please remember the house rules.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Reading around Philosophy and Religion

If you’re planning to take A level Religious Studies, then you’ll benefit from doing a little background reading to understand some of the issues and questions you’ll be thinking about. So below is a short list of some books that I think A level RS students should try reading, and that should be easy to find in the library or on Amazon.

(Actually, if you were in my A level taster session last week, then it’s your summer work, so you don’t have much say in the matter – pick a book and dive in!)

Books on Religion and Philosophy
Gods, Demons and Others – R.K. Narayan
The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins
The Puzzle of God – Peter Vardy
The Pig That Wants to be Eaten – Julian Baggini

Religion and Philosophy in Fiction
The Guide – R.K. Narayan
The Screwtape Letters – C.S. Lewis
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Sophie’s World – Jostein Gaarder

Of these books, Sophie’s World might be the most obvious choice for a future A level student: the story revolves around a teenage girl (Sophie) and an unusual Philosophy course she studies, so it gives a good introduction to key philosophers and their ideas: I think it’s even used as an introductory text book in some US colleges. On the other hand, some people (myself included) have found it quite hard to get into, as the plot is a little confusing at times.

These books certainly aren’t the only books you could find that deal with philosophical questions. For me, most great literature explores themes and issues that philosophers have also been interested in investigating - touching on these deeper issues is part of what makes them great. Equally, good books on other subjects such as science, history or psychology could raise philosophical questions, so if you’re doing some background reading for another subject, you can still keep your philosophy hat on.

You’ll find a few more suggestions here and here. And, while we’re on the topic, next time you’re planning an evening that involves DVDs and popcorn, why not try a philosophical film?

Happy reading. 

Monday, 2 July 2012

On Gods and Aliens

One of my students shared a link on our class Facebook group that shows some examples of religious art that might represent ancient encounters with alien astronauts.

Ancient astronaut theory – the view that aliens visited the Earth long ago and made contact with our ancestors, and may have been responsible for the development of human technology, religion, or even human life itself – is certainly intriguing. It’s easy to understand why an encounter with a highly advanced alien race would have a profound impact on an ancient civilisation, and how such beings or their technologies could be seen as magical or even divine. Actually, we know that something similar has happened in the case of cargo cults in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Hey if, you can mistake Prince Phillip for a divine being, anything’s possible...

On the other hand, it’s safe to say that the ancient astronaut theory is currently very much on the fringe: I can’t see it appearing on your A level RS syllabus any time soon to compete with the views of Freud and Marx on the origins of religion.

I’m a bit of a sci-fi geek, so I have a certain soft spot for daft theories involving aliens and outer space. The connections between religion and science fiction are interesting, but I think a much simpler explanation is that religious art has influenced the depiction of aliens rather than vice versa – certainly, it would be easier to show how science fiction has drawn upon religious themes and imagery than that religion originated with a bunch of pre-historic E.T.s visiting planet Earth.

I won’t spend too long talking about the evidence or the problems with ancient alien theory, though if you want to check out some of the problems with it, this site seems fairly comprehensive. Ancient astronaut theory has been the subject of a recent History Channel series, which has inspired somebody to make a whole film dedicated to debunking it.