Notes and Comment Blog

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

The Church and her bishops have a heightened moral responsibility

Dec 26th, 2010 5:23 pm | By

Mark Jones found the confirmation I was looking for, in the shape of the letter the bishop of Phoenix wrote to the president of Catholic Healthcare West. It is unbelievably disgusting.

He’s pissed off that the president of CHW told him that this is a complex matter on which the best minds disagree – not, as one might hope, because he thinks there should be no disagreement on whether or not a pregnant woman should be allowed to die along with her fetus rather than prevented from dying at the expense of her fetus, but because he is The Bishop.

In effect, you would have me believe that we will merely have to agree to disagree. But this resolution is unacceptable because it disregards my authority and responsibility to interpret the moral law and to teach the Catholic faith as a Successor of the Apostles.

His responsibility, that is, to order doctors to let a woman die. Because he is a Successor of the Apostles.

The decisions regarding life and death, morality and immorality as they relate to medical ethics are at the forefront of the Church’s mission today. As a result, the Church and her bishops have a heightened moral responsibility to remain actively engaged in these discussions and debates.

So that they can do their level best to compel hospitals to refuse to save the lives of pregnant women.

While the issues discussed in the moral analysis you provided are certainly technical and deeply philosophical, they are also foundationally “theological.” And the theology of the Catholic Faith, as concretized in the Code of Canon Law, dispels any doubt whose opinion on matters of faith and morals is decisive for institutions in the Diocese of Phoenix.

Me! Me me me me me me me! Do you understand? Me, the Bishop! My opinion is decisive! Not yours! Mine! I am the boss and you have to do what I say.

It goes on like that for four horrible pages. This from a church that protects priests who fuck children!

I feel dirty.

Episcopal evil

Dec 26th, 2010 12:54 pm | By

The ACLU letter to the administrators of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services says something I hadn’t known, something quite staggering. The trouble is, I haven’t been able to find it anywhere else, so I can’t be sure it’s accurate. I would email the ACLU to ask, but they say they get too much mail to answer.

…just last week it was revealed that the Bishop of Phoenix threatened to remove his endorsement of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center – where, as discussed in our previous letter, doctors provided a life-saving abortion to a young mother of four in November 2009 – unless the hospital signed a written pledge that it would never again provide emergency abortion care, even where necessary to save a woman’s life.

 You see why that’s staggering. It says that the bishop demanded that the hospital sign a written pledge not to do an abortion even where necessary to save a woman’s life – the bishop explicitly demanded that the hospital let a woman die rather than do an abortion. I knew he’d been saying that in effect all along, but I didn’t know he’d been willing to spell it out himself.

[pause to say - fuck I hate these bastards. I hate them I hate them I hate them.]

At any rate, even without confirmation of that part, he said way more than enough. The Phoenix diocese kindly makes his saying available to us. It’s disgusting.

…earlier this year, it was brought to my attention that an abortion had taken place at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. When I met with officials of the hospital to learn more of the details of what had occurred, it became clear that, in the decision to abort, the equal dignity of mother and her baby were not both upheld; but that the baby was directly killed, which is a clear violation of ERD #45.

There was no baby. There was a future baby inside the body of the woman who was on the point of death. It wasn’t possible to uphold “the equal dignity of mother and her baby” because the mother had fatally high blood pressure.

In this case, the baby was healthy and there were no problems with the pregnancy; rather, the mother had a disease that needed to be treated. But instead of treating the disease, St. Joseph’s medical staff and ethics committee decided that the healthy, 11-week-old baby should be directly killed. This is contrary to the teaching of the Church (Cf. Evangelium Vitae, #62).

That’s just outright dishonest. A healthy 11-week-old baby is just that, it’s not a fetus of 11 weeks. Does the bishop consider a newborn infant a 9-month-old baby?

Not to mention of course that treating the disease without killing the fetus wasn’t an option, so it’s dishonest of this reactionary woman-hating theocrat to imply that it was.

The president of St Joseph’s hospital, Linda Hunt, pointed out that it wasn’t an option.

“If we are presented with a situation in which a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life, our first priority is to save both patients. If that is not possible, we will always save the life we can save, and that is what we did in this case,” Hunt said. “Morally, ethically, and legally, we simply cannot stand by and let someone die whose life we might be able to save.”

But that is exactly what the bishop is demanding that they do, and exactly what he is making a condition of the hospital’s “Catholic” status. You don’t get to call yourself “Catholic” unless you’re willing to let a woman die along with her fetus rather than kill the fetus to save the woman. (Notice that the bishop neglects to mention that the fetus dies either way. He’s not even demanding that they let the woman die to save the fetus, he’s demanding that they let her die to make a point.)

Dr. Charles Alfano, chief medical officer at the hospital and an obstetrician there, said Olmsted was asking the impossible from the hospital.

“Specifically the fact that he requested we admit the procedure performed was an abortion and that it was a violation of the ethical and religious directives and that we would not perform such a procedure in the future,” he said. “We could not agree to that. We acted appropriately.”

That’s close to a confirmation of the ACLU item. I don’t doubt the ACLU item, I just would like to see it in writing somewhere else.

Catholic News Service gives a slightly evasive account.


The evidence is not absent

Dec 25th, 2010 12:34 pm | By

 Josh Rosenau says my post on how gnu atheism can Help is an exercise in sugary saccharine vigorous self-back-patting, and also lacking in evidence. It’s nice of him to Reach Out, but his reading is rather sloppy.

If she’d said that these effects might well follow, I’d have no real argument. They might (and also might not, I don’t know). The initial claim that gnus have already rendered religion “not altogether intellectually respectable” strikes me as the weak point in this argument, though.

Yes but the claim is not mine. I didn’t claim that. My claim overall is pretty much that “these effects might well follow.” I didn’t say that gnus have already rendered religion “not altogether intellectually respectable”; I said

One thing gnu atheism is doing is relentlessly pointing out that religious belief is not altogether intellectually respectable. That means that religion no longer offers such a desirable kind of identity. It means the identity aspect is more mixed.

That’s a pretty hedged, undogmatic claim. It’s undeniable, surely, that gnu atheism is relentlessly pointing out that religious belief is not altogether intellectually respectable – that is precisely why we get shouted at, isn’t it? That’s why we are gnu? That’s why we are Not Helping? It’s debatable that that means that religion no longer offers such a desirable kind of identity, to be sure, but we have heard and read plenty of people saying exactly that, and lots of others implicitly acting on that conclusion. Why else is Karl Giberson so exercised about Jerry Coyne? And saying the identity aspect is more mixed – well is that a very dramatic claim either? I don’t think so. That, again, is what gets people pissed off, surely. We keep pointing out that religion isn’t %100 wonderful and Helpful and desirable.

Absent some sort of evidence that religion is less intellectually respectable now than it was 10 years ago, this first step in Ophelia’s logical chain fails, and the conclusions go with it.

The backlash is the evidence. The flood of books and articles and blog posts and Facebook updates and tweets all yelling with rage at the very idea that belief in God is fatuous. That’s the evidence. I didn’t say the effect was universal, and of course I don’t think it is. But it certainly exists.

Jerry Coyne also responds to Josh.

Help is on the way

Dec 24th, 2010 5:14 pm | By

There’s another thing about the suggestion that Americans claim to be more religious than they really are for reasons to do with identity rather than belief, and how gnu atheism can Help.

It’s this. One thing gnu atheism is doing is relentlessly pointing out that religious belief is not altogether intellectually respectable. That means that religion no longer offers such a desirable kind of identity. It means the identity aspect is more mixed.

When you ask Americans about their religious beliefs, it’s like asking them whether they are good people, or asking whether they are patriots.

Yes, but now it’s also getting to be like asking them whether they believe in Santa Claus. It’s getting to be like asking them if they’re somewhat too credulous for a grown-up.

The “identity” is under pressure from that direction in a way that it hasn’t been in a long time, and the pressure will only increase. The internet has given argumentative atheism an ideal tool of persuasion, so it won’t just fade back into the woodwork in a few years. Gnu atheism will just go on chipping away at theistic epistemology, and the longer it does so, the less obviously desirable the religious “identity” will be. People will no more think it vaguely socially desirable to profess churchgoing than they will think it vaguely socially desirable to profess genuine belief in Santa Claus.

Presentation of self in America

Dec 24th, 2010 12:52 pm | By

Americans tell pollsters they’re religious as all getout, very very very religious, as religious as it’s possible to be. But they’re not.

Beyond the polls, social scientists have conducted more rigorous analyses of religious behavior. Rather than ask people how often they attend church, the better studies measure what people actually do. The results are surprising. Americans are hardly more religious than people living in other industrialized countries. Yet they consistently—and more or less uniquely—want others to believe they are more religious than they really are.

Oh yes? Well if that’s true, it’s yet another reason gnu atheism is a useful and helpful thing. As gnu atheism spreads and seeps into the broader culture, people will begin to grasp that there’s really no good reason to want others to believe one is more religious than one actually is.

Religion in America seems tied up with questions of identity in ways that are not the case in other industrialized countries. When you ask Americans about their religious beliefs, it’s like asking them whether they are good people, or asking whether they are patriots…Asking people how often they attend church elicits answers about their identity—who people think they are or feel they ought to be, rather than what they actually believe and do.

There again. Gnu atheism, by being gnu – outspoken, movement-like, shared, popular – will free some people to stop feeling they ought to be religious. It will make that option more available to a lot of people. There are atheists who think that believers’ desire to cling to their beliefs should trump items like that option, but I think those atheists are wrong.

Teeny weeny elfin godlings

Dec 23rd, 2010 4:58 pm | By

I like the way David Barash puts the matter.

the National Academy of Sciences came out with a report titled Science and Creationism, which stated that “…science and religion occupy two separate realms of human experience. Demanding that they be combined detracts from the glory of each.”

 Pace the National Academy of Sciences, however, I do not demand that “science and religion be combined”—quite the opposite.  Rather, let’s acknowledge the truth: Science and religion overlap substantially, notably whenever religion makes “truth claims” about the world.  And when that happens, time and again, religion has a long track record of being simply and irretrievably wrong.

That’s good, isn’t it. It’s not that they ought to be combined, it’s that they do overlap. And when they do overlap, religion gets it wrong. That sums it up nicely, and cuts through the usual nonsense.

NOMA is merely another version of “God of the gaps” thinking, which employs the deity as needed to plug the temporary vacancies in our science-generated knowledge.  It seems to me that this is neither good science nor good theology, since—in the first case—reliance on the supernatural is simply inconsistent with anything remotely approaching a scientific world-view, and, in the second, such a God would necessarily shrink as our science-based knowledge grows, so that eventually, we’ll be left with a bunch of teeny weeny elfin godlings crammed into an oddly distributed array of little cavities in our otherwise expanding knowledge.

That sounds like the homunculus in the buttocks! In more ways than one.

Ruse says Eugenie Scott called him “dumb”

Dec 23rd, 2010 12:41 pm | By

The ubiquitous Michael Ruse has yet another post explaining about non-overlappings and the new atheists and atheism is religion. (Jerry Coyne has already explained what’s wrong with Ruse’s explaining.)

Ruse says another word for NOMA, favored by “those who work on the interface between science and religion,” is independence. He says it’s the position of the NCSE and also of him.

 It is also my position, as I argued in a recent book…Basically, I argue that science is inherently metaphorical, that today’s science has at its core the metaphor of a machine, that metaphors rule certain questions out of court—not wrong, just not asked—and that it is legitimate for religious people to try to provide answers.  Religious answers not scientific answers, about ultimate origins and purposes, about morality, and perhaps also about consciousness.

Science is not “inherently metaphorical” in any way that makes a real difference to anything. It’s not “metaphors” that make certain questions seem too meaningless to address. Of course it’s “legitimate” for religious people to try to provide answers, but that’s not the issue; the issue is whether the answers are any good or not.

Gould was not a believer and neither am I.  We both think that you can be an agnostic or atheist—I like the term skeptic.  We recognize that of course science and religion can conflict.  That was why we were in Arkansas.  But our argument—my argument, let me speak for myself—is that much that conflicts with science is not traditional religion…

That part just illustrates why Ruse is so irritating. He’s so lazy. He lazily uses the present tense about Gould and he lazily goes on talking about the two of them for no apparent reason, and then he suddenly decides to stop doing that, but instead of going back and re-writing, he just tells us to let him stop. What a buffoon! And that kind of thing is characteristic – slovenly uncorrected off-the-top-of-his-head notes treated as a finished article.

As so often happens with these sorts of things, those closest to each other are often the greatest enemies.  Freud called it the “narcissism of small differences.”…In the case of people like me, those who endorse the independence option, our fellow nonbelievers are scornful to an extent equaled only by their comments about Pope Benedict.  We are labeled “accommodationists” or “appeasers,” and reviled.

Dude – mirror.

He goes on to repeat his old claim that a conflict view of religion and science could get science in public schools in trouble with the current Supreme Court, a claim which seems very strained to me, although he’s right that with this court…well who knows.

If you must exist, do it in private

Dec 22nd, 2010 4:28 pm | By

Greta Christina points out what I’m always noticing – that there’s a mob of people out there calling atheists every kind of name and it’s pretty much always just for existing. The mob says it’s for being shrill strident mean fundamentalist rude zealous you can finish the song, but in fact by “shrill strident mean fundamentalist rude zealous” they really just mean atheist, period. Don’t ask don’t tell, know what I mean? The only decent atheist is a secret atheist.

And if these op-ed pieces and whatnot were all you knew about the atheist movement and the critiques of it, you might think that atheists were simply being asked to be reasonable, civil, and polite.But if you follow atheism in the news, you begin to see a very different story.

You begin to see that atheists are regularly criticized — vilified, even — simply for existing.

Or, to be more accurate, for existing in the open. For declining to hide our atheism. For coming out.

Quite. Mind you, some of the people who go in for this here vilification like to say that they have masses of examples of atheist evilness, but also that they don’t want to provide it, because the ferret ate their homework. But their lack of desire to provide examples doesn’t make them at all shy about smearing people. I find this fascinating.


Dec 22nd, 2010 12:43 pm | By

What about Paul Sims’s question? Should atheists be talking to believers? Well sure. But should atheists be talking to Catholic Voices? That’s a different question.

Around the time of the Pope’s visit to the UK, I wrote a couple of posts on here (notably this and this) in which  I questioned the tone of the Protest the Pope campaign and the debate around Catholicism and the Pope…An unexpected outcome of my posts was an invitation from the Central London Humanist Group to take part in a small round table discussion with representatives of Catholic Voices, an organisation set up to argue the Catholic case during the Papal Visit.

I had a look at Catholic Voices. Until I looked, I was thinking it was just another friendly woolly group o’ believers and reacher-outers, and thus quite a reasonable outfit to have a nice chat with. But it’s not.

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

It’s a self-appointed PR outfit for the Vatican. Its mission is to defend existing positions. That means it’s pretty much exactly the kind of group or grouplet it is entirely pointless to have a nice chat with if what you want from a nice chat is some kind of rapprochement or ecumenical understanding or outreach or can’t we all get alonging. That’s a group that’s in the business of peddling dogma, so it’s hardly going to sit down with the editor of the New Humanist for the sake of genuine dialogue.

Paul Sims thought there might be some common ground.

There is agreement among secularists that change in the Catholic Church must come from within, and there can be no doubt that many moderate Catholics share secularist concerns on condoms, gay rights and child abuse (see the contributions of liberal Catholics Conor Gearty and Tina Beattie to our “An audience with the Pope” feature). If the Pope’s recent pronouncement on condom use was prompted by any kind of pressure, it seems more likely that it was from his own flock rather than his secular opponents. Is it not, therefore, useful to cultivate any common ground we might share with believers?

Yes, probably, but Catholic Voices isn’t “believers”; Catholic Voices is dogma-defenders, which is quite a different thing. I also don’t really think we should let people get away with claiming to be liberal Catholics. The term is an oxymoron. The Catholicism diminishes the liberalism, necessarily. The Catholic church is an emphatic, energetic, active enemy of liberalism, so liberals who stick with it are thereby compromising their liberalism. The Catholic church is an active enemy of secularism, of women’s rights, of gay rights, of non-theocratic morality, so liberals have no business supporting it.

The grave scandal to the Christian faithful

Dec 22nd, 2010 11:56 am | By

Bishop Thomas Olmsted is helpfully forthright. He’s up front about the fact that the Catholic church is adamant that women must die rather than terminate their pregnancies. He’s also up front about his absolute rule over Catholic hospitals.

St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Ariz., will be stripped of its Catholic status on Friday unless Catholic Healthcare West meets several demands outlined in a Nov. 22 letter from Bishop Thomas Olmsted…The issue stems from the 2009 decision by the hospital to authorize an abortion to save the life of a pregnant woman.

Catholics are not allowed to save a woman’s life at the expense of an 11-week-old fetus. They have to say No, and let her die. That is the Catholic way.

Olmsted wrote that St. Joseph’s hospital would need to meet several demands before the hospital could regain his support, including submitting to a diocesan review and certification “to ensure full compliance” with the Catholic Church’s moral teachings…CHW also must agree to provide its medical staff with ongoing training on the church’s ethical and religious directives regarding indirect abortions…

Olmsted wrote that CHW’s “actions communicate to me that [the hospital does] not respect my authority to authentically teach and interpret moral law in this diocese.”

How dare they. How dare they not respect a bishop’s authority to tell them to let a woman die instead of saving her life. How dare they not let a bishop run their hospital.

He added, “Because of this, I must act now” to ensure that “no further such violations” take place at the hospital and to “repair the grave scandal to the Christian faithful that has resulted from the procedure.”

The grave scandal to the Christian faithful is that a woman was not prevented from having a life-saving procedure. The grave scandal to the Christian faithful is that her four children still have a mother, which they wouldn’t have if the bishop had had his way. Grave scandal indeed.

Don’t forget: all faiths insist that compassion is the test of true spirituality.

Berman on Qutb on the Caliphate

Dec 21st, 2010 5:07 pm | By

From Paul Berman’s The Flight of the Intellectuals, p. 146:

Qutb, in launching his anarchistic odes to freedom, means to say that, under his proposed resurrected Islamic Caliphate, human beings will no longer be tyrannously ruled by other human beings, but only by God, as interpreted by God’s representatives.

As interpreted by God’s representatives, who of course are other human beings, but free of the restraints and accountability that secular politicians are subject to.

The one thing needful

Dec 21st, 2010 12:28 pm | By

I was amused to see that former bishop Richard Holloway has the same objection to Karen Armstrong’s book on compassion that I do.

The bishop:

The second plank in her platform is that compassion is, as it were, the distilled essence of the world’s great religions…

But is she correct in suggesting that, au fond, the essence of the main religions boils down to compassion? It is probably correct where Buddhism is concerned and it is from Buddhism that her best insights and examples come. I think she is on shakier ground when she applies it to Christianity and Islam. Christianity and Islam are redemption religions, not wisdom religions. They exist to secure life in the world to come for their followers and any guidance they offer on living in this world is always with a view to its impact on the next.

Yer humble servant:

The categorical assertion of the Charter for Compassion is very strong: “The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical, and spiritual traditions.” The problem with that should be obvious: it is not true. The principle of obedience to God lies at the heart of many religious traditions, and it is a modern illusion to think that is identical to compassion.

See? Same thing. Redemption religions; obedience to God. The important (really very important indeed) point is that there is something in religions of that type that trumps (earthly) compassion. That means it’s just a mistake, and a dangerous one, to pretend otherwise.

Meanwhile, comment on the New Humanist review, so that Caspar will think I’m wildly popular and ask me to do more reviews.

Ours is not to reason why

Dec 21st, 2010 11:40 am | By

To expand on the point about the difference between checking the world and not checking the world – to repeat -

Science has to check itself against the way the world is, and religion doesn’t. Science is about what is there whether humans can figure it out or not, and religion isn’t. (It claims to be, but it isn’t.)

What you get with an institution that doesn’t require itself to check against the world, is authority. You get the fiat, the Bull, the decree, the encyclical, the Index, the excommunication, the anathema, the charge of blasphemy or apostasy. You get the arbitrary.

Science has to show its work, and religion doesn’t.

This difference certainly doesn’t cash out as the first always making everyone happier and the second never doing so. On the contrary. But it does cash out as accountability in the first case and no accountability in the second. It is the difference between reasons on the one hand and arbitrary authority on the other.

Table 1

Dec 20th, 2010 5:34 pm | By

Returning to this question of the political nature of the conflict (or non-conflict) between religion and science, in Thomas Dixon’s reply to Eric -

I stand by my emphasis on the political aspects of all of this. Claims about the nature of reality and who has the authority to discover and describe it, and by what methods, are questions about power, and thus political. I don’t say that the Scopes or Galileo cases were nothing but politics, but I do say they were political.

They were, but speaking broadly (as we are, because the subject is religion and science as such, not just particular incidents touching on religion and science), science is not inherently political in the way that religion is.

Science is of course contingently political, and the politics in question can be very interesting and significant and worth researching. Science as an institution and as a career is often very political. But science itself, science as such – the methodology, the epistemology, the actual work – isn’t and can’t be.

That’s not true of religion. Religion is inherently political in a way that science isn’t.

That’s because science has to check itself against the way the world is, and religion doesn’t. Science is about what is there whether humans can figure it out or not, and religion isn’t. (It claims to be, but it isn’t.)

Remember Carl Zimmer’s collection of scientists commenting on the NASA research? And Jerry Coyne’s post and the comments?

Now imagine that happening with a religious…assertion.

Nothing, right? The mind goes blank. There couldn’t be such a thing. There could be controversy and fuss, but it would all be just people disagreeing. It would be political. It wouldn’t be

1) Figure S2 shows that the -As/+P cells have an As/C ratio of about 1.5 x 10-5, while +As/-P cells have an As/C ratio of about 3 x10-5. -As/+P cells have a P/C ratio of about 0.005, while +As/-P cells have a P/C ratio of about 0.002. These are not very big differences. Furthermore, these data suggest that the cells actually contain more P than As under both growth conditions. However, Table 1 shows that -As/+P cells contain 0.19% As and 0.02% P by dry weight. These data are not consistent with the data shown in Figure S2. (By the way, since the atomic weight of As is 2.4x that of P, the molar ratio is actually 4 rather than 10. But the data are still not consistent with Figure S2.)

See? “Table 1 shows that -As/+P cells contain 0.19% As and 0.02% P by dry weight” isn’t political. Religious disagreements don’t have any “Table 1 shows that -As/+P cells contain 0.19% As and 0.02% P by dry weight.” Religion has a lot of time for politics because it spends no time on what Table 1 shows.

So both are political in some sense, but science isn’t ultimately political. With so many scientists watching each other’s every move, sooner or later the politics is going to be shoved aside by what Table 1 shows.

Five years ago today

Dec 20th, 2010 10:57 am | By

It’s the fifth anniversary of the Kitzmiller decision, so perhaps you would like to celebrate the day by re-reading the contemporaneous comments of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Paul Kurtz, Steve Jones, Matt Ridley, Barbara Forrest (an expert witness at the trial itself, of course), and Susan Haack.


This novel paradigm

Dec 20th, 2010 10:29 am | By

John C McLachlan, professor of medical education at Durham, points out that it’s a common ploy to make nasty things more attractive by dressing them up with new names, like for instance changing the name of “complementary and alternative medicine” to “integrative medicine.” (That seems like a tricky one – you gain the flattering implications of “integrative” but you lose the at least as flattering implications of “alternative.” Decisions decisions.)

When there is tricksy wordplay going on, it may be time for another Sokal hoax. McLachlan sent a proposal to an International Conference on Integrative Medicine to be held in Jerusalem last October. It included this exciting observation:

Recently, as a result of my developmental studies on human embryos, I have discovered a new version of reflexology, which identifies a homunculus represented in the human body, over the area of the buttocks. The homunculus is inverted, such that the head is represented in the inferior position, the left buttock corresponds to the right hand side of the body, and the lateral aspect is represented medially. As with reflexology, the “map” responds to needling, as in acupuncture, and to gentle suction, such as cupping.

The organizers said ooh sounds exciting, send abstract; MacLachlan sent abstract; organizers said ooh lovely, you’re invited.

In short, they bit. They took seriously a claim that there is a homunculus in each human buttock and that this is of therapeutic and diagnostic significance.

It is good to know these things.

Chuck is a spoilt baby

Dec 19th, 2010 4:31 pm | By

I pretty much never link to the Daily Mail - but just this once

‘We spend our lives here educating a new ­generation to understand that rational behaviour requires us to reach conclusions and make ­decisions by examining evidence.

‘Yet now we have the heir to the throne demanding — not in a ­throwaway remark, but in an entire book to which he has just put his name — that we should reject science and evidence in favour of following our instincts. This is surely disturbing.’

Then a bit from that book shows how and why it’s disturbing:

‘Having considered these questions long and hard, my view is that our outlook in the Westernised world has become far too firmly framed by a mechanistic approach to science.’

He continues: ‘This approach is entirely based upon the gathering of the results that come from subjecting physical phenomena to scientific experiment.’

As opposed to just looking into one’s heart; yes, so it is, and so it should be.

Some of his phrases are ­messianic: ‘I would be failing in my duty to future generations and to the Earth itself if I did not attempt to point this out and indicate possible ways we can heal the world.’

Obsessively convinced of his own rightness, he views his ­critics with the weary ­resignation of an early Christian martyr: ‘It is probably ­inevitable that if you challenge the ­traditions of conventional thinking you will find yourself accused of naivety.’

As if he knows “possible ways we can heal the world.”

Charles insists upon addressing a range of issues wider and deeper than any ­mortal man — unless he has a mind of genius, as the Prince certainly does not — can sensibly encompass. Some of his book reads like the ravings of a Buddhist mystic.

I once incurred princely wrath by suggesting to him that he would be judged by what he is rather than by what he does — that being heir to the throne is not a government office.

Rural grandees such as ­himself may have enjoyed times past, but peasants certainly did not.

The industrial growth which he hates has brought huge benefits to mankind. He seems oblivious to the ­tension between his grand vision about how others should live and his personal financial profligacy; his enthusiasm for using helicopters and keeping every light blazing in Clarence House at all hours.

He thinks he’s genuinely Special, as opposed to being just notionally Special by an accident of birth. It’s very silly of him to think that.

“The truth” versus the truth

Dec 18th, 2010 5:45 pm | By

I’m breaking it into pieces, because it’s a large subject. Thomas Dixon also said

 I stand by my emphasis on the political aspects of all of this. Claims about the nature of reality and who has the authority to discover and describe it, and by what methods, are questions about power, and thus political. I don’t say that the Scopes or Galileo cases were nothing but politics, but I do say they were political.

That’s true, but incomplete. That’s where the postmodern turn does its turning: in treating that idea (despite the disclaimer) as if it were complete, or if not complete then of predominating interest.

The claim itself is in fact political. It’s a useful claim; useful to people who want to make science a matter of power rather than one of inquiry and evidence, of politics rather than truth. Yes, of course, priests and scientists are in some sense competing for “power”; their rivalry is certainly political (though a good deal more political on the religious side than the scientific side, which is not surprising, since politics and power are all religions have); but science, at any rate, is fundamentally about something else, so making power central just does obfuscate the real issues.

Power and politics are ultimately irrelevant, because whoever wins, whoever is stronger, the truth is what it is. Power can decide “the truth” but it can’t determine the truth.

Metametameta discussion of science ‘n’ religion

Dec 18th, 2010 4:55 pm | By

Meta times 3 because commenting on Thomas Dixon’s comments on Eric MacDonald’s review of Dixon’s book. Dixon says, in reply to Eric’s reply to him, that it is becoming clear how their approaches differ.

I think the bottom line is that I’m not happy to generalise about ‘religion’ in the way that you want to, nor to treat all ‘religion’ as if it were at one, extreme end of the spectrum in terms of scriptural literalism and authoritarianism; nor to suppose that there is just one ‘paradigmatic’ singular relationship between religion and science.

The trouble with that is, for some purposes it is necessary to generalize about religion in that way. Granted, religions differ, and the word can refer to different things – but when the subject under discussion is science and religion and whether there is or is not a conflict between them, then it becomes necessary to focus on the areas where there is conflict or potential for conflict. Otherwise the real issues are simply evaded, and what’s the point of that? Apart from a public relations exercise, that is.

Believers and fans of religion like to do that, of course. There is no conflict between science and, say, liking to get together with people to sing churchy music once a week. Indeed not. But there is conflict with religion understood in other ways, and that’s what should be addressed, not the parts that pretty much everyone agrees are not in conflict. Religion-as-ritual is not the issue, so discussions of Science&Religion really aren’t about religion defined that way. The site of the conflict is epistemology, so that’s the place to discuss it.

Chapter 19

Dec 18th, 2010 1:55 pm | By

If you want to give yourself a shock, just search for Tony Walsh on Google News and behold the torrent of Irish coverage. Then start to read some of it. Read Mary Raftery’s article in the Irish Times.

Archbishops, bishops, chancellors, vicars general, parish priests – the list of senior clerics who knew of Walsh’s serial sexual abuse of children is virtually endless. From the very first complaints brought to the archdiocese, a bare two days after Walsh’s ordination in 1978, and for the succeeding 17 years, these pillars of the church sat on their detailed knowledge of Walsh’s abominable predations on children, shielding him from the law, deliberately deciding to keep his crimes hidden from the civil authorities. In the course of those 17 years, until the archdiocese finally decided in 1995 to co-operate with Garda investigations, Walsh abused well over 100 children according to the chapter published yesterday. Here we find out that archbishops Dermot Ryan, Kevin McNamara and Desmond Connell all had detailed knowledge of Walsh’s criminal activities.

Bishop Eamonn Walsh (a trained barrister, incidentally) was sufficiently well-aware of the criminal nature of Walsh’s activities to know that he should be reported to the Garda; and second, that Bishop Walsh did not report him, and nor of course did any of his fellow bishops. It consequently shows an extraordinary detachment from reality for Bishop Walsh to have claimed last year that merely suggesting that gardaí be informed of crimes committed in some way excuses or exonerates him from responsibility for his part in the culture of cover-up in the Dublin archdiocese.

Senior people. Masses of them. With detailed knowledge of what Walsh was doing. And they sat on it. For seventeen years.