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.


It is just too easy to proclaim a mysterious god

Oct 27th, 2010 3:07 pm | By

More from John Shook’s The God Debates. I’m finding it very quotable.

Religion’s defenders often show a preference for defining atheism as the strongest claim to know that no god exists. If atheists cannot justify such a claim (and they can’t…), perhaps belief in god then appears reasonable?This tactic fails, since it uses the wrong definition of atheism and conveniently forgets how religious believers do claim extravagant knowledge of a supreme infinite being. It is religion that credits an extraordinary capacity for knowledge to humans, not atheism. [pp 22-2]

It is just too easy to proclaim a mysterious god, deride dogmatic atheism’s inability to prove that such a mysterious unknowable god cannot exist, and conclude that the faithful should not be criticized. [p 25]

Ordinary believers only feel more lost when a third theologian must be summoned to explain the precise difference between “god is the formless ground of all being in and for itself” and “god is the mystery of the self-evident that is wholly present.” [p 45]

That last one should be addressed directly to Terry Eagleton and Karen Armstrong!

The book is excellent. It sorts the familiar theist claims and arguments into categories in a useful way, as well as pointing out what’s wrong with them. I’m looking forward to the chapter on “Theology into the Myst.”



Superficial respect

Oct 26th, 2010 4:08 pm | By

Stanley Fish is at the old stand. (Thanks to Christopher Moyer for the link.) Liberalism, secularism, universalism – he hates’em.

“Liberal principles,” declares Milbank, “will always ensure that the rights of the individual override those of the group.” For this reason, he concludes, “liberalism cannot defend corporate religious freedom.” The neutrality liberalism proclaims “is itself entirely secular” (it brackets belief; that’s what it means by neutrality) and is therefore “unable to accord the religious perspective [the] equal protection” it rhetorically promises. Religious rights “can only be effectively defended pursuant to a specific and distinctly religious framework.” Liberal universalism, with its superficial respect for everyone (as long as everyone is superficial) and its deep respect for no one, can’t do it.

So Fish equates “deep respect” with respect for the rights of the group (or rather the “rights” of the group, since in fact groups don’t have rights, because rights are linked to personhood) at the expense of individual people, and “superficial respect” with respecting the rights of individual people and thereby requiring everyone to be superficial. Fish thinks respect for groups at the expense of individuals is deep and respect for individuals at the expense of groups is superficial. Well – he’s a prosperous straight white guy, and maybe he just doesn’t have the imagination to understand what it would be like to be subject to the authority of clerical bullies.



A place of greater safety

Oct 26th, 2010 3:46 pm | By

Oh for god’s sake.

this is Scotland’s first ‘halal hairdressers’ – a beauty salon which conforms to the strict rules of Islam; a place where Muslim women who wear the veil or headscarf can be seen uncovered without the risk of the gaze of men.

The salon will be a ‘man-free zone’. The frosted windows will stop any inquisitive men passing by from gawping at the clients. No-one can get in without passing through a secure buzzer entry system with CCTV. All this means that the Muslim ladies who have come for a new hair-do can remove their headscarves safe in the knowledge that only other women can see them.

Was this article written by an imam? Probably not, since the name is Helen McArdle. What is she doing buying into the ugly, infantile assumptions behind this stupid enterprise? The “gaze of men” is not really much of a “risk,” especially since pretty much no men in the universe want to look through the windows of a hairdresser’s to watch women getting their hair worked on. “Inquisitive” men won’t be “gawping” at the clients anyway, because they don’t give a fuck. And all this fuss and precaution just feeds into the idea that women need to be hidden away at all times and aren’t “safe” taking their headscarves off unless only other women can see them.

“There are hair salons in Glasgow that are ladies-only, but not like our salon. Our salon is completely discreet, completely hidden from the public, from men, whereas the salons here, men still walk past and they can still see in or come in. Ours has a buzzer entry system, and we’ve got CCTV so that we can see who’s actually approaching the door.

 “Muslim husbands can feel relaxed knowing that their wife is safe, where no man is going to be able to see them, and then they can come home and show their beauty. Muslim clients have never experienced this ever. It’s a great feeling.”

Ugh.



Juan Williams

Oct 25th, 2010 12:24 pm | By

Juan Williams shouldn’t have been working for NPR in the first place. That’s not because he’s too Fox-y, it’s because he’s too thick. He doesn’t have an interesting mind, so he doesn’t have interesting things to say.

NPR quite likes that, up to a point – it doesn’t want its people to sound “too” intelligent or curious or thoughtful. I know that because almost none of them do. A Nina Totenberg probably couldn’t get hired there today – she sounds too sharp and too unplacating. NPR seems to want only people who won’t intimidate listeners by sounding possibly cleverer than the listeners are.

I suspect that’s why they liked Juan Williams in the first place – he has that warm, furry, cozy, slow, soporific note to his voice that nearly all NPR on-air people do. But it turns out he’s just soporific without being “nice.”

My first awareness of Williams (apart from knowing he wrote Eyes on the Prize – which was a pretty impressive credential) was when he replaced Ray Suarez on NPR’s show Talk of the Nation. I had been listening to that show pretty regularly, because Suarez was brilliant – he did a lot of homework, he was interested, he was curious, he could think on his feet, he gave a damn - he was just great. Williams was a shocking contrast. He obviously did no homework at all, he wasn’t curious, his questions were random and uninteresting, and he couldn’t even understand what his guests said. He would say, “So you’re saying X,” and while I ground my teeth in fury the hapless guest would say, “No, I’m saying Y,” and re-state what she had just said.

He’s just thick. He’s no good. NPR should never have hired him as an “analyst” in the first place. They should stop with the cozy approach and dare to hire intelligent people, however scare or intimidating they may sound. People like that will have no interest in being on Fox.



A fun new hobby

Oct 24th, 2010 5:47 pm | By

And as for Lauren Booth

Journalist and broadcaster Lauren Booth, 43 – Cherie Blair’s sister – now wears a hijab whenever she leaves her home, prays five times a day and visits her local mosque whenever she can.

In other words she agrees that she is an inferior and a subordinate who lets a religion tell her to conceal most of her head; she fritters away a large fraction of her time every day talking to someone who isn’t there; and she has made herself subject to the death penalty in certain places if she should change her mind about this conversion lark. She must be dumb as a stump.



A bid for greater community cohesion

Oct 24th, 2010 5:16 pm | By

The more you look at this Global Peace and Unity stomach-turner, the more creepy it gets. Check out the supporters. Who are they? Islamist groups and cops. Period.

No really. The British Muslim Forum, the Islamic Forum of Europe, the Muslim Association of Britain, The Muslim Council of Britain, The Muslim Council of Scotland, The Muslim Council of Wales, UK Islamic Mission, and City of London police and Metropolitan police. That’s it.

Here’s some pleasant and thoughtful chat from the blurb under the UK Islamic Mission.

the UKIM is not only an organization trying to serve the Muslim community, but it is also an ideological movement, It aims to mould the entire human life according to Allah’s revealed Guidance, following the life example of His last Messenger, Mohammed (peace and blessings of Allah he upon him).

The efforts of the UK Islamic Mission (UKIM) are motivated by deep insights gained from the Glorious Quran and the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet, Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and are built on the hard lessons learnt from Muslim history.

And so on.

Or look at the seminars.

1 12:00:00 13:00:00 Applying guidance in everyday life Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad

2 13:30:00 15:30:00 Islam – Modern Challenges SheikhYusuf Estes

3 15:50:00 16:50:00 Giving Dawah in Troubling Times Imam Shabir Ally

4 17:00:00 18:00:00 Like a Garment: Advice Regarding Love and Marriage in Islam Sheikh Yasir Qadhi

5 18:20:00 19:50:00 The future of Islam in the United States Lessons for the British Muslims. Dr Jamal Badawi

Yet this shindig isn’t billed as an Islamic Peace and Unity Event, and in fact it refers to itself as a “multifaith gathering.” Chairman Mohamed Ali spells this out:

The GPU offers a crucial platform for interfaith dialogue and exchange of ideas towards fostering mutual understanding between people from every faith and background in a bid for greater community cohesion.

Does it? Is a jamboree that offers seminars in how to do things the Islamic way, and no other kind, the way to foster fostering mutual understanding between people from every faith and background in a bid for greater community cohesion? Does this Event make you want to cohere to the people throwing it?

Can you say Trojan horse? I thought you could.



Sorry, I have to return a library book that day

Oct 24th, 2010 1:05 pm | By

Well…going down the list of speakers at the Global Peace and Unity Event, I find myself not at all eager to attend. I find myself thinking that it looks like an absolute nightmare.

More so than I would about a comparable Event packed with Catholic priests and bishops and scholars?

Yes, to be honest. More so.

Why?

Because most of them seem to represent a very very conservative form of Islam, or just plain Islamism, and I don’t want to live under Islam or Islamism, and I find it nightmarish that their kind of Islam and Islamism is so popular in the UK that it can draw 50 thousand people to an event of this kind. I hate and fear theocracy, and this Event is a More Theocracy Please Event. It creeps me out.



Quiz time

Oct 23rd, 2010 5:41 pm | By

I wasn’t specifically invited to take this quiz, but I’ll take it anyway. Well not really take it – more like look at it. The point is to find out what gnu atheists think, and I think a lot of things, so maybe I think some things related to the quiz.

1) Why is there anything?
2) What caused the Universe?
3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?
4) Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?
5) Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?
6) Why is the human mind intentional, in the technical philosophical sense of aboutness, which is the referral to something besides itself? How can mental states be about something?
7) Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)
8) Why is there evil?

1-4, I don’t know. 5, big question. Basically because of how the brain works – but there’s a lot more to say than that; it’s just that none of it includes the word “god.” 6, similar. 7, no, there’s no Moral Law.

8. Because we’re sentient, and conscious (cf 5 and 6), and mortal, and fragile. Bad things happen to us, and we think of them as bad, and we may think of some of them as evil. Bad things are how natural selection does the selecting. Legs too short? You’re eaten. Hearing dull? You’re eaten. Drought? You starve.

And then go on from there. Many centuries of experiencing this and talking about it with language and telling stories about it and writing books about it. We know a lot about it. We have a lot of feelings and thoughts about it.



Why?

Oct 22nd, 2010 10:44 am | By

I was listening to the introduction to that panel where Dan Dennett set John Haught straight about “scientism”, and David Kelly, president of the CUNY graduate center, said that Haught had been given a “Friend of Darwin” award by the NCSE. He broke off to remark on what a nice award that would be, and everyone smirked or smiled politely, as appropriate. “What?!?” I squawked. I googled. I found it to be so.

NCSE’s Friend of Darwin award is conferred annually to people (and occasionally organizations) whose efforts to support NCSE and advance its goals have been truly outstanding.

Scroll down, and it is even as Kelly said. It’s alphabetical – he’s below Forrest and above Kitcher and Krauss.

So my question to you is: why? Does anybody know? In what sense does Haught advance the goal of defending and improving science education?



Hello Freethought Kampala!

Oct 21st, 2010 6:22 pm | By

This is exciting – an atheist blog in Uganda. H/t to PZ for the link. Excellent. I want more allies in Africa.

James Onen has an excellent post on “scientism” including a video with Dan Dennett and I believe the man said Dr Haught – I’m pretty sure the man to the right of Dennett talking bollocks about literalism and “scientism” is our Friend of the Week John “carried away” Haught. He doesn’t look very contented while Dennett replies.



Secular or atheist?

Oct 21st, 2010 12:20 pm | By

The New Humanist asks if it would be a good idea to set up avowedly atheist or humanist schools. I think it would be a terrible idea. I think all schools should be secular, and no schools should be doctrinaire. A secular school would have all the atheism that is necessary for education.

It’s not that I think atheism is inherently doctrinaire, of course, but in a context where religion is pervasive and granted lots of respect and deference and special privileges (tax exemptions, seats in the House of Lords, access to major media), it is contingently doctrinaire. It’s political. It differs from a status quo. Schools that take positions in that way are automatically excluding some students; that seems not ideal for schools in general.

Secular schools are de facto atheist, because god is not part of the curriculum. That’s all that’s needed, and it’s better than avowed atheism because it needn’t exclude children whose parents aren’t atheists. Some parents of course want god to be part of the curriculum, which is most unfortunate, but avowedly atheist schools wouldn’t address that in any case.

Francis Beckett is actually arguing for secular education, not avowedly atheist or humanist education, but the NH added a poll asking about the latter. I didn’t vote, because I didn’t want to say no but I also didn’t want to say yes.



More Haughtiness

Oct 20th, 2010 5:04 pm | By

Just a little more John Haught. If it’s good enough for Jesus and Mo, it’s good enough for me.

He really does have a little bondage thing going here – one feels tempted sometimes to close the door hurriedly and pretend not to have seen.

And we can trust our search for right understanding ultimately because our minds have already been taken captive by a truthfulness that inheres in things, a truthfulness that we cannot possess but which possesses us. [p 75]

Jeez, get a room.

But more to the point – that’s typical of the way he goes on, and it’s like an incantation but not at all like an argument. What he says is not tethered to any kind of observation or inquiry or awareness or even thought – it’s just a kind of schmaltzy poetry that sounds pretty but doesn’t mean anything. I know that’s obvious, and that I’ve said it before, but it’s just so peculiar – this aestheticky word salad effect. I wonder what he’s like to talk to. Does he come out with this stuff face to face, do you suppose?

Faith, as theology uses the term, is neither an irrational leap nor “belief without evidence.” It is an adventurous movement of trust that opens reason up to its appropriate living space, namely, the inexhaustibly deep dimension of Being, Meaning, Truth, and Goodness. [p 75]

Fetch the sick bag.

What does it do to use capital letters on those words? Is Meaning different from meaning? How? How does Haught know?

No, of course it’s not, it’s just silly conjuring, that shouldn’t impress anyone over the age of four. Yet he’s an academic, with a job, and a title. Funny, innit.



Writers can’t just write anything

Oct 20th, 2010 4:33 pm | By

Shiv Sena complains to Bombay University about Rohinton Mistry’s novel Such a Long Journey, which is on a university reading list. Bombay University says “oh I do beg your pardon” and cuts Mistry’s novel from the list. Shiv Sena hugs itself in glee at this easy victory.

Mistry is not so chuffed. Mistry says a few words.

“The Shiv Sena has followed its depressingly familiar script of threats and intimidation that Mumbai has endured since the organisation’s founding in 1966,” the author said. “More bobbing, weaving, and slippery behaviour is no doubt in the offing. But one thing remains: a political party demanded an immediate change in syllabus, and Mumbai University [made] the book disappear the very next day.”

But Shiv Sena explained.

Mohan Rawale, a Shiv Sena official, said the book was full of “very bad, very insulting words”, especially about Bal Thackeray, 83, the group’s founder and leader.

“It is our culture that anything with insulting language should be deleted. Writers can’t just write anything. They can’t write wrong things,” said Rawale, who admitted not having read the book.

Well there you are. The book has insulting words in it. It is Shiv Sena’s culture that all insulting words should be deleted…unless they’re directed at Shiv Sena’s enemies, one imagines. There is of course no need to find the insulting words by reading them first; revelation and hunches are perfectly valid ways to detect the presense of insulting words.

In a pig’s eye.



My fiendish plan

Oct 19th, 2010 5:28 pm | By

But seriously.

What makes all these pious advice-givers think that we (we gnus) can’t bring people together (or build bridges and help people cross them) around shared values? What makes them think that gnu atheism is obviously and inherently and always a coalition-preventer? If I wanted to bring people together or build bridges with others (which I don’t, because I’m a nerd), I would just do it. I don’t want to because I’m a nerd, but if I did want to, I could. I could find out how to do it, and do it. I don’t have two heads, or twelve legs, or eyes that shoot sparks.

What do they think we do, anyway – quiz every human being we come within ten feet of about their relgious beliefs? Ask everybody we meet if they are theists? Wear ATHEIST on our shirts at all times no matter what? Have big giant neon signs securely fastened to the backs of our heads, that say ATHEIST – ATHEIST – ATHEIST?

In other words do they really think we can’t form or join a coalition with a bunch of people to do a particular thing without dragging atheism into it? If so, what the hell makes them think that?

And then, the bit about wanting to convert everyone is wrong too.

When a large and vocal number of atheists say that their number one goal is convincing people to abandon their faith, it comes as no surprise that our community is construed as extreme and aggressive.

I don’t think a large and vocal number of atheists do say that. I don’t say that. Here’s what I do say: I say 1) I want atheism to be an available option for people who want it, and 2) I want people to abandon the expectation that religious claims will be treated with automatic deference.

In other words I want us to be able to say what’s wrong with religious claims, instead of having to smile politely or look at the ceiling or examine the gravy for termites while everyone else is “saying grace.” I want to get away from the situation where public religious claims are fenced off from disagreement.

I want, in that sense, to put religious people on the defensive. That’s aggressive, if you like. I want people who like to talk nonsense in public – whether John Haught or Francis Collins – to realize that they are going to get pushed back now.

But that’s all. I don’t want to convert them. I want conversion to be wide-open to them, not hidden away in the back attic under five rolls of geometric-pattern wallpaper and a rusty trike. I want it to be right out there in the open, where they can grab it if they want it. But I don’t want to force it on them. And if they want to join up with me to fight violence against women, why, I’ll join up with them – or I would if I weren’t a nerd.



Bared walruses? Paired galoshes?

Oct 19th, 2010 4:58 pm | By

Oh hooray hooray hooray, Chris Stedman gives us more advice on how to be a Good™ atheist instead of a Bad atheist. I’m so pleased to have more because I can’t ever seem to get it straight in my head, you know? What is it they think we should do – shout a little louder was it? Start the chainsaw earlier?

I spoke with a Christian friend about my budding efforts as an atheist promoting religious tolerance and interfaith work. She too was excited about the idea of bringing people together around shared values in spite of religious differences…

Oh yes that was it! Not shouting louder, no no; bringing people together around shared values in spite of religious differences. I totally get it now.

It’s bringing people together around shared values in spite of religious differences. Stinging people together around shared poison ivy in spite of religious differences. Kicking people together around shared buckets of blood in spite of not having enough guns. Stabbing people and then shooting them with guns – oh dammit I’ve lost it again.

Oh hooray, here’s Matthew Nisbet to help!

On one side, “accommodationists” argue that non-believers should build bridges with others around shared values in order to work on common problems such as climate change and failing schools.

Yes, yes, yes! That was it – build bridges with others around shared values in order to work on common problems. I won’t forget it this time, I promise. Shared values – just remember that part. Shared values, shared values, shared values.

I get it!

Stedman asks a pensive question.

I wonder if fewer nonreligious people would actively try to dismantle religious communities if we had a more coherent community of our own. Perhaps if we spend less energy negatively “evangelizing,” we’ll find ourselves well positioned to reach out in ways that build bridges instead of tearing them down.

Hmmmmmm I don’t know. I wonder if fewer bridge-builders would actively tell falsehoods about explicit atheists if they weren’t so eager to ingratiate themselves with the mainstream community. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never in my life actively tried to dismantle a community, nor have I ever torn down a bridge. I also haven’t bombed any nursery schools, or hacked to death any children on their way to Sunday school, or put broken glass in the potato salad at the Baptist Picnic.



Have some slush

Oct 18th, 2010 12:18 pm | By

John Haught says, in God and the New Atheism, that gnu atheists get faith all wrong, at least from the point of view of theology, which

thinks of faith as a state of self-surrender in which one’s whole being, and not just the intellect, is experienced as being carried away into a dimension of reality that is much deeper and more real than anything that can be grasped by science and reason. [p 13]

You know…there’s a problem here. I would like to say something sober and restrained about that; I would like to give a cool, sarcasm-free account of what I think is wrong with it, for once; but I find it very hard to do that, because it seems so babyish. I can’t get past the babyish quality, because if I do, there’s nothing left. It’s babyish all the way down. And that’s typical of Haught, at least in this book. It’s just packed with baby talk.

But I’ll give it a shot. The trouble is (obviously) that “a state of self-surrender” is indistinguishable from a state of self-deception, and is the sort of state to invite self-deception. An experience of being carried away into a gurgle-gurgle sounds just like either a hallucination or a powerful daydream. Period. There’s nothing else to say about it. That’s what’s so babyish – Haught has dressed it up in the usual boring purple language to make it look significant and meaningful and maybe even true, and that’s just silly. He’s also installed a handy device for forestalling the question “yes but what exactly do you mean by ‘a dimension of reality that is much deeper and more real than’ yak yak?” by making it the faculty that asks the question the comparison. That question is an emissary from science and reason, and the dimension is much deeper and more real than that, so the question is by definition not answerable, so ha.

…there are many channels other than science through which we all experience, understand, and know the world…To take account of the evidence of subjective depth that I encounter in the face of another person, I need to adopt a stance of vulnerability. [p 45]

Bollocks. He’s talking about unconscious processing, among other things (like empathy, intuition, and the like), but those are not dependent on adopting “a stance of vulnerability.” He uses sentimentality to persuade, and it’s a babyish trick.

…if the universe is encompassed by an infinite Love, would the encounter with this ultimate reality require anything less than a posture of receptivity and readiness to surrender to its embrace?

Same thing – attempted persuasion via sentimentality. Why infinite Love? Why not infinite Hate?

Well we know why: because when you go limp and let yourself go off into a lovely fantasy, you don’t fantasize about infinite Hate. But Haught’s confidence that his fantasies reflect reality (and indeed are realer than anything else) is…foolish.



Many traditionalist clergy

Oct 18th, 2010 10:35 am | By

The Anglican Bishop of Fulham is going to switch over to Catholicism because he prefers the Catholic church’s way of dealing with pesky women, which of course is to tell them to shut up and do what they’re told.

The Pope created a special enclave in the Roman Catholic Church for Anglicans unhappy with their church’s decision to let women become bishops.

Too bad all men can’t find enclaves like that, isn’t it. If only. If only there were special enclaves in universities for male academics unhappy with the prospect of seeing women become professors. If only there were special enclaves in law for male lawyers who don’t want to have to put up with women judges or prosecutors; if only there were special enclaves in medicine for male doctors who don’t want to have any female colleagues. If only the whole god damn world were full of special enclaves every few feet for men who are so benighted and greedy and conceited that they can’t get over thinking that women are inferior.

[Broadhurst] is currently the “flying bishop” charged with looking after traditionalist parishes opposed to women priests and bishops in the dioceses of London, Southwark and Rochester.

The Catholic Group said it was determined to stay in the Church of England and fight for a better deal for Anglicans who did not want to serve under women bishops.

These poor damaged people need looking after, they need a better deal, because they have been so bruised and battered and harmed by the mere suggestion of female equality even in church.

…many traditionalist clergy are unhappy with the level of protection so far offered to them from serving under a woman bishop, but might hesitate in the face of a decision likely to cause them considerable personal hardship.

The level of protection? They’re unhappy with the level of protection? Men need protection from having a woman boss?

What level of protection do I get? If protection is being offered, I want protection from hearing from men who think women are so stupid and weak and incompetent that it’s dangerous to have to work under them. I want protection from this stupid, vicious, taken for granted misogyny.

Imagine re-writing that passage.

…many traditionalist clergy are unhappy with the level of protection so far offered to them from serving under a black bishop.

…many traditionalist clergy are unhappy with the level of protection so far offered to them from serving under an Indian bishop.

…many traditionalist clergy are unhappy with the level of protection so far offered to them from serving under a Mexican bishop.

The disgustingness and social unacceptability is instantly obvious – but when it comes to women – oh that’s a whole different thing. Of course women can’t be treated as equals; don’t be silly.



New albigensianism

Oct 17th, 2010 11:57 am | By

The gnu atheist-haters have been having a busy weekend. Yesterday Michael Ruse told us, after saying that he took Philip Kitcher’s article seriously even though he disagreed with it, and wouldn’t be writing about it if he didn’t -

(Actually, as a general rule that is just not true. I write about the New Atheists, even though I don’t think their position is worth taking seriously at all. Or rather, I accept many of the conclusions, but I think the arguments are lousy. But I write about the New Atheists because I think their hateful attitude towards believers is a potential force for great social and moral evil.)

And today Julian Baggini told us about the way atheism is currently perceived (without telling us that he has been doing his bit to foster the very perception he finds worrying).

The problem is that while the word atheist itself means nothing more than “not-theist”, it seems that for many, “a” stands for anti…If being an atheist meant being anti-theist, then I would not be one. I am an anti-dogmatist, an anti-fundamentalist, yes. But I have no hostility to theism as such, and have no desire to strip all theists of their faith.

Neither do we. (I’m including myself among the anti-theists, which is fair enough – my overt atheism is the stated reason the owners of The Philosophers’ Magazine removed my name from the masthead with the last issue, after six years of being on it as Editorial Advisor, then Deputy Editor, then Associate Editor. Julian of course is one of the owners, so it’s fair enough to think I belong to the guilty group.) Neither do we – what we have desire to do is say frankly and unapologetically what we think is wrong with such beliefs. It is a form of majoritarian bullying to pretend that that is the same thing as wanting to “strip” people of their beliefs. If that were the case, Julian would be a criminal simply for being a philosopher.

Of course I think theists are mistaken, but no one should be automatically hostile to everyone they disagree with. Hostility should be reserved for the pernicious, the wicked and the harmful.

But again – the hostility is for the beliefs, not the believers, at least not unless the believers are shouting at us. Again, it’s a ploy, and a nasty one, to pretend otherwise.

Dividing the world up into believers and non-believers, while accurate in many ways, doesn’t draw the distinction between friends and foes. I see my allies as being the community of the reasonable, and my enemies as the community of blind faith and dogmatism. Any religion that is not unreasonable and not dogmatic should likewise recognise that it has a kinship with atheists who hold those same values. And it should realise that it has more to fear from other people of faith who deny those values than it does from reasonable atheists like myself.

Well, that has the virtue of being clear, at least. Julian is saying he sees us – the overt atheists – as his enemies. He’s saying he is reasonable and we are not, and he is an ally of reasonable people and we are enemies.

He is in Ruse country.

He ends by pointing to “two sad facts”:

that atheism has come to be seen as anti-theism, and that, perhaps partly in response, we expect people of faith to forge not-that-holy alliances with each other rather than far better unholy alliances with kindred non-believers. We should challenge both those assumptions, for the sake of values that good believers and good atheists alike hold dear.

So now he’s among the good atheists, and we are among the evil ones.

It’s staggering.



Thanks? For what?

Oct 17th, 2010 11:21 am | By

Twelve of the Chilean miners went to a “service of thanksgiving” at the mouth of the San Jose copper and gold mine today. Thanksgiving for what?

Imagine this scenario. Imagine last Thursday the Minister of Mines and all the engineers held a press conference and revealed that they had blown up the mine and trapped the 33 on purpose.

Would the 33 and all the people who were afraid for them for 70 days feel grateful to the minister and the engineers for rescuing them after first trapping them?

They wouldn’t, you know. They would be livid. They would be angry beyond imagining – they would want to do violence.

But that’s what “God” did, obviously.

So why are people thanking “God”?



Why is there bumping rather than nutting?

Oct 16th, 2010 4:12 pm | By

Michael Ruse is explaining about religion and morality now. It’s way deep.

Is there a place under the accommodationism canvas for the non-believer? I think there is for I aspire to be one such person. As…argued at length in my book Science and Spirituality: Making Room for Faith in the Age of Science, I believe that one can argue for all of modern science and yet agree that there are certain questions that science leaves unanswered: Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the ultimate ground of morality?

I believe that although one need not turn to religion — I am simply a skeptic on these sorts of questions — it is legitimate for the believer to offer answers.

What does he mean “legitimate”? It’s not a crime; the believer has a legal right to offer answers; but that doesn’t mean the answers are any good, or interesting, or well reasoned, or worth paying attention to.

“Legitimate” isn’t the right word, because it’s beside the point. Legitimacy is not the issue. The issue is why should anyone care what “the believer,” qua believer, “offers” on questions like why is there something rather than nothing and what is the ultimate ground of morality? The answers that religion “offers” to those questions are dogmatic and stupid and wrong, and thus they are worthless, so why does Ruse bother with this elaborate minuet of deference to them when he doesn’t buy them himself?

Who knows, and who cares, except that I have a heightened awareness of Ruse’s malice toward unapologetic atheists at the moment, so I feel like pointing out what pointless deepities he’s giving us here.