About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

So ends a huge year in my life

Here we are at the end of 2008, which turned out to be a huge year in my life. I'd have to go back a long way to find a more eventful one.

Sadly, it began with the loss of my mother in hospital early in January - ironically enough with just me and a nurse present, as my father and sister who'd been keeping long vigils were both getting some much-needed and overdue rest. Given what Mum had been through during the previous year, it was almost a blessing when the end came, but of course that kind of cliched talk is little consolation to those of us left behind, especially my dad, who lost his life partner after a marriage that lasted well over 60 years. Since then, I've spent a lot of time with my family, travelling frequently to Newcastle ... where Jenny and I will very likely return permanently at the end of next year.

I've been further afield twice, with short trips overseas to New Zealand early in the year, for a long-overdue holiday with Jenny, and to the UK late in the year, funded by the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology in Liverpool.

This has been a big working year. I had light teaching loads in both semesters, which is just as well when you add up the rest of what had to be done. I'd written a first draft of my PhD thesis in 2007, but this had major structural problems and was far too ambitious. In 2008, I produced a second version that was completely different, considerably shorter, much more tightly focused, essentially a new work. This means I have tens of thousands of unused material lying around from the first version, waiting for me to get back to it some time, to see what I can do with all the metaethical argument and fundamental normative theory that never made it into the new version of the thesis.

After various ups and downs, I finally submitted the thesis in late August. My examiners were very quick, and I found out in November that both had given it the thumbs-up with no revisions required. Save for the formal graduation, I now have the long-awaited second PhD, and now have to work out if I can find a publisher for it.

At the same time, I've been working on the Voices of Disbelief project with Udo Schuklenk. This went surprisingly smoothly but still had its own ups and downs. Editing an original anthology like this is a job comparable in size to writing a book of similar length, though in some ways it's more like managing a small business. For a start, intense effort went into finding high-profile people who were prepared to contribute to such a book. While we've ended up with 50 contributors in addition to ourselves, we actually wrote to a vastly greater number. Some of our emails were probably never received. Some people ignored us. One or two were dismissive. Many were gracious, but apologised because they were too busy. In retrospect, it's perhaps surprising that so many took us as seriously as they did, since quite a few of the people who ended up on board would never have heard of either of us.

In March, if I recall correctly, Blackwell came on board as publisher. We settled a list of about 60 people, but as the year went on the line-up changed slightly. Some folks had to drop out with illness or for other personal or professional reasons. In one case, one of my dearest friends had to drop out because of very serious illness. If she reads this, I send her my love. Udo and I ended up taking some essays a fair bit longer than we originally planned. After some to-ing and fro-ing we only added one name to our original list to balance those who had to leave the project, but with those longer pieces the manuscript we've ended up with is over 120,000 words.

The actual editing was a great privilege but also a challenge. Some essays, of course, scarcely needed editing at all - the authors sensed exactly what we had in mind. Others took quite a bit of work, though always the aim was to make the voice of the author as clear as possible, rather than to impose the views of the editors. Bear in mind that we had a great diversity of authors, some far more experienced as professional writers than others, some of them writing in English even though it is not their first language, some of them with impressive careers as professional novelists, some as academic philosophers, some as journalists, some as activists in the world of sceptics, humanists, and secularists. They all produced excellent essays, but sometimes the essays needed some tweaking or even rethinking. Then blending all this into the best book we could all make it was not always straightforward. Once Udo and I decided to accept essays of well over 3000 words (sensing that we were likely to end up with more like 50 than 60 authors), we were constantly worried that we'd end up with something too long overall and be forced to go back and ask some authors for cuts.

But I must add immediately that the authors were wonderfully responsive whenever we made suggestions or raised issues for them to consider, and the whole exercise was an amazing learning experience. The final mix of essays ranging from about 500 words to about 6000 words is more interesting than what we originally had in mind (with everything between 1500 and 3000). Best of all from my viewpoint, I've made some friendships out of the exercise. I certainly hope to work again with all these fantastic people.

We were able to submit the manuscript only one day after our 1 December deadline, and we now await proofs from Blackwell. We'll need to do a final layer of proofing and then, alas, put together an index (a task that some people enjoy, but I can't say that it's my cup of tea). Based on our best information, the book will actually be published in about July or August. Thanks to all the authors, once again.

Meanwhile, I took over in January as editor-in-chief of The Journal of Evolution and Technology. During the year we published three substantial issues and have started on a fourth. Almost all of the material we've published so far had been accepted before I came on board, so it'll be some time before I really make my mark on the journal. However, it all required editing, or further editing, and in this case quite a lot of what we'd accepted was from authors whose first language is not English. We needed to work closely with them to help them express themselves as clearly as possible for an English-speaking audience. My aim as an editor is always to help the authors express themselves with the maximum accuracy and clarity, not to impose my own beliefs, and I like to think that the partnership with the JET contributors has been pretty successful so far.

Another challenge with editing JET is that it's an interdisciplinary journal. Whatever claims of polymathy I might have, I can't possibly be expert across the vast range of displines that have something important to contribute. That means I need help, and I'm still at a relatively early stage in building up the network that I need to rely upon. Submissions are not getting reviewed as quickly as I'd like, and I must take some of the blame for this, as I haven't always found it easy getting the right reviewers quickly. Hopefully, that will improve. We're certainly working on it. Meanwhile, we've pretty much cleared the backlog that had been building up, and are well placed to continue the journal's flagship role.

Thanks especially to Marcelo Rinesi, whose work as managing editor has been invaluable.

While working on those projects, I've spent far too many hours at the computer wasting my time playing games (often in the form of Facebook apps), engaging in unproductive net surfing, and generally sitting here in my office getting unfit and fat. I must do something about that next year.

Jenny has had a breakthrough year, with the publication of her highest-profile story to date - "Trolls' Night Out" in Jack Dann's Dreaming Again anthology (which also contain my story "Manannan's Children"). She has her first solo book coming out next year, having sold her brillant standalone novella The Priestess and the Slave. This has been backed up by several other sales. To cap it all, she now has a daunting task ahead as a judge for the World Fantasy Awards - a great honour, but not an easy job.

One thing that I've failed to do in 2008 is get much reading done. I normally read over 100 books each year. This year, the final count was 74. Note to self: Must do better. I also haven't done much getting out to see movies. My workout schedule faded away completely, but that's partly because I've been carrying a minor shoulder injury all year and having a lot of trouble getting it 100 per cent better despite hydrodilatation and lots of time at the physiotherapist. No sooner have I got it back to about 95 per cent than I've somehow hurt my right hand.

Ah for the days when I used to get some minor injuries if I worked out too hard, but could actually recover from them. In that sense, middle age sucks. All in all, I've spent too much time in 2008 locked away in front of the computer.

But I've also managed to spend quite a lot of time enjoying the company of friends and family. What with losing one of my parents, I've had much reason to think about what I really want to achieve during this limited life. Obviously, I'm ambitious in many ways, if you haven't noticed, and I'm constantly looking out for partners in worthwhile projects ... since I (like to think that) I work well in a team, whether I'm contributing as a writer or as an editor. I have certain talents and skills, modest as they be, and I like to use them. But I've realised over the past 18 months that the most important thing of all is that the small group of people I love never doubt that I love them. I hope you don't, those of you who happen to read this, and I'll do my best to make sure you don't.

On that note, Happy New Year everybody! May 2009 be a better year for those who found 2008 tough going. May it be a good year for us all.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Big year - or two - for science

Charles Darwin, undoubtedly one of the greatest figures in science of all time, was born in February 1809, meaning that his 200th anniversary is coming up very soon. At the age of 50, after much thought and delay, he published On the Origin of Species in November 1859, so next year is also the 150th anniversary of that monumental event.

In fact, I scarcely need to remind my friends of these anniversaries. A lot of fuss is already being made about them in scientific circles - and also in sceptical circles, fueled in the latter case by the obvious conflict between Darwinian theory and some of the cruder forms of Christianity that deny the well-corroborated facts of biological evolution.

But while we're celebrating Darwin, let me put in a plug for a book that's almost as important as The Origin of Species, and which was published in the same year. I mean On Liberty, by Darwin's contemporary John Stuart Mill - the book that is the nearest thing to a bible for liberal thinkers, and still the greatest argument ever made not only for individual liberty in general but more specifically for intellectual freedom and freedom of speech.

Then there's, arguably, an even bigger anniversary coming up in 2009/2010. Modern science was given its kick-start 400 years before in the 17th century, when Galileo challenged the certitudes of the time by taking an instrument that extended the human senses - the telescope - and pointing it at the heavens. There is no one date when the modern methods of science first crystallised, separating out from the broader methods of rational inquiry, with which of course they are still continuous. But it is difficult to find a more dramatic point in the process than Galileo's initial observations and his dramatic reports of them.

Though Galileo was demonstrating his telescope as early as August 1609, his most critical observations were those in early 1610, when he discovered the moons of Jupiter - this shattered the geocentric assumption that all heavenly bodies must orbit the Earth. He published his early findings in March 1610, and later in the same year he demonstrated that Venus orbits the Sun. It is only a slight exaggeration to claim that 1610 was the beginning of modern science; it's close enough to the truth for us to declare science, in something like the form we now know it, to be pretty much 400 years old, with Galileo as its greatest originator.

So let 2009 be the anniversary year for Darwin and biological evolution (and don't forget John Stuart Mill, the defender of our liberties). Then 2010 is the year to celebrate Galileo and more generally the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century. These are big years coming up to celebrate science ... and more generally the life of freedom and reason.

Friday, December 26, 2008

It seems like I'm writing a book

Okay, this wasn't intentional.

I said a few posts back that I'd write some sort of submission to the human rights consultation headed up by Frank Brennan. Well, here I am; I've written 27,000 words already, with no end in sight for the reading and writing that I feel I need to do. I'm going to have to stop at some point and wrestle it into some kind of workable structure, etc., to send off to Brennan and his team, but even when I do I'm sure there'll still be much that needs to be said.

This suggests that the submission is actually going to be the core of a new book. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no idea who is likely to publish such a book - it will have to be an Australian publisher unless I find a way to make the topic much more general (hence losing a lot of good material) because it's very much about how Australia should protect individual rights and freedoms. However, I really don't know whether any Australian publisher might be interested in such a project from me: I don't have an "in" with any publisher that would actually be right for it. It's going to be a matter of "write now, try to work out how to get it published later even if it has to be chopped up into articles" ... which is not the way I like to work. I'm more a "get a contract signed first" kind of guy, though of course I'm now also looking for a publisher (in this case an international one) for my PhD thesis.

If anyone can help me, I'm happy to buy you the ice cream, winsome flute girl, fancy pair of shoes, or other small reward of your choice.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Latest from the Cult of Misery - Udo nails it


What can I add? I think Udo has nailed it in his comments on the Pope's latest pronouncements. By the way, I love these photos ...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Taking power from the legislature and giving it to unelected judges ..."

How often do we hear this expression? I'm sick of it, not only because I now see multiple references to it every day, as the debate about a Bill or Charter of Rights for Australia gets going, but because it is so simplistic and misleading.

Take a situation where a constitutional Bill of Rights provides that the legislature may enact no law suppressing a religious viewpoint. Perhaps there's an override clause that such laws may be enacted if demonstrably necessary in a free and democratic society ... just in case we find ourselves threatened by a bunch of neo-Aztec fanatics who want to use the rest of us for human sacrifices, and the practical point is reached where we have no choice but to send in the army to try to suppress the entire cult. But imagine that, subject to the override clause, the legislature doesn't have power to go around enacting laws to suppress particular religions (or religion in general, or viewpoints that are sceptical about religion). Imagine that it would have this power, but for the particular constitutional provision.

Now, has the constitutional provision taken power from the legislature and given it to unelected judges? Well, perhaps in a contrived sense. It has certainly taken power from the legislature: the legislature no longer has the power to suppress religious viewpoints (except in certain pressing circumstances). Arguably, the provision has also given power to the courts: after all, they now have the power to strike down laws that are made beyond the power of the legislature in the relevant respect. If the override clause exists (or if something like it is considered to be implicit) courts may also need to consider whether, in the circumstances, a certain law really is demonstrably required, etc.

Still with me?

Then note that the power given to the court is merely that of ascertaining when a law has overstepped the line and when it hasn't. The court adjudicates this against a superior law, namely the constitutional provision. But this is exactly the sort of exercise that judges carry out all the time, and that they are trained for: interpreting laws, teasing out situations of inconsistency between laws, determining which prevails in the case of inconsistency, and so on. I actually like the idea that this task is delegated to highly-trained and (usually) highly-skilled professionals.

And also note this: while a power has, in a sense, been conferred on the courts, it is not the very same power that was taken away from the legislature. Judges are not empowered to do what the legislature could previously do, i.e. make laws that suppress a religion. In the new world, no one has that power anymore (subject to extreme situations or whatever). The citizens are free to believe, worship, etc., as they wish, knowing that the state has no power to suppress their religion even if it wants to. If the legislature enacts a law that attempts to do so, the citizens can challenge it in the courts. The judges are then simply adjudicating between the rights of the state and those of the citizens making the challenge. They may, alas, occasionally err - and end up letting some laws through in ways that are open to criticism. They may even err the other way. After all, the cases they are actually likely to be confronted with will probably be borderline ones, especially at the highest judicial levels. But they have no power to initiate and enact such laws themselves.

So, there is no power that has been transferred from the legislature to the judges. A (huge and dangerous) power has been taken away from the legislature, but the effect is to give the citizens an enhanced area of freedom from government power. Yes, the judges have a new jurisdiction, or function, or you can call it a "power" if you want, but it is no more than the "power" to do what they are trained to do, i.e. adjudicate the rights of the parties who appear before them in court. Those rights are found in legal instruments that may conflict - they are not created by judges. To say that power has been taken from the legislature and given to unelected judges is an incredibly misleading way of representing the situation. To see this, you don't have to believe that judges are infallible.

In short, we have a meme whose power to propagate itself is far out of proportion to the small grain of truth that lies somewhere in its vicinity.

Although I've analysed this at some length - and could do so at far greater length still to introduce appropriate caveats and so on - the gist of it should be obvious. I hope most people instinctively understand that the language I am objecting to is a kind of trick, but judging by its popularity I guess that's a forlorn hope. Sigh.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I feel sorry for Frank Brennan

Okay, I've been nasty about the choice of a Catholic priest to head up a consultation into the protection of human rights in Australia. The choice worries me because the Roman Catholic Church takes many stances that are in opposition to human rights (however defined). Currently, it is opposing a UN resolution against what should, on any definition of the term, be considered a crime against humanity: the use of the criminal law to persecute homosexuals. The Church hierarchs claim that they do oppose the criminalisation of homosexuality, but they fear pressure for acceptance of gay marriage.

I hardly know where to start with that kind of reasoning - surely there is a huge gap between the state ceasing to persecute homosexuals with criminal laws (with the death penalty attached to them in seven countries!) and the state going further and recognising particular kinds of intimate relationships as "marriages". Indeed, my own position is that the state should, ideally, get out of the marriage business altogether and simply provide adequate laws for the protection of children and the distribution of property when relationships involving mingled property rights break up. Meanwhile, and subject to such exceptional issues as people knowingly putting each other at risk of contracting the HIV virus, all sexual conduct between consenting adults or sufficiently mature minors should be perfectly legal.

Brennan himself is on the record as saying that heterosexuality is preferable to homosexuality - or at least he would prefer his friends to have a heterosexual orientation - but let's give the man some credit. He also favours gays having strong rights to protect them from state persecution. His position on all this leaves a fair bit to be desired, but it's about as mild as possible for someone who does not actually wish to leave the Church, and I must always remind myself that (genuinely) moderate religionists are not my enemies even if I think they are sadly mistaken on important issues.

Unfortunately, Brennan also manages to find ways to deprecate the importance of free speech, to oppose the availability of euthanasia, and to limit abortion rights (though even here his view appears to be quite moderate, at least by the standards of Catholic religionists).

Overall, he deserves respect as a person of intellect and good will. It's unfortunate that his commitment to the teachings of the Church biases him in certain directions, but he is no religious fanatic or narrow dogmatist. His general approach is very far from that of other prominent Catholics in Australia such as George Pell. Let's cut him at least a bit of slack.

I've been criticising him as someone who opposes a constitutionally-entrenched Bill of Rights, something I have long supported (though I would want it to focus tightly on guarding our fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of speech, not to give us Orwellian "rights" to have the government control us for our own good or to protect us from being "offended" by other people's free speech ... my main worry about a Bill of Rights is that it could end up being a horribly wrong Bill of Rights).

I do stand by this criticism of Frank Brennan. It seems anomalous and unsafe that Australia does not have broad constitutional protection of rights as fundamental as the right to freedom of speech. The limited constitutional protection of free speech that we do have is not justified by principle and is far too narrow. To me, Brennan is too dismissive of the value of a Bill of Rights, and his arguments against, in particular, constitutional entrenchment of freedom of speech strike me as far-fetched and contrived. Still, this may not matter in practical reality because I accept that there is no prospect of obtaining an amendment to insert entrenched and enumerated rights in the Australian Constitution. In the real world, we need to look for other approaches, at least for now.

Which brings me to why I feel sorry for Brennan. He can't win. While I berate him on this blog for his settled opposition to constitutionally-entrenched rights, he is continually attacked from the political Right as a proponent of mechanisms (such as a non-entrenched charter) that would give some additional protections to our rights. The way The Australian carries on, you'd think this gentle, rather conservative, but reasonably open-minded, religious scholar was some kind of raving nutjob dedicated to undermining the constitutional order. Give it a rest, guys!

Meanwhile, I'm planning to spend much of the Australian summer working on a detailed submission (I'm envisaging 20,000 words or so) to Brennan's human rights consultation. This will be tersely-argued, and could easily be loosened up and expanded into a book (though I have no idea who would publish it). I'm groping my way to some thoughts about what rights need protection and how this might best be done short of a constitutional amendment. I'm not a big fan of non-entrenched charters, since they can be overridden so easily, but perhaps they have their place. Anyway, I welcome your ideas.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Check out Jenny's website

She's given her site a general update, including the final cover art for The Priestess and the Slave (quite different from, and even better than, the cover that was used for the advance reading copies).

Friday, December 19, 2008

Celebrating our past, imagining our future

The Journal of Evolution and Technology has just published the first three items for its new 2008-2009 volume (Volume 20 of the journal).

The first of these is my editorial, entitled "Celebrating our past, imagining our future". Here, I take the opportunity to set out my vision for the journal ... and for some mild celebration of its first decade:

Prior to my appointment, in January 2008, as JET’s editor-in-chief, I’d had four distinguished predecessors – Nick Bostrom, Robin Hanson, Mark Walker, and James Hughes – who had established the journal as a leading forum for discussion of the future of the human species and whatever might come after it. Articles that they'd published in JET were – and are – frequently cited in discussions of the human or posthuman future. With a decade of history behind the journal as I commenced my watch this year, and with JET’s fifth year with IEET now underway, we have much to celebrate. I'm personally delighted to have taken up my position with a journal of ideas that has such a rich history and so much promise.

JET is a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal. The material that it publishes may or may not be submitted by scholars and scientists currently working within the academy, but it must certainly meet the standards of well-established academic journals. Most submissions received are rejected because they don’t reach the required standard, but we are always looking for appropriate articles and reviews. We require only that they be (more-or-less directly) relevant to the human or posthuman future and that they meet our high standards of scholarship, originality, and intellectual rigor. We welcome submissions on a wide range of relevant topics and from almost any academic discipline or interdisciplinary standpoint.

Central to our thinking at JET is the idea – increasingly familiar and plausible – that the human species is about to commence, or has already commenced, a new form of evolution. This is something quite different from the slow Darwinian processes of survival, reproduction, and adaptation. It is powered, rather, by new technologies that increasingly work their way inwards, transforming human bodies and minds. According to this idea, technology can do more than merely giving us tools to manipulate the world around us; it can alter us far more comprehensively than by shaping our neurological pathways when we learn to handle new tools. This idea of a technologically-mediated process of evolution remains controversial, of course, and even if we grant it broad acceptance there is still much to debate. Just how the process might be manifested in the years to come, and just where it might take us or our successors, are both unclear. Nonetheless, the idea merits careful study from many viewpoints, whether scientific, philosophical, historical, sociological, anthropological, legal, artistic … or even theological.

Among writers and thinkers who take the idea of a new form of evolution seriously, there are bound to be disagreements. To what extent is technologically-mediated evolution already happening, bearing in mind the considerable extent to which we are currently using technology to alter our bodies? If the process accelerates or continues over a vast span of time, will this be a good thing or a bad thing – or is it a phenomenon that resists moral evaluation? How dramatic a vision of technologically-mediated evolution is really plausible? Reasonable answers to such questions range from radical transhumanist visions of sweeping, rapid, entirely desirable change to various kinds of skepticism, caution, or concern. JET welcomes a spectrum of views on all this, as long as they meet its standards, though we will never cater for the same audience as a technophobic journal such as The New Atlantis. Though we welcome many viewpoints, we are unusual in providing a forum for radical proponents of new technology to develop their visions in detail, and with a rigor seldom found elsewhere. Their ideas are then available in their strongest form for scrutiny from admirers and critics alike.


In addition to my editorial, we have published two contrasting articles, one by Eric Steinhart, which relates transhumanism to the thought of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and the other a thought experiment in the form of a dialogue by Colin Farrelly.

As mentioned in my editorial, throughout 2008 we have been clearing a backlog of (excellent) material that had built up at JET (during a transitional period in the editorial team). This is now proceeding successfully, and we'll soon be fully up to date. We've also had some teething troubles in obtaining appropriate reviews/referees' reports on some submissions. We've not always been as quick as we'd like, but we're working to improve and the problems have largely been solved. While I apologise for these delays, we're now pretty much on top of things - and we're actively seeking out material for 2009.

If you have something to say that falls within JET's remit, and you believe you can meet our standards, please don't hesitate to submit an article to us. We are also accepting reviews and other forms of writing, such as brief commentaries on previously-published articles (though it's best to get in touch if you want to submit something other than a standard article.

I'll look forward to future submissions and to another distinguished decade in JET's history.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Human Rights Consultation - terms of reference

The terms of reference for the Human Rights Consultation headed by Frank Brennan are as follows:

Terms of Reference
The Australian Government is committed to the promotion of human rights—a commitment that is based on the belief in the fundamental equality of all persons.

The Government believes that the protection and promotion of human rights is a question of national importance for all Australians, and for this reason has appointed a Committee to undertake an Australia-wide community consultation for protecting and promoting human rights and corresponding responsibilities in Australia. The Government has given the Committee Terms of Reference to guide their work.

The Committee will ask the Australian community:

Which human rights (including corresponding responsibilities) should be protected and promoted?
Are these human rights currently sufficiently protected and promoted?
How could Australia better protect and promote human rights?
In conducting the consultation the Committee will:

consult broadly with the community, particularly those who live in rural and regional areas
undertake a range of awareness raising activities to enhance participation in the consultation by a wide cross section of Australia’s diverse community
seek out the diverse range of views held by the community about the protection and promotion of human rights
identify key issues raised by the community in relation to the protection and promotion of human rights, and
The Committee will report to the Australian Government by 31 July 2009 on the issues raised and the options identified for the Government to consider to enhance the protection and promotion of human rights. The Committee is to set out the advantages and disadvantages (including social and economic costs and benefits) and an assessment of the level of community support for each option it identifies.

The options identified should preserve the sovereignty of the Parliament and not include a constitutionally entrenched bill of rights.


I love the last bit of this, which rules out the obvious solution right from the start. The most obvious approach of a having constitutionally-entrenched Bill of Rights is not even to be one of the options in this exercise! The most we can hope for is some kind of weak charter that may make legislatures think again when contemplating actions that further abridge individual rights (before going ahead and abridging them anyway, at least whenever doing so has populist appeal).

Personally, I doubt that there is any prospect of getting a referendum through to produce constitutional change, so I concede that we do need to think hard about second-best solutions. That, however, is not a reason to rule it out constitutional change from the very beginning.

It gets the whole exercise off to a dismal start.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Cult of Misery strikes again - Dignitas Personae

The Cult of Misery has stuck again with the release (on 12 December 2008) of a new Vatican instruction on bioethics, Dignitas Personae. This reiterates the misery cult's irrational opposition to just about every development in reproductive and genetic technology involving human beings. As usual, the actual or possible secular benefits take a back seat to ridiculous ideas of natural law: the cult's religious morality, which it is so fond of trying to impose on the rest of us using the state's ample resources of policemen, prison cells, and guns.

Once more, we see why the Roman Catholic Church is a pre-eminent threat to reason, science, and freedom. I stress that I do not want to see any religious viewpoint suppressed by the power of the state, and I don't think anyone should be intolerant in the sense of advocating this. Let Pope Benedict and his fellow cultists believe whatever superstitious nonsense they like. I don't like it, but I think it should be tolerated in that sense.

But if open mockery and denunciation amount to a form of "intolerance" then it strikes me that this kind of so-called "intolerance" of the intolerant is justified. At the personal, rather than political, level, we have every reason to work against the Cult of Misery and other arrogant religious cults, no matter how large they may be. Perhaps one day we'll be rid of the scourge of religious belief entirely, and the world will surely be better for it.

I am writing this in New South Wales, safe from Victoria's uncertain, dangerous, and (ironically) divisive laws on religious vilification. That legislation should be repealed; meanwhile, sometimes there's merit in travelling to another jurisdiction.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Blog break - Christmas visit

Off for a Christmas visit to the folks back home, so any blogging over the next week will be intermittent.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Death of Forrest J. Ackerman

It's been announced that legendary science fiction fan Forrest J. Ackerman died from heart failure on 4 December. He was 92.

Unfortunately, Ackerman will be memorialised mainly for inventing the horrible term "sci-fi", which seems to have won the memetic war as an abbreviation for "science fiction". There was, however, a lot more to him than that. He was a great collector of science fiction and science fiction memorabilia, and a long-time leader in the community of science fiction fandom, dating back to the early decades of last century. He was an incredibly active editor and agent - helping the early careers of many of the genre's biggest names, among them, Ray Bradbury (not to mention the notorious L. Ron Hubbard). He had many publishing credits as a creative writer (often in collaboration with others), and made cameo appearances in a large number of science fiction movies. Ackerman's enormous productivity made him the most important and famous fan in the entire history of the genre; there will never be another like him.

I didn't know him personally, but he will be greatly missed by many, many people. My sincere condolescences to his loved ones.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Priestess and the Slave - Advance reading copies

Some advance reading copies of Jenny's book, The Priestess and the Slave, received here today. It looks rather handsome, though the cover used for this version is different from the one that will appear on the published book, which should be even better.

We're looking forward to publication early next year.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Great Firewall of Australia - express your anger now

Even mainstream child welfare groups are now coming out against the federal government's proposed Great Firewall of Australia.

This misguided initiative must be opposed with all our vigour. Leave aside the growing consensus that it is unlikely to have any beneficial effects in protecting children from genuine dangers, and is therefore useless (but horribly expensive) legislation. Leave aside that this useless legislation may cause a dramatic further decline in the speed of the internet in Australia. Important as those points may be, the essential point is that such legislation would hand the government a power that should never be entrusted to it. Once it starts providing a clean feed that cuts out some unspecified range of ... well, I assume the appropriate word is "dirty" ... content, who defines what is "clean" and "dirty" in the future? I realise, of course, that there would be an ability for individuals to opt out of the clean feed, but there is a second tier of restrictions proposed that you won't be able to opt out of, one that compulsorily excludes a harder core of material (essentially this is supposed to be about child pornography).

Despite the fondness that Senator Conroy has shown for smearing every critic or opponent as a friend of child pornographers, this is not the real concern. Once you provide for massive, technologically-enabled suppression of websites on secret grounds, you give the government and its agencies a power that could be exploited, even in the relatively short term, by moral panic merchants of all kinds (for example, it's easy to imagine the suppression of sites that discuss, advocate, or advise upon such things as euthanasia). We already have wingnuts in the Senate wanting to block gambling sites and hard-core porn sites that don't include child pornography. In the longer term ... are we really going to trust the diverse and unknown governments of the future with this kind of power to control what we can and cannot view on the internet?

The only way to respond to such a proposal is to oppose it every single step of the way - every bloody millimetre - as forthrightly as possible, and starting at the earliest possible time. Don't leave it until it's too late, as so often happens with oppressive or ill-advised laws. Once the Great Firewall of Australia has been built, it may be politically impossible to tear it down. Don't let our ever-so-benevolent masters build it in the first place. Join me, and express your anger now.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

VoD submitted!

The consolidated manuscript of the Voices of Disbelief book has now gone to the publisher. I've just emailed it to the people involved at the Wiley-Blackwell office in Oxford.

We now await the production process - Udo and I should have page proofs in about April, and can look forward to correcting proofs and producing an index (not the most fun part of writing or editing a book, but still ...). Actual publication will be later in the year, maybe around July-August. The final title of the book will probably be a slight variation on the working title to give it a bit more marketing edge.

We'll be writing out to all the contributors to let them know that the book has gone to the publisher - and to thank them - more officially, but I'll take the opportunity to give public thanks to them all once again. In addition to the two editors, we have ended up with fifty great contributors from all over the world and with many perspectives on religious belief, experiences of it, attitudes toward it, and reasons for rejecting it. My previous post on this blog shows the full line-up.

As the production process moves along, we'll also be needing to find ways to help publicise the book. This will include trying to identify high-profile people who are not actually included in the book but might be prepared to read it ... and endorse it if they like what they see. We'll be writing to various individuals, but if you fall into that category and happen to read this, please do get in touch.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Voicing our disbelief

Voices of Disbelief, the book that I am co-editing with Udo Schuklenk, is going off to the publisher in the next few days. Our formal deadline is 1 December, and we'll go very close to making it. We now have all the essays, and there's only one that one of the authors (a late recruit to the book) is still tweaking a little bit over the weekend.

On the way, we lost a few people who'd been lined up, since some had personal difficulties or overwhelming professional commitments, but we made up for it by accepting some essays that were quite a bit longer than we'd originally envisaged. The result is 50 essays ranging from about 500 words to about 6000 words. Two are collaborations, so we have 52 authors in all, including the two editors. Udo I have each contributed an essay, and we've also collaborated on a brief introduction. Overall, the book will be a bit over 120,000 words, maybe more like 125,000.

Thanks again to all contributors. Here's our final roll call of essayists in alphabetical order. They can take a bow:


1. Peter Adegoke
2. Athena Andreadis
3. Julian Baggini
4. Gregory Benford
5. Ophelia Benson
6. Russell Blackford
7. Susan Blackmore
8. Damien Broderick
9. Lori Lipman Brown
10. Sean M. Carroll
11. Thomas W. Clark
12. Austin Dacey
13. Edgar Dahl
14. Jack Dann
15. Margaret Downey
16. Taner Edis
17. Greg Egan
18. Nick Everitt
19. Prabir Ghosh
20. A.C. Grayling
21. Joe Haldeman
22. John Harris
23. Marc Hauser
24. Philip Kitcher
25. Miguel Kottow
26. Stephen Law
27. Dale McGowan
28. Sheila A.M. McLean
29. Adèle Mercier
30. Maryam Namazie
31. Kelly O’Connor
32. Graham Oppy
33. Christine Overall
34. Sumitra Padmanabhan
35. Tamas Pataki
36. John P. Phelan
37. Laura Purdy
38. James Randi
39. Michael R. Rose
40. Julian Savulescu
41. J.L. Schellenberg
42. Udo Schuklenk
43. Michael Shermer
44. Peter Singer
45. J.J.C. Smart
46. Victor J. Stenger
47. Peter Tatchell
48. Emma Tom
49. Michael Tooley
50. Ross Upshur
51. Sean Williams
52. Frieder Otto Wolf

That's an exciting and extraordinarily diverse group of people. They have not been expected to agree with each other or to follow any particular line ... and there will, indeed, be some disagreements. And yes, the book should be all the stronger for that. As Udo says, we are not the Vatican- it's not up to us to set out a body of dogma that our contributors must subscribe to. We have neither the power nor the inclination to do that. We will not be offering a substitute for the Bible - although that compilation of many documents has its own contradictions - but rather an anthology of thoughtful essays by clever and reasonable people who agree about some things (none of them subscribes to belief in the Abrahamic God or any other gods marketed to us by the world's religions) but disagree about others. They have varied attitudes to the historical role of religion and what role it should play in the future.

Our best estimate at the moment is that the book may be available about August next year: for various reasons, modern publishing involves fairly long lead times. When it appears on the shelves, you'll see that it has something for everyone, from austere philosophical articles to relatively lighthearted biographical pieces - to some not-so-lighthearted ones! Some authors have encountered religion at its best; some have encountered it at its worst; none actually sees any good reason to believe its supernatural claims.

Personally, I have some good memories of my younger days when I was involved in the local Anglican youth group and the Evangelical Union on my university campus, and indeed I trace some of my very closest involvements with people I love dearly from those days. I don't doubt that local churches can provide community and much else that is of value, and my good experiences among the bad undoubtedly make me less hostile to religion than some other atheists whom I encounter. Nonetheless, I think that the intellectual and moral credentials of religion must be challenged at a time when it demands too much in the way of political influence and social "respect" (for which read immunity from satire or criticism).

Contrary to the once-common view that all the heavy lifting was done by the Enlightenment philosophers, Darwin, 1960s social iconoclasm, and so on, and that religion was on the way out, it is not only persisting but in many ways actually resurgent. As I argue in my own essay, the struggle of ideas is far from over, and this is a good time to dispute the unwarranted prestige enjoyed by the many variations of orthodox Abrahamic theism ... not to mention other religious systems that demand "respect" and political deference.

There's no time like now to voice our disbelief.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Loose end!

It's funny to find myself actually at a bit of a loose end. With the teaching semester over, including the examiners' meeting a couple of weeks ago, and with my thesis not only completed but now accepted for the award of my shiny new Ph.D, that's some big projects over.

Voices of Disbelief is due with the publisher on Monday. That's been a huge project over the past year, from the preliminary stages of getting it off the ground at all to now having the manuscript close to final form. I'm sure there will be some last minute frenetic activity over the weekend, but not right now: I'm waiting on various crucial emails before Udo and I can make the last additions/alterations to the manuscript and declare it complete.

I've also been mopping up smaller projects and issues, including some to do with JET - and in fact, there are still some current issues with JET that I need to get on to. All the same, I'm now looking at a situation of needing to find a big new project. I guess trying to convert the thesis into a book could fill some of that gap, but I'm not quite ready to face that yet ... and anyway I mean something really new that I can begin in parallel to the work on that.

I guess I should go and see some movies, read some actual novels ... even watch television (whatever that is). It's not as if I have no social life, exactly, since I do see friends and share the occasional bottle of wine, but I never seem to do those ordinary not-very-social things anymore. Jeeze, it's hard to make the mental shift that I'm now allowed to do them, at least a little bit.

I think I've forgotten how.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Jenny joins Facebook!

Well, she couldn't hold out forever ...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A plug for Ronny's blog

While I'm having a quiet few days here, finding more and more finishing touches to put on the Voices of Disbelief manuscript (Udo and I are now working on the introduction and the notes on contributors, while chasing a couple of last people whom we're still hoping are going to deliver essays at the eleventh hour) ... here's something a bit different.

Go and have a look at Ronny Restrepo's blog. Ronny is a wonderfully talented photographer and will be a fine philosopher as well (not that I know just what he's planning to do with the rest of his life: feel free to comment here, Ronny).

Monday, November 17, 2008

Some euphoria of my own - my PhD is accepted!

I just received the news this morning that my PhD thesis has been accepted with no requirement for any rewriting.

This is, of course, fantastic news. I'm incredibly happy and relieved about it. As I was just saying to Udo Schuklenk, the last year of the candidature before I submitted in August was a very difficult one for me in many ways. For now, however, I'm celebrating. Tomorrow I can start thinking about the daunting prospect of trying to turn it into a book.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Obama euphoria

Over the past week, I've been slightly bemused by the euphoria from many of my friends in the US over the predictable and expected victory of Barack Obama in the American presidential election. Perhaps I've been impatient because a lot of them seem to have had nothing else on their minds lately. Yet, life goes on, and yes there are other things we need to talk about.

Or perhaps I've become too old and cynical.

It also hasn't escaped me that, at the same time as Obama was elected president, the electorates of a number of US states voted to reject gay marriage. The reasons appear to involve a mixture of stupidity, ignorance, and outright hatred of gays. Don't think that the US is doing a U-turn yet into acting like a genuinely liberal, secular society. These outcomes are ominous, and they could put a big damper on any celebrations.

Meanwhile, I well remember the amount of euphoria (a much lesser amount, but still ...) that surrounded the election of Kevin Rudd as prime minister, here in Australia last year. I was going around at the time warning that Rudd is a deeply conservative man and that he may not be all that much better than Howard was. Many people I encountered in work corridors, at parties, or whatever, poo-poo'ed this.

In the event, I've proved to be correct - we've seen Rudd joining in the attack on artistic freedom in his comments about Bill Henson, and we have the spectre of a Labor government going much further than the conservatives parties ever suggested in trying to build a Great Wall of Australia around us to keep out nasties from the internet. Rudd is, of course, a devout religionist, just like Howard before him. His support for gay rights is, at best, half-hearted. His voting record on such topics as therapeutic cloning is dismal. For Poseidon's sake, he was never someone to trust in such a position of power as prime minister of Australia. At this stage, my estimate is that Rudd is almost as much a threat to our liberties as Howard was; indeed, perhaps more so. It's not even obvious that we can expect much more compassionate policy from the Rudd government on such issues as refugees. Welcome to Howard-lite.

That's not to claim that Rudd has been a complete failure. He's taken at least one action that applaud, in signing the Kyoto Protocol. But the euphoria that surrounded his election was never justified. The most that could be justified was relief that a truly backward government had finally been swept from power ... and there was the faint hope of something a bit better. I guess that hope still lingers, but the more I see of Rudd the more I distrust him.

But maybe I'm unfair in seeing the US situation in similar terms. Reactionary and hard-hearted as the Howard government was, it was never a puppet of the religious right to an extent even remotely like the Bush administration in the US. What's more, it at least had the virtue (like the Hawke and Keating governments before it) of basic economic competence. That can't be said of the spendthrift Bush administration with its misguided, open-ended, and hideously expensive "wars" on drugs and terrorism. All in all, the Howard government may have been pretty bad in numerous ways, but the Bush government was a dystopian nightmare.

America has now elected a moderate, intelligent, seemingly reasonable and good-hearted man as its next president. He will have strong support from Congress, and will be free to act. There's every prospect that Barack Obama will finally lead the US in a positive direction, after it's been dragged down by the lead-weight Bush administration for the past eight years. With any luck, the US will soon no longer seem to the rest of the world like a rogue superpower.

Perhaps that really is something to be euphoric about. Celebrate for all you're worth, my American friends. Don't let me rain on your parade.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Website revamp for Jenny

Jenny has revamped her website over the past couple of days. I think it's looking pretty cool.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Never, never say "sci-fi"

No serious scholar of the science fiction genre ever uses the term "sci-fi" as an abbreviation for "science fiction". The abbreviation is always "sf" or "SF". The use of "sci-fi" (or any variants such as "sci fi") is still considered annoying or even offensive by many people. Perhaps that is passing, as the term takes over in the popular media, but I for one find it horribly grating whenever I encounter "sci-fi" in print. I particularly hate it when editors change my own use of "sf" or "SF" to "sci-fi" wihout consulting me - so I find out only when whatever I've written is actually published that I have (seemingly) written something that grates my own ear.

This has been happening to me quite a bit of late. Well, at least twice in important publications in close temporal propinquity.

Stop it!

And publishers, for Zeus's sake, employ editors who know something about science fiction - enough to be aware of this not-very-obscure sensitivity - if they are going to edit the work of science fiction scholars without first clearing page proofs.

(Of course, actually getting proofs is a bit of a luxury these days; even in book publication, it seems to be less and less to be taken for granted ... while editors of newspapers and magazines have always treated the author's text as something to chop around however they damn well like. What are proofs?)

Jenny Blackford named as a judge for World Fantasy Awards

At the 2008 World Fantasy Convention - in Calgary, Alberta, Canada - next year's judges for the World Fantasy Awards were announced during the awards ceremony on 2 November. The judge will be Ellen Klages, Delia Sherman, Chris Roberson, Peter Heck ... and Jenny Blackford!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Death of Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park and many other books, most of them popular techno-thrillers, has died at the age of 66. Funny, just the other day I was contemplating reading his latest novel, Next, as I looked around the bookshop at FACT in Liverpool. (I'm obviously a couple of years behind in my reading.)

I feel some ambivalence about Crichton's work, which has a strong anti-science, technophobic element running through it. But at the same time, I'm surprised by the way his novels are so often dismissed as if they were wooden and worthless. That's not my experience at all: I've always found them suspenseful and engaging, and have often devoured a long Crichton thriller in a single day, even when cursing at some aspects. My own handling of Kong Reborn was obviously patterned, to an extent, after the Jurassic Park series of books and movies, though without the strong streak of technophobia.

You can love Crichton's work or hate it - or you can gulp it down hungrily at the same time that it infuriates you. For me, his death is a sad loss.

Internet censorship - the Great Wall of Australia

I am sick of attempts by governments to censor the internet. Sure, there is material out there that I am not going to defend - even someone as much a civil libertarian as I am will not defend child pornography (but I mean genuine child pornography, not whatever the prudes and panic merchants want to smear with the association).

There's the rub. The social conservative Rudd government has taken to implying strongly that anyone who opposes its massively paternalistic and potentially oppressive plans to censor the internet is somehow favouring child pornography. Senator Stephen Conroy has become particularly virulent in that regard.

I'll doubtless have more to say about this issue in future posts, but go and read the Labor election policy for yourself. Maybe you'll think it's harmless, but I think it's very worrying.

The upshot seems to be that an enormously expensive and powerful technological and bureaucratic structure will be set up to censor the internet in Australia, creating a so-called "clean feed" that individuals can opt out of (but many institutions cannot) and a second layer of censorship that is compulsory. The second layer will presumably be limited to censorship of very extreme material, but I am nervous about giving a government this kind of power at all. However benevolent the current government may be (haha), and however much it shows restraint in what it censors, it is building something monstrous - an electronic Great Wall of Australia. This could be used by future governments to suppress a wide range of material that they don't like for whatever reason (whenever they can win populist support, of course ... but that's not necessarily difficult in Australia, as the recent Henson debacle demonstrates abundantly).

Judge the issue for yourself, but follow it carefully as it unfolds; make up your own mind whether you trust this government (and future governments) with the power that it is attempting to gain over the content of the internet. If you're as nervous as I am, speak up about it.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

There and back again

I've just returned to Melbourne from a quick trip to the United Kingdom, where I spoke last Thursday at a symposium in Liverpool, held at the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT). This was in honour of the new book Human Futures: Art in an Age of Uncertainty, edited by Andy Miah and published by Liverpool University Press. The FACT symposium went brilliantly, and the book looks like it will be a beautiful production - though copies were not available in time for the symposium, alas.

A couple of days later I also had a chance to sample the BBC Free Thinking Festival, also held at FACT. I had a great time all round, met many wonderful people, had some long and absorbing conversations, and was well looked after throughout. Thanks to all who were so kind and helpful.

It's nice to be home, though, and I'm hoping my life (and this poor, neglected blog) will now settle down for a while into something more like normality.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Scam of the day

I love this one:

========

Do accept my sincere apologies if my mail does not meet your personal ethics although, I wish to use this medium to get in touch with you first because it's fastest means. I am an external auditor of a well known Bank here in the United Kingdom.

In one of our periodic auditing I discovered a dormant accounts with holding balance of 26,000,000 (Twenty Six Million British Pounds) which has not been operated for the past three years. From my investigations and confirmations,the owner of this account, a foreigner by name Mr.Gregory U.Wilson died in plane crash in July 19,2003 and since then nobody has done anything as regards the claiming of this money because he has no family members who are aware of the existence of neither the account nor the funds.

i have secretly discussed this matter with a top senior minister official of the federal ministry of finance here and we have agreed to find a reliable foreign partner to deal with us, although due to his position he did not want to take active part but as soon as you follow my instructions everything will be successful because we will be working hand in hand with him We thus propose to do business with you,standing in as the next of kin of these funds from the deceased and after due legal processes have been followed the fund will be released to your account without delay and we will use it for investment and to assist the less privileged in the society because if we leftthe fund with the government it will be fortified for nothing and will be used to suppress the poor masses in the society.

At the conclusion of the transfer you will take 35%,5% will be for any expenses both parties incurred in the process of this business and the remaining 60% will be for me. As soon as I hear from you and upon your strong assurance that you will not let me down once the fund goes into your account I will then start the processing of the transfer of the fund to your account without further delay.


=====

Well, I wouldn't want the fund to be "fortified for nothing" and "used to suppress the poor masses in society". I'm really, really tempted.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

An interesting statistic

I have a separate folder on my system for all emails sent or received relating to Voices of Disbelief. I'm not counting tangential discussions of the project with uninvolved people; I mean strictly emails that are the equivalent of business letters - planning with Udo, discussions with publishers and agents, approaches to potential authors, discussions with the actual authors (including electronic manuscripts sent back and forth in the editing process), and so on.

So far, this adds up to 1614 emails - some quite brief some very long and complex. Who says that editors don't work hard? Well, maybe no one says that. Still ... I was astonished to see just how many it came to. And there's a long way to go yet before we see it into print.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

More on the Henson case

In the wake of the hysteria over Bill Henson's photographs earlier this year, David Marr has just published what sounds like a sensible book on the subject. I look forward to reading it, but meanwhile here's a review by Peter Craven. It seems to me that Craven has pretty much nailed it this time.

Once again, we see some very unfortunate populism from our politicians - who should know better. Even Malcolm Turnbull, whose comments last time round showed good sense, has got caught up in it. When will they ever learn?

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Checking in from Conflux ... and more Dreaming Again

I'm currently in Canberra, at the Conflux science fiction convention. I'm looking forward to getting home and wrestling a few things back under control, but am having a great time at Conflux, which has been a very welcoming and friendly convention (though why, oh why, can't they manage to keep the hotel bar open for more than a few hours a day?).

On Friday night, there was a launching/signing for Jack Dann's anthology, Dreaming Again, with many of the authors (Jenny and I among them) in town. We've just followed up with a panel of sorts devoted to the book - with editor Jack Dann, publisher Stephanie Smith, and (again) lots of the authors in attendance (plus a receptive and engaged audience).

In a moment of foolishness, I admitted that I haven't yet found time to read the whole book, or indeed to do more than dip into it ... but I'm looking forward to doing so. The production values have certainly done us all proud, with a beautiful cover, and general design, as well as a line-up of authors who place us in great company. Hopefully, things will be a bit less crazy when I get back to Melbourne and I can treat myself to reading the whole volume.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Off to Conflux

I'll be driving to Canberra tomorrow for the science fiction convention Conflux - where I'm appearing on several panels. Then home to Melbourne on Monday for what has to count these days as normality.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Two special issues of The Journal of Evolution and Technology

This is a quick blog post because I am still on the road and attempting to work out of an internet cafe. But I must announce the publication of two special issues of The Journal of Evolution and Technology.

Go and have a look at the JET site, which I must say is looking fantastic this morning with both issues now loaded. The material we've just published is the culmination of months of work by the authors and editorial staff. There are some wonderful articles there, exploring all aspects of the journal's theme: the prospect (or current reality) of a new kind of technologically-mediated evolution.

Check it out and enjoy!

I'm very excited about this. When I get home, I'll plunge into some hard work on the next issue, for which we already have four articles accepted and in the pipeline, and some others currently under review.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Break in transmission

I'm currently in Newcastle - where I'm enjoying a hot summer's day, even though it's still early spring - having driven up from Melbourne on Friday. I'll be attending a science fiction convention in Canberra next weekend, on the way home, and finally getting back to Melbourne on the Monday night.

I'm doing what work I can while on the road; in particular, there's some editing to be done for Voices of Disbelief (Udo Schuklenk and I have some new contributions to work on, with most of them now in).

I won't have much to report until my return, but I do hope to be able to announce ... in a few days days ... the publication of the first of two special issues of the Journal of Evolution and Technology. Stay tuned for that.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Lightning visit to UK

I'm planning a lighting visit to the UK in the last week of October. I have responsibilities bookending that week, so I'm not going to be able to segue this into more than a week overseas.

However, I am going to be in Liverpool as part of the lauching of a book called Human Futures: Art in an Age of Uncertainty and an associated symposium. I've contributed a chapter to the book, in which I argue for the acceptance and accommodation of human enhancement technologies by modern liberal societies - the theme of my recently-completed PhD thesis.

As part of the symposium, I'll be giving a short talk on the ethics of the unknown.

As I've been informed, it's going to be an interesting time to be in Liverpool with the BBC Freethinking Festival on, as well as the Liverpool Biennial.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Books and Beyond


Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading, a four-volume reference work on contemporary US literature, edited by Ken Womack, is due for publication in October.

This huge opus includes my 15,000-word article on American science fiction, putting the genre in historical and thematic context, and comparing the work of science fiction writers to those in the mainstream. The discussion covers both prose narrative and science fiction presented in other media, but the main focus is on the work of current American novelists working in the sf field.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Prototype cover

Here's a prototype of the cover for The Priestess and the Slave. The final cover will have artwork based on the photo used here, but this version at least gives an indication of what it will look like. I gather that Hadley Rille's promotional blurbs, etc., are going to adapt some of the wording I used to describe the book on this blog the other day - which is fine by me, though not my purpose in writing it.

Atheism - what is it?

Maria Maltseva has a provocative discussion of theism, atheism, and similar concepts on her blog-like thing and her Facebook site. This led me to the following ruminations.

I don't think an atheist is someone who thinks we can know for certain that there is no god. For me, it just means that you don't believe any such being exists. I don't believe that unicorns exist, but it's not something I know for certain. I am open to the idea that a unicorn will be found some day, perhaps on a distant Earth-like planet.

While I'm not a big fan of certainty about anything, I'm very confident that the providential, loving, yet all-powerful and all-knowing, deity described by traditional Abrahamic theologians does not exist. I'm also very confident that it's worth being outspoken about the likely non-existence of this being and about the suspect credentials of the monotheistic religious traditions.

That's enough for me to call myself an atheist. It's possible, for all I know, that there are very powerful intelligences somewhere in the universe with abilities beyond anything we'll ever be able achieve using techno-science. It's possible, for all I know, that there's a deist creator/designer, or something similar. I see no good reason to believe in the existence of any such beings, but I don't think that claims about them are totally meaningless or that their existence can be ruled out to any terribly high degree of confidence. We just don't know. But that's not terribly relevant, morally and politically. The issue I consider relevant is whether the actual monotheistic religions that we see around us trying to influence public policy and tell us how to live our lives have any claims to authority, and on that I am confident - no, they don't.

Their god does not exist, and their belief structures are built on a lie.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ethics at work for parliamentarians

I love this story about Matt Brown the (former) NSW Minister for Police who has been forced to resign for dancing in his (very brief) underwear at a post-budget office party. According to some accounts, Mr Brown at one point straddled the breasts of a female parliamentarian and called out to her daughter "I'm titty-fucking your mother!" The latter incident has, however, been denied by all concerned. The incoming Premier, Nathan Rees, claims that Mr Brown was sacked not for dancing in his underwear but for lying about it when originally questioned.

This story is so funny, yet so full of vagaries as to what really happened (both at the party and in the events leading up to Mr Brown's tender of his resignation), that it's difficult to comment with a straight face. Given the female parliamentarian's seemingly plausible denial of the "titty-fucking your mother" incident, there doesn't appear to be any evidence of sexual assault or blatant sexual harassment. Short of that, how wild should parliamentarians' office parties be? How far should a government minister get into the spirit of things?

It's nice that Mr Rees claims he wouldn't have sacked the minister merely for dancing in his underwear at a wild parliamentary party. That's a relief, because I've been to (and even hosted) parties that got quite a bit wilder than that - admittedly not held at public expense (one imagines) in a parliamentary office.

What can I say? I'll throw this one open for discussion. Personally, I'd rather know that the police minister in my jurisdiction is a party animal than that's he's likely to defer to the latest edict from Cardinal Pell. I can think of all sorts of behaviour that would be more likely to make me feel that the power of Leviathan is in dangerous hands.

But that's just me. Others may beg to differ.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Priestess and the Slave

While I seem to have been exhausted lately in the wake of submitting the thesis and getting over a dose of winter "flu", Jenny has been plugging on (despite her own winter bug) with completing her short historical novel, The Priestess and the Slave, to be published later this year by Hadley Rille Books. This project is moving quickly now - I've seen a first mock-up of the cover, just this morning.

It's a very strong piece of writing: vivid, gritty, and emotionally moving. Set in Classical Greece in the 5th century BC, it conveys the extraordinary history of the time through the eyes of two narrators - a Delphic priestess deeply embroiled in the political turmoil earlier in the century, and a young slavewoman, some decades later, living through the terrible plague in Athens and the seemingly endless war against the invincible hoplites of Sparta. It's a tale of honour and dishonour, of love, pain, madness, and endurance.

That's all I'll say - no spoilers from me - but I hope I've whetted some appetites. I expect the book will attract big-name support: people are going to be damn impressed when they read it. It should lead to larger-scale projects in the future, but one step at a time.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Sold!

Our house was auctioned on Saturday, and it actually sold (within the range of what we considered acceptable). So, time for more life changes. Our default plan is to move back to Newcastle twelve months or so down the track, but we don't know at the moment what possibilities are going to open up. Things will be in flux a bit during 2009.

It's been a big few weeks here, with the house sale, plus finishing the thesis, plus other things - I'm working quite hard at my teaching for the semester, and Jenny has been working intensely on her short novel The Priestess and the Slave (which I'll doubtless blog about separately). Without big-noting my very limited role, I've read a few drafts of this in the past couple of weeks. (I'll just say, for now, it's very strong stuff - and of course I hope y'all will go and buy copies when it's published.)

While this has all been going on, we've both been suffering from a lingering winter bug and feeling constantly fatigued as a result. Still, exhausted or not, we've been plugging away at these things and getting a bit done every day on the various fronts ... and it's marvellous how change accumulates when you keep working at it.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Deadline time

We've reached deadline time for Voices of Disbelief, so I expect that Udo Schuklenk and I will be working pretty intensely over the next few weeks getting the book into some sort of initial shape.

By the way, please don't write to us submitting an essay unless you're on our list. To get this venture to work, we needed to have as many people as possible committed in advance, so that we could go to publishers saying who was signed up to provide essays if we obtained a contract to do the book. Some people will doubltless drop off as personal or professional circumstances intervene in their lives - that's happened in a couple of cases already, but there's no sign of it happening on any large scale. As of now, we have thirty essays submitted out of the fifty-seven (I think it was) that we were expecting ... which we always thought might end up being more like fifty. Even if quite a few have to drop out, we already have a reserve list of people who've expressed interest and whom we'd dearly like to include if we could find the room.

I'm actually surprised to see that we have thirty essays already. In my experience, most people end up pleading for an extra day or two, rather than delivering well before the deadline, as has happened here with many of our authors. Hopefully, that's an indication of the enthusiasm the project is generating. Of course, there are some who've had to ask for a bit more time, and we understand that that's sometimes necessary. We're all juggling multiple issues in our lives.

If you would have liked to submit an essay, do let me know. Although I can't offer any expectation at all that we could include your work this time around, it would be useful just to know how many people would have been keen to write for such a book. There may be future projects arising from this one, and in any event it's nice to know what allies we have out there who are prepared to speak up in public, expressing their rejection of religion.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

And just to prove it ...

Those nice people at Monash take your photo when you submit your thesis (if I'd realised this, I might have shaved or spruced up a bit more). So here's my mug shot. The shiraz-coloured binding is rather handsome, whether or not the author of the thesis is.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Submitted!

Yup, four nice bound copies of PhD Mark II submitted this afternoon. I'm now celebrating. Okay, now it's in the lap of the gods, or the examiners, but it's done!!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Voices of Disbelief - halfway there

Udo Schuklenk and I now have about 25 essays for Voices of Disbelief. We'll end up with somewhere between 50 and 60, so we're near enough to halfway there. If I single out individual contributors, it'll not do justice to all the ones not mentioned. But they include regular readers of this blog - Damien Broderick and Greg Egan. Plus well-known authors, journalists, philosophers, activists ...

It's going to be a strong book. Stay tuned, folks.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Inching closer on the thesis front

As of today, the report on the thesis front is this.

Four copies are with a bookbinder being bound in a nice shiraz format with gold lettering. I pick them up on Tuesday. Meanwhile, my principal supervisor has signed off on it. There's another form I need to get signed by my head of school, so I'll need to track her down on Monday or Tuesday ... but it really seems to be going in. I can't believe it, after all this time.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It's finished!

Barring some twist that I can't imagine, I'm declaring my PhD thesis finished as of now. I gave it a final (hopefully) proofread tonight, so now I just need to print off copies of the final, final, ultimate version of this last draft, then get them bound, and get the appropriate forms signed so I can hand it in. It's going to be hard to let go of it after four years. There's always the thought that maybe there's some last improvement to make. But by this time next week I should have done everything that needs to be done ... and will just be awaiting the responses of the examiners.

It's too early to celebrate quite yet, but we're getting very close.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Long blog break

I've been on a long de facto blog break - not something I especially intended, but just how it's been turning out.

The last three weeks have been a bit intense, not so much incredibly busy (though busy enough) as incredibly nerve-wracking. Jenny and I made a decision some ago that we would need to sell our house and move on to the next phase of wherever we'll live. Actually, we'll still probably live in Melbourne for a year or so, renting somewhere, while we take stock of our options. Of course, this has meant dealing with real estate agents, lawyers, painters, carpet-repairers, etc., etc., none of it unpleasant and too much of it falling on Jenny ... see next para for why ... so I can't complain too much. Still, it's been a bit fraught, and I must say that I love this house, and have loved living it. I'm a bit sad about having to sell up, though I'm in no doubt that it's the right decision. We can't live the semi-retired lifestyle we do, with relatively little cash-flow, week by week, and also maintain a house as expensive as this one.

At the same time, events have come to a head with the preparation of my PhD thesis. There was an administrative log-jam to be broken - no use going into this - and it took a bit out of me working out what to do about it. However, the upshot is that I've spent much of the past three weeks deeply immersed in getting the thesis into order for submission. I have a green light from the department, and if all goes well it will be submitted late in the coming week (or early the following week). I now have what seems to be the final version - subject only to the very last layer of proofreading. I just need to run around getting copies bound, various forms signed, and so on.

I never planned that these two things would come to a head at once, but that's how it's worked out. So be it.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Current issue of JET complete

We have now completed the current issue of the Journal of Evolution and Technology - Volume 17 Issue 1. Rounding it out is an in-depth review by Milan Cirkovic of Ian McDonald's novel Brasyl. Other books reviewed include Marc Hauser's Wild Minds and the new autobiography by Craig Venter. We have articles covering a wide range of issues related to technological change, society, and the future of humanity.

We're now putting the finishing touches on two special issues: one basically a proceedings volume from a conference held at Stanford on human enhancement technologies and human rights; the other an issue devoted to the subject of transhumanism, edited by Sky Marsen.

We are already looking to material for volume 18, for which four articles have been accepted and more are under review. We're always looking for high-quality scholarly material on the issues that interest us - essentially to do with emerging technologies, the human future, and the increasingly plausible and familiar idea of a new kind of human evolution, driven not by biological mechanisms such as natural selection but by the application of technology to expand human capacities. These ideas need to be examined from every disciplinary viewpoint, and as editor-in-chief of JET I'm determined to make it the forum for rigorous discussion of the issues.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Another good review for Dreaming Again

Here's another good review for Jack Dann's anthology, Dreaming Again, this time by Carol Neist on the Specusphere website. My story, "Manannan's Children" gets a favourable mention, though the reviewer's comment left me unsure that she really "got" the ending:

Love of mythology is fed by several tales. Russell Blackford’s “Manannan’s Children”, for example, sweeps the reader up into the world of Irish legend while questioning the value of immortality. Janeen Webb’s “Paradise Designed” also has a mythological base, but with a Jurassic Park twist. Kim Wilkins’s “The Forest” is a near-future take on the Hansel and Gretel story. All three are well-told and very enjoyable.

I guess it's true that the story questions the value of immortality, but so does a lot of other literature and myth. The point is to provide an answer to the question, something that I attempt as the story draws to a close and the moral of the tale turns out to be not what a reader might assume it would be.

Still, I'm always pleased when something I've written is described as "well-told and very enjoyable"; I won't complain. I'm also glad to have my work mentioned in the same paragraph as stories by Janeen Webb (one of my dearest friends) and Kim Wilkins - both people whose work I admire greatly.

Monday, July 21, 2008

World Youth Day

I've spent the past week resisting an urge to comment on the Cult of Misery's great festival known as World Youth Day, actually a week-long set of activities culiminating in an address by the pope to hundreds of thousands of the faithful. This year, World Youth Day was held in Sydney, and its effects could also be seen in Melbourne where any trip into the city over the past fortnight has involved contact with roaming bands of young "pilgrims" from other countries.

I've avoided the topic for a couple of reasons. One is that I'm just sick of the media coverage and would rather ignore this sorry episode as much as possible. It's not as if my attitude to the Catholic Church, with its sick morality of misery and guilt, is any secret. And, too, I feel genuine good will towards the young people who are guests in my country, much as I abhor the religious morality preached by their religious hierarchs.

I am, of course, appalled by the outrageous attempts to legislate to suppress the freedom of speech of people protesting against the Catholic Church, and I applaud the fact that the worst of this legislative effort was struck down by the courts. Things have come to a pretty pass if governments are even going to think about banning peaceful forms of protest against a highly controversial religious worldview.

I am also appalled that many millions of tax-payers' dollars have been spent promoting that same worldview - I do not want the mechanism of the state promoting ideas that I, for one, oppose and seek to undermine by intellectual critique and satire. Why should the dollars of the citizenry and the might of the state be spent on such blatant, one-sided distortion of the community debate about ideas about metaphysics and morals? The fact that associated tourism may have ended up making the exercise profitable for Sydney, and Australia in general, is beside the point. The issue is not that the expenditure has harmed our economy - it probably hasn't - but that the state has taken sides on a huge scale in an important controversy over the truth of religious doctrine. Imagine the outcry if tens of millions of tax-payers' dollars were spent promoting a major event organised by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens to rally the world's youthful atheists (complete with laws criminalising efforts to "annoy" the atheistic pilgrims, such as by handing them religious pamphlets in the street).

Anyway, the whole thing is over now. Hopefully, many of the young Catholic pilgrims used the trip more as an opportunity to see the world, engage in a certain amount of pleasurable sinning, and enjoy Australia's lifestyle ... rather than to imbibe more deeply of the misery, guilt, and so-called "spirituality" on offer from that bloated and monstrous cult, the Roman Catholic Church.

Friday, July 18, 2008

WTA changes its image

Following a membership vote, the World Transhumanist Association will be changing its image to the extent of trading under the "doing business as" name "Humanity Plus" and using a stylised "h+" as its logo. This decision was made by the Board, which sent it to the organisation's financial members for ratification or rejection. It follows an extensive review by the WTA Board over the past few months.

For the record, I voted in favour of these moves. However ambivalent I am about the word "tranhumanism" and its cognates, I am in broad agreement with the goals of the WTA and am a member in good standing. As I see it, the proposed move is very cautious and may do little either for good OR ill. However, if the Board believes that such initiatives can help it in its wider efforts to make the WTA more attractive as an organisation to fund and support, then, in the absence of some compelling argument to the contrary (and I haven't heard one that seems compelling), then I think the membership should be supportive. Clearly, various soundings were taken, so I'm hopeful that a total public relations overhaul - with a neat logo, a contemporary-sounding trading name, and a revamp of the website and everything else - might make the WTA a more attractive proposition to others who largely agree with its pro-technology emphases.

The new name and logo may themselves cause some confusion and/or have some undesirable connotations, but we can probably live them, and the decision can always be reversed a few years down the track if it has turned out, by then, to have been counterproductive.

There was some very spirited debate, with a wide range of viewpoint, some of which I find congenial - while some sounded bizarre. But that's the transhumanist movement, a very broad one in the ideas that it welcomes. In the end only 108 people actually voted, and the majority in favour of the change was overwhelming.

The breakdown was:

CHOICES AND RESULTS
- Yes, 75 votes, 69.44%
- No, 22 votes, 20.37%
- Abstain, 11 votes, 10.19%

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Jenny Blackford getting attention

No, I don't mean that sort of attention (which she can command any time).

I mean that up-and-coming writer Jenny Blackford has had a good week for critical attention paid to her short stories. "Python", published last year in the anthology Ruins Terra, has made Gardner Dozois' Honorable Mentions in his latest Year's Best SF anthology, which is quite an achievement for Jenny's first published short story aimed at adult readers rather than at children or the YA market. Her second such story is "Trolls' Night Out", in Dreaming Again - which has also picked up early praise. Reviewing Dreaming Again in AurealisXpress, Stuart Mayne says:

The stand-outs for me were Lucy Sussex's "Robots and Zombies, Inc."; John Birmingham's terrific colonial horror show "Heere Be Monsters"; Jenny Blackford's playful "Troll's Night Out" was supernatural fun; Lee Battersby's "In From the Snow"... Oh, this is silly there are too many terrific stories to list. The lovely thing I found about the majority of the stories is the local content; in this respect I particularly like Trudi Canavan's, Jenny Blackford's and Cecilia Dart-Thorton's Melbourne pieces.


(Eek! My own story in Dreaming Again is set in ancient Ireland and retells the Oisin legend from a vaguely transhumanist viewpoint - but (*grin*) never mind about me.)

Meanwhile, Jenny's YA retelling of the Perseus myth, "Andromeda", appears in Paul Collins' new anthology Trust Me - and again her story was singled out for praise, this time in a review in the influential Magpies magazine.

All this in one week. Not bad going.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Listen to Triple J at 5.30 pm

I just did an interview with Triple J on unreasonable/absurd religious practices. This was conducted in a light-hearted way that involved my being presented with a list of odd practices to rank in order of unreasonableness.

If you have a moment (and see this in time), tune in to Triple J at 5.30 this afternoon and let me know what you thought. And how would you rank the traditional Jewish kaparot ceremony (in which an individual's sins are transferred to a chicken), pentacostals' speaking in tongues, Jehovah's Witnesses' refusal of blood transfusions, Mormon temple garments, and the E-meter beloved of Scientologists? What's the best criterion to use to determine relative unreasonableness? E.g., is it what just seems weirdest or least familiar to you or to someone of your background? What involves the most unlikely understanding of reality? Or what does the most harm (or maybe some weighing up of bizarreness and harmfulness?)?

Tune in for a (hopefully) quick-witted discussion of these issues and more.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

At the AAP conference

I've been a bit scarce all week, as I've been attending the AAP conference. I'm perhaps not getting "into" this as much as if it were held in a different city - with it being here in Melbourne this year, it's tempting to stay home and worry about my paper (on tomorrow) and deal with other things. Still, I've been there most of the time since Sunday evening, and need to give a paper first thing tomorrow. Wish me luck, everyone.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

AAP conference coming up

The AAP conference starts this afternoon and continues through until Friday afternoon - in fact there's social activity on into Saturday. This is the big event in the yearly calendar for philosophers based in Australia and New Zealand. I can't believe that it's already upon us (where did the year go?).

My own paper, which is entitled "Transhumanism and its Critics: Time to Transform the Debate" is scheduled first thing on Friday morning. Hmmm, early in the morning on the last day is not the best time to give a paper if you actually want an audience. In fact, that's putting it rather mildly - I hope someone shows up to it. Never mind, we'll see how it all goes.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Avoidance activities?

The time has come for me to write the paper that I'm committed to give at the AAP Conference next week. The subject is ... well, I must check what exactly I committed myself to, but I know it was something to do with transhumanism. I even tried to get a transhumanism-related stream on the program, but that didn't come to anything.

I figured earlier in the week that spending most of the week thinking and writing about transhumanism - by immersing myself in the papers published in The Global Spiral, and commenting on them all - might get me in the mood. As a matter of fact, it has, and I hope that all the work that went into it will be of value to someone. But it hasn't actually written my paper for me. Hmmm, maybe I'm not that much in the mood to write a conference paper. what avoidance activities should I try next?

Transhumanist theology

Lutheran theologian Ted Peters is the author of the sixth and last of the generally hostile articles on transhumanism in the June 2008 issue of The Global Spiral . Despite my own rather anti-religious bias, I actually consider this the best of the six articles. Peters bases many of his claims on theological concepts, but similar claims could have been based on purely secular considerations. He does, however, fall into the usual trap of conflating the transhumanist movement with certain specific ideas that are controversial within the movement, such as proposals for personality uploading and a particular view of inevitable evolutionary and technological progress.

Peters helpfully spells out his general position in a way that is refreshingly clear after the almost-impenetrable style of Jean-Pierre Dupuy's article in the same issue. Here is Peters:

My thesis is this: transhumanist assumptions regarding progress are naive, because they fail to operate with an anthropology that is realistic regarding the human proclivity to turn good into evil. It is my own view that researchers in the relevant fields of genetics and nanotechnology should proceed toward developing new and enhancing technologies, to be sure; but they should maintain constant watchfulness for ways in which these technologies can become perverted and bent toward destructive purposes.

The two long (but, as I said, clear) sentences here merit consideration. The first may well be true of some transhumanists (though, as usual in these articles, it would be helpful if Peters had put it that way rather than in a way that slanders an entire cultural movement). You don't need to think in terms of theological notions of evil and sin to realise that new technologies can be used in dangerous and even malevolent ways, as well as in beneficial one. Most transhumanists are painfully aware of this, but perhaps some do have an overly optimistic view of technology that stands diametrically to opposed to that of contemporary Luddites; i.e. the former are blind to the evils of technology while the latter are blind to the good. While Peters could have been more careful and conciliatory in his wording, the note of caution in this sentence is not itself unwelcome.

What about the second sentence? Peters says: It is my own view that researchers in the relevant fields of genetics and nanotechnology should proceed toward developing new and enhancing technologies, to be sure; but they should maintain constant watchfulness for ways in which these technologies can become perverted and bent toward destructive purposes. It appears to me that this is a perfectly sensible view. It is, indeed, my own view, and I'm sure that most sophisticated transhumanists share it. As I've said so often, with apologies to William Gibson, the street finds its own uses for things. We can't be sure in advance what uses new technologies will put to, and we mustn't proceed on the insouciant assumption that we do know. Pragmatically speaking - not as some kind of law of nature - we are likely to be surprised at how any particular technology ends up being used (of course, doomsayers about new technologies should also keep this in mind before they run off trying to prohibit this and that because it just might be used in such and such a nasty way).

In a sense, that's all that needs saying: the general position advanced by Peters is one that could be advanced within the transhumanist movement, so it can't be a critique of the transhumanist movement.

But there's a little bit more that's worth adding. I can't refrain from commenting on Peters' account of the relationship between transhumanism and theology. He takes transhumanists to task for assuming "that religion will attempt to place roadblocks in their way on the grounds that the religious mind is old fashioned, out of date, Luddite, and dedicated to resisting change." He insists that Christian and "even" Jewish theology are dedicated to the new. "If a theologian would become critical of a transhumanist, it would not be in defense of what has been. Rather, it would be because of a naiveté in thinking that we could accomplish with technology a transformation that can be achieved only by the eschatological act of a gracious and loving God."

With all respect to Peters, with whom I'm in agreement about much, this seems rather disingenuous. It doubtless conveys his own theogical position accurately, and I'm prepared to accept for the sake of the argument that it's even the "correct" position. Obviously, theology is itself a complex discipline within which many views are advanced and contested. However, it's also true that there has been an enormous amount of theologically-based resistance to emerging technologies and their applications, and even the supposedly secular arguments that are so often run (e.g. those of Michael Sandel with his talk about life as a gift) actually make little sense outside of a framework of theological assumptions. To concede, as I do, that some theological positions are compatible with an embrace of emerging technologies does not entail a denial that much of the actual, real-world opposition has been theologically motivated, often motivated by lurking ideas of the sanctity or inviolability of life, the world, or the human genome as "given" to us.

Like Kathryn Hayles, Peters should embrace transhumanism and declare himself an ally rather than an opponent. His actual political position on enhancement technologies is one that a sophisticated and realistic transhumanist could share. He needn't self-identify as a transhumanist, if the t-word word carries too much baggage for him - if it has too many connotations of specific ideas that he really does oppose. But he could certainly adopt a stance in relation to the transhumanist movement as a whole of being a friend - and a friendly critic where he feels he must criticise particular people or ideas.