Another ludicrous “Thought of the Day” from the BBC: The Bishop of Manchester assures us that we have libertarian free will

I’ve long known that BBC Radio 4 broadcasts a religious homily every day at a bit before 8 a.m. I’ve heard it many times, and grumble loudly at each homily. Yesterday, reader Neil called my attention to a particularly galling homily given yesterday by the Right Reverend Dr. David Walker, the Bishop of Manchester. It especially irked me because it was about free will—his idea that we have it in the libertarian form.

Click on the screenshot below to hear the three-minute dollop of religious blather (I’m not sure whether the BBC leaves these things up, so listen soon):

As you heard, Walker rejects determinism, claiming that if we have no “choice” whether or not to commit an offense (i.e., the future is preordained), then humans beings “have no moral responsibility for what we do.”  He claims that his own Christian faith accepts a God “who has created a universe that maintains a beautiful balance between the predictability of mathematical laws and the liberty and responsibility which comes with free will.”  Now that’s some god!

And to Walker, as with the bulk of the respondents in the Sarkissian et al. study I’ve mentioned several times, you can’t have moral responsibility in a world without libertarian free will.  Of course, without moral responsibility, you can’t be held accountable by God for your sins, sins that may include choosing the wrong savior, or no savior at all. Those who deny that libertarian free will is prevalent must reckon with the vast number of believers who are true libertarians.

(I’ll mention again that I believe people must be held responsible for their acts, but not  “morally responsible” if you construe that, as I do, as meaning “you could have chosen to do a different thing”. But of course I still believe in reward and punishment, though I won’t reiterate my reasons for the umpteenth time.)

Now you may try to tortuously parse the good Reverend’s words to say what he really means is a compatibilistic free will that, deep down, accept determinism of our actions. But I think you’d be dead wrong, for Walker states at the outset that he clearly rejects the mathematically-based determinism of science. No, he’s talking about pure libertarian free will—the kind that his sheep accept.

I’m surprised that, in a country where—although there’s a state church—Christianity is on a precipitous decline, the BBC still emits a “thought for the day” that is invariably religious. Seriously, my UK friends, why does this persist? Why don’t you write en masse to the Beeb demanding either that it ceases dispensing this goddy pabulum or give nonbelievers a chance to say something not only substantive, but bracing and true? Wouldn’t it be nice to hear some words that came from science, for instance?

In fact, this happened once. Richard Dawkins was invited to give the Thought for the Day. He didn’t mince words: goddy explanations were the stuff of toddlers. After that, a humanistic thought was never broadcast again. Neil reported this:

Any mainstream faith may provide the piece, but humanists are excluded, apart from on one occasion when Richard Dawkins was allowed 3 minutes to say his piece, prior to being banned forever for saying we should be more adult in our understanding than accepting simple explanations of the world.  You can read his words here:

And here’s one bit of Richard’s talk that surely irked the BBC:

Nerve cells, too, branch like trees. They are so numerous in the teeming forest of your brain that, if you stretched them end to end they would reach right round the world 25 times.

In the face of such wonders, do you fall back, like a child, on God? “It’s so wonderful, so complicated, only God could have done it.”

It’s tempting, isn’t it. But it’s not a real explanation. Not the kind of explanation that actually explains anything. And it’s nowhere near as poetic as the true explanation.

Because the beauty is that humanity has grown up. We now know the true explanation. It’s gloriously simple once you get it, and more wonderful than our forefathers could ever have imagined. It makes use of yet another tree. The family tree of life. It began with something smaller than a bacterium, and it branched and branched to give all the species that have ever lived, whether extinct like the dinosaurs, or still hanging on like our own. Evolution really explains all of life, and it needs no supernatural intervention of any kind.

The adult response is to rejoice in the amazing privilege we enjoy. We have been born, and we are going to die. But before we die we have time to understand why we were ever born in the first place. Time to understand the universe into which we have been born. And with that understanding, we finally grow up and realise that there is no help for us outside our own efforts.

Humanity can leave the crybaby phase, and finally come of age.

Now there’s a thought for more than just a day!

The crybabies are actually at the Beeb, which apparently cannot stand the idea that there may be no God, or at least don’t want to endanger public morals by promulgating such a Dangerous Idea.

Look, I know Britain has a state religion, lacks the equivalent of our First Amendment, and that the BBC is owned and run by the government. But they seem curiously immune to religious freedom and the rising tide of secularism in their land.

If you’re in the UK, have you ever complained about this daily insult to our ears and intellect? If not, why not? If a lot of people objected, would they stop it?

Here: have a libertarian free-willer:

The Right Reverend Dr. David Walker, the Bishop of Manchester

68 Comments

  1. EdwardM
    Posted May 14, 2020 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    I’ll defer to the UK readers but can you blame the BBC? Just look at Dawkins words, all reasonable and sane. The monster. I bet he made baby Jesus cry.

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted May 14, 2020 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Dawkins’ style shines! I can tell it’s his writing.

  3. darrelle
    Posted May 14, 2020 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    I’m guessing it’s that penultimate sentence of Richard’s that did it. Well said, I say.

    For some reason this brought to mind an old clip from an Australian comedian. At the moment I can’t stop associating Richard making this speech with this comedian in this clip, and I keep cracking up.

    Ronnie Johns – Chopper – Harden the $#@! Up (Warning! Extreme Political INcorrectness)

  4. derrick
    Posted May 14, 2020 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    High brow, high cost: BBC Four faces the axe BBC Four is set for the final curtain. Presenters are campaigning to save the channel http://t.email3.telegraph.co.uk/r/?id=h3987fe19,381263c7,36a851e4&WT.mc_id=e_DM1246352&WT.tsrc=email&etype=Edi_FAM_New_ES&utmsource=email&utm_medium=Edi_FAM_New_ES20200514&utm_campaign=DM1246352 as the Corporation prepares to close it to save costs. Executives have privately conceded that this year will be the last to feature BBC Four as a broadcast channel. As the pandemic puts a £125m hole in finances, some of its budget will be reassigned to BBC Three, where the BBC seeks to attract a young audience. And Charlotte Moore, the BBC director of content, has written a piece explaining how Top Gear will help kick-start TV production http://t.email3.telegraph.co.uk/r/?id=h3987fe19,381263c7,36a851e5&WT.mc_id=e_DM1246352&WT.tsrc=email&etype=Edi_FAM_New_ES&utmsource=email&utm_medium=Edi_FAM_New_ES20200514&utm_campaign=DM1246352 after the Covid-19 crisis.

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    • Simon Hayward
      Posted May 14, 2020 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      I suppose it’s worth noting that this post is about a daily spot on BBC Radio 4, not about BBC Four (the TV channel)

    • Posted May 15, 2020 at 5:15 am | Permalink

      It’s also worth noting that derrick is taking advantage of the good professor’s website to promote the Torygraph. A breach of Rool 17, I think.

  5. eric
    Posted May 14, 2020 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    or at least don’t want to endanger public morals…

    I’m pretty sure what they don’t want to endanger is their ratings and thus advertising revenue.

    Which is a reason “nones” need to continue to push to show they’re a numerous and important part of the audience for both media and politics. When stations and political parties start seeing their ratings go down because they waxed religious in the face of a significant ‘none’ audience, they’ll stop doing it.

    I’m not saying boycott the beeb for a single bit of kowtowing. But turning the station during that segment and thus cutting down on their audience numbers seems perfectly consistent with the liberal notion of ‘if you don’t like it, don’t listen to it.’

    • Dave
      Posted May 14, 2020 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      The BBC doesn’t carry advertising. It’s funded by a mandatory TV tax and therefore doesn’t need to worry about losing revenue.

      I find the exclusion of humanist or secular perspectives from the programme as unfair as Jerry, or most people here would do, but the reason why there isn’t a mass campaign to change things is that….it just isn’t very important. Even with a daily dose of priestly waffle on Radio 4 the UK is still one of the least religious countries on Earth, where people who take religion seriously are seen as eccentrics by the majority of the population. I don’t know anyone who would listen to “Thought for the Day”, or would take the slightest notice of it, so if the god-botherers want to keep a monopoly on their regular slot of warm-and-fuzzy nonsense, that’s fine with me. The rest of us can happily ignore it.

      • Posted May 14, 2020 at 11:07 am | Permalink

        Sorry, but I can’t happily ignore it. Broadcasting it would be illegal in the U.S. You can happily ignore it, but I’m afraid that I’m not in that boat with you. It enables faith and religion and stupidity. It’s just as if they had an “astrology of the day” thought!

        • Simon Hayward
          Posted May 14, 2020 at 11:38 am | Permalink

          Why would broadcasting it be illegal in the US? There are innumerable religious fundamentalist channels with fire and brimstone preachers any of whom are hugely more objectionable than this three minutes of quiet largely incoherent mumbling from a generally inoffensive CofE clergyman (not defending what he says btw, or the apparent humanist ban). I’ve seen far worse on US TV, and heard worse on the radio too. Even NPR, the closest local thing to the Beeb tends to massage religion.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted May 14, 2020 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

            NPR, as its name suggests, is funded in part by US taxpayer dollars. It is entirely appropriate for it to discuss religion, but it would violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause for it to proselytize (as the Right Reverend Walker’s “Thought of the Day” quite clearly does).

            Private broadcasters who accept no public funds, OTOH, are free to proselytize to their hearts’ content.

          • Posted May 14, 2020 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

            Yes, Ken explains it. A publicly funded station that gets government money cannot favor any religion over others, or favor religion over nonreligion. They couldn’t broadcast a religious thought of the day without giving the chance for others to broadcast humanistic thoughts of the day

        • Wrysmile
          Posted May 14, 2020 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

          To be fair it is billed as “Reflections from a faith perspective on issues and people in the news.” By definition atheists don’t have faith so shouldn’t be bothered about being included.

          It seems it would be similar to me complaining they don’t have enough cycling on Match of the Day (a program devoted to football).

          I also don’t see how it would be illegal in th US, sorry if I’m missing something.

          I don’t like it, agree with it or think its salient but as others have pointed out we have probably two religious shows on the standard British networks so it’s not like we’re inundated with religion on the television over here.

          • Jonathan Wallace
            Posted May 14, 2020 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

            “I also don’t see how it would be illegal in th US, sorry if I’m missing something.”

            I think it is the fact that the BBC is a public broadcaster; for a US public broadcaster to broadcast anything promoting religion would conflict with the first amendment. Privately owned broadcasters in the US can and do put out religious programming (and how!).

            • Wrysmile
              Posted May 14, 2020 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

              Apologies if I have have this wrong but isn’t NPR in the US a public broadcaster and don’t they have religious programming.

              • Jonathan Wallace
                Posted May 15, 2020 at 5:41 am | Permalink

                See Ken Kukec’s reply above. I believe Ken is an American lawyer so a more reliable source of information on this than I (a UK citizen) am!

        • Ross Stephens
          Posted May 14, 2020 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

          PCC,

          The UK has both a ‘state religion’ and a three minute piece of bull on a daily TV news show but I’d suggest that it is the US that actually has the bigger problem of anti-secularism. We have no AG Barr here and if any UK politician spoke even a tenth as much about god as every US politico seems to do then they’d be shuffled aside (any party) as ‘too much of an embarrassment’. Yes, many of our MPs might be “strong” christians but they generally keep it quiet.

          If the cost of not having to listen to politicians burble regularly on about god is a three minute piece on a relatively minor radio program then I’m happier with our choice over that of the US!

          You should note that it is not only a christian voice that fills the section and I grew up listening to Rabbi Lionel Blue (a regular and humorous contributor to TFTD) which gave me an insight into the Jewish religion and culture that I would not otherwise have had – Lichfield at the time was a middle-class, middle-England kind of place that, its ancient history aside, acted as a Dormitory town for people who worked elsewhere in the West-Midlands.

          Personally, I have protested TFTD on several occasions, including a face to face meeting with the head of Auntie Beeb’s religious section (then called “Religion and Ethics” thereby tacitly admitting that religion does not include ethics!) and remained unsatisfied with their response – some non-religiots have been allowed to speak since the campaign i was a small part of but I’d rather see the whole section jettisoned and put into a separate programme which could then include some challenge to their beliefs/actions.

          In my opinion, I think that reminding UK citizens – the vast majority of whom do not regularly attend any religions services – just how odd Goddists actually sound, supports a continued growth of ‘nones’ in the UK.

          All of the above is just my view and other UK citizen’s mileage may vary.

          Regards,

          Ross

          • Steve Pollard
            Posted May 14, 2020 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

            Bravo, mate!

          • JezGrove
            Posted May 14, 2020 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

            For the uninitiated, Lionel Blue was the first out gay rabbi in the UK: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/lionel_blue I’ve no time for religion, but his pieces were often moving and came from a humanitarian rather than religious angle. I suspect he is very missed.

            • Ross Stephens
              Posted May 15, 2020 at 5:00 am | Permalink

              Jezgrove,

              Oddly that wasn’t something I knew about him until long after I’d been stuck listening to the Today programme in the car on the way to school.

              I’d like to think I’d have liked him even more if I’d always known that but I’m probably mapping my present life views back onto my teenage self (who was a bit of a git).

              Ross

    • Wrysmile
      Posted May 14, 2020 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      Your probably right about ratings but the BBC are not allowed to advertise and so earn no revenue in this way.

  6. Robert Bray
    Posted May 14, 2020 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Perhaps the ‘Right Rev. Dr.’ (is there a ‘wrong rev.’–yes, in the Protestant denominations such as the ‘Kirk’ in Scotland and the Dutch Reformed Church and certain Baptist congregations in the U. S., all of which are Calvinist/Knoxian). No free will!

    When someone like the ‘Right Rev. Dr.’ spouts off, I often think of two gems from popular culture:

    From ‘Huckleberry Finn:’ when Huck is dragged to church in the Grangerford/Sheperdson section of the novel, he comments that the sermon is about ‘preforeordestination’–very ‘ornery.’

    The Doors, ‘Soft Parade:’ Morrison speaks like a hard-shell Baptist preacher: ‘YOU CANNOT PETITION THE LORD WITH PRAYER!!!’

  7. Dominic
    Posted May 14, 2020 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    BBC is not run by the government – it has a charter & most governments get annoyed with it. The charter demands I understand some religious content -& Thought for the Day is from the religious programming unit not the News unit. I think RD’s broadcast was on Today but in addition to the religious one. Dead right they should either open it up to everyone, Wiccan, atheist, whatever, or shut it down.
    I heard it & worried that if poor Jerry heard it he’d get as agitated as me ☹️
    It is prime tosh!

    • JezGrove
      Posted May 14, 2020 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      I came to make the same point about the independence of the BBC – before the pandemic it looked like Boris Johnson’s new government was going to start a major battle with Auntie Beeb, but it seems that’s on hold because the government has realised that it’s a trusted source of news and vital to their communications with the public. But it’s only a temporary truce, I fear.

      The last big protest about Thought for the Day which I can recall was back in 2002, and resulted in Dawkins getting his three-minute slot (as Dom says, it was in addition to the usual twaddle, and not a replacement).http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/2192086.stm

      The good news is that TftD homilies disappear after 28 days.

  8. Graham Martin-Royle
    Posted May 14, 2020 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    I complained more than once, not only about “thought for the day” but also about “pause for thought”. I don’t believe that much “thought” goes into either program. The beeb sends out a stock response which goes along the lines of, the majority of broadcasting is secular and only a small proportion is religious and they have no intention of changing anything.

  9. Serendipitydawg
    Posted May 14, 2020 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    It is the same situation with Desert Island Discs: everyone gets the bible (or nowadays religious text of their choice) and the complete works of Shakespeare. Atheists don’t get an alternative choice of text and have to use their luxury if they want a philsophical text more appropriate than religious pabalum. None have yet asked on air for a bible printed on soft paper that is perforated for simple deployment, punched at the corner for easy hanging.

    I suspect it all harks back to the original charter; although the current charter makes no mention of religion, I believe they did up until the 1960s, though I may be remembering incorrectly and it was down to the predilictions of previous Directors General.

    • eric
      Posted May 14, 2020 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      Well, a desert island doesn’t come with toilet paper, so….

    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted May 14, 2020 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      I think the reasoning behind Desert Island Discs giving everyone the Bible and the works of Shakespeare is not to do with promoting religion but simply to make the interviewees choice of books less predictable. It is doubtful nowadays that a majority or even many of the interviewees would choose the Bible as their book to take to the imaginary island if it wasn’t already given but the programme has run for many years and when first broadcast a higher proportion of the population were religious and if they had not been ‘headed off at the pass’ many of them might have chosen the Bible.

      I would happily see the ‘Thought for the day’ slot in the Today programme disappear but I would say that in the vast broadcasting output of the corporation on radio and tv only a tiny proportion is religious so its easy enough to avoid.

      When hiring a car in the US and trying to find something to listen to on the radio while driving I was astonished to find that nearly every station seemed to be overtly religious. When scanning the dial in the UK you would find very little religious broadcasting one either private or public broadcast stations.

      • Serendipitydawg
        Posted May 14, 2020 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

        I think the reasoning behind Desert Island Discs giving everyone the Bible and the works of Shakespeare is not to do with promoting religion…

        Well the works of Shakespeare were aimed squarely at the mission to educate but the bible was, in Plomley’s own words, essential to a well ordered life (he stated as such in interview) and I take this a promotion of religion. His whole ethos was centred around the maintenance of society, hence all the great and good that constituted the early guests, just to remind the postwar hoi polloi of their place in the world. I don’t know if the subsequent inclusion of figures from popular culture were the reason he stood down in favour of Aspel, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

  10. Posted May 14, 2020 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    To be fair to him, it’s not as though the Bishop could have chosen NOT to believe in libertarian free will.

  11. Posted May 14, 2020 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Walker rejects determinism. He should take that up with physicists. His conclusion that we have free will and responsibility is correct regardless of his opinion on determinism. As he indicates, in the end it is just people making choices.

  12. Posted May 14, 2020 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    There have been multiple complaints to the BBC about the excessive number of religious programmes they run in general, and “Thought for the Day” has been a special target due to it excluding humanist thought. It has been the target of a concerted letter campaign, and Humanists UK still contacts the BBC on a regular basis to either ditch “Thought for the Day” or make it inclusive of non religious world views. But the BBC refuse to listen. Their intransigence is infuriating.

  13. Trevor H.
    Posted May 14, 2020 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Many have tried to end it, or open it to secular viewpoints, but the BBC hangs to it like grim death

    The BBC is a pillar of the establishment and it props up the others – the Church, the Monarchy and the Tory Party…

    • JezGrove
      Posted May 14, 2020 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      After Emily Maitlis’ devastating interview with Randy Andy, I doubt the monarchy is very enamoured with Auntie Beeb. As I mentioned above, until the pandemic the Tory government was spoiling for a fight (as was the Labour Party recently, over the BBC’s coverage of antisemitism in the Corbyn era), A recent bust-up with the CofE doesn’t spring to mind, but I’m sure there have been plenty in the past.

    • A C Harper
      Posted May 14, 2020 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      I have come to believe that the BBC is primarily a support of the Clerisy half of the middle class – the ‘Establishment’.

      Arguably in the UK middle of the road Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats were part of the Clerisy and supported by the BBC.

      That appears to be changing. The Conservatives are pivoting towards the Yeomanry middle class and are fiercely criticised by the BBC. Labour was pivoting towards a rather unpleasant more extreme left and was also criticised.

      I suspect that the Clerisy (quasi-public institutions, notably universities, media, the non-profit world, and the upper bureaucracy) are losing their hold on our cultures and being overtaken by a pivot to the Yeomanry (small business owners, minor landowners, craftspeople, and artisans).

      The pivot follows a historical rhythm and perhaps explains political events rather better than liberalism or populism.

  14. Geoff Toscano
    Posted May 14, 2020 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    I actually did complain about this programme some years ago and, to be fair, I did get a reply from someone entitled to sign off as Head of something or other. Needless to say it didn’t suggest that they were doing away with it anytime soon.

    To be fair I think there’s an element of protection in Thought for the Day, in the sense that if there isn’t some pandering to religious sentiment then we might end up with Jim Bakker, or Kenneth Copeland type frauds. The only other regular programme of religious substance I can think of is Songs of Praise, and if these two minor irritations are the worst we get then I’m not too bothered. Though I do wish they’d have Dawkins again!

    • Posted May 14, 2020 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      Yes, but it’s not the “Religious thought of the day”. It’s just the “Thought of the day”. So why is it always religious?

      • Jonathan Wallace
        Posted May 14, 2020 at 11:59 am | Permalink

        In my experience the ‘thought for the day’ is invariably pretty trite. It’s not a slot I would want to be in!

        I agree that we should not have it and I’d be glad to see it go.

      • Posted May 14, 2020 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        Yes you’re quite right. There are times when it hovers in an almost secular way but the speaker always has a religious connection.

    • eric
      Posted May 14, 2020 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      That’s an amusing thought. We need to put boring religion on the air, lest crazy religion start making inroads.

      Seems kinda cynical. I very much doubt the program directors would see their mission that way.

  15. Posted May 14, 2020 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I no longer commute to work by car, but when I did I used to rely on Thought for the Day. Hear it while still in the house? You’re late. Hear it in the car? You’re early (a rare occurrence). Hear the very end of it as you start the engine? You’re right on time and, as a bonus, you’ve missed Thought for The Day. Result!

    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted May 14, 2020 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      Did you not have a clock in your car? 🙂

  16. Roger
    Posted May 14, 2020 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    If he rejects determinism, then does that mean he prays for Satan’s salvation every day? I mean, it’s worth a shot.

    • Roger
      Posted May 14, 2020 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      Seriously though, why is this not a central tenet of Christianity? Everybody pray for Satan.

  17. Steve Pollard
    Posted May 14, 2020 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    As pointed out above, the BBC is not owned or run by the Government; and it is far from being a prop for the Tory party. But it is still perceived as the voice of the nation, and in this role it sees itself as having to represent all the components of the UK. These include all the many and varied religious communities (well, most of them: the Moonies, the Scientologists and the Church of the FSM don’t get much of a look-in); and the BBC’s Department of Religion and Ethics is a far too powerful part of the Corporation. (They recently produced this self-important statement about their role in bringing the country together during the Covid-19 crisis: https://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2020/religion-coronavirus)

    A lot of people complain about TftD pretty often, but it’s all water off a duck’s back. It has to be said that for the most part these effusions are nothing more than silly, dull or parochial, but now and again a really bad one gets through. The Bishop of Manchester’s effort on free will was particularly egregious; but so was another one this week, by the Bishop of London, who asserted (on the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth) that ‘her work was profoundly shaped by her Christian faith’. This is a blatant lie: Nightingale was at best a theist, and was highly critical of Christianity. But there is no opportunity for anyone to challenge the assertions of the speakers on TftD, either at the time or later. This might in the long run help to discredit it enough to contribute to its downfall. We can but hope.

  18. Peter Taylor
    Posted May 14, 2020 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Well, at least it gives us a chance to read “Platitude of the Day”:
    https://platitudes.home.blog/2020/05/13/amazingly-reverend-doctor-david-walker-bishop-of-manchester-10/

  19. Jon Gallant
    Posted May 14, 2020 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    In the 13th century, the Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste, might have solved the free-willy problem, as follows: “A natural agent multiplies its power from itself to the recipient, whether it acts on sense or on matter. …For it does not act, by deliberation and choice, and therefore it acts in a single manner whatever it encounters, whether sense or something insensitive, whether something animate or inanimate. But the effects are diversified by the diversity of the recipient…”. [From
    De Uneis, Angulis et Figuris seu Fractionibus Reflexionibus Radiorum. I guess you could call this view compatibilistic.]

  20. ANSELM KERSTEN
    Posted May 14, 2020 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    What especially irks me is the mendacious title: “Thought for the day”. Not a word of religion. Without knowing anything about this specific slot, what would you take that to mean? A thought from a novelist today, perhaps, a physicist tomorrow, a 6th former the next, a homeless person the next, an ex-Prime Minister the next… you know, people who have their OWN thoughts based on their OWN experiences, not ones predigested for them by some establishment ideology to which they’ve become bound, whether voluntarily or otherwise.

    And once in a blue moon I think we’ve got there. My heart does leap a little when I hear the speaker introduced as, say, “a writer…” only to have it sink again when that’s followed by “…and commentator for the Catholic daily…” or some other such religious qualification.

    By all means let’s launch a campaign to get this blatant religious indoctrination off the secular airwaves. But come on, folks, realistically it ain’t gonna happen, is it? So when the futility of that exercise becomes obvious, how about a followup one to at least make the title honest by changing it to “Religious propaganda for the day”?

  21. Martin Stubbs
    Posted May 14, 2020 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    A UK Reader writes.
    The National Secular Society, of which I am proud to be a member, campaigns to reform Thought For Today.
    You can read about the campaign and sign their petition here:
    https://www.secularism.org.uk/thought-for-the-day/

  22. Posted May 14, 2020 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Walker is guilty as charged (of libertarianism). He misunderstands scientific determinism when he says “A sufficiently powerful computer, combined with enough initial data, could foretell everything to [come? – garbled].” Given the actual laws of physics as we think we know them, the only possible information storehouse big enough to acquire and “compute” that data is the universe itself – including the human beings within it.

    • Posted May 14, 2020 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      Technically, what he said is true. He didn’t say such a computer exists or that, if it does, it is in our universe.

      • Posted May 14, 2020 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

        Technically, for a computer simulation to be a simulation *of* some particular process, there has to be some causal connection between that process and the computer. (Even if it’s just some person noticing the process and trying a super simplified simulation.) Which is pretty hard when the computer is in another universe.

        • Posted May 14, 2020 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

          Unless one universe (ours, say) can be embedded in another universe.

          • Posted May 16, 2020 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

            Show me a model of such universes consistent with relativity theory, and then we’ll talk.

  23. Frank Bath
    Posted May 14, 2020 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    I’ve done a lot of radio studio work for the BBC religious department and I can tell you I have never met such a bunch of brainless weak tea ninnies.
    The BBC is not owned and run by the government, which has been said.

  24. Wrysmile
    Posted May 14, 2020 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Correct me if I’m wrong again but is NPR a publicly funded broadcaster in th US and do they have religious programming.

    Apologies if I have that wrong.

    • Posted May 14, 2020 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      They are PARTLY funded by government grants, but not, as I recall, massively. Still, that puts the onus on them to obey nonsectarianism.

  25. anthonyherbert2014
    Posted May 14, 2020 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Actually there is an earlier broadcast called prayer for the day, usually about 5.40 am, which is even worse. It is usually a silly story which then ends in a prayer beginning with the words creator god etc.

  26. Marou
    Posted May 14, 2020 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Give me, and the BBC, a break. Everyone pays for it and some those are religious. I’m as atheistic as they come but if some find the myths of religion comforting who are we to deprive them?

    • Posted May 14, 2020 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

      Ummm. . . that’s a pretty snarky comment. Everyone pays for the schools in America, but they do not have the right to prosyletize at all. Just because you have a faith doesn’t mean that the organs of government have to broadcast your faith or coddle it.

      You don’t seem to know what you’re talking about vis-a-vis the First Amendment, and I’ll ask you to stop addressing me with words like those in your first sentence.

      And learn about the First Amendment.

  27. Steve Bowen
    Posted May 14, 2020 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Oh we complain. Humanists UK has a standing grievance with the BBC over thought for the day.
    They know what they should do but resist at every turn.

  28. Posted May 14, 2020 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    I get the above comment of ‘who gives a fuck’ its just a silly ol’ fart groveling before a non existent even older, self righteous fart.
    In fact a fart has a real function and honest information, let alone the relief from pressure.

  29. Posted May 15, 2020 at 1:50 am | Permalink

    Don’t bother with the BBC – its a (woke, btw) shadow of its former self. My main news is Al Jazeera online – they and English language NHK and PBS’s newshour are all you need. BBC’s a joke joke-town. D.A., J.D., NYC

    • Posted May 16, 2020 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      I also watch regularly Al Jazzera. (Fortunately this channel is offered by the provider of my cable TV).
      Especially the documentaries of A.J. such as Witness are extraordinarily good.

  30. KD
    Posted May 15, 2020 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    You could imagine two different devices:

    1. One that perfectly controls the weather.
    2. One that perfectly predicts the weather.

    If had the second, you could clearly say that the weather was completely determined, but you could not say that you had complete mastery over the weather.

    In the ordinary course of affairs, we separate voluntary behavior from involuntary behavior (and this correlates to brain anatomy). However, “free will” in a legal (non-theological) context deals the the degree of coercion exercised by one agent over another. Most obvious is crimes like robbery where threats are used to motivate behavior, and the victim obviously would choose otherwise if they didn’t have a gun pointed at their face. You have “undue influence” cases (Anna Nicole Smith’s estate battle is a famous example) where the claim is that an interloper came in and took advantage to influence an estate disposition.

    You have free will (from a legal perspective) specifically because your will can be overborne by another person’s will using illicit forms of mastery. We also understand that there is a human conflict between short term and long term aspirations, so one may be tempted when undertaking a diet to eat something outside the diet. In this context, you might be dieting and you walk past a bakery with the smells of delicious baked goods, and your will is broken and you break your diet. This is on the folk psychology level, but this is another area in which non-theologians talk about free will. Here, it is not so much your will being over-ridden by another, but the proverbial “temptation”. No doubt there is a neurological parallel here as well.

    It does not follow that even if my actions are determined *by something* that I lack free will, and certainly not in the sense of mastery by another. I don’t see anything wrong in the libertarian talk around free will, in the sense that it is true that if I make an order at a restaurant, I could perfectly well have ordered something different. On the other hand, I am not sure that some kind of metaphysical postulate can be derived from such a statement. On the other hand, I don’t see why my choices couldn’t be completely determined by either physics or Allah, and yet I possess free will. I am certainly the author of my own actions, whether I am channeling the inspiration of the Muses or merely typing and could type otherwise.

    I don’t see how determinism necessitates no free will (perhaps no libertarian free will, but that is a stupid way of understanding free will). I do think a physicalist reductionist take on metaphysics has a serious problem with handling agency altogether, but that is only a narrow aspect of its philosophical problems with addressing teleology in general. Its related to troubles with intentionality. How can you determine the validity of a mathematical proof in such a universe? All is maya.

    In the reductionist universe, it is unclear whether I can have a will at all. Moreover, its not even clear to me how exactly you could have an immune system or even identify it as such if you had one. At least a heart is a blob of flesh whether or not it exists to pump blood. The immune system is dispersed over the body and works by complex coordination and presumably some level of communication. Not sure how you define the system except by what it does, and what it does is purposeful. Frankly, if starts doing something that isn’t connected to its purpose, you have a disease and you die. It doesn’t seem to change much if you say we have an immune system with an illusion of a purpose if when the illusion fades, you have a disease and you die. Its not a lot different from what happens when you shoot an idealist with the “illusion” of a bullet.

    I’m not writing this to “disprove” naturalist reductionist metaphysics, but rather to illustrate this is a significant point of tension in this philosophical scheme. It in my view requires more refinement, or it needs to be abandoned in favor of something less parsimonious. There are many philosophical alternatives here that may bear exploration.


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