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.

Jesus and Mo chat about modesty

Nov 27th, 2011 11:38 am | By

And the relativity of distance.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Tacit consent

Nov 27th, 2011 11:14 am | By

Nick Cohen ponders the absence of news coverage of the murder of Rafiq Tagi.

Emin Milli, a liberal Azerbaijani writer, told me that Tagi appeared to be recovering from his injuries in a state hospital and then took a turn for the worse. He wondered how that could be. He was as suspicious about the failure of westerners to take an interest in the murder of a writer, whose “crime” had been to speak his mind. He’d tried the BBC, newspapers… everyone he could think of and no one apart from Index on Censorship was interested. “Why don’t they care?”

Milli has a touchingly simple belief in the power of free speech, but his question was not as naive as it sounded. He knew from experience how effective democratic opinion can be when mobilised. He was one of the Azerbaijani “donkey bloggers,” whose persecution became a cause celebre in 2009.

The world did not stand by and say that Azerbaijan was none of its business. Barack Obama, the EU, the media and human rights groups took up the donkey bloggers’ cause and persuaded the regime to free them.

Milli is now studying in London and cannot understand why those who shouted with such passion about his conviction ignored Tagi’s murder. I tried to explain that Europe was not the brave continent that Tagi imagined. It would defend the victims of political oppression but not of religious oppression. Ever since the persecution of Salman Rushdie, many have been frightened of denouncing Islamism for fear of reprisals. Others were frightened of being accused of orientalism, neoconservatism or some other sinful religious or racial phobia.

To put it another way: there are no “communities” of corrupt officials living in neglected corners of Bradford or Birmingham, so it doesn’t feel like bullying to give support to their critics. The same cannot be said of “communities” of Muslims. It’s a mistake to think that resisting political Islam is a way of bullying Muslims, but it’s a mistake that a lot of people make. It would be nice if those people could learn to make the necessary distinctions.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Welcome to Kalispell

Nov 27th, 2011 10:13 am | By

I guess Kalispell, Montana is off the list of places I want to live in. (Was it on the list in the first place? No, but now it’s on the Do Not Add list.) It seems it’s being colonized by white supremacists and anti-government right-wing lunatics.

The Pioneer Little Europe movement has brought dozens of white supremacists to the Flathead Valley. They are increasingly making their presence known by staging public events, openly recruiting and distributing racist literature, stocking up on firearms at area gun shows while dressed in neo-Nazi clothing, working for local anti-gun control and anti-abortion campaigns (according to Gaede), and issuing violent threats to perceived enemies, including Media Matters, which is now under “indictment” for treason to the white race.

The growing numbers of PLE white supremacists in the Flathead Valley parallels a recent influx to the area of ultra right-wing “Patriot” movement leaders and their followers. Their combined forces are rapidly transforming the region into the hottest flash point of right-wing extremism in the country.

In addition to calling on fellow right-wing extremists to move to the Flathead Valley, leaders of both the PLE and the Patriot movements in the region are urging followers to exploit Montana’s weak firearms regulations by stocking up on guns, including .50 caliber sniper rifles and assault weapons, says Travis McAdam, executive director of the Montana Human Rights Network, which closely follows PLE and Patriot activity, including online communications.

Oh goody, sounds like another Ruby Ridge or Waco in our future.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Take a deep breath before reading

Nov 26th, 2011 4:52 pm | By

I don’t know how some people live with themselves. People who claim to be able to cure HIV through God, for example, and thus tell patients to stop taking their medication.

At least six people have died in Britain after being told that they had been healed of HIV, and could stop taking their medication.

There is evidence that evangelical churches in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow are claiming to cure HIV through God.

The healing process involves the pastor shouting, over the person being healed, for the devil to come out of their body, and spraying water in their face.

One of the pastors, Rachel Holmes, told our reporter, Shatila, who is a genuine HIV sufferer, they had a 100% success rate.

“We’ve had people come back before saying ‘Oh I’m not healed. The diarrhoea I had when I had HIV, I’ve got it again.’ I have to stop them and say ‘no, please, you are free.’”

That makes me very very angry. It makes me want to have a very stern conversation with Rachel Holmes.

The Synagogue Church of All Nations is wealthy. It has branches across the globe and its own TV channel.

On its website it promotes its anointing water, which is used during the healing, and it also makes money from merchandise, such as DVDs, CDs and books.

Sky News asked them to respond to the investigation.

We are not the Healer; God is the Healer. Never a sickness God cannot heal. Never a disease God cannot cure. Never a burden God cannot bear. Never a problem God cannot solve.

Nothing to do with them, you see, it’s all God. That’s why it’s all right for them to tell people to stop taking medication.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Mona Eltahawy on her beating and arrest 2

Nov 26th, 2011 3:41 pm | By

“What happened to me is the tip of the iceberg.”

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Mona Eltahawy on her arrest in Tahrir Square

Nov 26th, 2011 3:28 pm | By

They beat her, they sexually assaulted her, they called her a whore - whore whore whore, over and over.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Jehane Noujaim on her arrest in Tahrir Square

Nov 26th, 2011 3:18 pm | By

“All it takes is one military guy, one police person, who decides he’s going to mess with you…”

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

To make the world a better place

Nov 26th, 2011 11:54 am | By

The New Humanist has a fascinating piece by Paul Sims about Robert Lambert, the retired Special Branch officer who was head of the Muslim Contact Unit.

I’ve had some critical things to say about Lambert and his colleague Jonathan Githens-Mazer in the past – in June 2010 and April 2009. They talked evasive deceptive nonsense about the wonderfulness of Islamism and the badness of “Islamophobia.” They completely ignored the issues of women’s rights and homophobia. The stuff they wrote was extremely misleading – like this, for instance:

While British Islamists are as diverse as British socialists, the interviews do reveal important unifying characteristics, most notably a devotion to social justice and a concern for community needs over individual or corporate ambitions. British Islamists are typified by a sense of moral obligation to confront injustice, and they strive, in their own ways, to try to make the world a better place. These are messages which have more power than ever in modern Britain.

“Social justice” according to whom? “Community needs” and “individual ambitions” according to whom? Ditto injustice, ditto a better place. (Notice that careful “in their own ways” – yes, patriarchal misogynist punitive theocratic ways.) It’s sneaky, illiberal, irresponsible stuff, and it makes me angry (me and a good many other people).

Sims is doing journalism, so he does a better job than I would have of seeing the point of what Lambert was trying to do.

…where the MCU diverged from the mainstream was in the view that the most suitable groups for standing up to Hamza and his ilk were those which themselves adhered to strict Islamic principles or held strong political views on the “War on Terror”. In Finsbury Park, the MCU entered into a partnership with the Muslim Association of Britain and the Muslim Welfare House, local groups with links to the international Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, while in Brixton they worked with adherents to a literalist Salafi interpretation of Islam. Both partnerships, in Lambert’s view, succeeded in reducing the influence of extremists, and he takes particular pride in the way the MCU and the Finsbury Park Islamists were able to engineer the removal of Hamza’s supporters from Finsbury Park Mosque in 2005 through the installation of a new board of trustees.

Point taken, but even if Lambert’s right that his work “succeeded in reducing the influence of [some] extremists,” Hamza and his ilk aren’t the only extremists there are, and Lambert’s work may also have increased the influence of the MAB and other Islamist groups. Lambert, to be blunt, doesn’t seem to pay any attention at all to the people who are subordinated (if not punished or killed) by Islamist men.

Hanging over the whole debate is the lack of clarity over the term “Islamism”. When I ask Lambert to tell me what he means when he uses it, he explains that Islamists tend to have “a stronger sense that Islam encourages them to be politically active”. But for others, “Islamism” clearly means much more than this, and has become a demon term that describes those Muslims who reject secular democracy and aspire to live in an Islamic state ruled by Sharia law, with all the detrimental effects to women’s and minority rights that would entail. Lambert tells me that the MCU “would not have partnered with anyone if they exhibited any hostility or hatred toward any other community, whether it be the Jewish community, gay community or women”, but it is still legitimate to ask whether groups which take inspiration from the Muslim Brotherhood, which has a controversial history on all of those counts, make suitable partners for the British state.

What Lambert says is either absurdly naïve or disingenuous. Apparently the criterion was people going purple in the face and shouting about women (a Kyle Sandilands type of thing) or gays; he didn’t see that so that was good enough. Pu-leeze.

Props to Paul Sims for drawing him out.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

An atmosphere where a slide towards violence against women is enabled

Nov 25th, 2011 4:37 pm | By

Kyle Sandilands says it’s free speech and also that it’s quite all right and reasonable and why not? He explains carefully.

I’ll attack any journalist that attacks me that I think’s unfair.

Well what he means is, if a journalist says something about his show that he doesn’t like, he will not respond with an explanation of why she is wrong or a criticism of her reasoning, but rather, he will call her a fat slag, a fat bitter thing with a nothing job, and a piece of shit, and then he will tell her to watch her mouth or he’ll hunt her down. In other words he’ll say the most degrading things he can think of and then he’ll threaten her.

That’s not what free speech is for. That’s not what’s meant by “free speech.” A large man shouting insults and threats at a woman over the radio is not “free speech” except in the barest minimal sense that it is not quite against the law (although the threat quite possibly is). Some kinds of bullying are not illegal but they are or should be socially shunned.

John Birmingham of the SMH gets this.

…if blame lies anywhere for the faint, continuing stench on the airwaves wherever  this man opens his opens his mouth, it is not with him, but with the corporations that continue to support and employ him. Sandilands is not a  political orator, whose freedom to put forth odious opinions we must tolerate for the greater good. He is merely a bully employed in the service of profit by Austereo and occasionally by the TV networks. That is why it was so pleasing to see Holden pull their support for his show yesterday.

That’s exactly it: he’s a bully employed in the service of profit, because somehow it has been decided that bullying is edgy and hip and funny.

By seeking an audience for Sandilands, Austereo and the TV networks who very  occasionally call on his … er … talents, endorse the deeper message and dangerous stupidity of his public performances. What are these underlying attitudes?

Well, they seem to be based on a Hobbesian belief that the natural human condition is short, nasty and brutish, and that success comes not from being led  by the better angels of our nature, but from embracing as fully as possible a crude ugliness appealing to as large and degraded a mass audience as possible.

Part of this routine is an apparently shameless misogyny where any women who do not fawn and flutter at Sandilands’ approach, who dare to question or cross  him, are belittled and subject to thinly-veiled coercion – whether credible or  not. It would be interesting to ask him exactly what he meant when he threated to “hunt down” News Limited’s entertainment reporter Alison Stephenson.

More interesting, though, would be to seek from Austereo a figure for the income Sandilands generates for them with his noxious productions and what responsibility, if any, the radio network feels it should accept for the poisoning of the public mind it enables by giving him such an amplified voice. Because while Sandilands himself is a blowhard whose sins are entirely rhetorical, the continued exposure and promotion of those sins in the name of entertainment, and the service of profit, is a much greater wrongdoing. It creates an atmosphere where a slide towards violence against women, at least by some, is enabled.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The edification of both sides

Nov 25th, 2011 12:35 pm | By

The chief rabbi and Charles Taylor got together recently to say stuff about “The Future of Religion in a Secular Age.” Both are big fans of religion, so the stuff they said was in that vein.

For Taylor and Rabbi Sacks, religion should act as a counterpoint and antidote to the rampant solipsism and breakdown of sociality that characterize the secular world. Religion, unlike the market, science, or politics, exists in its own realm beyond materiality and simple solutions, and even beyond the self. According to Taylor, religious practice entails a transcendence of the self that is desperately needed in a culture as self-obsessed as our own. Rabbi Sacks added that on one hand, religion must stand at the vanguard of the “redemption of solitude” and on the other, strive to establish real community beyond the alone-togetherness of this virtual age.

But religion isn’t the only counterpoint and antidote to self-obsession, and it also isn’t necessarily a very good one. All too often it’s just a thinly-disguised way of arranging things to benefit some people by subordinating others; I’m thinking here (you’ll have figured out) of men and women respectively. Patriarchy doesn’t look to me like a good counterpoint and antidote to self-obsession, and a lot of religion is basically a justification of patriarchy and not much else.

As for Sacks’s on one hand and on the other, how is that not just having it both ways? Religion is good for solitude and real community while secularism is bad for both – really?

Much of the evening’s conversation was dedicated to addressing the ideas and popularity of writers like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris. Rabbi Sacks argued that these men over-simplify religion, producing critiques that are, in Oxford terms, superficially profound and profoundly superficial. He distinguished these tone-deaf atheists from “atheists with a soul,” those intellectuals who see the failings of religion and want something better for humanity. (A false dichotomy, in this writer’s opinion, because it implies that the rejection of religion necessarily results in the adoption of nihilism.) Conversation with these humanist atheists, Sacks argued, results in the edification of both sides, and Taylor added, “We people of faith need atheists.” If that is indeed the case, one cannot help but wonder why an atheist was not invited to participate in this panel.

Well when he says “need” he means…well he means we need atheists off in the background somewhere, but we certainly don’t need them on panels with us or selling more than twenty copies of their books, thank you very much.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

“Just so you know, you’re a piece of shit.”

Nov 24th, 2011 4:44 pm | By

And then there’s Kyle Sandilands. He’s a shock jock in Australia. A journalist called Alison Stephenson wrote an unfavorable review of his shock jock radio show. He replied to her on the air.

Some fat slag on has already branded it a disaster. You can tell by reading the article that she just hates us and has always hated us.

What a fat bitter thing you are. You’re deputy editor of an online thing. You’ve got a nothing job anyway. Just so you know, you’re a piece of shit.

This low thing, Alison Stephenson, deputy editor of online. Alison, you’re supposed to be impartial, you little troll.

You’re a bullshit artist, girl. You should be fired from your job. Your hair’s very 90s. And your blouse. You haven’t got that much titty to be having that low cut a blouse. Change your image, girl. Watch your mouth or I’ll hunt you down.

No offers to kick her in the cunt? Huh; I thought that was part of the package deal.

White Ribbon makes pleasanter reading…except that it shouldn’t be necessary.




(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Mona Eltahawy

Nov 24th, 2011 4:14 pm | By

Oh, Jesus – I can’t keep up with it today! I saw a brief tweet from Mona Eltahawy yesterday saying ”arrested and beaten” – it wasn’t even clear if she was the one arrested and beaten. I replied and retweeted but then got distracted…But she was the one arrested and beaten all right: her arm and leg hand are broken. And she was sexually assaulted – “Besides beating me, the dogs of CSF subjected me to the worst sexual assault ever.” Fuuuuuuuuuuuck.

Mona Mona Mona. God you’re brave.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Squabble squabble

Nov 24th, 2011 3:56 pm | By

Via Dan Fincke - Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Republican debate.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The prophet’s bodyguards claim another victim

Nov 24th, 2011 3:47 pm | By

Horrible news, via Maryam: the Azerbaijani atheist and critic of Islam Rafiq Tagi has been murdered.

Jahan News has gleefully reported that ‘Azerbaijan’s Salman Rushdie has been murdered’. The Islamic regime of Iran’s mouthpiece says writer Rafiq Tagi was despised by the people of Azerbaijan for his attack on Islam’s prophet Mohammad.

It’s hard to “attack” someone who’s been dead for 14 centuries – but of course they don’t mean “attack,” they mean “failure to grovel to,” and they consider that a good reason to murder him.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Kvetch kvetch

Nov 24th, 2011 12:03 pm | By

The Chief Rabbi (as the Telegraph sycophantically calls him) decided to go off in a brand new direction and talk about the inadequacy of consumerism as a worldview. Gosh you know what – he’s totally right!!

Speaking at an interfaith reception attended by the Queen this week, Lord Sacks said: “People are looking for values other than the values of a consumer society. The values of a consumer society really aren’t ones you can live by for terribly long.

“The consumer society was laid down by the late Steve Jobs coming down the mountain with two tablets, iPad one and iPad two, and the result is that we now have a culture of iPod, iPhone, iTune, i, i, i.

“When you’re an individualist, egocentric culture and you only care about ‘i’, you don’t do terribly well.”

He went on: “What does a consumer ethic do? It makes you aware all the time of the things you don’t have instead of thanking God for all the things you do have.”

I love it that he said that to an audience that included the queen – since she’s so utterly separated from any kind of consumerism doncha know. No consumerism about our Brenda! She makes last year’s T shirts do for another decade, so she does. She dines on lentils and coarse rye bread. There’s a rust spot on the undercarriage of one of her Bentleys.

In an attempt to highlight the link between faith and happiness, Lord Sacks pointed out that on the Jewish day of rest, the Shabbat, the devout spend time with their families rather than spending money in shops.

Yes, and? What’s the connection? Lots of the non-devout also spend time with their families rather than spending money in shops. Furthermore, those two items don’t exhaust the possibilities for how to spend non-job time. There are many alternatives to spending money in shops other than spending time with one’s family – and furthermore, spending money in shops does not exclude spending time with one’s family: the family can all go shopping together.

The connection perhaps is that people who slavishly obey what they take to be The Rules about “the sabbath” are more or less forced to spend time with their families by being forbidden to go to the shops, or unable to go to the shops because the shops are all closed, or some such thing. Whatever it is, the whole idea is a silly bossy interfering piece of nonsense, from someone with a vested interest in more people being more devout so that there will be something for chief rabbis to do, besides flattering the queen for being so abstemious.

The Chief Rabbi, who has represented Britain’s 300,000 Jews since 1991 and is due to step down in 2013, said: “Therefore the answer to the consumer society is the world of faith, which the Jews call the world of Shabbat, where you can’t shop and you can’t spend and you spend your time with things that matter, with family.

“Unless we get back to these values we will succeed in making our children and grandchildren ever unhappier.”

There you go: the true bossy note: you can’t shop, you can’t spend, you spend your time with what I say matters. And in what sense does the chief rabbi “represent” Britain’s 300 thousand Jews? Did they elect him? Are all 300 thousand “devout”? I think the answer to both questions is no, so I don’t see how he can be said to represent them.

He represents unelected chiefs of things, like the queen, more than he represents all British Jews, if you ask me.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Most attend their local madrassa

Nov 24th, 2011 10:56 am | By

The BBC is so stupid sometimes – so conformist and reactionary and authoritarian. There’s this piece on UK madrassas “modernizing” for example.

Most mosques have their own madrassa or religious school. Larger mosques can have a number of them, and they all form an integral part of the local community.

In close knit neighbourhoods most Muslim children regularly attend their local madrassa, in part due to peer pressure, as everyone living near the mosque does so.

See what they did there? (I say “they” even though the article has a byline, Sanjiv Buttoo, because the Beeb has a house style and this piece is typical.) See how they dressed up the situation by invoking “the local community” and “close knit neighbourhoods,” which sound cozy and loving rather than stifling and coercive? They did admit that there’s peer pressure, but they softened that blow by first tucking us into the arms of the local close knit community neighborhood.

There’s also a total failure to question the value of what is learned in madrassas.

Unlike older mosques, children sit at desks and chairs, instead of the floor,
and although everyone has to learn Arabic so they can read the Koran, classes are taught in English.

Mohammed Sarfaraz is one of the teachers who works here. He said: “It’s
different to when we grew up when we could not understand Urdu very well. In my class we all speak English as it is the mother tongue of all the students.

“The benefits are that they learn quicker and they remember more, and at the end of the day what they learn, they can put to use in their everyday lives.”

In other words they can learn The Rules as laid down by a guy who lived in the Arabian peninsula 14 centuries ago. Totes modern.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Afghan women have continued to struggle

Nov 23rd, 2011 5:30 pm | By

Grim news from Afghanistan:

A law meant to protect Afghan women from a host of abusive practices, including rape, forced marriage and the trading of women to settle disputes, is being undermined by spotty enforcement, the UN said in a report released Wednesday.

Afghanistan’s Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women was passed in August 2009, raising hopes among women’s rights activists that Afghan women would get to fight back against abuses that had been ignored under Taliban rule.

The law criminalised many abuses for the first time, including domestic violence, child marriage, driving a woman to resort to suicide and the selling and buying of women.

Yet the report found only a small percentage of reported crimes against women are pursued by the Afghan government.

Only 26% of complaints investigated, only 7% prosecuted – 155 cases out of 2,299 complaints.

Sometimes victims were pressured to withdraw their complaints or to settle for mediation by traditional councils, the report said. Sometimes prosecutors didn’t proceed with mandatory investigations for violent acts like rape or prostitution. Other times, police simply ignored complaints.

In one such instance in Kandahar in March, a woman reported that after her daughter got married, in-laws used the young woman as an unpaid servant and forced her into having sex with visiting men. She committed suicide by setting herself on fire in her room and the mother brought the case to the police.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Thinking about thinking about thinking

Nov 23rd, 2011 11:18 am | By

More discussion of facts and belief, of Ward and Coyne, of science and philosophy, of evidence and reasons to believe. Jean Kazez did a post a couple of days ago, which I didn’t see until today, and Russell Blackford did one at Talking Philosophy.

I find Jean’s post very interesting because it talks about the same things I talked about in Ward’s brief Comment is Free piece replying to Julian Baggini. Ward’s piece might seem too slight to bear all this examination, but it’s about the place where some fundamental and important disagreements are born, so it’s worth all the close peering.

One interesting item:

So what’s left is Coyne’s puzzlement that atheist philosophers come to the
defense of people like Ward.

Well, it’s like this:  when I teach a philosophical argument, I take my task to have two parts.  First, I’ve got to fairly represent the argument, capturing exactly what the philosopher had in mind. It’s a deep-seated occupational habit, I think, to take this duty very seriously, and try to execute it without regard to whether I’m for or against what the philosopher is arguing for. So: we’ve got to understand what Ward’s saying, before we object. Second, it’s a sacred duty to be adversarial–strongly inculcated by the guild of philosophers. We need to figure out if there are problems with an argument (whatever we think of the conclusion), and if so, exactly what they are.

I asked if philosophers experience those two parts as pulling in different directions, if it’s hard to do both and do them well. I asked because sometimes (not to say often) in arguments people actually obscure their own meaning, by accident or by design, and that can make it very difficult to do both: to take seriously the duty to capture exactly what the interlocutor had in mind and to figure out if there are problems with the argument and if so what they are. Ward does that a lot. That makes it difficult to do both for practical reasons – it’s just plain hard to pin down exactly what he meant – and for emotional ones: it’s hard to damp down the irritation enough to make the effort to be fair.

Another interesting item was directly about this place I mentioned, where the disagreements are born. Jean broke Ward’s argument into stages.

Stage 2 is this: “A huge number of factual claims are not scientifically testable.” Why? “Many historical and autobiographical claims, for instance, are not repeatable, not observable now or in the future, and not subsumable under any general law.” Somebody a long time ago saw something, and told someone else, and we’ve been playing whisper down the alley for 2,000 years. Science can’t go back and confirm or disconfirm. According to Ward, whether we believe the report–for example, about Jesus healing the sick–will depend on “general philosophical views, moral views, personal experience and judgment.”

I read Ward as allowing here that someone like me is going to reject Jesus healing the sick as having occurred, because I’m philosophically disinclined to believe in miracles. But someone open to the possibility of miracles might think there really is a reliable chain of reports going back to Jesus healing the sick, and so may think “Jesus healed the sick” not only purports to be fact-stating but states a fact. At any rate, our reasoning about this long ago event falls at least partly outside the domain of science. That’s the main assertion in the column–Ward is not here trying to defend specific Christian beliefs.

My take on all this is–  Stage 1, check.  Stage 2, check. Stage 3, groan.

Jerry Coyne (11/6) reacts very differently.  Stage 1, check.  Stage 2,
  Stage 3, groan.

I said I lean toward the groan at Stage 2. Jean said “our reasoning about this long ago event falls at least partly outside the domain of science” – and that’s the place – the spot where the paths veer off and fundamental disagreements start. I think what it boils down to is whether that reasoning really falls outside the domain of science – or what is meant by “outside”; on where and how the borders are drawn. I think the domain is right next door and the border is sloppily marked and unpatrolled. I think “outside” isn’t really outside but rather beside. The two are related. Massimo Pigliucci was talking about this yesterday – on Twitter! the worst possible place to talk about such a thing, as he pointed out himself – and he said something to the effect that “Coyne wants to make science mean all of empiricism, and that’s not kosher.” The idea, I think, is that scientists need to be able to recognize when they’re doing philosophical reasoning, partly so that they’ll do it better. I get that, I think. But at the same time, people in general need to be aware that the two ways of reasoning are related and genuinely compatible, while religious reasoning may not be.

Jean said she is ”philosophically disinclined to believe in miracles” and other people aren’t, and I pointed out that her reasons for being philosophically disinclined are better than other people’s reasons for being inclined, and those reasons are as it were next door to science. I think that relation is where the break is, not between science on the one hand and philosophical reasoning on the other. I’m thinking Barbara Forrest on methodological naturalism here: because it has such a good record, it provides good reasons to buy into philosophical or metaphysical naturalism too. There’s a relationship. I think Ward and people like Ward want to suggest that there’s a radical discontinuity.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The rules

Nov 22nd, 2011 4:58 pm | By

TLC, the “Yay religion!” channel, has a new show called All-American Muslim. Guess what it’s about! Guess what its take is!

Well in one way its take is fine. Good, show people that Mulims aren’t some weird alien species; excellent; promote fellow-feeling and peace; great. But…

Well I’ve only managed to watch a few minutes of it, a couple of times, because it’s so annoying. It may be more annoying than it needed to be – it may have gone out of its way to be annoying, by seeking out hyper-observant Muslims. I don’t know. I don’t know what’s normal in Dearborn.

Anyway my point isn’t actually about TLC or the show overall, it’s about the bits that I did see – both of which, as it happens, featured women going on and on and on and on about will they put on the hijab or not, along with women already in the fucking hijab and men saying well you really ought to put on the hijab. Both featured a lot of hijab. There was also a little about fasting during Ramadan, for variety.

What was so irritating about it was the settled assumption that there are rules, there’s a right way to do Islam, and that’s that. This was a theme that kept recurring even in the tiny fractions of the shows that I saw: that a good Muslim follows the rules and does it the right way. There were discussion scenes with people sitting around on couches discussing “hijab: yes or no” and “fasting: yes or no” and always there was this assumption: there are rules, and you can obey them or not obey them, but they are the rules.

Some of the time someone was being all “liberal” and saying “it’s none of my business” – but it was still always The Rules. What’s the point of being a Muslim if you’re not going to do it right? Why convert to Islam (which someone was doing, or thinking about doing) if you’re not going to do it right? One woman said she didn’t fast during Ramadan because it was difficult with her job and then taking care of her children. (Of course it is! Going without water and food all day for a month is unhealthy.) A man replied that whether she fasted or not was her business, not his. How noble, but of course the implication was there that she was not following the rules.

There was another depressing bit where a woman decided to start wearing the hijab, and she was all smiley and kind of trembly, as if she were announcing a pregnancy, and she told her husband and he was all happy…And she said they should take all the photos off the living room wall, because of course it would be silly to wear a hijab but let people see her without one in photos all over the wall…so they took them all down (and there were a lot).

It’s all so depressing – handing themselves over to these stupid, bad, anti-woman, anti-human, antiquated rules for no good reason except that it’s “religious.” They don’t question whether or not they are rules, and if so why it matters; the most they can manage (that I’ve seen) is to say things along the lines of “well if you want to be a bad Muslim that’s your business.”


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Strolling cop pepper spraying everywhere

Nov 22nd, 2011 3:11 pm | By

Jason collected some photoshopped pepper-spraying cops.

My favorite is

Check them all out. Commenters have more. Don’t miss George W’s.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)