Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

The Holy See was tired and emotional

Mar 10th, 2011 3:38 pm | By

The “Holy See,” not for the first time, had nothing to say. Not a peep. About?

about reports that the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Cardinal Justin Rigali, this week suspended 21 priests pending investigation into allegations of child sex abuse.

Oh that. Well…what can it say? “We didn’t tell them to.” “It wasn’t our idea.” “Don’t look at us.” “It’s the parents we blame.” “Philadelphia is a very secular place.”

No doubt it will say all of those in good time, but it doesn’t like to be rushed.

The suspension of the priests on Tuesday follows on from the findings of a Philadelphia grand jury which last month indicted three priests and one lay teacher on charges of rape, assault and other felonies related to minors, mainly in the late 1990s. The damning grand jury report also concluded that 37 priests remained in ministry “despite solid, credible accusations of sex abuse”.

Well…um…well it’s the filing system you see, along with the thing about canon law. Put the two together and it does tend to slow us down, to the point that it takes us an average of three centuries to investigate any particular act of child-rape. We’re sorry, but you do get a lot of value out of us all the same, so go away and stop bothering us, you secular bastards.

The opposite of engaging

Mar 9th, 2011 3:43 pm | By

Paul Sims did an interview for the Catholic Herald, and wants to know what people think. (At least he did; the post is a couple of weeks old now.)

Ed West sets the scene for Herald readers.

Last month two groups of people met in a church in central London to discuss gay adoption, abortion and religious schools. On one side were representatives of Catholic Voices, on the other a group from the Central London Humanist Group.

The point, says Paul Sims of New Humanist magazine, was “to experiment with the idea of Humanists and Catholics sitting down and engaging with each other on contentious issues in a cordial manner”.

Yes but (I’ve said this before, I’m sorry for the repetition) Catholic Voices are not just “Catholics” – they are a self-appointed PR group formed to defend the Vatican’s views:

a bureau of Catholic speakers able to articulate with conviction the Church’s positions on major contentious issues in the media.

Talking to them is not the same thing as talking to a generic or random group of Catholics; it’s talking to a group whose purpose is to defend views chosen and handed down by other people. It’s hard to think of a category of group it is more pointless to talk to when as Paul said

the point, as I explained in a piece in the current issue of New Humanist, is to experiment with the idea of humanists and Catholics sitting down and engaging with each other on contentious issues in a cordial manner.

Catholic Voices won’t be engaging with humanists on the issues. They will be defending the church’s positions on those issues, which is the opposite of “engaging.”

This is totally alien to the spirit of Tahrir

Mar 9th, 2011 12:14 pm | By

Well how sodding depressing.

Women hoping to extend their rights in post-revolutionary Egypt were faced with a harsh reality Tuesday when a mob of angry men beat and sexually assaulted marchers calling for political and social equality, witnesses said.

The demonstration on International Women’s Day drew a crowd only in the hundreds to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the popular revolt that drove President Hosni Mubarak from power. Gone, organizers said, was the spirit of equality and cooperation between the sexes that marked most of the historic mass gatherings in the square.

As upwards of 300 marchers assembled late Tuesday afternoon, men began taunting them, insisting that a woman could never be president and objecting to women’s demands to have a role in drafting a new constitution, witnesses said.

That’s no good.

“People were saying that women were dividing the revolution and should be happy with the rights they have,” said Ebony Coletu, 36, an American who teaches at American University in Cairo and attended the march, as she put it, “in solidarity.”

The men – their number estimated to be at least double that of the women’s – broke through a human chain that other men had formed to protect the marchers. Women said they attempted to stand their ground – until the physical aggression began.

“I was grabbed in the crotch area at least six times. I was grabbed in the breasts; my throat was grabbed,” Coletu said…Egyptian women say that sexual harassment has long been rampant here and that they grow up expecting to be fondled in public by men with impunity.

That’s no good that’s no good that’s no good.

The “revolution” is worthless if that’s the kind of world it settles for. It’s worthless if it’s content with treating half of its people (or any of them, but especially half of them) as objects of contempt.

His hand slipped

Mar 8th, 2011 5:07 pm | By

Jen Phillips pointed out another item from Wally in October 2009. A spot of quote-mining.

What PZ wrote:

“I have zero sympathy for intelligent people who stand before a grandiose monument to lies, an institution that is anti-scientific, anti-rational, and ultimately anti-human, in a place where children are being actively miseducated, an edifice dedicated to an abiding intellectual evil, and choose to complain about how those ghastly atheists are ruining everything.

Those people can just fuck off.”

What Tom Johnson chose to quote:

“I have zero sympathy for intelligent people who stand before (religion)…Those people can just fuck off.”

(Yes, we saw that quote again a few days ago, in another “oh sweet jesus the new atheists” jeremiad.) Wally said oh gosh sorry, I took it from another source. Sigmund (yes, our friend Sigmund) said really, because I’ve searched for it and can’t find it, Wally said how dare you, I said I was sorry, grow up. Yes really.

Two apologies from me should be more than enough to clear up the ambiguities for others reading this post. It’s done, Sigmund. I made a mistake by posting a second-hand quote without checking its original source (there’s a third!). Grow up.

Wally also, in the very act of “apologizing,” said “but I could find plenty of quotes of PZ bashing religion.” Yes really. Twice.

I wonder if he’s busy doing that even now, inside his own spooky head. “But it is all completely totally true, even though I did make it all up.”

Waving the saffron flag

Mar 8th, 2011 4:22 pm | By

Meera Nanda is critical of myths about the timeless Hindu nature of yoga.

By and large, the US yoga industry does not hide the origins of what it teaches. On the contrary, in a country that is so young and so constantly in flux, yoga’s presumed antiquity (‘the 5,000-year-old exercise system’, etcetera.) and its connections with Eastern spirituality have become part of the sales pitch. Thus, doing namastes, intoning ‘om’ and chanting Sanskrit mantras have become a part of the experience of doing yoga in America.

I’m reminded of Kelly on The Office, dressing up in a sari and piously saying “namaste” when she was applying for a Minority Training Program, which was funny precisely because the rest of the time she’s hyper-American and the opposite of pious.

One would think that yoga’s popularity and Hinduisation would gladden the hearts of Hindu immigrants.


The leading Hindu advocacy organisation in the United States, the aforementioned Hindu American Foundation or HAF, is hardly beaming with pride. On the contrary, it has recently accused the American yoga industry of ‘stealing’—even ‘raping’—yoga by stripping it of its spiritual heritage and not acknowledging its Hindu roots.

And so another bogus grievance is born.

Desk chair tourism

Mar 8th, 2011 11:55 am | By

Do you play with Google Earth enough? I’m not sure it’s possible to play with Google Earth enough. I’d forgotten to install it until fairly recently, so I’m still excited about it…Then again I doubt that I’ll get less excited about it as time goes on.

Check out the Amalfi coast some time. Or Capri. Or Norway and those notorious fjords. Or Vancouver. Or Stockholm. Or Paris. Or Edinburgh. Or Cornwall.

At the moment I’m working on the Yorkshire Dales. I took a little break there about an hour ago. I went to Gunnerside, in Swaledale; found a very local but blue-lined road partway up a moor to the west of Gunnerside, and just traveled along it pausing to do a 360 every few yards. Staggering!

Building bridges

Mar 7th, 2011 11:42 am | By

Wally Smith wrote an article on a forthcoming book in October 2009. In fact it’s dated October 26, 2009, which happens to be the date of Chris Mooney’s “My Thanks to ‘Tom Johnson’” post. The opening paragraph of Mooney’s article, given all that we know now, is so richly ironic that one feels dizzy reading it.

Last week, the New Atheist comment machine targeted the following post, in which I republished a preexisting blog comment from a scientist named “Tom Johnson” (a psuedonym). In the comment, Johnson had related  how some of his New Atheist-inspired scientist colleagues had behaved toward religious folks at bridge-building conservation events.

You see what I mean, I’m sure. Mooney insults us for being skeptical about a post that smelled like dead fish at the time and is known to be certified, thrice-rotten, hypertoxic dead fish now, a post by a dedicated liar and trash-talker and one-man “comment machine.”

Let’s take a look at the fragrant work of the trash-talking comment-machine writing (for once) under his own name.

He says he hasn’t read the book yet, which is fine, because he’s not reviewing it, he’s discussing the collaboration of the co-authors, a pastor and a scientist (who are also married), and the general collaboration of what he calls “the faith-based community” and science. He’s in favor of the collaboration. He’s against what he sees as obstacles to the collaboration. He spots one in particular…

…engaging the religious seems to be low on the list of scientists’ priorities. Instead, some leading scientists are running (quickly) in the opposite direction, holding contests to come up with the most mocking labels for scientists and others willing to engage the faithful. Blog exchanges on the topic by respected scholars have reached zero consensus and read like they belong more on an elementary school playground than in any serious, forward-looking public forum. As a scientist speaking about his own field, there’s little more to call this than a disgrace – especially so if we ever expect to apply science effectively beyond peer-reviewed journals.

Oh what do you know – it’s all about Jerry Coyne. As it was in the beginning, so it was at the end – it was all about that pesky Jerry Coyne. (If it hadn’t been, I might not have sniffed him out. Think about that, Wally. Your obsessions give you away.) Jerry Coyne, unlike our author, belongs on an elementary school playground…far away from the scatological fantasies Wally engaged in as the YNH bloggers.

His conclusion is stirring:

Hopefully Hayhoe and Farley’s book will be a welcome change of pace in terms of building bridges – not breaking them down – and will help us realize that, if we spend all our time fighting “enemies” in a culture war, all of us are going to lose.

Wally has invested quite a lot of time in fighting his perceived enemies over the past year and a half, but it’s nice to have his advice anyway.


Mar 6th, 2011 11:42 am | By

Remember Orlando Figes? Remember what he got up to?

The future of one of Britain’s leading historians was looking increasingly uncertain tonight after he admitted that he was the author of anonymous reviews that praised his own work as “fascinating” and “uplifting” while rubbishing that of his rivals.

Oh that. He used a pseudonym to trash people. This was considered a bad thing. Not an excusable little lapse in manners, but a seriously bad thing.

John Sutherland, professor of English at University College London, suggested Figes’s position at Birkbeck could be under threat. “On the whole academics are pretty tolerant,” he said. “Clearly in the present climate he’s a star, and Birkbeck needs stars because of the upcoming research assessment exercise. They’ll find it easy to prove that he provides impact. On the other hand, he’s done something that’s dishonest and possibly actionable.”

It’s not the kind of thing an academic ought to do, you see. It could be seen as antipathetic to the values academics ought to support and live by.

Worship is immoral

Mar 5th, 2011 4:27 pm | By

Aikin and Talisse (potentially startling many readers of 3 Quarks Daily) argue that religious belief is morally wrong.

The thought is frequently associated with Bertrand Russell: The worship of anything is beneath the dignity of a rational creature.  That is, we argue that worship is immoral.  Consequently, for any type of religious belief, if it requires one to worship anything, then it is intrinsically immoral.  The argument turns on the claim that any conception of worship that’s worth its salt will involve the voluntary and irrevocable submission of one’s rational faculties to those of another.

That idea resonates with me, whether I know how to defend it or not. It addresses what I dislike about “faith,” even (or possibly, sometimes, especially) the liberal kind. I dislike the hierarchical aspect, the (at least implicit) demand for submission, the abdication.

The challenge we pose to religious believers is to formulate a conception of worship that at once makes worship distinguishable from lesser attitudes and actions (such as praising, thanking, appreciating, admiring) and yet non-submissive.  We think that there is no such conception.  That is, any conception of worship that does not involve morally objectionable submission will be indistinguishable from, say, thanking, praising, and admiring.  But the religious believer holds not only that God is entitled to thanks, praise, and admiration; the religious believer holds that God (uniquely) is entitled to worship.  Yet worship is morally wrong.  Hence so is any mode of religious belief which requires it.

That works. It’s quite possible to admire, praise, and thank other people, and still be on a footing of equality. Of course it is, and what a hell life would be if it weren’t. I enjoy admiring people. But worship? Hell no. That would be wrong. If we really do have an overlord who demands worship…we’ll just have to say No.

Hammill the prodigal

Mar 4th, 2011 11:38 am | By

Hammill, as I said in a comment earlier this morning, is Walter Smith, known as Wally, a graduate student in biology at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

He said last summer that he would never do it again. He’s been doing it again.

He’s been sowing little seeds of hostility and paranoia and mistrust. He’s been ever so gently tarnishing the reputations of gnu atheists. Again.

For instance on this post, which of course drew him like a fly to honey, because it was both scornful and inaccurate about me. His kind of thing! (I don’t know why he hates me so particularly, given that I’m hardly the only vocal atheist out there, but he does.) He saw an opening for some poison, and he was ready. He was worried about the way new atheists talk.

Just look at the words used to describe Josh here or others from several blogs over the past week: blatantly misrepresented, intellectually lazy, deceptive, dishonest, untrustworthy, deliberate distortion. They all sound like something from a political attack ad in late October, not salvos in a mutual debate or discussion. I don’t want to read too much into intentions or motives, but I don’t personally see them as an attempt to invite mutual debate. I see them as an attempt to quash dissenting opinion through character attacks without giving the heart of the debate a chance to find the table – a marginalization or distraction strategy, if you will. That’s certainly politics, although I would argue it’s far from the good kind.

And four more paragraphs of the same kind of thing – the very best most refined kind of concern trolling. Now read it again with the YNH blog firmly in mind – the lies, the accusations of lying, the obscenity, the sexism, the multiple socks all confirming the lies – that’s our refined concern troll.

Then another solemn refined comment in the same vein. Then warm agreement from one of the people he deceived. Then me asking a different anonymous commenter, TB, if it was the same TB aka Tim Broderick who called me a liar repeatedly at the Intersection. Then another concerned, conscientious, hand-wringing, highly respectable intervention by Wally the confessed serial liar.

For the sake of argument, consider for a moment that TB is who you say he is and what you say happened is an accurate representation of what did happen. Beyond the obvious ethical considerations of providing the real name of another poster who has not personally divulged their identity on a site, how is a past argument relevant to the current discussion? Shouldn’t an argument be judged on its merits and not on one’s perception of the character of the person making it? Unless there are clear logical flaws in what TB has been saying here, I fail to see how pointing out a past dispute serves anything beyond an attempt to undermine one’s character, which is the point I was making several posts above. I hesitate to use this word due to the small firestorm it’s caused in this post, but dropping a pseudonymous commenter’s real name along with what appears to be an entirely unrelated, negative character reference seems an undeniably political move. (If there is a connection between the past and present somewhere that I’m missing (and I may be) that makes all of this more relevant, feel free to correct me.)

Feast on the rich, multiple, layered ironies of that comment.

The prodigal returns

Mar 3rd, 2011 5:09 pm | By

So, remember a month ago I wondered about this new Mystery Commenter who went by the name “Hammill” and whose central, indeed almost only, subject seemed to be the sadly naughty ways of the gnu atheists, and who showed a strangely excessive interest in me, and Jerry Coyne, and me again? Remember how I said it reminded me of someone? Remember how I said that someone was “Tom Johnson”/You’re Not Helping/William?

Well that’s who it is. I’ve been able to confirm it.


So the discussion has been distorted by a guy with a known agenda and history posing as someone new and unknown. Someone who frowned gently in concern that people disagreed with Chris Mooney. Someone who worries about people “throwing around” the word “lies”…

Just look at the terms used to describe positions: unfair representation, misrepresentation, intellectual dishonesty. I think the terms “lies” and “deliberate distortion” have been thrown around in the past. I realize that much of that language stems from the “blood feud” you mention above, but the division seems great and very real. IMO the blood feud is getting in the way of actual progress.

That’s Tom Johnson, the guy who lied about that notorious conference where the notorious things he described didn’t happen. That’s YNH, who repeatedly said on his blog I was telling lies here. That’s Milton C, who told lies about me in comments here.


So he’s saddened by the rough and tumble of the “blogosphere“:

Part of me almost wishes that the entire debate were taking place in a refereed journal rather than the blogosphere, due to the inherent incivility that the internet brings. Perhaps that could corral the personal disputes a bit and focus a laser beam on the core issues.

That’s YNH, who knows a thing or two about incivility on the internet!

He spent the months between July and January honing his skills, perhaps. He was a good bullshitter, for awhile.

There are much deeper issues at play in terms of communication than “stop being so loud” and “stop talking so frequently.” The issue seems much more nuanced and complex than this, perhaps by several orders of magnitude; however, I believe it often erroneously gets simplified down to the statement above, and the debate suffers because of it.

Sounds convincing, doesn’t he.

He didn’t, quite, to me, even then. People don’t usually talk that stiffly on blogs. He was hyper-correcting, as it were. And then where had he come from, all of a sudden? He seemed awfully familiar with the subject matter for someone unknown. But I was only generally suspicious. At first.

But so what?

So he poisoned the well, that’s what.

I appreciate this piece very much, Andrew. I’m a nonbeliever that is frequently ashamed to be associated with some of the vitriol that comes from our side of the aisle. We need more people, like yourself, to speak out for a positive, forward-looking kind of nonbelief….

….even if doing so only directs the vitriol in your direction. I’ve noticed the link above leads to site where you are being accused of not being a nonbeliever simply for your opinions on tone. Furthermore, some of the vitriol and invective (ignorant, arrogant, immoral, unethical, bitter, bullsh@t, etc.) directed at you is disturbing. Include the discussion about what to call “pseudoatheists” like yourself and the message seems clear: the goal is to marginalize you and bully you into not seeking to take nonbelief in a positive direction.

“The link above” is, of course, to B&W. I loom large in his pantheon of hate-objects. He’s doing his little bit to swell the chorus of hatred against the evil gnus, and he’s doing it in a mask, because all his previous masks got covered in excrement which won’t wash off.

And not just once. Another opportunity presented itself, and there he was, all eager for the treat:

I can agree with much of the substance coming out of the gnu atheist community but cringe mostly at its delivery. At times the rhetoric and invective makes me embarrassed to even be associated with them, however tangentially, as a nonbeliever.

Same old thing. That was when I really suspected he was TJ, and I confronted him:

We’ve seen this kind of thing before.

Will you be shyly confiding in “Rob” about your experiences at conservation conferences soon?

Who are you?

As far as I know he hasn’t commented since. Sad for him. But he’s had plenty of effect, there’s no reason to doubt that. That bolus of antignu hatred is larger than it would have been without him.

Update: and see Paul W’s comment on the stranger thread. Says it all.

There’ll be music everywhere

Mar 2nd, 2011 10:52 am | By

PBS showed a Tribute to Motown at the White House last night. I thought I would watch just a minute of it, but I got pulled right in.

I’d kind of forgotten Dancing in the Streets. That was stupid. Martha and the Vandellas. Yeah.

Meta x 11

Mar 1st, 2011 2:41 pm | By

A couple of thoughts on the hunting of the snark.

One thought is that I always wonder why the focus is so exclusively on the evil gnu atheists. To put it another way, I always wonder why the standard is so double. I wonder why the filter has only gnu atheist-shaped holes.

I wonder why the sustained activities of “Tom Johnson” are ignored in favor of shining a spotlight on something someone said five years ago. Gnu atheists are sometimes irritable, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes rude. “Tom Johnson” is a malicious misogynist liar who put great energy into attempting to smear several chosen gnu atheists. Why so much heavy breathing about the former and nothing at all about the latter? It’s not because the latter is irrelevant – he’s an enthusiastic partisan in the “gnu atheists are horrible” campaign. He is in fact the source of a lot of specific “gnu atheists are horrible” claims.

Like this one, which I had forgotten about. Milton C, May 27 last year. I didn’t know at the time that Milton C was “Tom Johnson” and all the YNH bloggers and all the YNH sock puppets, who were many.

The Ruler of Comment Overmoderation whines about comment moderation. Hm.

The irony – it BURNS.

See? That’s the confirmed confessed liar who filled whole threads at The Intersection with tirades about new atheists under different names, thus creating an impression of lots of haters of new atheists, then did the same thing with his own brand new blog. He’s accusing me of “comment overmoderation” – which is something he had been accusing me of via the YNH sock puppets for several weeks by that time. It’s a pack of lies.

Then this, after I retorted.

idk, Ophelia. I’ve been a “lurker” here for some time, and I’ve seen you engage in ‘total banning’ on some people who have made comments that really didn’t get too offensive or inconsiderate but that you just took personally…but I’ve also seen you engage in ‘total banning’ when people have been purposefully inconsiderate and offensive, too.

Complete and utter falsehood. (How can one “see” people engage in banning anyway? All he had seen, of course, was himself saying that under different names at my place and at his place.)

That’s morally repugnant, if you like. It’s a good deal more morally repugnant than sometimes being irritable under one’s own name and for truthfully-stated reasons. Yet the shock-horror is reserved for the latter. I consider that peculiar.

The other thought is about this comment – #4 on yesterday’s -

Well, it’s certainly a little ironic that the very same bloggers who leaped to condemn Sarah Palin’s incendiary rhetoric (perhaps with justification) are quite content to use this sort of language. Wasn’t there a suggestion somewhere that people on the “accommodationist” side of this debate, should be called “Quislings”? It’s classy stuff.

That’s for me. If you google new atheist quisling, I’m the first result. I did it.

Or I did and I didn’t. I didn’t do it in a Sarah Palinesque way. I did it in a hedged way.

Here is another…can we say quisling? If they call us aggressive new atheists, can we call them quislings? Here is another quisling atheist moaning about how boring and boring the gnu* atheists are. It’s Caspar Melville of the New Humanist, I’m sorry to say – I like the NH.

The real irony though is that Caspar was so horrified by my morally repugnant remark that he invited me to write an article on the subject. In other words, he probably did think it was a bit much, but also probably not the nadir of verbal wickedness.

Speaking of objective morality…

Feb 28th, 2011 11:53 am | By

I’ll take a break from following the “new atheists are the rudest people in the history of the universe” discussion, to take a sad and pitying look at Ronald Conte, a Catholic theologian. (Professional? Amateur? He doesn’t say. Oh I take it back, yes he does. Amateur. Self-appointed. Not affiliated with any church or college or university that he mentions. Like me – but then I don’t call myself a theologian.)

We’ve seen him before, talking vicious murderous nonsense about the life-saving abortion in Phoenix. Now, in jocular vein, he’s talking about whether or not married people are allowed to do things to each other’s genitals with their hands (or, godforbid, their mouths). His answer is absolutely not.

Yes really. No. That’s right out. It’s a Sin. It’s inherently evil.

The love of God and neighbor requires that each and every sexual act be marital, unitive, and procreative. When a sexual act is non-marital or non-unitive or non-procreative, then the act has a deprivation in its moral object, making the object evil and the act intrinsically evil.

Evil. Using a hand to turn on a sex partner – evil.

any sexual act that is intrinsically evil, is not only always immoral, but always gravely immoral. Some intrinsically evil acts are venial sins; other intrinsically evil acts are mortal sins. An intrinsically evil sexual act is always an objective mortal sin.

And by that he means – make no mistake – using a hand to turn on a sex partner. It’s intrinsically evil and a mortal sin – it is the worst.

The guy’s a maniac.

Read the whole thing if you have time. Pale with horror and disgust, and try to feel some sorrow for Ronald Conte and his airless little mind.

Atheists like me are less willing to settle for the status quo

Feb 27th, 2011 1:16 pm | By

Jason Streitfeld says some very cogent things on the subject of public displays of atheism.

For atheists like me, there is one issue that matters most in all of this: the role of religious authority in society. I’m not saying atheists are concerned with this issue above all else. Not at all. They might be more concerned about global warming, say, or human rights violations in third-world countries. What I am saying is that, for many atheists, atheism is first and foremost about the rejection of religious authority. Public atheism is first and foremost about putting religious authority in its proper place. For us, to be a public atheist just is to deny that there is any objectively valid moral authority which religions could claim and to deny that religious authority is similar to, equal to, or in any methodological or philosophical sense compatible with scientific authority. If we cannot argue these points in public, then we cannot be public atheists in the way that is meaningful to us.

Indeed; and more: atheism is first and foremost about the rejection of religious authority, in an existing context in which religious authority is not just not rejected, not even just welcomed and embraced, but made all-but-mandatory. If religious authority weren’t always being shoved at us, it might seem otiose to bother rejecting it, but that’s not the situation we’re in – not in the US and not entirely in other parts of the Anglophone world either, let alone more frankly theocratic states. The pope thinks he has every right to order women to bear children they don’t want to bear, and to tell hospitals not to save the lives of pregnant women if it takes an abortion to do that.

News flash: The public already thinks atheists have no moral compass. People just don’t understand these issues, but they think they do. That’s the real problem: people are ignorant of their own ignorance. The public needs exposure to what atheists actually think–not in an inaccessible, academic way, but in a clear, practical and relevant way. Right now, they’re mostly relying on misinformation when they criticize atheists.

And, sadly, they’re getting even more misinformation, and old misinformation repeated and re-enforced, by some atheists. Even some atheists are telling people that atheists are rude, mean, intolerant, bullies, dicks – you name it.

Jean’s argument ultimately rests on the claim that people cannot learn what many atheists want them to learn, and that, at best, our efforts at education will be fruitless. This is what Coyne seems to be bothered about. It’s not just Jean’s conclusion. It is her argument that is so upsetting. Atheists like me are less willing to settle for the status quo. We are far less satisfied with the public’s current perceptions of atheism. Furthermore, we would rather give the public the benefit of the doubt. We are optimistic that the public can learn a whole lot more than Jean seems to think. Of course, atheists will continue to be misunderstood and misrepresented for a long time to come. But the discourse might move forward nonetheless. It certainly won’t help if we stop trying.

The status quo aspect is key. The mantra that atheists should be careful of what they say in public (and when in doubt, err on the side of saying nothing) is just more of the same. We already have that arrangement, and we think it’s a bad arrangement, and we want to Fix It. It’s the status quo, and we want to change the status quo, so that things will be better.

They do not represent any of the local communities

Feb 27th, 2011 12:50 pm | By

Tower Hamlets Council is shocked shocked by those anti-gay posters that appeared recently. So is the Mayor, so is Dilwar Khan, Director of the London Muslim Centre, so are the chairs of Rainbow Hamlets LGBT Community Forum.

Andrew Gilligan says some of the shock shock is bogus. Guess which part.

…the East London Mosque speaks with forked tongue. Yesterday, it was due to demonstrate its deep commitment to “standing together against homophobia” by hosting a gala dinner with one Uthman Lateef, a homophobic preacher who has stated: “We don’t accept homosexuality… we hate it because Allah hates it.”

Why does the East London Mosque say one thing while it means another? Because it can. Because it works.

There is a part of liberal white society which would rather ignore or deny the problem of extremism, hatred and bigotry in some parts of some Muslim communities. The lies give them a form of permission to do so.In that same council press release, the chairs of the Rainbow Hamlets LGBT Community Forum, a local gay group, condemned the anti-gay posters but added: “We also condemn those who use these incidents to create a moral panic and stoke up racist or Islamophobic sentiment. At present the people responsible cannot be accurately determined, but it is clear that whoever is responsible, they do not represent any of the local communities.”

Really?! It is clear? How can it be? How can that possibly be “clear”?

Well it can’t, and it’s obvious that it can’t, but the rainbow people apparently think they have to say it is, lest they stoke up “Islamophobic sentiment.” Apparently they find themselves stuck with having to toady to a group that lives next door to them and hates them with a lively and religious hatred.

I think I would move to Ealing, or perhaps Merton.

Ratzinger muses aloud

Feb 27th, 2011 12:28 pm | By

The pope has been telling doctors to straighten women out on something the poor deluded darlings are hopelessly confused about. What – that homeopathic “polio vaccinations” are real vaccinations? That their most important job in life is to have flat abs? That they have to be “spiritual”? No.

Pope Benedict XVI has urged doctors to protect women from the “deceptive” thought that an abortion might be a solution to social or economic difficulties or health problems.

Has he indeed. How, I wonder, does he know that that thought is deceptive? If a woman or a couple doesn’t have enough money to have a child, how is it deceptive to think that an abortion might be a solution to the problem? And what the hell does he know about it? He has all the money he needs, and he’ll never have to bear a child. He has no experience of being up against it in that way. How does he know he knows better what is and is not a solution than people who do have that experience?

As for health problems…well if the pregnancy itself is proving to be fatal, then an abortion in fact is a solution to that particular health problem. In that particular case, the pope is just lying when he says it’s not. What he means is that it’s a solution he won’t allow a woman to have, if he can prevent it.

What a nice thing to say

Feb 26th, 2011 5:02 pm | By

Darrick Lim has been observing the inter-atheist wars. He has kind things to say about me. (Well that’s the important thing; do admit.)

Fellow atheists Jerry Coyne and Ophelia Benson jump into the fray with their own takes on DBAD. Both are known for taking off the gloves in anti-religion arguments when they deem it appropriate. As an evolutionary biologist, Coyne in particular has little patience for accommodationist views – the belief that science and religion can be reconciled and need not necessarily be at odds with each other. Along with another passionate – some may say ‘cantankerous’ – atheist, the biology professor and blogger PZ Myers (who runs the popular science blog ‘Pharyngula’), Coyne, Benson and other ‘Gnu Atheists’ are considered to be at the ‘meaner’ end of the attitude spectrum.

Ohhhh. That makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. Mind you, Lim apparently doesn’t consider the putative meanness all that mean; I might not feel very w and f if he meant “meaner” completely literally. But this question of “exactly how mean are the gnu atheists really, when you look at them under a good microscope?” seems to have as many answers as there are people to ask the question, so whatevs.

More malevolence

Feb 26th, 2011 4:25 pm | By

Via Johann Hari:

In May 2008, a 15 year old Muslim girl tells her teacher she thinks she might be gay, and the Muslim teacher in a state-funded comprehensive tells her “there are no gays round here” and she will “burn in hell” if she ever acts on it. (I know because she emailed me, suicidal and begging for help). In September 2008, a young gay man called Oliver Hemsley, is walking home from the gay pub the George and Dragon when a gang of young Muslims stabs him eight times, in the back, in the lungs, and in his spinal column. In January 2010, when the thug who did it is convicted, a gang of thirty Muslims storms the George and Dragon in revenge and violently attacks everybody there.

Because why? Because of a stupid baseless prejudice. Because they eat their boiled eggs from the narrow end instead of the wide end, or is it the other way around. Because they like stripes better than checks. Because they like muesli better than shredded wheat. Because they watch football instead of tennis. Let them burn in hell!

Off with her head

Feb 26th, 2011 4:17 pm | By

Does god hate women? Do Republicans hate women?

 Georgia State Rep. Bobby Franklin—who last year proposed making rape and domestic violence “victims” into “accusers”—has introduced a 10-page bill that would criminalize miscarriages and make abortion in Georgia completely illegal. Both miscarriages and abortions would be potentially punishable by death: any “prenatal murder” in the words of the bill, including “human involvement” in a miscarriage, would be a felony and carry a penalty of life in prison or death.

Isn’t that interesting? So a woman has a miscarriage…will the cops be pounding on her door wanting to find out if there was any human involvement in that miscarriage? If so, how will she demonstrate that there wasn’t? Multiply by a large number, given how common miscarriage is.

There seems to be no chance such a law will be passed, but the filthiness of the mind that suggested it is worth noticing. Malevolence is always worth noticing.