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.

In which I do the expected

Aug 6th, 2010 12:12 pm | By

Harriet Baber likes to put things in a provocative way (as do I), and she does so in answering the Comment is Free belief question of the week. Lots of provoking, and I will oblige by being provoked into commenting.

I see no reason why I should believe that life is, as Tony Soprano’s perfectly awful mother Livia put it, “a great big nothing” after which we are annihilated. That may very well be the way things are. But I see no benefit to believing it is so.

Yes but that’s a false choice, because it’s an incomplete description of the alternative to believing that life is made into Something by the existence of god. The choice is not: 1. god, and life=something, or 2. no god, and life=nothing. I don’t think of life as a great big nothing. In fact that’s a very odd way to describe life – life is very much something. The amount and variety of life on this average-size planet is staggering; it’s light years away from “nothing.” If the idea is that life feels like nothing to people who don’t believe god exists, that’s wrong too. Harriet must know that, but…she likes to provoke.

But if I believe in God and a blissful afterlife contemplating him, then even if I am wrong I will not be disappointed. I would rather live in a fool’s paradise than no paradise at all.

Really? An eternity of blissfully contemplating god? Wouldn’t that start to get boring after about, oh, say fifty years?

Truth is overrated. And it’s remarkable that the very individuals who are most vocal in their opposition to religiously motivated puritanism are the most fiercely puritanical when it comes to truth.

No. It’s not remarkable at all, because the two are not the same kind of thing. (And who are these people, anyway?) Thinking that truth matters is not the same kind of thing as thinking that pleasure is sinful.

People in any case overestimate the value of truth and underestimate the difficulty of arriving at it. There are a great many truths in which I have abolutely no interest – truths about the lifecycle of Ctenocephalides felis, (the common cat flea) or the extensive body of truths about the condition of my teeth that my dentist imposes on me. I see no reason why I should bother with these truths or make a point of believing them.

I see no such reason either, but the whole thing is a red herring. It’s not a question of bothering with every truth there is, it’s a question of paying attention to the truth or otherwise of what one already believes.

There is some notion that even if we can ignore these workaday truths we should be concerned about the larger, more significant truths about the meaning of life, if any, and the human condition. I don’t see why. In any case, I’m a satisficer, quite happy in every department of life with good enough…I don’t much care about getting the right answers to what are commonly called the big questions.

An interesting remark from a philosopher.

That is no doubt what she wanted people to say. I’m nothing if not obliging.

It’s like encouraging a mosquito

Aug 5th, 2010 6:28 pm | By

Paul Sims watched Stephen Green on Channel 4′s the other day, so you won’t have to. is Channel 4′s version of the ever-laughable Deepity for the Day on BBC Radio 4. Stephen Green was srsly good, apparently. His Thought was about that there HoMoSeckShuality and why he thinks it should be put a stop to. Paul Sims collected some extracts, which is way helpful of him.

Homosexuals can never be one flesh, so they have to press into, like, sexual duty parts of the body that aren’t designed for that.

I think Stephen Green has been overthinking this. I think he has been having smutty thoughts.

In 30 years our dying civilisation is going to be taken over by a stronger one and the obvious candidate is Islam and the gays aren’t going to like it much living under that system.

So – um – let’s get rid of them all now before that happens, and then they won’t have to worry about not liking it much living under that system, because they’ll all be gone.

But srsly. Why are people giving Stephen Green air time? It’s like giving Bill Donohue air time. It’s like giving mildew a plate of food in your kitchen. It’s a mistake.

Wall? What wall? Do you see a wall?

Aug 4th, 2010 6:28 pm | By

Karl Giberson and Lawrence Krauss seem to see things differently. (Now there’s a surprise.) Giberson tells us that science and religion aren’t in tension at all at all.

A religious scientist functions routinely as a scientist in the lab, perhaps looking for the gene that causes hyperbole. While they are engaged in this search they believe that God is the creator. On regular occasions this scientist goes to church, where he or she sings hymns, listens to sermons, volunteers at the soup kitchen, takes communion, and puts money in the offering plate, all the while believing that the scientific picture of the world is accurate. Occasionally this religious scientist may even daydream about finding that gene for hyperbole while listening to the sermon. At no time do the co-existing mindsets conflict or create cognitive dissonance.

Well one, he doesn’t know that. He doesn’t know that about any religious scientist other than himself, and he may not know it about himself. He could be kidding himself, or forgetting, or exaggerating. And two, if the co-existing mindsets never conflict or create cognitive dissonance, then that’s a sign that the religious scientist is not thinking properly. They should conflict or create cognitive dissonance. One of them is based on evidence and inference, and the other is based on just Believing. The second is inferior to the first.

Krauss highlights this:

Consider the results of a 2009 Pew Survey: 31 percent of U.S. adults believe “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.” (So much for dogs, horses or H1N1 flu.) The survey’s most enlightening aspect was its categorization of responses by levels of religious activity, which suggests that the most devout are on average least willing to accept the evidence of reality.

You see? That is cognitive dissonance, the very thing that Giberson said “the religious scientist” simply doesn’t have. Being unwilling to accept the evidence of reality is that tension. Giberson of course means that in practice he walls the two off from each other, and he does accept the evidence of reality when he’s Doing Science. But he also means that he (and others like him) simply never notice the wall. Well if they don’t they should, and Giberson can’t know that none of them do in any case.

Lawrence Krauss on the familiar taboo

Aug 4th, 2010 5:47 pm | By

Lawrence Krauss notes that the NSF does a survey on US science literacy, and always finds that adults in the US tend to say “No! I won’t believe that!” when asked about evolution and the big bang. Until this year, when the NSF fiddled the survey.

the National Science Board, which oversees the foundation, chose to leave the section that discussed these issues out of the 2010 edition, claiming the questions were “flawed indicators of scientific knowledge because responses conflated knowledge and beliefs.” In short, if their religious beliefs require respondents to discard scientific facts, the board doesn’t think it appropriate to expose that truth.

A 2009 Pew survey found that “the most devout are on average least willing to accept the evidence of reality.” Which is the opposite of the “science and religion are compatible” dogma that we’re all supposed to “accept” for no very convincing reason.

I don’t know which is more dangerous, that religious beliefs force some people to choose between knowledge and myth or that pointing out how religion can purvey ignorance is taboo. To do so risks being branded as intolerant of religion.

Oh yes indeed it does. It also risks being branded as a gnu atheist, and then called a witch-hunter, shouted at, run out of town, fired, and kicked out of the tennis club.

Keeping religion immune from criticism is both unwarranted and dangerous. Unless we are willing to expose religious irrationality whenever it arises, we will encourage irrational public policy and promote ignorance over education for our children.

Dear me, he won’t be invited to the Accommodationists’ Picnic.

Waking up one morning

Aug 4th, 2010 4:28 pm | By

Lashings of extraordinary writing in Hitchens’s cancer piece in Vanity Fair. For one thing, there’s the opening, about waking up in a New York hotel room.

have more than once in my time woken up feeling like death. But nothing prepared me for the early morning last June when I came to consciousness feeling as if I were actually shackled to my own corpse. The whole cave of my chest and thorax seemed to have been hollowed out and then refilled with slow-drying cement.

That final (frightening) sentence is an homage to a parallel scene in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, about a much younger man waking up with a hangover. It’s a set-piece about what a hangover feels like, and it’s funny as hell. It and the Hitchens passage also have a whiff of Wodehouse – Hitchens is Bertie describing his sensations in some awkward spot.

He managed to get to the phone and summon the emergency services.

They arrived with great dispatch and behaved with immense courtesy and professionalism. I had the time to wonder why they needed so many boots and helmets and so much heavy backup equipment, but now that I view the scene in retrospect I see it as a very gentle and firm deportation, taking me from the country of the well across the stark frontier that marks off the land of malady. Within a few hours, having had to do quite a lot of emergency work on my heart and my lungs, the physicians at this sad border post had shown me a few other postcards from the interior and told me that my immediate next stop would have to be with an oncologist.

Beautiful writing. Do admit.

 I love the imagery of struggle. I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient. Allow me to inform you, though, that when you sit in a room with a set of other finalists, and kindly people bring a huge transparent bag of poison and plug it into your arm, and you either read or don’t read a book while the venom sack gradually empties itself into your system, the image of the ardent soldier or revolutionary is the very last one that will occur to you. You feel swamped with passivity and impotence: dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water.

Yes; just what I hate. It’s bad enough in airports and on planes.

If there were an Intelligent Designer, someone who writes that well would live to be ninety. But there isn’t.

A dispatch from the front

Aug 4th, 2010 1:06 pm | By

Sorry posting is a bit light. I’ve been busy trying to pull knives out of my back (no use, they’re stuck), and now I have a sudden avalanche of subbing to do for The Philosophers’ Mag and a mere few hours to do it in, so it’s hard to find a spare moment.

Will try to do better.

If music be the food of love, issue a fatwa

Aug 3rd, 2010 4:57 pm | By

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says music is permitted but bad and nasty.

Khamenei said: “Although music is halal, promoting and teaching it is not compatible with the highest values of the sacred regime of the Islamic Republic.”…”It’s better that our dear youth spend their valuable time in learning science and essential and useful skills and fill their time with sport and healthy recreations instead of music.

Because…music, while permitted, is not a healthy recreation. It’s a recreation, but not a healthy one. It’s permitted, but it’s ungood. Why? Well because it’s pretty, and pleasurable, and emotive, and often sexy, and often exciting. We can’t be having any of that. It’s not healthful. Or useful. Or good. Or compatible with the highest values of the sacred regime of the Islamic Republic. Which are established by a guy with a black cushion on his head, who looks as if he doesn’t rock out much.

Khamenei’s views are interpreted as administrative orders for the whole country, which must be obeyed by the government. Last month Khamenei issued a controversial fatwa in which he likened his leadership to that of the Prophet Muhammad and obliged all Iranians to obey his orders.

Controversial – really? I can’t imagine why. Guy says he’s like Mo and all Iranians have to do what he says. What’s the problem? It simplifies life. So does not having music. Simplicity is good, because it keeps people out of badness. Complicated things are bad.

Want some theophanies?

Aug 3rd, 2010 12:06 pm | By

Comment is Free Belief asks “Can we choose what we believe?” Usama Hasan answers briskly right from the outset.

God exists, obviously.

Oh; all right then! Nothing further to think about. He goes on to point out that the Qur’an says so, and give the sura where it says so. Then he gets to the thinky part.

God is a given, and our lives are an opportunity to learn about and experience God in countless different ways because the universe is a collection of theophanies: God’s infinite variety of names is manifested throughout the diversity of nature that includes our complex, intertwined lives.

He forgets to explain how he knows that.

The bill was not ‘male-friendly’

Aug 2nd, 2010 11:27 am | By

Pakistan’s parliament last year passed the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, but then

it was rejected by the Senate, reportedly because of the objections of one senator, preventing it from becoming a law.

According to insiders, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam – Fazl  senator Maulana Muhammad Sherani (presently the chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology) had objected that the bill was not ‘male-friendly’ and was contradictory to Islamic law.

Later, the Council of Islamic Ideology also termed the bill “unnecessary”, adding that the implementation of this law would increase the rate of divorce in the country.

In other words, the law might make it possible for women to divorce men who beat them up, and that would be bad, so the law must not be passed, because women have to stay with men who beat them up.

It’s interesting that the Council of Islamic Ideology wants to go on the record as thinking that women should not be allowed to leave men who beat them up.

Things with words doing II

Aug 1st, 2010 3:13 pm | By

Part I of this is getting long, so I might as well start another.

Redundancies was one I meant to do yesterday, and forgot.

  • The reason why. Superfluous.
  • The British “in an hour’s time.” Really superfluous. Why is “in an hour’s time” better than “in an hour”? It isn’t. It doesn’t add anything. Once you notice it, it sounds incredibly stupid.

It’s amusing that BBC presenters thoroughly mispronounce “Barack” when Catherine Sangster of the BBC Pronunication Unit has told them and everyone how it’s done. Doesn’t the BBC Pronunication Unit catch prominent mistakes of this kind? I mean the guy’s name comes up pretty often – you’d think someone would eventually notice. And they must get mail.

His name should be pronounced buh-RAAK oh-BAA-muh. When he first came to prominence, there was some disagreement about his first name, which was also sometimes pronounced buh-RACK or even BARR-uhk, but our recommendation is based on the pronunciation he uses himself…

Well quite. (And by the way it’s basically the same as Baruch – so it’s not as alien as all that.)

And then there’s the British insistence on pronouncing every single French word or name with a heavy emphasis on the first syllable, which is pretty much always wrong. Balzac, Renoir, Degas, Sarkozy, Chirac, café, etc etc etc.

But there’s also the Yank way with the letter T. Budder, bedder, pidder padder.

So it goes.

Clean up your mess

Aug 1st, 2010 10:15 am | By

Drat. I thought I was going to be able to drop the subject now, but Aratina Cage pointed out another item. There was another dust-up at the Intersection last March, that I didn’t follow closely at the time. This one was by Kirshenbaum, and it involved taking some unattractive bluster in a few comments at Pharyngula as literal threats of violence against women. You know: as in taking “fuck you” as a threat of rape. I didn’t follow it closely because I didn’t feel like defending unattractive bluster, but I never thought it equated to literal threats.

In any case, as Aratina points out, the thread is full of comments by TJ under his many many fake names. The thread is still there. The whole thing is an attempt to make Pharyngula, and by extension gnu atheists, look bad. It’s full of fraud, and it hasn’t been corrected or even updated.

TJ got in there in a hurry. Milton C did the second comment. Philip Jr did 3, Seminatrix did 4, bilbo did 6, Vyspyr did 8, Petra did 9 and 14, bilbo did 15 and 17 and 20, Milton C did 21. Then TJ dropped out for awhile, then Petra returned at 93, Seminatrix 107, 109, 110, Milton 112, Polly-O 115, Seminatrix 118, 120 (saying “I think it paints PZ in a bad light”), 123, Philip Jr 128, 131, Seminatrix 138, 141, 142…and so on. That’s all of Kirshenbaum’s homework I’m going to do. I think Philip Jr and Vyspyr are suspected socks rather than confirmed socks; the others are solid.

So there it is. A large number of comments by a known fraud, sitting there saying variations on ”I think it paints PZ in a bad light” over and over and over and over again. Not updated, not disavowed, not stamped with a warning.

That’s “journalism”; that’s “civility”; that’s “I don’t like labels”; that’s “commitment to the truth”; that’s dealing with “sore and unjustified abuse.”

So: Sheril Kirshenbaum: you need to fix that.

How to do things with words

Jul 31st, 2010 6:21 pm | By

Jerry has a post on most-hated verbal infelicities. Solecisms, he elegantly says, but I’m going to be cagy, in order to avoid the obligatory lecture about How Language Works. There are no Mistakes; whatever most people do is Right; language is constantly evolving; lots of putative rules are just made up; language is arbitrary; what you think is a new Mistake actually goes back to Knut. Right. Got all that. Not talking about Mistakes. Talking about things I don’t like.

Because I thought I would mention a few things I don’t like.

  • May instead of might. “If things had been different Hitler may have won the war.” No; he might have, but it is not the case that he may have; we know that he didn’t, so “may” is the wrong word.
  • Impact as a verb.
  • Beg the question used to mean raise the question.
  • Dangling clauses. “Walking up the hill, a dog grabbed my lunch.”

And then there are some oddities of British English.

  • Making up their own way of pronouncing Barack. I don’t get this. Why don’t people just take their lead from how he says it himself? Why do they think they get to have their own way of saying other people’s names? BBC reporters pronounce it in a really bizarre and stupid way – Ba-rakk, with the “Ba” pronounced as if it rhymed with hat. The two syllables rhyme – two short flat as, and with equal emphasis (a spondee). That’s comprehensively wrong. It’s pronounced like Barock, with the first syllable a schwa and the second accented. What’s the problem there? It’s not somehow hard for British people to say, the way a French r is hard for all anglophones to say. So why won’t they say it right? It’s so rude. It’s not as if it’s a word they already have a settled pronunciation for, so why do they insist on doing it wrong?
  • Intrusive R. Laura norder, North career, Indier and China.
  • Over-corrected missing R. They ah in the house. That one is perhaps a bit fussy, but it gets on my nerves. Since intrusive R is so pervasive in contemporary British English, why not just get over it and say they are in the house? People who make a self-conscious effort not to pronounce the intrusive R give an irritating little hitch when they say things like “ah in the house” – there’s a little pause and glottal stop there that just isn’t necessary. Go ahead, say are in; ah rin; it’s allowed even in your terms.
  • Squeezed vowels. There are some accents (and I don’t know which ones – I don’t know enough to locate them – not Liverpool or Northern or West Country or East End or estuary) where the oo sound is so squeezed it sounds like ee. Troops are treeps. It’s irritating.

There, that’s enough being annoying for now.

There are no Mistakes, but on the other hand, there is good writing and bad writing. I’m an editor, and I do a lot of work on small verbal items of this kind. I use the subjunctive; I turn “impact” into “affect” or “harm”; I fix dangling clauses.

I also think that a lot of putative rules are made up though. The rule about prepositions at the end of a sentence, for instance – that’s a nonsense rule. Granted it can sometimes sound clumsy and inelegant to end a long complicated sentence with “of” or “for”…but it can also sound stilted and Martian to do the “of which” thing. I once had a very stilted ”for which” thing in an article for TPM, and I wanted to change it into normal English, but I hesitated to do that to the author, who might think the rule is important. So I consulted Julian, and he said “normal every time!” That was what I thought. Sometimes “for which” is ok, but sometimes it just sticks out; this time it stuck out; TPM should be readable.

And that’s how it is in general. You want some flexibility, and a lot of sense of which rules (or “rules”) matter more than others, and a decent ear.

Now that’s what I call accommodation

Jul 31st, 2010 4:58 pm | By

Mark Jones pointed this out in a comment. If this is accommodationism even I can live with it.

Today’s science-oriented atheists call us into right relationship with our time, and that means using all of our best information and cross-cultural experience.

Ours is a time of space telescopes, electron microscopes, supercomputers, and the worldwide web. It is also a time of smart bombs, collapsing economies, and exploding oil platforms. This is not a time for parsing the lessons given to a few goatherds, tentmakers, and camel drivers.

So let today’s collective intelligence revitalize our faith traditions! Let us rejoice in the discovery that the atoms of our bodies were forged inside supernovas, and let us celebrate this natural process as divine.

Let the story of evolution be told in ways that engender familial love and gratitude that we are related to everything—not just monkeys, but jellyfish and zucchini too. Let us marvel at how rapidly our species has learned to care and cooperate in ever-widening circles: from family groups and tribes all the way to nation-states, and now globally.

An evolutionary God can be as vast, as real, and as all embracing as our creative Cosmos and no more inclined than the Universe to take sides in matters of war, weather, or geological upheaval.

All right! Let’s do that! Or let’s you do that, and I’ll just skip the words God and divine but I promise not to scowl or squirm or look out the window when you do, and we’ll all join hands and love each other to bits.

A loose end

Jul 30th, 2010 5:25 pm | By

So, as I mentioned, a late reply to Mooney’s post about me on July 12.

We stopped allowing Benson to comment here back in mid 2009, for very good reasons–among other things, she was sending us emails demanding to have other posters’ comments deleted. We had a better solution.

You can read the thread where they made this reasonable decision. My comments are numbers 35, 37, 90 and 92. They’re not flamey. Then at 104 we get TB:

When Ophelia Benson claims through her “questions” that Chris and Sheril have no evidence she is not telling the truth. It’s one thing for people who haven’t read the book to assert this – she has the book.
So let me say that again and more emphatically: She is lying…

Benson doesn’t just disagree. She lies and asserts that they have nothing to back up their assertions…

Benson is a troll – she’s added nothing to the conversation and deliberately misleads people about the content of the book. She has her own site to do that on – ban her here.

I asked M&K to delete the assertions that I was lying – I didn’t “demand,” I asked – but they did what TB demanded instead, and banned me shortly after that. I think that’s disgusting. Today, on the other hand, Mooney deleted part of a comment by Hitch, that Hitch then posted elsewhere:

And how Jean used snide remarks against New Atheists throughout.

That’s it – that’s what Hitch wrote, that’s what Mooney deleted. His rules are somewhat arbitrary.

The whole of the rest of the post deals with the fact that I said it was “bilbo” who called me a liar; my mistake, it was TB. That makes M&K look even worse, actually, because TB (Tim Broderick) is still a valued commenter, who has just succeeded in bullying Hitch off the Intersection. “bilbo” was one of “Tom Johnson”‘s sock puppets, but TB is a real and trusted regular fan and commenter – who announces that people are lying when they’re not. I should have checked again, of course; I should have gotten the right name; but the defense of allowing their fans to call their critics liars while preventing the critics from replying is not convincing. It’s also distasteful that it is made on a post where the comments are closed. It was distasteful on the “new atheists are medieval witch hunters baying for blood” post at Talking Philosophy, it was distasteful on the “Believe Me” post at Kazez’s blog, and it’s distasteful in Mooney’s post about me.


Jul 30th, 2010 1:17 pm | By

Mooney has done another “What Tom Johnson has taught Me” post. It repairs some previous omissions, so it is a small improvement, but it is flawed.

I regret that I gave this story undue prominence, and I want to apologize to all who were affected by that action.

No he doesn’t, not really. As usual, he omits some people, so he doesn’t want to apologize to all who were affected by that action. He doesn’t want to apologize to me, for instance. I was affected by that action. He shouldn’t give himself the moral credit for a blanket apology when he’s not in fact making one.

Mooney goes on to insinuate that gnu atheists did something to make Tom Johnson so crazy – but – that is

no justification for the trumped-up original story or for his other actions—which, as we now know, included creating multiple sock puppets over a long period of time and using them to nastily trash his “New Atheist” opponents.

Yes, and it was Mooney who hosted those sock puppets; it was Mooney who banned me for asking him questions about his book while allowing those sock puppets to trash-talk about his gnu atheist opponents, for months. Mooney helped to create the climate in which TJ grew and festered. Mooney obviously liked the nasty trashing of the gnu atheist opponents; that’s obvious because Mooney has a very quick hand with the delete button, so if he doesn’t delete something, it’s safe to assume that he likes it. TJ is the child of Mooney – that is, a product of the vituperative atmosphere Mooney created.

We are left with no reliable evidence of loud, boorish, confrontational public behavior by atheists at events with religious believers. Those who have problems with the “New Atheism” should not use this line of argument in their critiques, unless or until such evidence is produced.

We never had any such reliable evidence. We’ve had ten months with this lie out there, painting gnu atheists as rude stupid belligerent vulgarians. It’s ten months too late to say we have no reliable evidence for that now. We never did have. Mooney should have been able to see that last October.

Jean Kazez…has been sorely and unjustly abused online over this affair…

Bullshit. She’s been disputed and criticised, not abused and not unjustly. She wasn’t, for instance, called anything even approaching “useless putrid twat.” I was. Kazez was not subject to any misogynist raving, but I was. Yet Mooney weeps crocodile tears for Kazez and doesn’t mention me. Mooney probably realizes that he did a lot to create TJ and his sock puppets, and thus that he did a lot to inspire the sewage that TJ and his socks flung at me; but he doesn’t mention me. Mooney is at fault here, but he doesn’t mention it. His post is, as I mentioned, incomplete.

In conclusion, I want to thank everyone who has tried to establish and to explain the truth here: “Johnson’s” adviser and Jerry Coyne; and also TB and Jean Kazez.

That’s another one of those fake blankets. I did a lot more to try to establish the truth “here” than TB and Kazez did. I also did in fact point some of it out a hell of a lot sooner than they did – starting last October. So when Mooney says “everyone” he is misleading the reader; he doesn’t mean “everyone” at all. He doesn’t, for instance, mean me. Well he should. I suspect he knows he should. But he won’t admit it.

Furthermore, to repeat, TB is not a truth-seeker. TB called me a liar just for asking M&K a list of questions about their book. I was not lying when I did that. TB is not an honest broker here.

I’m disturbed that someone on my “side” of this debate would do the things “Johnson” has done, painting a group as uncivil based on what is at best a serious exaggeration, while simultaneously spewing reams of incivility towards that group online, under multiple identities. There is no excuse for such behavior–and moreover, there has been a very big cost in this case to a lot of people, both in time and in grief.

Quite, and I’m the one who got the worst of the spewed reams of incivility; yet Mooney never mentions me throughout the post.

If there is any silver lining at all here, perhaps after working to find out the truth together about “Tom Johnson,” so-called “New Atheists” and “accommodationists” might feel the inclination to be just a little bit more civil and trusting towards one another. We do have a shared commitment to the truth, and a means of discerning it—and those have won out in this case. Let’s not forget that as we carry on the argument for science and reason in the future.

Oh dear god. Mooney is the one who picked this fight, and then went on picking it and picking it and picking it – pissing on gnu atheists in every major media outlet that invited him, for months – yet he pretends both sides are equally to blame. And as for the shared commitment to truth…………that’s just beyond even ridicule. Let’s not forget that Chris Mooney is the last person in the world to be giving advice on either “civility” or truth-seeking.

What we can do

Jul 28th, 2010 11:19 am | By

Christina Patterson accepts a little too much.

 I accept that people should, except in certain professional situations which involve dealing with the public, be allowed to wear whatever they like, and that laws which prevent this are self-defeating, and that you can’t stop parents, or rabbis, teaching little boys that adult women shouldn’t even be brushed against on a bus, and I accept that some of these things are an inevitable consequence of a modern, and in many ways magnificent, multi-cultural society.

I don’t think we have to accept that you can’t stop parents, or rabbis, teaching little boys that adult women are contaminants. We have to accept that you can’t forcibly, physically stop them, but we don’t have to accept that you can’t slowly and carefully and fairly stop them by teaching them better. We don’t have to just shrug and say “oh well if parents or rabbis want to teach little boys that women are filthy, there’s nothing we can do about it.” Yes there is, and we have to do what we can about it, just as we do if parents or clerics are teaching children that black people, or dalits, or Jews, or foreigners, or atheists are filthy. We have to do what we can, consistent with liberal norms of freedom and autonomy, to counter ideas of that kind: ideas that are baseless and harmful and at the extreme dangerous.

Gnu atheists close the bar

Jul 28th, 2010 11:05 am | By

It was fun last night. PZ was there, Cam and Josh were there, and about thirty other interesting people were there. We bayed for blood, we cooked little children into soup, we tore up holy books, we made plans for world domination. The usual.

Tuesday around 6ish

Jul 25th, 2010 4:21 pm | By

It seems unlikely that there is anyone in the Seattle area who reads me but doesn’t read Pharyngula, but just in case there is, PZ is in town (in Auburn actually) and we’re going to meet up at the Pike Place Brewery so that Pharyngulites can buy us a beer. Cam and Josh will be there I think. Come along.

Some solid information at last

Jul 25th, 2010 11:52 am | By

Jerry Coyne has done a post on “Tom Johnson” and “Exhibit A” and the mythical rudeness and savagery and tendency to spit and kick of the mythical “New Atheists.”

The upshot is, Exhibit A never happened. It was a story. The guy who played the part of “Tom Johnson” made it up. He has apologized to Jerry via email, and says he will apologize to other people soon.

So that’s that. The “new atheists are evil and Exhibit A may have happened” crowd are wrong, and we can stop arguing about it.

There’s another thing.

“Tom Johnson” (hereafter “TJ”) remains anonymous, though his identity is apparently known by Mooney, Jean Kazez, and others.  For a few weeks I have known it as well, as I am friends with some of the principals in this case.  In return for my promise not to reveal TJ’s real name, I have been party to some of the details of the situation presented as “Exhibit A.” I have also questioned the other person who was supposedly involved in that “conservation event.”  I have spoken to TJ’s advisor (Johnson is a graduate student at a university in the South), and have learned more of the details from that person.  TJ has apologized to me by email for his actions, and says he will be apologizing to others soon.  His advisor and his university are looking at his actions to see if any formal academic transgressions occurred. [emphasis added]

He’s being held accountable, so we don’t need to hold him accountable. So that’s that. Excellent. I wanted him to be held accountable in some way, if only to make it more difficult or risky for him to do it again, but I did not want to out him. I wasn’t baying for blood; I wanted accountability for someone who called me a liar and a useless putrid twat. I do not think that makes me a medieval witch-hunter baying for blood. I’m glad we have that straight.

Make your vote count

Jul 24th, 2010 12:34 pm | By

Exactly. If only more people realized this.

It’s a question of integrity. If I don’t agree with some of the church’s most central teachings that rule out – on a spectrum from abomination to sinful – contraception, abortion, sex before marriage, homosexual sex, divorce and women priests, then I really shouldn’t be a member.

Quite right, not least because your membership does its bit to endorse those central teachings. Membership is a kind of vote – passive, but nonetheless countable. If you think some of the church’s most central teachings are reactionary and hostile to women, then quite right, you shouldn’t cast your vote for them.

I haven’t practised since I made my Confirmation, yet my name is still on the membership register, the baptismal roll. The church can count on my apparent allegiance when quoting membership statistics to bolster its authority. It does so routinely when opposing legislative change. In Australia a quarter of the population identifies as Catholic, although only 15 per cent of that quarter attend Mass regularly. In Ireland about 43 per cent of the total population are churchgoers, with about 90 per cent of residents identifying as Catholic. Now, after the clerical child abuse scandals, I’ve had enough. Way too much. I want out.

Quite right. See if you can get Madeleine Bunting to go with you.