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.


What and faith in dialogue?

Jul 11th, 2010 5:50 pm | By

Back when the new round of Toxic Sock-revelations set the felid among the passerines, I was having a quiet good time looking at the strange goings on at BioLogos, home of “science and faith in dialogue.” Now that the passerines are getting bored with Toxic Sock, let’s go back there. Let’s consider Albert Mohler’s sermon. It’s about Why Does the Universe Look So Old? 

He says it’s an important question.

I want to invite you to turn with me to Genesis chapter one. We dare not seek to answer this question without first looking to the Word of God. [Reads Genesis 1, 2:1-3].

Right. This is BioLogos. This is science and faith in dialogue. Remember? That’s what it says. So…what science? Where’s the science part? If we dare not seek to answer this question without first looking to the word of god, how can BioLogos claim to have anything to do with science at all?

I don’t know, and I don’t think it can. BioLogos seems to be going through some kind of crisis. I plan to keep watching.

Update: Darrel Falk, president of BioLogos tells us (see comment 28):

Let me be clear about the reason we at BioLogos posted Dr. Mohler’s talk. We disagree with it! We totally disagree with it. We have three posts showing how strongly we disagree with it and how harmful it is. We transcribed his speech even though he criticized us vehemently, because we wanted our readers to be able to read what he said, so they wouldn’t have to go back and watch the whole speech. Given our three posts and the extremely negative statements he made about us in the post, it never occurred to us that anyone would think we agreed with what his speech.

Not so much agreed with, as considered part of the dialogue, was what I thought; at any rate the clarification is welcome.



Baying for blood? Moi?

Jul 10th, 2010 12:50 pm | By

Are the few people who commented on JK’s post on the Toxic Sock affair really (though metaphorically) “participants in [a] witch-hunt” and “the 21st century, virtual-world, equivalent of a medieval mob baying for the blood their latest victim”?

No.

I can see why they (we – I was one) look like a crowd, because there are quite a few comments and they are critical and sometimes hostile. On the other hand, there are only (if I counted correctly) 23 people total, not counting Jean, and a few of them are friendly; there’s a total of 63 comments. So a rush of mostly-critical comments, yes; a mob baying for blood, no.

But more to the point: are we the Bad People? Are we the bashers, the demonizers, the bayers for blood, the pitchfork-wielders, in contrast to the kindly peaceable loving villagers who want only to be left alone to raise their raspberries and kiwis?

No.

No; I seriously don’t think so. I think the issue here is that we “new atheists” think we are allowed to be openly critical of religion, and that we think haters of “new atheists” are wrong and illiberal to keep throwing merde at us for doing so. We think that when it’s Ron Rosenbaum throwing, and we think it when it’s “William/Tom Johnson” and we think it when it’s Chris Mooney.

So we tend to push back when people throw merde at us for doing something that is not and should not be seen as wrong. We pushed back at Mooney and Kirshenbaum when they threw merde at us in their book, and the result was that they banned some of us from their blog while allowing their pets to call us liars. That’s the backstory in a nutshell. M&K have chosen to spend a lot of time demonizing a minority that in the US is already thoroughly despised. That would be reasonable if the minority in question were Child-torturers United; but we’re not, so it isn’t.

So no. We’re not the witch-hunters here.

Mark Jones finds the whole idea quite ironic.



For the record

Jul 10th, 2010 9:36 am | By

Right. I do want to talk about other things now, but I’m not going to be quiet while people say untrue things about me on blog posts with closed comments. I wrote a reply to something Jean Kazez said about me in her latest post, and I emailed her requesting that she add it and saying it’s dirty pool to go after people while preventing them from replying. I said that because it’s what I think. I told her I would post it myself if she didn’t, and she has responded not via email but by an update to her post saying “Ophelia’s now complaining that she can’t leave comments. Boo hoo.” No, I’m not “complaining” and I’m not “Boo hoo”; I’m saying it’s dirty pool.

(Aside: sadly, that remark is very reminiscent of YNH. YNH was always announcing that people were “whining” when in fact they were saying, writing, disputing, etc. It said “Waaaaaa” and “Boo hoo” a lot too. JK isn’t YNH – I don’t think that for a second – but it’s sad that she has its mannerisms.)

So: for the record:

Jean
 
Dirty pool, naming me but preventing reply.
 

#5 Some think it’s incumbent on me to “out” the mystery person behind all of this if I want to be taken seriously. That’s really strange, since just last week at The Buddha is Not Serious people were making peace with this very person, and saying they respected his desire to remain anonymous. Ophelia Benson was even writing about going Desmond Tutu. Now she’s saying she’s “frosted” because I’m “protecting” this person, despite his bouts of sexism (which she knew about during the Tutu phase).

 
I made a kind of peace, a reserved kind of peace, with this person, at that stage of the revelations (or pseudo-revelations or whatever they were) because he seemed crushed and because he claimed to be 23. It just didn’t feel right to refuse to acknowledge his apology, so I thanked him for it. (I avoided saying I actually accepted it, because I wasn’t sure I did, really, but I also didn’t want to reject it, so I punted.) I didn’t say anything about “respecting” his desire to remain anonymous – I’ve never respected it, and in fact I think it’s cowardly and ridiculous given the use he had made of his anonymity up to that point. I simply refrained from demanding his self-exposure. The Desmond Tutu thing was (obviously) partly irony directed at myself – making a show of saintly forgiveness.
 
But even that limited amount of Tutuishness was mostly based on the tentative acceptance of his claim that he was 23 (which his writing skills made plausible). If the guy is an adult with publications and a career, that makes a difference. If it really was an adult doing all this, I do think it’s very odd that people like you (liberals, feminists, etc) should be so anxious to protect his anonymity. That’s all. I’m not contradicting myself – the story has changed, and I was by no means adamant that the sock’s anonymity should be protected in the first place.
 
I’d like you to post this as a comment or an addendum, and I think you should. If you don’t I will of course post it at B&W, since there’s nothing else I can do (except let it stand undisputed, which I don’t want to do). I’ll wait awhile, but not long. Of course you’re probably out and about, on a Saturday afternoon – but I can’t help that.
 
You shouldn’t have slagged me off and closed comments. As I said – dirty pool.
 
OB



Fix the radar

Jul 9th, 2010 10:24 am | By

So now we know all about “Tom Johnson,” except that we don’t. We also don’t have a frank account of how it all went so terribly wrong.

It was just a blog post, and I had no reason to think there was anything fishy going on. And I did note that the story was “one individual’s experience and point of view, and nothing more.”

He did though. He did have reason to think there was anything fishy going on. He had – what to call it – he had an ear. He had his skeptical faculty. He had reasonable sensible journalistic caution. He had an acquaintance with human beings and the way they talk and behave. He had any reason to think Tom Johnson’s story sounded fishy for the same reason I did: because it sounded fishy!

It did. It sounded stupid. It sounded like a childish caricature. It had that stupid, childish note of exaggeration – the bit about atheists screaming in believers’ faces for instance. Come on! Yes, Virginia, that does sound fishy.

It sounded fishy in just the way the story that William told on YNH sounded fishy; the story about being a woman and “a scientist” (that itself sounds fishy) and an atheist, who saw the error of her ways when her young son came home from school with a tale of having called a goddy schoolmate “stupid.” Our scientist atheist mother realized she had taught her son this behavior, and she was stricken with remorse.

Yeah, right.

That’s it, really – Tom Johnson’s story was a “yeah, right” story. Chris Mooney is a journalist, or at least he used to be. (He’s more of a commentator now.) Surely journalists are supposed to have some ability to spot fairly obvious implausibility of this kind? Isn’t that just part of the job?

I had no reason at the time to suspect he was beginning an increasingly elaborate career of sock puppetry.

He did though. Just as before, he did. He had the same reason – there was too much of an echo effect in the comments at The Intersection. Not just agreement, but an echo effect. I noticed it at the time – though I don’t think I thought of sock puppets, I just thought (rather disgustedly) that there were a lot of brainless sheep all going “baaaaaaaa” at the same time. But then it wasn’t my blog. If I had a lot of commenters all going “baaaaaaaaaa” I hope I would have the sense to wonder if they were sock puppets, even if they agreed with me. I do in fact have one regular longstanding commenter who does go “baaaaaaa” and I don’t like the bleating any more because it agrees with me. In fact I may like it less, because it so often sounds like a parody of me. (No it’s not you, this guy knows who he is.)

Update: Really – if I haven’t told you it’s you, it’s not you. I haven’t told you it’s you. So it’s not you!

So no, M&K aren’t quite the innocent victims Mooney wants to pretend. They have seriously bad radar. Their radar tells them to ban me, and then as the months and years roll on, to ban lots and lots of other reasonable people too, while they keep people like “bilbo” and “MiltonC” and Kwok. That is some malfunctioning radar.



Mooney says what he has figured out

Jul 8th, 2010 5:27 pm | By

He told us in a comment on the “omigod there are sock puppets here!!” thread yesterday that he had figured out what is going on and would write more soon. He didn’t do it soon, but he did it. He did say more.

He said yesterday “was quite a day.” Yes, it was. What made it quite for him, do you suppose? Was it realizing quite how many people hold him in contempt? Was it seeing all his efforts at concealment and carrying on as if nothing had happened, just turn into more blog fodder and more contempt? Well yes, probably. Other than that, there wasn’t anything particularly quite – unless of course his car broke down, but he didn’t mention that. Yes, probably he didn’t much enjoy seeing his continued stonewalling of me and his frantic deletion of comment after comment after comment bring him no satisfaction other than scorn and indignation.

To those legitimate commenters who were annoyed by bad behavior—and had reason to be!–I’m sorry we didn’t catch on to what was really happening before now. And I want to emphasize: That apology goes out to ANY commenters who may have encountered a sock puppet on our site.

No it doesn’t. That’s pure bullshit. Why? Because he’s still deleting posts for no good reason apart from the fact that they mention me. He’s still banning me – so the apology does not go out for instance to me, because you can’t apologize to people while still doing arbitrarily unreasonable things to them.

Now in a sense people’s blogs are their blogs, and they can delete anything they like and ban anyone they like. But in other senses it’s not so simple. Mooney and Kirshenbaum have made a specialty of telling off various named people, so in a sense they have a certain obligation to allow disagreement for the sake of fairness.

A big reason they should not have banned me, or should have lifted the ban soon after imposing it, is the fact that some members of their fan club - some of them William’s sock puppets – asserted that I was lying, then repeated it, then repeated it several times more. The ban meant that I had no ability to reply. M&K obviously liked it that way. That’s dirty.

Some people think “Chris, The demands for apologies are absurd….You were duped and he should apologize to you…But you apologize? Nonsense. These folks would have you apologize for having 10 fingers and 10 toes.” But those people are wrong. Mooney has been determinedly demonizing atheists as a group for more than a year, and in one post he relied on an obvious fraud to do so; yes he should apologize.

So we’re looking into ways of doing more, starting now. And because of that, commenting here may become a bit more challenging than before, at least temporarily…(For now, rest assured that if your comment is substantive, thoughtful, not an attack, etcetera, then it will appear fairly promptly, although not instantly of course.)

No it won’t; not necessarily. That’s a falsehood. Plenty of comments that fit that description have been deleted; many have been posted on other blogs for safekeeping.

In short, Mooney has learned nothing.



What we know so far

Jul 8th, 2010 12:41 pm | By

What’s it all about? What have Mooney and Kirshenbaum been up to all  this time? What are they doing, what is their plan, what do they want? What are they after that is worth all this dishonesty and unethical behavior and blatant concealment and refusal ever to admit getting things wrong and slandering people they dislike while relying on obvious fakes and frauds?

The story – the “frame” – is that they want to persuade atheists to be more aware of “communication,” so that we can all unite to do something about the terrible problems we are facing. The idea behind that – one which they spell out at frequent intervals – is that the people they call “the New Atheists” are rude and mean and thus make it impossible for us all to unite. The story, or “frame,” is that we (overt atheists) are mean and bad and they (M&K and other accommodationists) are nice and good. We create division, they create unity. We are dividers, they are uniters.

Oh really. Was Mooney being a uniter when he jumped up at the AAAS conference to ask the panel, “What about the New Atheists?” Is he ever being a uniter when he shouts – for the hundredth time – “what about the new atheists?” Is he not, in fact, being the opposite of a uniter? Is he not making a great point of cutting out the “new” atheists for purposes of othering and hatemongering? Is he not “uniting” only in the sense of uniting all the Nice people in hating on the Bad new atheists? Is he not “uniting” only in the sort of sense in which the Republicans united “the silent majority” against the hated minority? I would say yes, he is.

I would say Kirshenbaum is doing the same thing, and not very subtly.

Shortly after moving, I met a new neighbor on my street. He loves astrophysics and we have similar tastes in books and music. His name isn’t Phil, but for the purpose of this post, that’s what I’ll call him.

I like Phil a lot. He’s smart and witty with a healthy dose of skepticism…Phil nearly always wears one of those black t-shirts with a large red A across the front to express “where his allegiances lie” (his words)…

Early on, Phil wanted to know whether I was an atheist too since I’m in science. I explained that I don’t like labels because they mainly serve to divide people one way or another. And then we get war, bigotry, genocide, and so on.

Really. She doesn’t like labels. And yet…The Intersection is simply packed to the rafters with labeling of “the New Atheists.” Most of it, we now know, is sock puppetry by one foul-mouthed person. Yet Sheril Kirshenbaum, who doesn’t like labels, shares the moderation at this blog where “new” atheists are scapegoated with demented levels of venom and (as we now know) plain old lying.

So, to sum up, it’s all bullshit. All of it. They’re not uniters, and they never have been. They’re otherers and demonizers, and when they are found to have embraced a flagrant fake while heavily moderating people they dislike and just plain banning me – their solution is to close comments to everyone but flatterers.

They should have copped to it. They should have apologized to all the people they’ve helped to demonize all this time. They haven’t. They have the ethics of the people at Fox News.

That’s what it’s all about.



Exposed

Jul 7th, 2010 11:39 am | By

Further developments in saga of YNH – William – bilbo – Milton C – PollyO – and “Tom Johnson.”

“Tom Johnson” was also another alias, although his story was loosely based on things I had heard other general students say. The conference context or whatever was, as already mentioned, obviously false. When Chris contacted me, I made up a story about being a grad. student as an explanation about where the story came from because I didn’t want the Tom character to get exposed as false.

Chris Mooney commented on that confession. He said he was shocked and appalled.

However, he has not bothered to apologize to, for instance, me. He or he and Sheril Kirshenbaum banned me from commenting at The Intersection soon after I began trying to get them to do a better job of justifying their claims and to criticize their energetic and often inaccurate bashing of new atheists. Commenters who agreed with them were not banned or even moderated, no matter how abusive their comments were. One “bilbo” repeatedly called me a liar after I posted a list of questions for M and K. Note what William just said:

I posted most often as “milton c.” and “bilbo.” I also appeared as “seminatrix” and “philip jr.,” and I believe I posted as “petra” on the value of science blogs thread. My posting under multiple names on the intersection was much like YNH: out-of-context sniping and trying to make a chorus of agreement when I was challenged.

Yet Mooney and Kirshenbaum found that perfectly acceptable, while I was banned. The ban is still in effect, despite what they have just learned. These are not honest people. We knew that, but boy does this underline it. These are shockingly dishonest people.



A category to watch out for

Jul 6th, 2010 12:51 pm | By

Mano Singham noted, in his CHE piece “The New War Between Science and Religion,” that

the National Academy of Sciences have come down squarely on the side of the accommodationists…In a 2008 publication titled Science, Evolution, and Creationism, the NAS stated: “Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. … Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways.

I notice an omission in that passage – a significant omission. It says supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science, but it doesn’t go on to say that they can be investigated by religion. That’s no suprise in one way, because of course they can’t be, but in another way, it is at least noteworthy, because the truth (also of course) is that supernatural entities cannot be investigated by anyone or anything, so why single out science as the one discipline that cannot investigate them? And why not include religion in that impotence?

Well we know why; no need to be coy. Because that’s the whole point. The whole point is to put up a sign saying No Scientists while allowing religionists free passage, despite the fact that religionists are no more able to explore the unexplorable than anyone else is. The whole point is to pretend that religion knows something that science can’t poke into. The truth however is that supernatural entities are immune to any kind of inquiry or inspection or testing, so nobody knows more about them than anyone else. They are just a big Unknown. The fact that purported supernatural entities are immune to inquiry does not magically (or any other way) make science and religion compatible except in the uncontroversial sense that science and reading novels are compatible.

I think this is a category to watch out for. The Uncompleted Parallel might be the right name for it.



Idle gossip between religion and science

Jul 6th, 2010 12:03 pm | By

BioLogos, it tells us, “explores, promotes, and celebrates the integration of science and Christian faith.” Here it is doing that.

Just as we can maintain the created order is God’s good creation warped by the fall, in a similar way we can maintain that Scripture—given through and to a fallen world through fallen men—is both beautiful and broken. No less than the creation, Scripture’s human authors, and the book that they wrote, stands in need of redemption.

That’s the integration of science and faith. Except for the science part.

BioLogos says it really does want to connect and join and link up the two.

BioLogos addresses the escalating culture war between science and faith, promoting dialog and exploring the harmony between the two.

But then it publishes material like “After Inerrancy” which is bound to be anathema to most scientists, so what do they mean by it? How do they think handwaving about how to read “Scripture” is promoting dialogue between science and religion? In what sense is it exploring the harmony between the two?

BioLogos represents the harmony of science and faith. It addresses the central themes of science and religion and emphasizes the compatibility of Christian faith with scientific discoveries about the origins of the universe and life.

Maybe that gives us a hint. 

It does it by limiting science to discoveries, while carefully not mentioning methodology and epistemology. It’s ok – there are just some Discoveries, and believers can chew them carefully one hundred times and then digest them without perturbation. Discoveries are discrete and fenced-off and can be manipulated until they no longer seem to interfere with cherished beliefs. How to discover discoveries, and how to evaluate discoveries and purported discoveries – that’s another story; that could lead to unpleasant questions about the “discoveries” that underlie religious beliefs. So BioLogos doesn’t go into all that. At least not on the About page it doesn’t.

Jerry Coyne discussed this yesterday.



Contortionism

Jul 5th, 2010 1:03 pm | By

I’ve just watched that BioLogos video of a pastor at a Florida church explaining – in a rather photogenic, sonorous, and otherwise superficially convincing way – why one has to be very careful about…everything. I say superficially convincing because he doesn’t look or talk like a hayseed or a loon; he looks like any insurance executive or motivational speaker or real estate agent. Yet what he says is pitiful. It’s all about the anxious contortions one has to perform in order not to upset any apple carts or frighten any horses or insert any cats among any pigeons. It’s very fretful, close work, because on the one hand you don’t want to upset these, but on the other hand you also don’t want to worry those, and yet again you don’t want to look like a fool to the others. In short you want to square the circle, so it’s very tricky, and actually all you can do is put on your most sonorous voice and talk very slowly as if you’re thinking hard and hope nobody notices those four corners poking out of the circle.

It’s sad that grown-up non-stupid people feel obliged to do this kind of thing. It’s sad that it’s what’s expected of them, it’s sad that BioLogos treats them as somehow exemplary. It’s sad that they waste a perfectly functional intelligence this way.

I have the same thought reading Darrell Falk’s BioLogos post for today. He has the same problem (of course – they all do, in the nature of the case – that problem is what BioLogos is about) and he betrays it in his words.

The BioLogos Foundation exists in order that the Church, especially the Evangelical Church, can come to peace with the scientific data which shows unequivocally that the universe is very old and that all of life, including humankind, has been created through a gradual process that has been taking place over the past few billion years. BioLogos exists to show that this fact (and it is a fact), need not, indeed must not, affect our relationship with God, which comes about through Jesus Christ, and is experienced by the power of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence.

Emphasis added. The church is not at peace with the scientific data, BioLogos exists to help it get there. Well why is the church not at peace with the scientific data? Obviously, because they suspect that the data get things right and the church does not get things right. That’s what “peace” means in this context: not worrying that the data get things right and the church gets things wrong.

To an outsider, this is obviously a foolish endeavor. When there’s a conflict between scientific data and a story, it just seems kind of futile to struggle to manipulate things in such a way that one can go on taking the story as true despite its conflict with the scientific data. To an insider, however, it’s all-important. But that’s what’s so sad – people frittering away their talents and energy on this sort of futility.

Falk is caught between (as he explains it) Dawkins and the selfish gene, and Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mohler doesn’t have this anxiety problem, he just dismisses Dawkins and BioLogos. But Falk has it in spades. We can’t help him, because

We at BioLogos believe that Jesus, fully God and fully man, walked on this earth 2,000 years ago in order to show humankind how to live life to the full.

But we would if we could.



Amateur night at the Anti-science Fair

Jul 4th, 2010 5:20 pm | By

Karen Armstrong is a former English teacher and current religious apologist with a strong dislike of science; she has found a novelist who also has a strong dislike of science, and who was invited to give some lectures on the subject at Yale. (Yale invites some very odd fish to give lectures on subjects they don’t seem to know much about. Terry Eagleton for instance, and now Marilynne Robinson. Why does Yale do that?)

[T]he novelist Marilynne Robinson argues that positivism, the belief that science is the only reliable means to truth, has adopted a “systematically reductionist” view of human nature.

Oh yay, a much-needed critique of the reductionism of positivism and the folly of thinking that science is better at finding out things than more amateurish brands of inquiry. That will be new and different.

Armstrong summarizes Robinson in several excruciating paragraphs of uncomprehending formulaic nonsense, then winds up with a final deepity:

If we are indeed completely in thrall to the selfish gene, why not throw all constraint to the winds and just be selfish – individually and collectively, in our politics, social arrangements, financial and economic dealings? We saw during the 20th century (not to mention the first decade of the 21st) what can happen when the “me-first” mentality is given free rein.

She seems to have derived her understanding of the selfish gene from Mary Midgley, or perhaps the back of a cereal box. The whole review is warmed-over Midgley, which might as well be warmed-over Charles Windsor, which might as well be warmed-over Marilynne Robinson. They all peddle the same line of annoying uninformed grandiose New Agey bullshit, and they give me a pain.



Poverty is a gift from God

Jul 4th, 2010 10:59 am | By

Let’s celebrate Christopher Hitchens (and the 4th of July, if you like) by watching his hard-eyed look at a putative saint.



The banality of inappropriateness

Jul 3rd, 2010 12:53 pm | By

I’m just echoing Norm here, but what the hell.

Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani is due to be stoned to death on a bogus charge of “adultery.” She’s already had 99 lashes, but the authorities in Iran have decided to be thorough about it.

“She’s innocent, she’s been there for five years for doing nothing”, [her son] Sajad said. He described the imminent execution as barbaric. “Imagining her, bound inside a deep hole in the ground, stoned to death, has been a nightmare for me and my sister for all these years.”

Yes. Naturally. And there is something hideously, deeply, intolerably wrong with people who can not only contemplate doing that, but actually do it. Who consider it not a nightmare but Justice. It’s so ugly it turns me sick every time I contemplate it. Burying a woman in the ground up to her neck, pinning her with only her head sticking out, then throwing stones at it, small stones, so that the disgusting terrifying shaming filthy process will take longer.

Five years ago when Sakineh was flogged , Sajad was 17 and present in the punishment room. “They lashed her just in front my eyes, this has been carved in my mind since then.”

Torture the woman and her children – for, at most, sex outside marriage.

The US State Department does not entirely approve.

“We have grave concerns that the punishment does not fit the alleged crime, ” Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley said Thursday. “For a modern society such as Iran, we think this raises significant human rights concerns.”

Calling Iran’s judicial system “disproportionate” in its treatment of women, Crowley said, “From the United States’ standpoint, we don’t think putting women to death for adultery is an appropriate punishment.”

I hate to say it, but I think they could use a bit of Bush-speak for subjects like this. I realize they have sane reasons for avoiding Bush-speak, but I wish they could say torturing a woman to death for putative adultery is something more than inappropriate.



The vultures gather

Jul 2nd, 2010 11:03 am | By

Cristina Odone is there, announcing to a breathless world that She is Praying for Christopher Hitchens. Well good, because that is the first thing that leapt to my mind, of course – will Cristina Odone be praying for him?

While condemning the intolerance of religious organisations, he shows zero tolerance for believers: a person of faith must be a fanatic, or a fraud. (Mother Teresa, according to his book The Missionary Position, was both.)  He refuses to consider the evidence of religious do-gooding, found in the Catholic Church’s AIDS clinics in Africa, Anglican schools in Asia, and Jewish charities around the globe. He is determined to persecute Pope Benedict XVI, and would like to see him arrested on his forthcoming visit to Britain.

Mother Teresa was both. It’s not that she must have been, it’s that she was. Hitchens didn’t say “persons of faith” must be fanatics or frauds and therefore “Mother Teresa” was both; he investigated “Mother Teresa” in an effort to find out if her actions matched her reputation, and found out that they did not.

And Hitchens is not determined to “persecute” the pope, unless by “persecute” Odone means “tell the truth about.” It would be stupid for Hitchens to be determined to persecute the pope in any other sense, because it’s stupid to be determined to do the impossible, and Hitchens is about as unstupid as anyone alive. It’s impossible to persecute the pope, because we can’t get at him. He’s protected by layer upon layer upon layer of immunity and holiness and specialness and law and guards and bubble cars. We can’t get at him to tell him to his face that he’s doing bad things. (Yes there was that woman last Xmas, but all she managed to do was tip him over for a second. That’s not great for an elderly fella, but it’s not persecution.)

Hitchens is of course determined to see the pope prosecuted – and so he should be. The pope has real temporal power, and he uses it; he uses it to protect criminals and keep crimes out of the hands of secular law enforcement and rebuke countries that take law enforcement into their own hands. The pope should be subject to prosecution for, at least, heading an organization that abets criminals.

As for Hitchens – I hope medical science can keep him around until he reaches the pope’s current age, at least.



Simon Jenkins blotted his homework

Jul 1st, 2010 6:23 pm | By

Simon Jenkins wrote the stupidest article I’ve seen in some time for Comment is Free. I’m sure he’s not stupid, but the article is.

A “mammoth of research” is about to rise behind London’s St Pancras station, a biomedical centre costing £600m and housing about 1,250 “cutting-edge” scientists. Ask not its value. Science jeers at the idea. The UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation has already been dubbed a “cathedral of science”, justified by faith, not reason.

That’s just the first paragraph. Look how stupid it is. What are those quotation marks for? Who is being quoted? Who “dubbed” the biomedical centre a “cathedral of science”? Anyone? Apart from Simon Jenkins? What on earth does he mean “justified by faith, not reason”? He doesn’t say, he just goes on with very tired familiar “ooh I hate science” boilerplate.

This business of inventing quotations and implying that somebody is saying things when in fact it’s you who’s saying it reminds me of the Times story last year that said “there are fears” about Does God Hate Women? when there weren’t, it was just that the reporter thought there could be and so she might as well say there already were, without actually adducing any.

The last paragraph is striking too.

I share Rees’s glory in the wonder of science. I wish the wonder could be taught in schools, which still prefer to be kindergartens for lab technicians. But science research is one lobby among many. The BBC should not lavish it with favours against less-fashionable claimants for its platforms. One thing is for sure, Rees’s subsidies must come from taxes on the professions he most despises – banking and finance. I bet no one devotes a research grant or a Reith lecture to them.

Now why would anyone have a somewhat skeptical attitude toward banking and finance these days? I can’t imagine, can you? No indeed, it’s science that deserves all the opprobrium for being so fashionable, and pointless, and theiving, and faith-based, and money-grubbing, and cathedraly.



Bishop who?

Jul 1st, 2010 12:32 pm | By

Now that the Desmond Tutu moment is in the past, let me say, on the other hand, notice that Josh Rosenau linked to YNH just last Saturday – long after it should have been blindingly obvious to any reasonable person that it was not a truth-telling or fair or decent blog. He did partially admit that, but he linked anyway.

You’re Not Helping has been on a roll lately about that latter point, rightly criticizing various folks who criticize such calls for prayer without offering any alternative. While I think YNH has lately become less helpful than they used to be, their highlighting of the work being done by Mississippi Atheists, and of opportunities to donate to ongoing Gulf efforts by groups including the Audubon Society and Unitarian Universalists, certainly do help. If you want to help folks out in the Gulf, those are good places to start.

Rosenau, like so many critics of explicit atheists, likes to portray himself as part of The Nice Faction, but his Niceness tends to desert him when it comes to explicit atheists.

And Massimo Pigliucci linked to YNH last Thursday, which is also long after a reasonable person should have concluded that Here Be Bullies.

Are the New Atheists the New Martyrs?

He should feel stupid about that link now. G Felis (thinkmonkey) offered him the opportunity to say it was a mistake, but he (Pigliucci) didn’t take it. Neither he nor Rosenau has bothered to withdraw the endorsement of a blog that has now admitted telling large falsehoods about people it was angry with. So that’s what they’re like.



Christopher Hitchens

Jul 1st, 2010 11:12 am | By

I wrote this about eight years ago for “In the Library.” It hints at why I hope Christopher Hitchens stays around.

Christopher Hitchens is a standing reproach to people who write the odd essay now and then. He is like some sort of crazed writing machine, he seems to average three or four longish essays a day, along with reading everything ever written and remembering all of it, knowing everyone worth knowing on most continents, visiting war zones and trouble spots around the globe, going on television and overbearing even noisy Chris Matthews’ efforts to interrupt him, and irritating people. And what’s even more painful is that this torrent of prose is nothing like the torrents of people like Joyce Carol Oates or Iris Murdoch, badly written in proportion to the torrentiality – no, this is a torrent of learned, witty, informed and informative, searching, impassioned history on the hoof. If Hitchens is a journalist then so were Gibbon and Thucydides.

Unacknowledged Legislation is a collection of essays on writers in the public sphere, as the subtitle has it. The essays are many things, but one of the most noticeable is that they are unexpected. The essay on Philip Larkin for example entirely declines the opportunity to express easy outrage, and instead digs much, much deeper. The one on Martha Nussbaum’s Poetic Justice wonders why she didn’t mention Mill’s autobiography and then at the fact that she seems unaware of the element of caricature in Dickens’ Hard Times. ‘When the utilitarian teacher M’Choakumchild – perhaps a clue there? – tells Sissy Jupe etc.’ Hitchens misses nothing.

Christopher Hitchens, Unacknowledged Legislation, Verso: 2000.



I’m all Desmond Tutu this morning

Jul 1st, 2010 10:59 am | By

The story partly told in Flaming Out was concluded yesterday.  The “Will” who did a truculent notpology on Sunday evening, and then spent the next three days reading the reactions of the people he had targeted, gave it up and did a real apology, and answered questions, and explained without trying to explain away or evade or blame. He feels extremely crappy about it, crappy enough to abandon all the defensive self-justifying other-blaming nonsense he did before.

So that’s over. And he’s obviously nothing to do with Kees/Bernie Ranson. And he’s not “Signal,” either, so I got that wrong, so I apologized to Signal. I apologize to Ben Nelson, too, for interrupting his conversation with Signal as well as for being wrong about him. By that time I was feeling very targeted, and paranoia took over.

I’m very glad it ended this way rather than the way it appeared to have ended Sunday and Monday. Truth and Reconciliation kind of thing. It really is better. I don’t mind being permanently furious at the pope, because that’s right and proper, but I mind very much feeling furious at some Unknown on teh internetz, because that’s just nonsense.

The other thing is that I get to stop thinking there is some malevolent obsessed agent out there with a sustained project of maligning me. There’s just a young guy who got carried away and feels crappy about it and sees how the wheels came off. What a relief.

Okay; that’s the end of me being all reach outy.



The pope’s plans

Jun 30th, 2010 5:43 pm | By

The pope has plans to fight the good fight against secularization and re-impose Catholic theocracy in developed countries where it has lost a lot of popularity lately.

Pope Benedict XVI announced the new Vatican department dedicated to tackling what he called “a grave crisis in the sense of the Christian faith and the role of the church”…

The new department, to be called The Pontifical Council for New Evangelisation, will try to reinvigorate belief among Catholics in rich, developed countries — or, in the Pontiff’s words, “find the right means to repropose the perennial truth of the Gospel”.

Do we detect a note of sarcasm? Anyway, one wonders how this pontifical council will go about the reinvigorating. Posters on buses? Exciting new youth programs? Stem-winding sermons at malls? Hip hop at mass? Better-tasting crackers? Archbishop Fisichella, the Vatican’s top bioethics official who will head the new council, appearing on Oprah?

“Bioethics official” nothing, anyway – that’s not bioethics, it’s just authoritarian religious dogma. It’s just theocracy. Here come the theocrats, offering more theocracy. Yee-ha.



Belgium sets the Vatican straight

Jun 30th, 2010 5:00 pm | By

Belgium isn’t having it. Very good.

Belgium and the Vatican are on a collision course after the Holy See accused the Belgian police of using communist tactics in their paedophilia raids on Catholic bishops last week…

The Belgian Foreign Minister, Steven Vanackere, underlined the Belgian judiciary’s independence from the Church and its freedom to investigate.

“It’s good to [keep in mind] very important principles of the state of law. [There are] very elementary principles of having a separation of powers and accepting that the judiciary has to do its work,” Mr Vanackere told RNW. “That’s crucial for every democratic state.”

And that’s all there is to it. The Belgian government is the right body to investigate crimes by priests; the church is not. The church has a vested interest, and we already know what that interest is: concealment, protection of its own reputation for holiness and all-over goodness, impunity.

That panel set up by the church doesn’t see things that way. But it’s out of luck.

Belgium insisted Monday in a dispute with the Vatican over credibility that Belgian law enforcement authorities — not the potentially biased Catholic Church — will investigate sexual abuse cases involving clergy.

A panel created by Belgian bishops 12 years ago to look into abuse cases disbanded on Monday, saying last week’s seizure of its 500 case files rendered its existence pointless. Its chief, Peter Adriaenssens, accused authorities of betraying the trust of hundreds of victims and using his group to tap into information and testimony from abuse victims.

The chief of a church-appointed panel accused the Belgian government of using the testimony of victims. What did Mr Adriaenssens plan to do with the testimony then? Put it in a vault? Seal it in amber? Lose it?

Belgium’s government doesn’t appear to be concerned about having pushed the panel to the sidelines, despite an outburst from the Vatican that Thursday’s police raid was an unprecedented intrusion into church affairs.

“I respect Peter Adriaenssens, but his commission was created by the Church,” Glenn Audenaert, head of Belgium’s judiciary police, said after last week’s police raids. “That commission cannot start a prosecution. Only the justice department can.”

That’s the way to tell them.