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.


Reasons

Jun 23rd, 2010 11:59 am | By

As we’ve seen, Chris Mooney remarked a couple of days ago that “The fact is, journalism (and dialogue) about science and religion are pretty difficult to oppose.”

Actually they’re not. There are reasons for opposing some general enterprise of treating science and religion as necessarily connected, and there are reasons for opposing much of the product of that enterprise, too. There are also reasons for doing the opposite.

One reason for opposing the product, frankly, is that it tends to be a boring vacuous waffly waste of time. Witness the detailed blow-by-blow account by Tom Paine’s Ghost of the World Science Festival session “Faith and Science” for instance.

Check it out. It’s mostly harmless, it’s pleasant enough, but it’s at best drearily familiar, and weightless, and futile. Enterprises in squaring the circle usually are, I would guess. They don’t have anything really substantive to say, so they just discuss, in a circling inconclusive “what am I doing here” way. Mooney is probably right that there’s not much need to oppose that kind of talk with any energy (its implied messages are another matter), but it does look like a waste of time and effort.

Mooney himself felt somewhat the same way about the theology parts of his Templeton fellowship.

To be sure, we hear a fair amount about theological thought here–and I have my difficulties with theology as a field, simply because of my personal identity if nothing else. Being an atheist, it is pretty hard to relate to a theological perspective on something like, say, the meaning of the doctrine of creation. Why would something like that speak to me, resonate for me, or even make sense to me?

Why indeed – but it’s not primarily a matter of personal identity. He should have talked about the “if nothing else” part – the something else is the part that counts. Atheism is not just an identity; identity should come last rather than first. People are atheists for reasons. I assume even Mooney is an atheist for reasons, although he is careful not to mention them these days. That’s perhaps one of the most distasteful aspects of his anti-atheism: his reluctance to do more than say he is an atheist – rather as a non-observant Jew might say she is a Jew. It’s as if Mooney is a non-observant atheist.

But not all of us are. Lots of us really do have reasons for our atheism, and we think the reasons matter. Treating them as beside the point or unimportant seems odd to us. And the reasons we are atheists are the reasons we think science and religion don’t go together. We think they are different, for reasons, that matter.



Togetherness

Jun 22nd, 2010 5:32 pm | By

One more thing about Mooney and the jollification at the AAAS last week. Mooney keeps talking about dialogue between religion and science, bringing religion and science together. But what actually happened at the jollification, and what Mooney asked about there, was religious people and scientists talking. That’s a different thing. Obviously religious people and scientists can talk any time, and it’s unexceptionable that they do. But the fact that religious people and scientists talk to each other doesn’t mean that religion and science are somehow getting closer together, or even having a dialogue.

Oh don’t be silly, you may say; that’s what they mean – by “bringing religion and science together” they mean religious people and scientists talking to each other. But is it? I’m not so sure. I don’t think it is. I think we’re supposed to think that the two are sort of the same – that accomplishing the one is accomplishing the other.

Maybe this is a good thing, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just a sop to believers. Maybe the idea is that if religious people and scientists get together and talk, religious people will get the idea that science isn’t so scary after all, without science having to make itself a little bit more like religion. But on the other hand, maybe it works the other way; maybe the idea is that if religious people and scientists get together and talk, then BioLogos will somehow become part of science, and pretty soon it will be part of the curriculum, and…

Hold my hand, I’m scared.

There’s another thing. It wasn’t actually a dialogue on science and religion – it was a Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion. How did ethics get in there? What’s ethics got to do with science or religion? Why didn’t they throw in ballet and literary criticism while they were at it?



For real?

Jun 22nd, 2010 4:29 pm | By

Is this true?

A London council was at the centre of a religious row last night after it announced it had dumped Christian prayer in favour of poetry readings at the start of council meetings…The vast majority of councils choose to start meetings with Christian Prayers while a handful of other local authorities begin with other faiths.

Is that true? Most councils start meetings with prayers?

It sounds crazy. Anybody know the facts?



The eyes of Texas are bloodshot

Jun 22nd, 2010 3:22 pm | By

The Texas Taliban Republican Party really is a hoot. Their new platform wants to set up an Inquisition, take the suffrage away from women and Nigras, send Jews to Iceland to do sumpin about that there volcano -

Okay, I’m lying. No all the platform wants to do is, for instance,

restrict citizenship to children born in the United States whose parents are citizens

That’s all – it just wants to repeal the 14th Amendment, that’s all. You know – the one that was passed in the wake of the Civil War, that undid the infamous three fifths rule in the Constitution and the equally infamous Dred Scott decision. And you know what else that particular red-hot idea would do? You do if you’ve seen the latest News item, because I spilled it there already. Look at it. It would make the current president a non-citizen according to Texas. I find that fascinating – it makes my blood run cold.

The platform would also like the reinstatement of laws banning “sodomy,” and to make gay marriage a felony. A felony! With jail time!

I’m canceling that vacation trip to Lubbock right now. I don’t think I would feel cheerful there.



We try to keep the way we’ve been doing things for generations

Jun 22nd, 2010 12:11 pm | By

When “education” consists of nothing but studying one book, then not much is learned.

For thousands of years the way that ultra-orthodox Jewish children are taught has changed little and is based almost entirely on study of the Torah – the Jewish Bible.

But now a group of leading secular Israelis wants to force the ultra-orthodox, or Haredi, education system to modernise and adopt standard subjects like maths, science and English.

The reason, they say, is that thousands of Haredi students are unable or unwilling to participate in wider Israeli society and are becoming an increasing economic burden.

“Participate in wider Israeli society” looks a lot like “get a paying job.” The BBC is apparently reluctant to spell that out (why?) but it seems pretty clear that if all you have ever “studied” is the Torah, then nobody is going to hire you except someone who wants Torah-knowledge and has the money to pay you to provide it, which once again implies a job or some other source of income in the background. In short if everyone in a given society learns nothing but the Torah or the Koran or Harry Potter, then no one will be doing anything that produces material wealth, and all the Torah scholars or Potter scholars will sooner or later starve to death. In short there is something just a tad self-indulgent about infinite Torah-frotting unless one is already, like Mr Bingley, in possession of a large fortune.

The rabbi acknowledges that most of the boys he teaches will never work or participate in “wider” Israeli society – dedicating themselves instead to a life of religious study.

“We try to keep the way we’ve been doing things for generations – for hundreds, even thousands of years,” he says. “It’s the same idea of studying the Talmud, an explanation of the Torah. We see the success, the great success and don’t want to change a thing.”

What success? At whose expense? Who provides the meals and the roof over the head? Who pays for all this success?



How to do dialogue

Jun 21st, 2010 12:30 pm | By

Chris Mooney is in praise of dialogue again.

The fact is, journalism (and dialogue) about science and religion are pretty difficult to oppose.

Case in point: Last week, here in D.C. (my old, new home), I attended an event at the American Association for the Advancement of Science to reintroduce its Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion…At the close of the session, I rose and posed a question. One can never remember exact words, but in essence, it was this: “I’m glad you’re trying to foster dialogue between scientists and the religious community, and I’m sure you’ll succeed. But here is a harder question–how will you foster dialogue with the New Atheists?”

Oh that dialogue about science and religion – the one where everybody gets together and hates on “the New Atheists.” And if they’re slow to get around to that, fortunately, Chris Mooney is there to remind them to get down to it – Mr Communication, Mr Framing, Mr Can’t We All Get Along himself. Chris Mooney is a friend to everyone – except the evil marginal non-mainstream people he insists on calling “the New Atheists” as if that were a known classified species rather than a sloppy journalistic catch-all pejorative.

Good to have you back Chris. You’re a real piece of work.



Call it peace

Jun 20th, 2010 5:27 pm | By

Well how nice for Toronto – unlike poor sad deprived Britain, it gets to have Zakir Naik telling it what’s what.

Zakir Naik, founder of online Peace TV in Mumbai, India, tops the bill at the Journey of Faith Conference, July 2-4, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. It is being described as the largest Islamic conference ever in North America. In videos on YouTube, Naik advocates death to homosexuals and to Muslims who leave the faith…“This guy has absolute hatred for the West,” Tarek Fatah of the Muslim Canadian Congress said Friday.

And homosexuals and apostates, apparently. I bet he’s not much of a feminist, either.

“What we want him to preach here is peace. We want him to talk about how we can live and coexist with non-Muslim communities,” said Rageh, the imam of Abu Huraira Centre. “I would not invite anybody who has problem with this message.”

Hmm. It sounds as if Rageh may have mixed up his file cards.



Cue Twilight Zone music

Jun 20th, 2010 11:48 am | By

Remember Kees? I mean “Kees”? The troll who appeared in February-March 2009 pretending to be a naive observer who had just discovered moral relativism by watching a tv documentary about a South Pacific island where the men (prepare for a shock) ran everything?

Who then revealed himself (by emailing a lot of commenters here to urge them to escape my dictatorship, and using a revealing email address) to be the same as one “Bernie Ranson” who had staged a similar extended charade at Talking Philosophy more than a year earlier, in January 2008?

Remember him? (He claimed to be male, and I think that particular claim is true.)

I’ve been reading some of his comments from those two encounters. They’re very interesting, in a way, though in a more usual way they’re utterly boring. They betray an odd and inexplicable (from a stranger) obsession with me. Obsession and hatred, of course – people don’t do this kind of thing out of friendship. He makes much of my putative lying and hypocrisy, my censorship and dominance, my evasiveness and general shiftiness – all this after days and days, and thousands of words, trying to argue him into reasonableness. All very odd. Remember?

I was reading through his comments because I was reminded of him. I was reminded of him by a newish blog that made its debut a couple of months ago and has made a specialty of (cough) criticizing four bloggers in particular. I’m one of them; the others are far more illustrious than I am. The language and mood of this blog is very reminiscent of “Kees”/”Bernie Ranson” – though it could just be the language and mood that are common to all enterprises of this kind. Then again, I’m not familiar with enterprises of this kind, so I don’t know. It seems very eccentric, because it’s time-consuming without really being rewarding. B&W is time-consuming too, but it’s rewarding. A blog that does almost nothing but shout at four bloggers in increasingly obscene terms seems as unrewarding as it could be.

This blog is anonymous of course. You may have seen another anonymous troll who turned up here on Monday. I was suspicious of it because it had just started a blog two days before it turned up; because the new blog sounded a good deal like the above-mentioned anonymous blog; because this troll seemed peculiarly interested in B&W and me for someone who appeared from nowhere. Within about three days the troll had done quite a few things to confirm my suspicions.

I don’t know that any of this has anything to do with “Kees” and “Bernie Ranson” but I think it might. I think that, for one thing, because I find it hard to believe that there are all that many people who are weirdly obsessed with me. Why would there be? I’m a very small player, after all; why would guy after guy after guy after guy work up a foaming hatred of me? I know of a couple of others (non-anonymous) as it is; I think it’s far more likely that there’s one more rather than two or three or five more. Still – it’s a very busy blogger/troll, I must say. Full marks for industriousness!



The Irish to the bishops

Jun 19th, 2010 6:25 pm | By

The poor Irish bishops aren’t getting the deference they’re used to.

But Mark Kelly, director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), dismissed the bishops’ call. “The ICCL seriously doubts that the Irish Catholic bishops retain sufficient moral authority to pontificate on the Civil Partnership Bill,” he said.

And the ICCL isn’t the only one.

The Union of Students in Ireland said it was extremely disappointed the bishops were resisting equality for same sex couples. President Peter Mannion said: “While USI respects the viewpoint of the Catholic Church we do not agree with it. Objecting to the implementation of equal rights for Irish citizens may be seen as an absence of moral conscience.”

Omigod he said the bishops lacked a moral conscience! That’s gotta sting.

Aengus O Snodaigh, Sinn Fein justice spokesman, said he rejected bishops trying to pressurise politicians. “The Catholic bishops’ time would be better spent getting their own house in order rather than seeking to interfere in the work of the Oireachtas.”

Pow! Boom!

And about time too.



Another mystery for Karen Armstrong

Jun 19th, 2010 1:17 pm | By

Theocracy in Israel.

Parents of European, or Ashkenazi, origin do not want their daughters to be educated in the same classroom as schoolgirls of Middle Eastern and North African descent, or Sephardim, claiming that they are not as religious…

Batting off accusations of racism, the parents, who live in the West Bank settler community of Immanuel, have argued that their wish to separate their children is motivated only by religious and cultural differences between the different Jewish communities.

“The Sephardic Jews are less observant, they dress differently,” said Carter Schwartz, a 31-year-old protester with an American accent. “It’s like sending kids of a totally different learning level to Harvard, and the government forces [Harvard] to take them in.”

And thus we see how religion makes people nicer and more compassionate.

Dressed in their traditional black garb and wide-rimmed hats, bearded marchers held aloft banners saying “God will rule for all eternity”, a reference to the supremacy of religious interests over secular law, and “High Court against the people”.

Right, and that’s why people like that are so terrifying.

The Haredi Jews are seen as an economic drain on society, with many of the men choosing years of subsidised religious studies over paid employment. A soaring birth rate has led to predictions that they could form a majority of Jerusalem’s half-million population in a decade.

In recent months, they have proved a disruptive presence, littering Jerusalem with rubbish and soiled nappies to protest against a new parking lot that would encourage more traffic on the Sabbath and clashing with police to prevent the exhumation of ancient human remains that they claim are Jewish to make way for a new emergency hospital wing.

Right, and that’s why people like that are such a pain in the ass.



London: rally against sharia Sunday

Jun 18th, 2010 1:49 pm | By

If you’re in London, or say maybe Dorking, or St Albans, or High Wycombe, or what the hell, Manchester, or Bristol, or Norwich, on Sunday, get yourself to Hyde Park for the rally against sharia and religious laws in the UK.

Swell the crowd. Bring a friend; bring your dog; bring an inflatable doll. Show the New Statesman that sharia is not wanted.

Make up the numbers. Tell your friends. Turn up.



More lessons in civility

Jun 17th, 2010 11:21 am | By

Backlash against “new” atheists, chapter 479,811.

We were initially surprised that our co-authored book, Unscientific America, was so strongly attacked for observing that scientists should strive to improve their skills at public communication–and that this probably includes not alienating potential religious allies or mainstream America. But in a sense, the attacks made a kind of sense. Mostly, they came from those for whom this advice ran contrary to their particular project of denouncing much of America and the world for alleged ignorance and superstition–the New Atheists.

That’s “backlash” because it’s untrue, and distorted, and misleading. It’s dishonest and unreasonable, and those qualities make it backlash as opposed to disagreement or criticism. It is of course entirely possible to disagree with “the New Atheists” or “new” atheism in a reasonable and truthful way. It’s noticeable and interesting, though, that the vast bulk of the unfavorable reaction to “new” atheism is not like that, but is, rather, untrue, and distorted, and misleading. There has been a torrent of unfavorable reaction to “new” atheism, and I have seen very little of it – to tell the truth I don’t recall any, which of course is not to say that there isn’t any – that is not hostile and dishonest.

The quoted passage is untrue and distorted in several ways. One is that it doesn’t say who “the New Atheists” are, which means it leaves the impression that anyone and everyone that someone might consider a “new” atheist fits that hostile and dishonest description.

That’s an ugly trick. And the description itself is ugly – typical, and ugly. It’s typical of the shameless hyperbole that backlashers permit themselves to indulge in, as if it were simply self-evident that “new” atheists are on a moral level with Nazis or child-raping priests. I’m often considered and labeled a “new” atheist, and I consider myself to have a lot in common with people who are so labeled (and so I consider the label a compliment), so I’ll give my position on this description. I have no “project” to “denounce” much of the US and the world for alleged ignorance and superstition. That doesn’t describe me, and it doesn’t describe the “new” atheists I’m familiar with, either.

It’s a curiously anti-intellectual and paranoiac description of people who make arguments in books and articles and blog posts, too. It makes us sound as if we lead Nuremberg rallies against the majority of human beings.
In that, of course, it is simply typical of backlash rhetoric, which seems to be hell-bent on stirring up as much hatred of avowed atheists as it possibly can. It never stops surprising me how cheerfully willing the backlashers are to play with this kind of fire.



What will any parent do?

Jun 17th, 2010 9:57 am | By

No comment.

Asha’s family was opposed to a marriage because Yogesh belonged to a different, lower caste. Police have described the murders as a case of “honour killing”…The bodies were brought out in the morning once the police arrived. And details began to emerge of the torture and beatings to which the young couple were subjected. “Their mouths were stuffed with rags, there were signs of beating and small burns on legs suggesting that they were possibly electrocuted,” a senior police officer who was the first to reach the crime scene told the BBC.

Asha’s uncle and father were arrested but the two men have shown no remorse.

“I’m not sorry,” a defiant Omprakash Saini told reporters after his arrest. “I would punish them again if given a chance.”

The reporter, Geeta Pandey, went to talk to Yogesh’s family.

The neighbours vouch for Yogesh’s character.

“He was a very good boy,” one of them, Meera Devi, says. “We are very angry. We want justice. If they wanted to kill their daughter, that’s okay. But they shouldn’t have killed our boy.”

At Asha’s home, her relatives are equally angry.

Cousin Lokesh Kumar Saini says: “We had talked to Yogesh and his family in the past and told them to stay away. We had also found a good match for Asha and she was engaged.

“What will any parent do if they see their daughter in a compromising position with a man? What would you do if you were in the same situation?” he asks me angrily. “That’s why my uncles killed them.”

What will any parents do if they see their daughter having sex with a man? Torture her to death, of course! That’s so totally obvious!



The advancement of science and spirit

Jun 16th, 2010 12:41 pm | By

The head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science says it’s a myth that science and religion are inherently incompatible. Yes really.

I was not surprised by the findings of a recent Rice University survey that half of the top 1,700 U.S. scientists described themselves as religious. The scientific community, like any other group, includes people with many world views, from evangelicals to atheists.

Right, because scientists are just a “community,” a “group,” like any other; you get your women and your men, your old and your young, your rich and your poor, and your evangelicals and your atheists. Nothing to do with anything inherent in the work you do or the ways of thinking that that work depends on; no no, it’s just a matter of the endless variety of life. Some scientsts are short, and some are tall; some are atheist, and some are theist. See? It’s like that. Random. A mixture. Just how things sort themselves out.

Let’s hope that Ecklund’s unusually comprehensive assessment will help overturn the myth that scientists reject spirituality, or that science and religion are inherently incompatible.

Nominate that man for a Templeton prize!

Update: I failed to mention, because I didn’t know, because I failed to read the last paragraph [note: always look for the funding on these things! always!], that this shindig was funded partly by the Templeton Foundation.



You might learn something

Jun 15th, 2010 5:20 pm | By

Gosh, that was a lively discussion. It was sometimes rather…cryptic, though. When Dan L asked Michael, “where’s the dividing line? Where does philosophy stop and science start?” Michael said it was a tough question, and rather than answer it himself, pasted in a long excerpt from a post by Massimo Pigliucci at Rationally Speaking last November. It wasn’t the most helpful excerpt from that post that he could have chosen – there’s a more relevant one later on, for instance:

So when some commentators for instance defend the Dawkins- and Coyne-style (scientistic) take on atheism, i.e., that science can mount an attack on all religious beliefs, they are granting too much to science and too little to philosophy. Yes, science can empirically test specific religious claims (intercessory prayer, age of the earth, etc.), but the best objections against the concept of, say, an omnibenevolent and onmnipowerful god, are philosophical in nature (e.g., the argument from evil). Why, then, not admit that by far the most effective way to reject religious nonsense is by combining science and philosophy, rather than trying to arrogate to either more epistemological power than each separate discipline actually possesses?

Do Dawkins and Coyne say anything so crude and stupid as “science can mount an attack on all religious beliefs”? No. They both know perfectly well, and say, that there are religious beliefs that are nebulous and internal enough to be immune from criticism, and they also don’t talk about “mounting attacks” as if they were Vikings. And is there some place where either of them refuses to admit that the most effective way to reject religious nonsense is by combining science and philosophy? Not that I know of, and I thought both of them did just that.

Massimo is very angry with Dawkins and Coyne, for some reason, and he says hostile and exaggerated things about them as a result. He said rude things to Coyne on the earlier thread. I wish he would stop doing that, and be reasonable, instead.

Update: I did a post on that post of Massimo’s at the time – last November. Another round of useful comments.



Knock three times for ‘yes’

Jun 14th, 2010 12:09 pm | By

Michael De Dora said in a comment on Falling at the first post

Scientific claims are probabilistic explanations based on observation and empirical evidence, and are subject to disconfirmation. The God claim is nothing of the sort. We can’t scientifically measure God or God’s interaction with the world, and the God claim is not falsifiable.

Why can’t we scientifically measure God or God’s interaction with the world? One reason could be because god is not there. Another reason could be because god is especially hard to measure for some reason. If it’s the latter we just need better instruments. I think the reason De Dora is suggesting is that god is in principle incapable of being measured. But if that’s the case, De Dora needs to explain further – how he knows that, why it is the case, what it implies for claims about god, and similar.

It’s not at all clear to me that we can’t try to scientifically measure god or god’s interaction with the world – and of course people have made such attempts, as with the intercessory prayer study. If we try, and find that it isn’t possible because there is nothing to measure, then it would seem fair to conclude that there is no reason to believe there is such a god, and that therefore there are good reasons to believe there is not such a god.

In other words if god is so spooky and weird and ineffable that we can’t measure it or its interactions with the world, or investigate it in any other way, then we have zero reason to think it exists, and a lot of reason to think it doesn’t exist, or at least to think that we can’t possibly know anything reliable about it. If god is immune to all empirical investigation, then that means we have no way to know anything about it, so it is in effect non-existent, as far as we’re concerned.

Doesn’t it?

Update: Or to put it another way, as Ben reminds me -

inference to the best explanation.

That clears that up.



A schism between the nice people and the demons

Jun 13th, 2010 12:26 pm | By

Another columnist does a bang-up job of describing explicit atheists in such a way that everyone will take care to hate them.

the split also underscores a serious and widening schism in the broader community of non-believers, between those who want civil engagement with people of faith, and even cooperation where possible, and atheist “fundamentalists” (as Kurtz and the old guard call them) — true believers in godlessness who belittle religion and religious people at every turn, and yet by doing so can wind up sounding like the very enemy they are trying to defeat.

That’s wrong. It’s false. It’s inaccurate. We are not “fundamentalists” in any meaningful sense, we do not belittle religion and religious people at every turn, some of us don’t belittle religious people at all, and we don’t sound at all like “the enemy.” And notice how sweetly reasonable the other side of this “schism” is made to sound – all they want is civil engagement with people of faith, and who could say boo to that?

So, once again, we are given an unsubtle reminder that we are Other and unacceptable and to be maligned.

“Although we” [quoting Paul Kurtz] “are skeptical of religion, we nonetheless have a positive statement to make. We want to work with religious people solving our planetary problems. This represents a basic philosophical difference.”

No it doesn’t. Explicit atheists have sworn no oath of refusal to work with religious people solving our planetary problems. There is no basic philosophical difference about that. We don’t walk around with “Explicit Atheist” labels on our clothes, so there is no barrier to our working with anyone to solve our planetary problems. It’s a non-issue, one that’s been worked up to make explicit atheists look stupid and evil.

The wider debate among secularists over whether to engage religious believers, or whether snark and sneer are the best ways to defeat faith and rally unbelievers to atheism, seems destined to continue.

Same thing. Exaggerated at best. Snark and sneer is not all we do. David Gibson is himself uncivil and inaccurate. Bad journalist. No cookie.



Equality begins at home

Jun 13th, 2010 11:13 am | By

They get it in Sweden, it appears.

“I always thought if we made it easier for women to work, families would eventually choose a more equal division of parental leave by themselves,” said [former deputy PM Bengt] Westerberg. “But I gradually became convinced that there wasn’t all that much choice.”

Sweden, he said, faced a vicious circle. Women continued to take parental leave not just for tradition’s sake but because their pay was often lower, thus perpetuating pay differences. Companies, meanwhile, made clear to men that staying home with baby was not compatible with a career.

“Society is a mirror of the family,” Mr. Westerberg said. “The only way to achieve equality in society is to achieve equality in the home. Getting fathers to share the parental leave is an essential part of that.”

Sholto Byrnes please note. The family isn’t some wholly private realm that has no effect on the broader society, for good or ill. Family law is not something that can be shrugged off as a minor matter that is not worth worrying about.



Falling at the first post

Jun 12th, 2010 4:18 pm | By

Mary Midgley begins badly.

Science really isn’t connected to the rest of life half as straightforwardly as one might wish. For instance, Isaac Newton noted gladly that his theory of gravitation gave a scientific proof of God’s existence. Today’s anti-god warriors, by contrast, declare that Darwin’s evolutionary theory gives a scientific disproof of that existence and use this reasoning, quite as confidently as Newton used his, to convert the public.

No they don’t. So why should we pay any attention to the rest of what she says? If she can’t even get the first paragraph right, why trust her?

No reason, so I won’t bother discussing the rest of what she says, which is just sentimental gesturing. But it’s interesting that people keep cranking this kind of thing out, without even bothering to improve it. God is special, God is nice, today’s anti-god warriors are nasty. For this Comment is Free needs a philosopher?



You call that a response?

Jun 11th, 2010 4:32 pm | By

Sholto Byrnes has heeded all the comments on his sharia post and has posted a thoughtful well-reasoned explanation of his meaning.

No he hasn’t, of course he hasn’t, I’m making it up. I’m saying what he should have done instead of what he did do. What he did do is complain about comments at Harry’s Place – comments, not the post – and then offer more useless generalities and then accuse the people who disagree with him, which is almost everyone who has said anything about him, of wanting a “bloody and cataclysmic clash of civilisations.” That’s it. No particulars of where there actually is the good benign justice-seeking kind of sharia, or of how that differs from secular law, or of how he responds to the urgent concerns of women who don’t want to wave a forlorn bye-bye to their rights. No, just a snicker, and a whine, and a smear.

[T]he majority of commenters prove my point by focusing on the most extreme forms of sharia — which as I have said, many Muslims feel to be perversions — and concluding that that’s all it is. They don’t seem to be remotely open to the possibility that it could vary in any way.

As I none too gently pointed out, that’s because he hasn’t bothered to say anything about some “less extreme” form of sharia – he’s used the words, but he hasn’t told us where we can look to examine any.

He needs to explain why anyone needs sharia instead of secular law to begin with. He needs to explain what the problems are with secular law that theocratic law would fix. He hasn’t so much as made a pass at doing that – he seems to be simply assuming it. But it’s far from self-evident.

I find his flippancy and indifference highly offensive – “offensive” is for once the right word. He can’t be bothered to defend his own claims, he can’t be bothered to engage with what his critics say, he just shrugs and says he has to go have his weekend now.

This is no time to play Bertie Wooster.