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.


Masons bring down innocent Catholic church

Apr 25th, 2010 10:50 am | By

It gets crazier and crazier every day. Now a Colombian Cardinal tells us what’s what.

A senior cardinal defended the Roman Catholic Church’s practice of frequently not reporting sexual abusive priests to the police, saying Thursday it would have been like testifying against a family member at trial…

“The law in nations with a well-developed judiciary does not force anyone to testify against a child, a father, against other people close to the suspect,” Castrillon told RCN radio. “Why would they ask that of the church? That’s the injustice. It’s not about defending a pedophile, it’s about defending the dignity and the human rights of a person, even the worst of criminals.”

The cardinal seems to be confused. The human rights of criminals are not taken to include the right not to be reported to the police by anyone “close” to them. The UDHR makes no mention of the human right to be shielded by colleagues when one has committed a crime. The worst of criminals do have human rights, of course, but not the ones the cardinal is claiming.

While the church stands by “those who truly were victims (of sexual abuse),” he added, “John Paul II, that holy pope, was not wrong when he defended his priests so that they were not, due to economic reasons, treated like criminal pedophiles without due process.”

More confusion, I’m afraid. That holy pope wasn’t making sure his priests had due process, he was making sure they would have no contact with the law at all. One hopes the cardinal has some vague sense of the difference, but one is not confident.

The cardinal also accused unnamed insiders and enemies elsewhere of feeding the sex abuse scandals hurting the Catholic Church.

Yes…Masons, Jews, fags, atheists, secularists, Protestants; we know. You keep telling yourself that, Cardinal. Blame Canada.



My magisterium is bigger than yours

Apr 24th, 2010 5:04 pm | By

As is well known, Stephen Jay Gould offered ‘the principled resolution of supposed “conflict” or “warfare” between science and religion’ in his short book Rocks of Ages.

No such conflict should exist because each subject has a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority—and these magisteria do not overlap (the principle that I would like to designate as NOMA, or “nonoverlapping magisteria”).

The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for starters, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty).

I’ve always disliked that formula; I disliked the book when it came out. Here’s one reason.

Gould treats the two ‘magisteria’ as if they were equal – ‘the net of science covers’ and ‘the net of religion extends over’ sounds as if they’re doing more or less the same kind of work. But that’s wrong. Science is the best and only way to explore nature, while religion is not the best and only way to explore moral meaning and value.

Religion is actually not a very good way to do either one – it tends to be misleading, it tends to be irrelevant, it’s often just plain wrong. The magisterium isn’t really a magisterium. The church has its ‘teachings,’ as it’s always reminding us when they conflict with equality legislation, but its teachings are…not really teachings.



It’s an outrage

Apr 24th, 2010 11:38 am | By

Harry Taylor left some religion-mocking leaflets and cartoons in a “prayer room” at Liverpool airport. (Why does Liverpool airport have a “prayer room”?) For that he was charged with “three counts of causing religiously aggravated harassment” and convicted by a jury at Liverpool Crown Court. He was given a suspended six-month sentence and an Asbo forbidding him to carry anti-religious leaflets in public.

One of the posters Taylor left at the airport depicted a smiling crucified Christ next to an advert for a brand of “no nails” glue. In another, a cartoon depicted two Muslims holding a placard demanding equality with the caption: “Not for women or gays, obviously.” A third poster showed Islamic suicide bombers at the gates of paradise being told: “Stop, stop, we’ve run out of virgins”.

This is simply disgusting, and contemptible, and reactionary, and a scandal.



The law simply acknowledges

Apr 23rd, 2010 12:39 pm | By

And what business does the Obama administration have appealing the ruling that the “National Prayer Day” is unconstitutional? Yes I know they are under pressure from Fox News, but that’s going to be the case no matter what they do, and they weren’t elected to jump when Fox says jump.

Crabb ruled the government could not use its authority to try to influence when and whether individuals pray, writing: “In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience.”…

The administration had argued the law simply acknowledges the role of religion in the United States.

What is that supposed to mean? And how can a law merely “acknowledge” something? And even if it could why should even that be the president’s business? Even if the law ordered the president to announce once a year that religion has a role in the United States, that would still be the state pushing religion on people instead of keeping its mouth shut on the subject. The state saying that religion has a role in the United States carries a wealth of implication with it, and that’s why it shouldn’t do it; and National Prayer Day mandates a good deal more than merely announcing religion’s “role” anyway.
I’m aware that religion has a role in the United States, and I’m tired of that role, and I’m tired of having it forced on my attention, and I would like it to withdraw a considerable distance and mind its own business.

The Justice Department signaled it would appeal not only Crabb’s decision on the merits of the case but also her ruling last month that the defendants had the standing to bring the lawsuit in the first place.

Well, I hope you lose, Justice Department. You piss me off and I hope you lose.



God we beseech thee bless this bullet

Apr 23rd, 2010 12:01 pm | By

Okay, I give up – what is the Pentagon doing having a “special Pentagon prayer service”? Even before we ask what is it doing having Franklin Graham appearing at such a thing, what is it doing having such a thing in the first place?

And yet people wonder why atheists “proselytize” to the extent of pointing out that there are no genuinely good reasons to believe the things that make a “National Prayer Day” seem like something that an entity called God expects us to have once a year.



A gentle tactful loving reminder

Apr 22nd, 2010 5:02 pm | By

Use the formatting tools at the top of the comment box, willya! Half of you are typing in html, after Josh went to all the trouble of giving us tools, and you’re doing the wrong ones so they’re showing up and it looks stupid and bad. Whatsa matta wichoo?

I don’t mean it; you know I love you; but pull yourselves together.

(No I know, it’s not really half. It’s just a few. But we don’t want to embarrass The Few, so let’s say it’s half.)



Your mission, should you choose to accept it

Apr 22nd, 2010 12:25 pm | By

“New” atheism is often accused of proselytizing, but I don’t think that’s right.

It’s not really proselytizing. We don’t have the explicit goal of turning everyone atheist. We don’t even really have the implicit goal of doing that. We know it’s vanishingly unlikely, and not necessarily desirable (most of us know that – maybe all of us do – it probably depends on exactly what is meant). Our goals are short of that – speaking broadly.

The most basic is probably to humble the claims somewhat – to chip away at the public assumption that there is nothing dubious about theism – that it’s perfectly reasonable to talk about God as one would talk about Gordon Brown or Sarah Palin. It is to remind everyone that belief is not necessarily the default option – that there are reasons not to believe – that the reasons not to believe are better than the reasons to believe – that it is better to restrict belief to claims that can be tested and investigated and that any claims that are officially beyond the competence of science are thereby rendered at least less reliable.

So, related to that and stemming from it, another goal is to push back against all this incessant public goddy talk and “faith”-mongering. It is, frankly, to discredit public goddy talk – to make it more obvious that it is not likely to be true – in an effort to reduce it. It is an effort to get all this god stuff out of our faces.

Now that perhaps does look like proselytizing in the sense meant. But I don’t care. We’ve had years of this nonsense, and we’re tired of it. We’re not raiding churches – but we’re arguing with the Washington Post and the BBC and the Guardian and National Prayer Day. Should we stop doing that because it may be true that on average religion makes people happy? No.

Another, overlapping goal is to make more space for atheists – to de-delegitimize atheism – to de-other it – to point out there are lots of us and we have the better case so stop trying to bully us. It is also to point out and rebuke the lies people tell about us – unblushing brazen hardened lies.

The very presence and energy of the lies is a sign that this goal, at the very least, is hard to gainsay. Atheism is neither criminal nor immoral, yet it is steadily and noisily demonized. That points to something poisonous about theism. We do get to resist – we do get to call out the lies – we do get to defend ourselves.



Herr Bischof, the tan suits you and I love the brooch

Apr 22nd, 2010 11:08 am | By

A really nice touch – it’s not just that Bishop Walter Mixa has now admitted that he used to beat the children in a Bavarian orphanage –

Accusations have also surfaced of financial irregularities at the orphanage’s foundation.

A lawyer hired by the foundation has raised questions about thousands of dollars spent on wine, art, jewelry and even a tanning bed while Bishop Mixa was chairman of the foundation’s board, from 1975 to 1996, while he was a priest in the town of Schrobenhausen.

Isn’t that just typical. The Irish Catholic church sent a lot of the money the government gave it for the care of children in its prisons to Rome while the children slept in the cold and wore rags and ate crap and got next to no schooling. It’s interesting to see that the Bavarian Catholic church apparently used its money-intended-for-child-prisoners on luxury items for itself – at least one supposes it wasn’t hanging the art in the children’s dormitories and giving them pretty bracelets for their birthdays and serving them wine at dinner and letting them use the tanning bed when they were looking a little pallid.



Are you in, or are you out?

Apr 21st, 2010 5:02 pm | By

You know how people like Massimo Pigliucci and others like to say that science has nothing to say about the supernatural? And therefore scientists who dispute religion are trespassing on other people’s territory and crossing their own borders without a passport and generally misbehaving? I’ve been thinking about that.

I googled the two words just now, and found a nice helpful item by Victor Stenger. He quotes the National Academy of Sciences:

Science is a way of knowing about the natural
world. It is limited to explaining the natural
world through natural causes. Science can say
nothing about the supernatural. Whether God
exists or not is a question about which science
is neutral.

That’s good, because it says exactly what I had in mind, what I’ve been thinking about –

what I think is a crock of shit.

Here’s why: there’s no such thing as “the supernatural.” Nobody cares about some general thing called “the supernatural.” People care about particular things that could be put under the heading “supernatural” but are not “the supernatural” themselves. And many or most of the things that people care about and that can be put under the heading “supernatural” are not really supernatural in a sense that would make science unable to say anything about them. And that includes “God” – except when the deist god is meant, which in fact it almost never is.

“The supernatural” is just the name of a category, but what’s really in dispute is not a category, but a person, an agent. The supernatural is one thing, and “God” is another, and it’s a distraction to pretend that by walling off “the supernatural” from science it is possible to get science to agree that God is beyond dispute. The god that is meant when people say “God” – the god that will be in charge on National Prayer Day, when Obama tells us all to get busy praying – is not supernatural at all but heavily involved in human life. A god that really really is super-natural – altogether outside nature – is not the one that people care about and summon to tell us all what to do. The god of believers is a part of this world, however magic and elusive and tricky it is supposed to be.

So saying “science can say nothing about the supernatural” is true enough as far as it goes (because it’s true by definition), but it’s irrelevant to god-talk.



So that they could learn respect

Apr 21st, 2010 10:31 am | By

Two Belfast girls, age 12 and 14, were going to be sent to Pakistan by their parents, for “education.” A judge issued a forced marriage protection order to prevent this little jaunt.

He said: “I find as a fact that there is a present real and substantial risk that G and D will be forced by their parents to marry against their wishes.”…He found the real reason G and D were to be sent to Pakistan in 2007 was “so that they could learn ‘respect’ as an overarching filial duty which I hold in the context of this family means obedience overriding their full and free choice.”

Ah yes, ‘respect’ as an overarching filial duty, meaning people never have lives of their own, because they are always the property of their parents. Life under that arrangement is always vicarious, either upwards or downwards, and never simply a matter primarily for the person whose life it is. Excessive submission on the one hand and excessive authority on the other and never a decent proportionality.



Addressing questions is one thing, answering them is another

Apr 20th, 2010 5:25 pm | By

One of the places we’ve seen this claim that science has nothing to say about God or other religious beliefs lately is in the article about Francisco Ayala in the Times after he won the Templeton Prize.

Professor Ayala…won the prize for his contribution to the question “Does scientific knowledge contradict religious belief?”…[Ayala] says science and religion cannot be in contradiction because they address different questions. It is only when either subject oversteps its boundary, as he believes is the case with Professor Dawkins, that a contradiction arises, he said.

That’s a recipe for epistemic chaos. We can’t have hermetically sealed ways of “addressing” questions – not if we want to get things right. Ways of addressing questions have to be consistent with each other, at least. The claim that science and religion address different questions only works if you admit that religion – when it comes to addressing questions – is simply a branch of fiction. This means you’re admitting that religion doesn’t really address questions at all, if “address questions” is taken to mean raising questions in the hope of answering them.

You can’t do both. You can’t say that they’re radically different, and still maintain that religion does anything other than raise questions only for the sake of giving answers that don’t have to meet any criteria.



The beliefs that underlie the demands

Apr 20th, 2010 4:51 pm | By

A line from Sam Harris’s The End of Faith (p 128):

…we are confronted by people who hold beliefs for which there is no rational justification and which therefore cannot even be discussed, and yet these are the very beliefs that underlie many of the demands they are likely to make upon us.

This is why NOMA, in addition to being wrong as a description, is no use. It’s also why the much-repeated claim that science has nothing to say about God or other religious beliefs is flawed. If religious beliefs are immune to any kind of rational, this-world inquiry or dispute, then we are abandoned to a world in which unreasonable, protected beliefs get to tell us what to do.



The male voice is what expertise comes to sound like

Apr 19th, 2010 3:27 pm | By

NPR’s On the Media did a piece about the disproportionate number of men in the media, including NPR and On the Media. An NYU professor did a blog rant on the subject awhile ago, and On the Media brought him (yes, him, and they did the irony-check) to talk about the issue. He said women aren’t quick enough to say “Me me me me look at me I’m good me me me.”

CLAY SHIRKY: I said it then, I believe it now. I think the concern for how other people think about you is one of the sources of essentially work paralysis among women.
One of the big skills that you need, and my institution does not do a good job of inculcating this in women – there are not enough institutions that do – one of the big skills is to be able to do what you want to do without caring what other people think.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You have to acknowledge the fact that when women put themselves out there, they’re called “biatches.” The word “shrill” is applied to them. They are not called “leaders.” They are not called “strong.”
CLAY SHIRKY: That is right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: They’re called “strident – hags.”
CLAY SHIRKY: Yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And it’s a pain in the – butt.

Yes it is. And I’ll tell you why. There is more than one way for people to think about you, and some kinds of indifference are easier than others. Gladstone and Shirky sum up that difference very briskly in that brief passage. Allow me to explain. It is one thing to be considered – however disapprovingly – tough and aggressive and strong and ballsy. It is another to be considered a shrill strident hag bitch.

That’s all there is to it, really. That’s why Gladstone says it’s a pain in the ass. Yes it damn well is. Being considered strong and tough is not all that unpleasant even if the people who consider you that detest you. Being considered a shrill strident hag bitch is a whole different thing. And what Gladstone says is no lie: it takes very little for people to call a woman a bitch – or, as we have seen, shrill and strident.

So women can’t win no matter what they do. Either they hang back and don’t get the top jobs because they didn’t grab for them, or they grab for the top jobs and spend the rest of their lives as shrill strident hag bitches.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: You write, “Women aren’t just bad at behaving like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks, they are bad at behaving like self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives or pompous blowhards, even a little bit, even temporarily, when it would be in their best interests to do so. Whatever bad things you can say about those behaviors, you can’t say they are underrepresented among people who have changed the world.”

Okay – I do better with that one. I’m very very very good at behaving like an anti-social obsessive. I’m a *genius at that. Top of the class. And I’m not too bad at the pompous blowhard thing, and I do a fair bit of the self-promoting narcissism routine too.

CLAY SHIRKY: I’ll tell you though, the reaction that has surprised me most is that any number of people, many of them women, have come forward and said, essentially, women have a different way of getting along in the world, we’re more social, we’re more nurturing, and so forth.
And I have two problems with that attitude. The first is, essentially, that if you flowered up the language a little bit, you could dump that into a Victorian almanac.
And the second is that all of that kind of nurturing, social junk imagines that the best role we can imagine for women in the workplace is as kind of middle-management mommies, right?

God yes. I squawked when I heard that part. I squawked and I threw some things. It drives me crazy when women buy into that crap.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: In your view, what is the impact of having so many more male voices as experts and sources than women?
CLAY SHIRKY: I think one of the big impacts is that the male voice is what expertise comes to sound like. And so, even from someone who doesn’t go in with a formally sexist bias about whether men are more expert than women in general, you may just unconsciously flip through to those parts of the rolodex.
Someone somewhere has to say, we have to change the fact of the representation before we change people’s mental model of what expertise sounds like because if we just wait, we will always lag the cultural change rather than leading it.

The male voice is what expertise comes to sound like – that is exactly it.



No you may not

Apr 19th, 2010 12:29 pm | By

So here it is again – Christian groups getting up in public and demanding the right to treat certain people badly.

In a case that pits nondiscrimination policies against freedom of religion, the Supreme Court is grappling with whether universities and colleges can deny official recognition to Christian student groups that refuse to let non-Christians and gays join…The Christian group said its constitutional freedoms of speech, religion and association were violated when it was denied recognition as a student group by the San Francisco-based school.

The group has made this argument at several universities around the nation with mixed results…

Hastings said it turned the Christian Legal Society down because all recognized campus groups, which are eligible for financing and other benefits, may not exclude people due to religious belief, sexual orientation and other reasons.
The Christian group requires that voting members sign a statement of faith. The group also regards ”unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle” as being inconsistent with the statement of faith.

Right – so there you have it. The group regards a particular set of people as doing something “immoral” for no stated reason except that that is part of their “statement of faith,” and on those stupid unreasonable narcissistic grounds the group wants to exclude that set of people in a context where groups are simply not allowed to exclude people for stupid unreasonable arbitrary reasons.

This is bad. This is institutionalized badness. It is bad to exclude people for stupid arbitrary tiny-minded reasons, and religious groups shouldn’t be energetically trying to gain themselves a putative “right” to do that. This is bad, bad stuff. People don’t get to invent random definitions of “immoral” and then use them to exclude people in public settings. Religious groups are energetically trying to do exactly that, and they must be resisted and rebuked.



Keep commenting

Apr 18th, 2010 5:40 pm | By

I think I may have accidentally deleted some authentic comments…accidentally by accident don’t you know. Don’t be discouraged if I dropped anything of yours, don’t go away, comment again. In particular I think there was one with “Indian philosophers” in the email address – which I unchecked so that it wouldn’t be deleted, but it was anyway. I wish it hadn’t been. Anyway, I’ll stop bumbling before too long. Though not today…I’m hungry…



Hello world

Apr 18th, 2010 9:11 am | By

Okay, so here we are! New and shiny and exciting. Tell Josh what you think.



The right to be a shit is under threat!

Apr 17th, 2010 12:12 pm | By

A ‘relationship counsellor’ was fired after (and for? the Telegraph is cagy) refusing to give sex advice to homosexual couples. Therefore, the former archbish of Canterbury George Carey says, laws banning discrimination have ‘taken precedence over religious freedoms.’ Well, yes, if you like to put it that way. By the same token, if you choose to believe that the bible both mandates and allows slavery, and that that translates to people of your particular race being allowed to enslave people not of your race, and you act, or attempt to act, accordingly, then yes, your ‘religious freedom’ will be curtailed to that extent. Laws against discrimination in the form of enslavement by race or other category do indeed take precedence over the freedom to enslave by race or other category. You know what? That is too god damn bad.

The complaint is fundamentally stupid, because no freedom is without limits. Freedoms and rights come with various implicit stipulations in the background – within reason; other things being equal; of course not to the point of harming other people; and so on. The former archbish might as well complain that laws banning murder have taken precedence over religious freedoms to execute blasphemers and infidels. He wouldn’t say that, because it is no longer the done thing in his part of the world to execute infidels, or even to enliven the Telegraph with wishful thinking about executing infidels. But it is still the done thing in his particular fetid corner of his part of the world to hinder and reject and refuse service to gays, and he is too blinkered and ungenerous to realize that that too is a parochial bit of small-minded nastiness that is just as temporary as the old practice of executing infidels. He is too lost and empty to realize that in a few decades at most his desire to defend the persecution of gay people will look just as tyrannical and demented as a desire to defend infidel-murder would look now.

Lord Carey, in his written statement, said that recent decisions by the courts were “but a short step from the dismissal of a sincere Christian from employment to a religious bar to any employment for Christians”…They claim that the ruling [in the Lilian Ladele case] meant that the right to express the Christian faith must take second place to the rights of homosexuals.

That’s right, and a good thing too. The ‘right’ to ‘express the Christian faith’ by refusing service to gay people must indeed take second place to the rights of homosexuals not to be treated as automatic inferiors and pariahs. I hope the asymmetry is obvious enough? On the one hand a putative ‘right’ to treat other people badly, on the other hand a right not to be treated badly. Are we clear about this? My right to treat you badly always takes second place to your right not to be treated badly. In other words, the ‘right’ to treat people badly is not a right at all. To claim that it is, is an abuse of the language of rights (in that it resembles the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, which makes all rights subordinate to ‘what sharia allows’).

The fact that boffins from a supposedly ‘moderate’ church like the Anglican one are running around squalling about the end of their ‘right’ to persecute people is enough to show that Dawkins really isn’t all that wrong about ‘moderate’ religion.



Johann Hari on Ratzinger

Apr 17th, 2010 12:00 am | By

Whatever you do don’t miss Johann Hari on the BBC saying what’s what about the pope. He does a tremendous job. He reads what the pope told the bishops in 2001; he asks what would happen if this kind of thing happened at the BBC – imagine the top boffin telling all the staff to keep everything entirely secret and moving the child rapist to a different creche in a different part of London; he says repentance is not enough, this is a criminal matter.

It’s not enough to say sorry, if you’re sorry, hand yourself over to the police and allow them to investigate it.

When Marc Roche of Le Monde is waffling on about waiting for a better pope he cuts in and says we wouldn’t talk this way about any other organization – we wouldn’t say oh dear what can we do, we’ll just have to wait for a better boss of the outfit. He’s a man of steel. Don’t miss it.



Asking for bread and getting a stone

Apr 16th, 2010 5:30 pm | By

PZ says many good things on the subject, for instance on what the textbook that inspired De Dora’s educational advice actually said.

…that was a small part of a two page section of the text that summarizes the legal history of efforts to keep creationism out of the public schools. It is not a book that condemns Christianity, carries on a crusade to abolish religion, or calls believers delusional; it is moderate, entirely polite in tone (praise Jesus! It meets the most important criterion of the faitheists!), and plainly describes an entirely relevant legal and social issue for biologists in non-judgmental terms. It does use the accurate, factual term “myth” for what creationists are peddling, and that’s as harsh as it gets. It is exactly what the less rude proponents of evolution teaching should want.

In other words, if textbooks and teachers can’t even do that, they really are well and truly stifled and censored, and education is reserved for people who can afford private school.

[W]hat kind of support does a reasonable and polite statement in a textbook get from the intellectual cowards — a phrase I use in complete awareness of the meaning of each word, thank you very much — who want to run away from any conflict? De Dora whines, ‘well, he has a point’. Pigliucci makes a worthless complaint about knowing our epistemological boundaries, implying that the statement of fact in Tobin and Dusheck is a violation of the separation of church and state…If a science teacher can’t even flatly state that the earth is 4.5 billion years old, not 6000, because philosophers will complain about epistomological boundaries, we’re doomed. If the effect of biology on society can’t even be mentioned in a textbook, then the relevance of the science is being sacrificed on the altar of religious submission. Getting enmired in these pointless philosophical “subtleties” when the facts are staring you in the face is a recipe for the further gutting of science education in this country.

Exactly. And gutting science education is not a good thing to do.



Thinking like a scientist

Apr 15th, 2010 6:03 pm | By

Jerry Coyne made a crucial point about this De Dorian Sci Ed 101 stuff.

…teaching evolution and dispelling creation provides students with a valuable lesson: it teaches them to think scientifically—surely one of the main points of a science class. They learn to weigh evidence and to show how that evidence can be used to discriminate between alternative explanations. It’s of little consequence to me that one alternative explanation comes from a literal interpretation of scripture. Indeed, it’s useful, for this is a real life example—one that’s going on now—of how alternative empirical claims are fighting for primacy in the intellectual marketplace. What better way to engage students in the scientific method?

Exactly. It’s a terribly narrowed and pinched version of teaching that De Dora is defending here. (He seems to be trying to claim this isn’t what he wants, it’s just what the law compels, but I don’t really believe him. I think he has a visceral dislike of all but the most apologetic atheism and I think that dislike infects everything he says on this subject. I could be wrong though – he writes so clumsily that it’s really impossible to be sure exactly what he is saying.)

Bizarrely though, De Dora said much the same thing himself at one point, but apparently without realizing he’d done it. He’s confused.

…the answer seems to be that we should ensure our high school science teachers are instructing students on how to think like a scientist, and imparting to students the body of knowledge scientists have accrued (and that all of our teachers generally are doing similar in their respective fields). From there, the children take that knowledge as they will.

God he’s a bad writer. But never mind that – the point is that he slipped up and said that teachers should be teaching students how to think like a scientist. So they should, but that means teachers need to teach students how anyone knows all this stuff, how the “body of knowledge” was collected and argued over and questioned and criticized – which includes for instance what it replaced, what previous claims to knowledge shaped it or got in its way or motivated it – and so on. It’s not enough to just open children’s heads and dump in a quart or two of Facts. If the Constitution requires science teachers to restrict themselves to such an impoverished version of teaching, then that’s a terrible worrying tragic situation. If it doesn’t, De Dora is talking nonsense.

Massimo is very annoyed that so many people are unimpressed by De Dora. Massimo does tend to exaggerate…

And speaking of content, what was so witless, wanky, wishy-washy, and witless about De Dora’s post? Oh, he dared question (very politely, and based on argument) one of the dogmas of the new atheism: that religious people (that’s about 90% of humanity, folks) ought (and I use the term in the moral sense) to be frontally assaulted and ridiculed at all costs, because after all, this is a war, and the goal is to vanquish the enemy, reason and principles be damned.

That’s rationally speaking?