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.

Shut up so that you won’t have to shut up

Apr 18th, 2011 11:42 am | By

Another thing about Ruse’s claim.

Most of all I detest the New Atheism because I think it is playing into the hands of the Religious Right.

But if you decide it’s Forbidden to say certain things lest you “play into the hands of the Religious Right” then you are already playing into the hands of the Religious Right. If you give up the right to free speech as a precaution against theocracy then you are already in a theocracy. It doesn’t make sense to give up secular rights in order to hang on to secular rights.

I don’t want the religious Right deciding what I can say. I don’t want to defer to their sensitivities or their unreasonable beliefs. I don’t want to check what I say for acceptability to the religious Right before I go public with it.

Ruse is arguing for burning the village to save the village. No thanks; I’d rather just hang on to the village.

Dave Barash made a similar point on Ruse’s post:

The argument that we shouldn’t call out the incompatability between science – any science, including evolutionary biology – and religion for fear that this will compromise our constitutional right to teach the former strikes me as logically fallacious, legally naive, pedagogically vapid and intellectually cowardly.

I couldn’t possibly comment.

Another sober reasoned argument

Apr 17th, 2011 5:33 pm | By

Oh no he didn’t, did he? Seriously? Again?

Yes, he did. I know it’s hard to believe, but he did. Yet again, the same thing – the self-obsession, the artless confiding of boring trivial details about his precious Self, the pompous kvetching, the wondering why he can’t stop, the repetition, the childish sneering, the bad reasons.

By now you know who “he” is – Michael Ruse, of course. Michael Ruse pitching yet another absurd embarrassing fit about the dreaded nooo atheists and their failure to do what he tells them.

He’s desperate for attention, so I shouldn’t give it to him, but on the other hand, he’s also publicly self-destructing, so if he gets more attention who knows, maybe a mental health professional will intervene.

Now…heeeeeeere’s Rusey.

I keep swearing off talking about the New Atheists, but like quitting smoking it is easier said than done.  It’s not really that I object to their criticizing me non-stop.  I do rather belong to the school of “so long as you spell my name right” – although interestingly, given that I have a name of only four letters, the misspellings are rife.  (Russe, Russo, Rose, Roose, Rooze, Rouse, and many more.)  In fact I take a certain pride in the fact that our blog, Brainstorm, thanks in no small degree to the splendid efforts of my fellow blogger Jacques Berlinerblau, seems now to be even more hated than Biologos, a Templeton Foundation-supported, Christian blog, founded by Francis Collins, now head of the National Institute of Health.

Good mix of self-importance, anger, vanity, and surrealism, isn’t it.

The latest outcry is by one of the junior New Atheists (in other words, not one of the big four of Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris) writing from Australia – picked up and intensified (especially in the nastiness towards Jacques and me) elsewhere

And so on, blah blah blah blah – nearly identical to the ones we’ve seen about five times in the last few months. The New Atheism is playing into the hands of the Religious Right; the only thing to do about the Religious Right is let it have its way in everything, like an angry baby twenty feet high; therefore The New Atheism is the enemy.

That’s all bullshit, frankly. If that were really the reason he would try hard to convince us. He doesn’t do anything remotely like that – he jumps up and down in front of us screeching insults and saying “tryandgetme!” I don’t believe for a second that he does all this McCarthyesque blackguarding because he thinks we’re the stepping stone to theocracy.

What a chump. Honestly.

Books like yours balkanize the world

Apr 17th, 2011 11:01 am | By

Robert Winston says the Templeton Prize is just fine, no problem, what’s the big deal, relax, take a chill pill, don’t get your knickers in a twist, why do you have such an attitude. Sam Harris says religious language is unscientific in its claims for what is true. Winston says there’s no such thing as “the truth.” Harris says we can still recognise falsehood. Winston says

I suppose I really wonder why you’re so angry.


Yes really; he says that. Maybe not that abruptly and inconsequentially – that may be editing – but those are the words. Harris attempts to laugh off this sudden rudeness, but Winston isn’t having it. “You write angrily, too,” he says. Furthermore,

books like yours and [Richard Dawkins's] God Delusion balkanise the world a good deal more, because they polarise views. The God Delusion has caused very aggressive reactions from [people who] previously weren’t aggressive.

Got that? The books of Dawkins and Harris caused very aggressive reactions – just as Salman Rushdie’s Naughty Book caused other very aggressive reactions and Theo Van Gogh’s movie caused others and Lars Vilks’s cartoon caused others and the Motoons caused others and so on. We people who offend religious believers in their organs of religiosity are at fault for being so offensive and we are the cause of any aggressive reactions that ensue. It’s not that religious believers are Spoiled by the longstanding custom of treating religion as special and taboo so they now feel entitled to permanent deference; it’s not Privilege; no, it’s that people who try to discuss the subject openly are creators of aggression.

No option when Allah and his Messenger have decreed a matter

Apr 17th, 2011 10:02 am | By

Andrew Gilligan tells us that the Muslim Council of Britain says…well actually I’m not sure what he tells us it says, and I can’t find the statement itself so that I can say what it says as opposed to what Gilligan says. Frankly he could have done a better job with this – he should have included a link and he should have put the crucial bit inside quotation marks so that we would know who said what. As it is it isn’t clear. The words “women,” “niqab,” and “veil” are not inside quotation marks, so I’m left wondering exactly what the MCB said.

Here’s Gilligan’s unhelpful summary:

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said that not covering the face is a “shortcoming” and suggested that any Muslims who advocate being uncovered could be guilty of rejecting Islam.

In a statement published on its website the MCB, warns: “We advise all Muslims to exercise extreme caution on this issue, since denying any part of Islam may lead to disbelief.

“Not practising something enjoined by Allah and his Messenger… is a shortcoming. Denying it is much more serious.”

See? You can’t tell what the MCB said! Gilligan didn’t even specify “not covering the face” is a “shortcoming” for women, so we can’t tell if the MCB said that. Sloppy; very sloppy.

I can’t find the statement on the MCB site, either; maybe they’ve taken it down now. I can find lots of people quoting Gilligan, but not the primary source. This is annoying.

At any rate – if the MCB did say what Gilligan seems to be saying they did, that’s interesting and worth noting. The quoted passage from the Koran is a flawless bit of theocratic tyranny:

The statement quotes from the Koran: “It is not for a believer, man or woman, that they should have any option in their decision when Allah and his Messenger have decreed a matter.”

In other words, “believers” (who are not allowed to stop being “believers,” don’t forget, on pain of summary execution) have to do whatever clerics tell them to do. Period.

Other signatories of the statement include Imran Waheed, spokesman of the extremist group Hizb ut Tahrir and several other extremists including Haitham al-Haddad, who has denounced music as a “prohibited and fake message of love and peace”. All 27 signatories, who describe themselves as “Islamic groups and scholars,” are male.

Of course they are. God hates women.

The morality of the gaps

Apr 16th, 2011 12:53 pm | By

Kenan Malik is not bowled over by Sam Harris on morality.

Harris is nothing if not self-confident. There is a voluminous philosophical literature that stretches back almost to the origins of the discipline on the relationship between facts and values. Harris chooses to ignore most of it…It is one thing to want to “start a conversation that a wider audience can engage with and can find helpful”, something that many of us, including many of those boring moral philosophers, seek to do. It is quite another to imagine that you can engage in any kind of conversation, with any kind of audience, by wilfully ignoring the relevant scholarship because it is “boring”.

I share that view. (I agree with Polly-O!) The breeziness of the attempt to settle complicated issues while ignoring the existing scholarship is grating.

“How does Harris establish that values are facts?” He describes an utterly crappy life, and an utterly blissful one. See? Facts.

It is a kind of argument that suggests that Harris might have done well to spend a bit more time immersed in all the boring stuff…The insistence that because it seems obvious that rape and murder are bad, and that wealth and security are good, so there must be objective values, seems about as plausible as the argument that because there are gaps in the fossil record, so God must have created Adam and Eve. 

Kenan sums up:

Creating a distinction between facts and values is neither to denigrate science nor to downgrade the importance of empirical evidence. It is, rather, to take both science and evidence seriously. It is precisely out of the facts of the world, and those of human existence, that the distinction between is and ought arises, as does the necessity for humans to take responsibility for moral judgement. 

I did a review of the book myself a few months ago.

Grayling interviewed

Apr 16th, 2011 11:36 am | By

Matthew Adams interviewed Anthony Grayling for the New Humanist. He met the same fella I met.

The couple of hours I spend with him reveal a warm and generous character, capable of being both expansive and associative, while retaining a sense of measure, order and precision.

With an additional element I didn’t meet.

 That order, however, is not much in evidence in his office. It is a catastrophe of books and papers, though in common with people who inhabit catastrophes of books and papers, he is keen to point out that he knows where everything is.

Ah yes that catastrophe of books and papers; I inhabit that too, but I don’t point out that I know where everything is, because alas I don’t. Most things, perhaps, but not everything.

Anthony is happy to concede that the Bible contains some sound moral lessons and moments of great beauty (his favourite being the Song of Solomon), but for him the whole thing is disfigured by phrases such as “the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord”. His disdain for the notion of submission before a deity is put with characteristic force: “Just obey, just submit. The usual rather cowed posture of human beings toward divinity in the hope that it won’t inflict too many earthquakes or tsunamis or plagues in the near future.”

The more force behind that observation, the better. It needs to be made with force. The notion in question is one of the worst humans have come up with, and props up many of the others; it’s poisonous; it lurks behind hierarchy and oppression and mindlessness; it stinks.

Adams wonders “why Anthony feels it important to make the case for free thought at this particular moment.” The church fought back hard in the 16th and 17th centuries, Anthony explains, rather like a cornered rat.

“And I think we’re seeing something rather similar at the moment, with events like 9/11. These have just dragged the fig leaf off the claims that religion makes to be a positive and peaceful presence in society, so that people now who never had a religious view or were just a bit disdainful of it are now speaking out frankly and bluntly, and being called militant atheists and fundamentalist atheists and so on.”

The philosophically illiterate charge of fundamentalist atheism has been leveled against many of the figures – Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens – with whom Anthony has been aligned (and among whom he is “proud to be counted”).

As I have noted before. People who detest putative fundamentalist atheists will be disppointed if they hope to include Anthony on their side of the Great Split.

He hopes the book, Adams says, ”will help to make the case that a spiritual life can be lived without religion”:

The churches have been so successful in monopolising spirituality. But a walk in the country, a visit to an exhibition, dinner with a friend, or just having a quiet drink in the evening – those are spiritual exercises too. The humanist tradition recognises this, and is much more generous and sympathetic about human nature and its needs and desires. And it recognises that there are as many ways of leading good and meaningful lives as there are individuals to live them.

He ought to know; he lives about twenty of them himself.

Sveriges Radio

Apr 15th, 2011 5:06 pm | By

Hey look what I found. I was looking for something else – an interview I did a couple of weeks ago with Johan Signert of Humanisterna (the Swedish Humanists) – but I found this instead: a piece on Radio Sweden about Hatar Gud Kvinnor? I forgot to look for it last summer. I talk a bit – with too much umming, but hey, I’d just flown from Seattle via Amsterdam and then done a talk, so whaddya expect. Christer Sturmark also talks – which is pleasant; I liked Christer a lot, it’s nice to hear him. I wasn’t around when the radio guy talked to him – I was probably signing books then.

Broke barefoot and pregnant

Apr 15th, 2011 12:35 pm | By

Most of the “anti-abortion community” hates contraception as well as abortion.

“Fertility and babies are not diseases,” said Jeanne Monahan of the Family Research Council’s Center for Human Dignity, which has been fighting against requiring insurance plans to cover contraceptives under the new health care law.

Oh isn’t that just precious – working for “Human Dignity” by trying to prevent women from avoiding pregnancy. Working for “Human Dignity” by forcing women to get pregnant and have children whether they want to or not. Yes, that’s my idea of dignity all right.

…many social conservatives are simply opposed to giving women the ability to have sex without the possibility of procreation.“Contraception helps reduce one’s sexual partner to just a sexual object since it renders sexual intercourse to be without any real commitments,” says Janet Smith, the author of “Contraception: Why Not.”

Oh get over it. Sneezing is without any real commitments, too, even if you make someone else sneeze. Anyway forcing women to get pregnant is hardly the way to prevent them from being just a sexual object – a baby-machine is a sexual object.

What we have here is a wide-ranging attack on women’s right to control their reproductive lives that the women themselves would strongly object to if it [were] stated clearly. So the attempt to end federal financing for Planned Parenthood, which uses the money for contraceptive services but not abortion, is portrayed as an anti-abortion crusade.

Theocracy at work.

A day out

Apr 14th, 2011 11:40 am | By

Anthony Grayling was in Seattle yesterday – yesterday only – for a talk at Town Hall on The Good Book. It was a great talk. He does what he calls footnotes, which remind me of the nested notes David Foster Wallace did in some essays, a note within a note within a note. One example: he was telling a story about how he got interested in philosophy via classical Greek philosophy via Greek mythology via a book his grandmother sent him at school when he was seven. This paideia was embedded in a story about his brother which was embedded in a larger Bildung story about distant parents and being sent to school very young. The brother story was that his brother was five years older and a prefect, so there was a gulf between them; one day his brother had to punish him for a formal (though not substantive) infraction; the brother had the Greek mythology book (wrapped in brown paper) under his arm at the time, bringing it from the post; the punishment was that Anthony had to memorize the first page by the next morning; he was so enthralled that he’d memorized the whole book by then. The footnote came at the very beginning: an older boy sent young Anthony to fetch his cricket bat, which involved him in the formal infraction of opening another boy’s locker. The footnote was about cricket.

All this (and more) was a matter of perhaps two minutes.

It was all like that.

The audience was gripped.

There were questions at the end. One was the one about “what can atheists offer to replace the community and collective activity of religion and church etc?” “Look around you,” Grayling said. Well quite. There we all were.

I had tea with him before the talk. It was immense fun. He’s working on another play (following “Grace”) which will be produced next year. He’s the new president of the British Humanist Association. He’s about ten people in one.

The memory-hole

Apr 13th, 2011 12:52 pm | By

David Koepsell commented on Berlinerblau’s “what gnu atheist martyrs?” post to say

You should read my entry on “The Law and Unbelief” in the Encyclopedia of Unbelief, in which I detail such cases in the US, when courts even admitted that atheists were free game because of legal prohibitions against their testimony, and some were attacked and sometimes killed for sport. This happened even into the 1920s. I summarize that lengthy article in this shorter version.

I posted this same comment at Joe’s blog, but it’s “awaiting moderation”… I hope it makes it through.

It didn’t. You can see exactly how worthy of non-posting it is – how full of invective and misrepresentation and free-floating hostility.

David used to be at CFI; I met him there at the same time I met Joe. They’re former colleagues. So it goes.

Read David’s article; it’s very informative.

Oh comrades come rally for the niqab

Apr 13th, 2011 12:19 pm | By

 The Guardian is pathetic.

Kenza Drider stood defiantly outside Notre Dame, adjusting her niqab to reveal only a glimpse of her eyes. Scores of police with a riot van and several lorries stood by as she and another woman in a niqab staged a peaceful protest for the right “to dress as they please”. On the first day of France’s ban on full Islamic face-coverings, this was the first test.

Blah blah blah, for 14 paragraphs – the heroic defiant brave rad rebellious women passionately standing up for their right to wear bags over their slutty heads, with the heroic brave left-wing Guardian cheering them on. Yah baby you fight for that niqab covering your mouth and nose so that it’s hard to breathe and talk; solidarity forever!

Not one stinking word about the women who loathe the niqab and what it stands for and approve of the ban, or about the women who don’t like the ban but also detest the niqab and what it stands for. No, it’s all about women defending the disgusting reactionary woman-erasing hot speech-inhibiting theocratic medieval relic. Look at that idiotic photo, with the faceless woman heroically silhouetted against the sky.

Note the item at the end, too.

  •   This article was amended on 12 April 2011 to remove the phrase ‘normal headscarf’ in the sixth paragraph

Oops! Got shouted at, did you? Well see if you can’t learn something – the niqab is not a liberal cause. The ban is arguably illiberal too, but don’t go pretending that therefore the niqab is right-on.

It’s in the language

Apr 13th, 2011 11:24 am | By

I went to a reading and talk by Howard Jacobson yesterday evening. He was brilliant. Brilliantly funny and interesting and fluent. One wit asked what the bar mitzvah presents were like in Britain in the 50s. Jacobson responded that bar mitzvah presents were a big deal, and there was a little ripple of nodding and murmuring. He had, he went on, relatives on one side of the family who were in towelling and bedding. He received a lot of towelling and bedding. On the other side there were relatives in classy import items like tinted glass; he got wine glasses colored pink, amber…

His father had a market stall, where he sold swag. “You know swag? Basically junk.” He was no good at it. But he did his best – at this point Jacobson did a little pantomime of a marketer’s claps and gestures – then referred back to his failed youthful efforts to write books that had already been written (“I tried to write Crime and Punishment, I tried to write Anna Karenina – I especially tried to write like Henry James, about life in English country houses, about which I knew absolutely nothing.”) – “This is why I couldn’t do Henry James” [repeating the marketer claps and gestures again].

About his mother’s always making sure he didn’t expect anything, so that he wouldn’t be crushed when he didn’t get it. When he got the telegram that said he’d been admitted to Cambridge and he opened it and exclaimed “I’m in, I’m in!” she advised him to look carefully at the address. She assured him he wouldn’t win the Booker, and he said I know, I know. He was the only nominee who had a good time at the dinner, because he was the only one who was calm. All the others were too nervous to eat or drink but he had a fine time packing it in.

My favorite part was when someone asked how he separates comedy from just plain fiction. He doesn’t. He doesn’t say “I’ll write a comic novel now”; he writes novels, but he can’t write without humor. It’s in the language, it’s in the writing itself. It’s just there. He can’t write any other way. I know exactly how that is; I think I have the same thing. I don’t decide to put it in – I never set out to write in a joky way (and I think most people who do are bad at it) – it’s just how I write. It’s interesting how this works. Jacobson was insistent that it’s in the language, and I think that’s exactly right.

I’m having tea with Anthony Grayling later today.

Melting, melting, all my beautiful wickedness…

Apr 12th, 2011 4:54 pm | By

Berlinerblau is back in the trenches battling the Monstrous Regiment of Gnus. Not much of a battle, he just agrees with another warrior that there haven’t been many “atheist martyrs”; what that’s supposed to prove is somewhat mysterious. Do any gnus talk nonsense about piles of atheist corpses? Not that I recall.

Never mind, the point is, it’s all over. We should pack up our gnu megaphones and our gnu pepper spray and go home. The tide of history done turned against us.

Hoffmann represents a rapidly growing contingent of atheists and agnostics who, for a variety of different reasons, are expressing increasing frustration with the New Atheist world-view. Many of them are affiliated with the school of “Secular Humanism.” I hope to write about this split at a later date.

The Hoffmann he quotes is even more optimistic.

Have there been atheist martyrs–women and men who suffered and died as a consequence of their rejection of God?

This thoughtful question came up when I recently suggested that I detect a trend in the small but dwindling new atheist community to pad the bona fides of their young tradition with things that didn’t really happen.  We know that real Gnus love science and aren’t too keen on history…

A rapidly growing contingent versus a small but dwindling community. We’re doomed! Doomed, I tell you! Thanks to the perspicacity and determination of the frustrated atheists and agnostics, the new atheist community is on the verge of disappearing in a puff of sulphur.

Good old interfaith atheism

Apr 12th, 2011 11:41 am | By

Chris Stedman is (understandably) tired of my questions about his faithy status updates at Facebook, so I’d better stop asking them there. There is such a thing as being a pain in the ass, after all.

I’ll make a couple of remarks here, instead. If I’m going to be a pain in the ass I should be it here rather than on someone else’s updates.

The update in question was to say he’s joining the board of directors of something called World Faith. I found it, and it’s what you would expect from the name – it’s an interfaith thingy. It may be very benevolent and all, but it’s an interfaith thingy. It’s pro-faith. It valorizes faith. It thinks faith is a good thing – such a good thing that it’s the way to organize one’s commitments and projects and activities. It makes faith central. It doesn’t problematize “faith.”

The way I see it, joining its board of directors is an endorsement of “faith” as such. I think it’s incoherent to claim otherwise. The name is what it is; it means what it means; it’s no good pretending it means its own opposite. If you join the board of directors of a body called World Socialism, you’re endorsing and undertaking to work for socialism. The same goes, mutatis mutandis, for World Libertarianism, World Scientology, World Trekkies, World Wiccans.

Chris thinks I’m wrong and obstinate and uncomprehending to keep thinking this no matter how often he explains it to me – but I think he’s wrong to go on thinking he can define “interfaith” and “world faith” in some special way so that they mean their own opposites anywhere outside his own head.

He’s got a speaking tour starting up in a few days. I’m sorry to say this but it looks to me like just another “I’m the good, pro-faith kind of atheist, not like those bad anti-faith atheists” speaking tour. It looks to me as if Chris, with the Harvard humanist “chaplaincy” in the background, is again making a big point of ostracizing gnu atheists in order to replace them with some weird entity that is pro-faith chaplain-endowed churchy Humanism that doesn’t believe in god but nevertheless loves goddy people much more than it loves atheism.

Check out the poster. Faith faith religion faith chaplain faith religious faith dialogue. It’s sponsored by the Interfaith Council and…the Secular Student Alliance. Go figure.

Rigid, authoritarian, and emotionally abusive

Apr 11th, 2011 12:10 pm | By

Religion is not all bad, we’re told. Religion is often good, we’re told. Some atheists do nothing but bash religion, we’re told. Some atheists do nothing but bash “the religious,” we’re told.

Not all religions are literalist, we’re told. Not all religions are fundamentalist or theocratic or doctrinaire, we’re told. Unitarian Universalism, for instance, is liberal and swell, we’re told.

But some former Unitarian Universalists beg to differ.

There is a contrary trend, though, in many local UU congregations and in the national UU Association (“UUA”): extremely strong religious privilege and (largely as a consequence) severe distaste for open atheism and criticism of religion. Very few UUs believe in “God” as that term is broadly understood by theists (and atheists) the word over, but lots of UUs believe in “religion,” “faith,” “prayer,” “church,” and (indeed) “God” as terms and systems that deserve support and defense. Gnu-bashing is overwhelmingly common and accepted among UUs, especially clergy and denominational administrators, as I have documented repeatedly (several selected examples here).

In one of those selected examples we read

our Association is dotted by powerful ministers and administrators who regularly push outrageous and bigoted messages about atheists, agnostics, not-particularly-“spiritual” humanists, and anyone whose skepticism leads her to an outlook that is less pious than these figures would prefer. UU discourse about atheism and skepticism is riven with bigotry, disrespect, and ignorant stereotype–and the broader community’s reponse has been… for the most part utter silence.

This, depressingly, confirms what many of us already know: that atheists are the last (or almost the last) group (non-criminal group) it is not just ok but positively virtuous to malign.

 My own minister has declared that I, and everyone who sees the world the way I do,

are often unaware of the sharp limits of their empathy and their abilities to construct and identify with the interior feelings and processes of others. Religiously, these persons are often drawn to the rigidities and seemingly unambiguous teachings of fundamentalism–and there are liberals and radical fundamentalist spirits. As spouses, parents and bosses, such persons are, at the best, insensitive, and at the worst, rigid, authoritarian, and emotionally abusive.

Read that last sentence with attention, and ponder it. That’s what putative liberal religions think of atheists.

The notion Lord Rees so casually endorses

Apr 10th, 2011 11:21 am | By

Nick Cohen is not unduly impressed by the Templeton Foundation.

Initially, it made no secret of its admiration for clerical hucksters and dispensed prizes to the evangelical showman Billy Graham and Mother Teresa, who sought to wallow in Calcuttan poverty rather than end it. Now it has moved upmarket and seeks to reward intellectuals who allow religion to scrape an acquaintance with science; who imply, however vaguely, that evidence-based research and ancient fable are compatible.

That’s the one. I point this out because the gnu-haters have been so energetically defending it in the past few days – I want to underline the fact that Nick is not an ally in that project.

Rees is not, Nick points out, actually religious.

The religious nevertheless showered him with money because he is a symptomatic figure of our tongue-biting age. Like millions who should know better, Rees is not religious himself but “respects” religion and wants it to live in “peaceful co-existence” with it.

Which is the difference between gnu atheists and the other kind – even they “respect” religion, at least in the sense that they would far rather tell rude whoppers about us every few days than say a harsh syllable about religion.

…the respect the secular give too freely involves darker concessions. It prevents an honest confrontation with radical Islam or any other variant of poor world religious extremism and a proper solidarity with extremism’s victims. “I don’t want to force Muslims to choose between God and Darwin,” Rees says, forgetting that scientists “force” no one to choose Darwin, while theocracies force whole populations to bow to their gods. So cloying is the deference that few notice how the demand for “respect” gives away the shallowness of contemporary religious thought.

In the past, the faithful did not accuse their critics of mere bad manners. Charges of blasphemy and heresy were once like accusations of libel. The sinner had sought to spread falsehoods against the true religion, which his prosecutors exposed in court.

And truth was no defense.

…the notion Lord Rees so casually endorses – that you must respect the privacy of ideologies that mandate violence, the subjugation of women and the persecution of homosexuals and treat them as if they were beyond criticism and scientific refutation – is the most cowardly evasion of intellectual duty of our day.

Damn right.

I’m reading a draft of Nick’s next book, by the way. It’s way good.

Ruse rhymes with loose, he says so himself

Apr 9th, 2011 3:42 pm | By

Just a little note to point out the consistent rudeness and inaccuracy (to put it politely) of Michael Ruse.

I read one of the responses to my recent piece on Darwinism and the problem of evil. One of the junior new atheists — that is to say, not one of the big four of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris — took extreme umbrage to my picking on him (even more umbrage at my not naming him by name) and my suggesting that absolute reality might not correspond exactly to his worldview.

No he didn’t. Any “umbrage” he took was a good deal less extreme than the umbrage Ruse routinely takes at (not to: at) a great many people and things but especially gnu atheists. “He” is Jason Rosenhouse. Jason starts by quoting Ruse on Giberson and Collins:

the book is intended to defend Christianity against the critics who argue that science and religion are incompatible. Expectedly, it has got all of the junior New Atheists jumping with joyous ire, and all over the blogs are stern condemnations: “this is not a good book” “the authors’s [sic] frequently murky prose”; “I was struck by just how unserious they are on this issue.” You get the idea.

Jason points out that all of those quotes come from his review of the book. Now that you know that, look again at what Ruse said. Typical of him, isn’t it. “The junior New Atheists,” as if it were hundreds of them, or even three, when in fact it was one. “You get the idea,” says Ruse, sloppily, and no doubt we do, but it’s a wrong idea. We get the idea that there are lots of gnu atheists jumping with joyous ire when in fact there is only one Jason, writing a reasoned review. “All over the blogs are stern condemnations”: by which he means one.

Jason says, mildly,

 Apparently describing a pro-religion book as not good, or protesting that its prose is murky, is now a level of rhetoric vitriolic enough to get you dismissed as a New Atheist, if only a junior one. Of course, Ruse might have quoted the context surrounding those criticisms, since I rather clearly expressed regret that I found the book so inadequate and recommended a better book defending the same basic ideas. But that basic nod to fairness would have required conceding that I wasn’t just writing an angry screed.

Ruse doesn’t do basic nods to fairness. Ruse does rudeness and (to put it much too politely) inaccuracy.

The Tennessee legislature helps out

Apr 9th, 2011 11:35 am | By


In a 70-28 vote today, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed HB 368, a bill that encourages science teachers to explore controversial topics without fear of reprisal. Critics say the measure will enable K-12 teachers to present intelligent design and creationism as acceptable alternatives to evolution in the classroom.

“There has been a widespread pattern of discrimination against educators who would challenge evolution in the classroom,” Casey Luskin, a policy analyst for the pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute, in Seattle, Washington, told ScienceInsider. “Schools censor from students the evidence against evolution. This protects the rights of teachers to teach in an objective way.” The Discovery Institute supports the bill and others like it in other states.

And thus we see yet another illustration of the compatibility of religion and science.


Apr 9th, 2011 10:40 am | By

So what’s Templeton up to besides giving a wad of cash to Martin Rees for saying “religion is all right I suppose now please excuse me I have better things to do”?

Well, it’s up to asking silly questions like “Is There a Link Between Spiritual Growth and Academic Performance at College?” It’s up to funding people who investigate such questions by way of research on “spirituality in higher education.”

In 2003, we began a seven-year study examining how students change during the college years and the role that college plays in facilitating the development of their spiritual and religious qualities. Funded by the John Templeton Foundation, “Spirituality in Higher Education: Students’ Search for Meaning and Purpose,” is the first national longitudinal study of students’ spiritual growth.

This is one of the ways the Templeton Foundation contaminates or pollutes or adulterates intellectual life. It does it by funding suggestions that searching for meaning and purpose equals “spirituality” which as any fule kno is a synonym or  a stealth euphemism for religion, so the upshot is a suggestion that atheists don’t know from meaning and purpose and atheism is sterile and a path to futility.

It is our shared belief that the findings provide a powerful argument for the proposition that higher education should attend more to students’ spiritual development, because spirituality is essential to students’ lives

Assisting students’ spiritual growth will help create a new generation who are more caring, more globally aware, and more committed to social justice than previous generations…

So we learn that atheists are less caring, less globally aware, and less committed to social justice, funded by the Templeton Foundation, thank you very much.

Profound insights vital questions spiritual progress

Apr 8th, 2011 4:23 pm | By

The dear Templeton Foundation itself knows why it gave the gong to Martin Rees. It’s because he is

a theoretical astrophysicist whose profound insights on the cosmos have provoked vital questions that speak to humanity’s highest hopes and worst fears, has won the 2011 Templeton Prize.

Insights, which are more spiritual than research, or equations, especially when they’re profound insights. And if they speak to (what? what does that mean?) humanity’s highest hopes and worst fears (what do they say when they speak to them?) then those insights are a red-hot ticket to Templeton’s version of the genius grant.

But what does it actually mean? How do his “profound insights” about the universe speak to our hopes and fears? Is it just…you know…the universe is very big and full of surprises so…well that’s it really – ? Or is it something more…definite. If anybody knows, fill us in.

In turn, the “big questions” he raises – such as “How large is physical reality?” – are reshaping crucial philosophical and theological considerations that strike at the core of life, fostering the spiritual progress that the Templeton Prize has long sought to recognize.

What theological considerations? How are the questions reshaping them? How do the considerations “strike at the core of life”? How does that striking “foster spiritual progress”? What is “spiritual progress”?

This all looks, to the untutored observer like me, like pure bullshitting. It looks like empty word-spinning that means simply nothing at all. I think if it actually meant something they would have managed to say a little about what that was.

Sean Carroll is not bowled over.