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.


Aug 17th, 2012 12:39 pm | By

Ron Lindsay has an interesting post on Jonathan Haidt and his insistence on the importance of “sanctity” as a foundation of morality, which is something I’ve been disputing for more than five years.

In arguing for the importance of sanctity, Haidt relies heavily on the reactions of individuals in other, non-Western cultures to conduct they consider degrading and violative of various taboos, such as a woman eating a meal with men. Haidt maintains, with some justification, that these reactions show that conventional morality in many cultures includes prohibitions based on sanctified custom and a sense or revulsion as opposed to any reasoning about the harm caused.

Yes, but he does it by pointing to the people who end up on the top of those cultures instead of those on the bottom, which is both incomplete and drastically anti-egalitarian. 

He suggests we suppose we grow up as a Brahmin in Bhubaneswar (pp. 228-9).

Every day of your life you have to respect the invisible lines separating pure from profane spaces, and you have to keep track of people’s fluctuating levels of purity before you can touch them or take anything from their hands…Hinduism structures your social space through a caste system based on the purity and pollution of various occupations…The experience of meaningfulness just happens…In contrast, think about the last empty ritual you took part in.

Wrong contrast, bub. In contrast, think about someone in that situation who is not a Brahmin! Think about being one of the people whose ‘fluctuating levels of purity’ the Brahmin ‘has to’ keep track of, or one of the people whose pollution is inborn and permanent – then drool about the experience of meaningfulness. Think about being a dalit or a woman or both and then talk crap about meaningfulness versus empty rituals.

That’s me five years ago, but I would say the same thing today. It’s almost like arguing that extreme inequality of wealth is a great thing, because imagine yourself as Bill Gates.

Back to Ron’s post.

Why am I spending time on this issue? Principally because I’m concerned with how Haidt’s claims can provide cover for those religious dogmatists who use the importance of the “sacred” as justification for enforcing taboos—taboos that often serve to perpetuate oppression and subordination of one class of humans by another. Perhaps the most prevalent taboos are those dealing with women, many of which preclude women from being treated as the equals of men and stigmatize them as dirty, contaminated beings.

Exactly. I think Haidt has another rhapsodic passage somewhere – but I haven’t been able to find it – about eating with a bunch of men while the women were off in the back of the house somewhere, and it had the same clueless “oh isn’t this special” note while it completely ignored the people who get the short stick. (Anybody recognize that? Know where it is?)

I don’t deny that taboos have played a large role in the history of human morality. They can simplify matters, allow for the easy transmission of norms from generation to generation, and, especially for humans who are not accustomed to reason about moral issues, they remove the burden of thinking. Beginning with the Enlightenment, however, many in the West began to question blind adherence to various customs, including customs that were supported by religious authority. Throughout his book, Haidt warns the reader not to equate the morality of WEIRD (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic) cultures with morality in general. As factual matter, he’s correct that WEIRD morality is not shared by everyone in the world, and it is advisable to bear this in mind when dealing with other cultures. But, unlike Haidt, I don’t think this implies that “liberals” are overlooking a key foundation of morality when they don’t think in terms of what’s sacred and instead confine their moral reasoning largely to questions of fairness and harm. They’re not overlooking the sacred; they’ve outgrown it.

And that’s a good thing. Concern for sanctity and purity doesn’t make things better. Pakistan is “the land of the pure” – how’s that working out?

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Two years in the slammer

Aug 17th, 2012 11:14 am | By

Russia tells the world it has learned nothing from its authoritarian history and goes right on being authoritarian by sentencing Pussy Riot to two years in prison. For what? For staging a political protest in a church.

“The girls’ actions were sacrilegious, blasphemous and broke the church’s rules,” Judge Marina Syrova told the court as she spent three hours reading the verdict while the women stood watching in handcuffs inside a glass courtroom cage.

Maybe all three of those claims are true, but they still shouldn’t be subject to punishment by the state. The state shouldn’t be telling people what is “sacrilegious” or whether or not they’re allowed to do things that are “sacrilegious.” The state shouldn’t be concerning itself with what is or is not “blasphemous.” The church’s rules should be for the church to enforce, along with proportional, reasonable state enforcement of privacy and/or property laws if they applied. But sacrilege, blasphemy, the church’s rules? Not the state’s business. Putin isn’t a tsar.

She declared all three guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, saying they had deliberately offended Russian Orthodox believers by storming the altar of Moscow’s main cathedral in February to belt out a song deriding Putin.

There it is again. Not something the state should be policing. Russia isn’t supposed to be a theocracy.

Russia’s like Basil Fawlty, isn’t it; it just can’t get it right. Stalin on the one hand, crawling to the church on the other.

Valentina Ivanova, 60, a retired doctor, said outside the courtroom: “What they did showed disrespect towards everything, and towards believers first of all.”

Not a crime. Not worthy of two years in prison. Respect for everything should not be mandated by the state or enforced by the judiciary.

“Evil must be punished,” said Maria Butilno, 60, who held an icon and said Pussy Riot had insulted the faithful.

It’s not the state’s job to punish “evil.” Let the faithful take comfort in the thought that God will teach them better in the next world. (Seriously. Why isn’t that the best outcome? Skip the punishment. Just be patient, and in due course God will show them where they went wrong, and all wounds will be healed.)



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Seven years and seven minutes

Aug 16th, 2012 5:14 pm | By

One of the 3000 creators of Curiosity Mars Rover, who spent seven years working on it, put together a video about that night. “Touchdown confirmed, we’re safe on Mars.”

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

No Gynopolis after all

Aug 16th, 2012 4:50 pm | By

Correction time. Al Arabiya says the “Saudis planning to build a city for women only” was a dud. Says it ain’t true.

Mind you, the real story isn’t very attractive either – the city will be for men and women but there will be lots of segregated facilities, so women will have more job opportunities.

Still separate but equal, in other words. Good that they don’t actually have to go live in WomenOnlyWorld in order to have a job, but bad that they have to work there, since separate is not equal.

It all started with a press release by MODON, the Saudi Industrial Property Authority. The title of this press release reads: “’MODON’ begins Planning and Development for the First Industrial City being readied for Women in the Kingdom.”

It seems that no one read past that title. The subhead of the press release, set in italics, reads: “Al-Ahsa 2nd Industrial City will create job opportunities for both men and women.”

Yes, both men and women.

The second paragraph clearly states that the city “is not intended for women only.”

MODON clarified the issue further on Tuesday.

“It’s a city like any other city, where men and women work. But special sections and production halls will be reserved for women within the factories,” the Authority told Al Arabiya English via Twitter.

Special sections and production halls; lucky them.

But still – correction where correction is due.

H/t to Chris Stedman for pointing this out.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Trolls call me things

Aug 16th, 2012 2:48 pm | By

Someone that calls itself @ikonographer and describes itself as

atheist. provacateur. all around asshole. (get it? ‘all a round’ asshole). Hey, fuck you, I’ve seen square ones. not pretty.

Someone I don’t know, by the way; someone I’m not aware of ever having had any interaction with, tweeted me

@opheliabenson i always figured you didn’t have scruples. hard to do if you’re not really human. don’t bother. blocked bitch.

People are strange. Strange strange strange strange.

(I know. This is “drama.” Yes, no doubt, but it’s also political. Because it’s political, we have to talk about it. Drama or no drama.)

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

An unequivocal evil

Aug 16th, 2012 12:28 pm | By

Raymond Tallis in the next issue of The New Humanist makes the case for assisted dying.

The case for a law to legalise the choice of physician-assisted dying for mentally competent people with terminal illness, who have expressed a settled wish to die, is very  easily stated. Unbearable suffering, prolonged by medical care, and inflicted on a dying patient against their will, is an unequivocal evil. What’s more, the right to have your choices supported by others, to  determine your own best interest, when you are of sound mind, is  sovereign. And this is accepted by a steady 80-plus per cent of the UK population in successive surveys.

But the UK population still can’t have it, because god. But the goddists try to hide the god part, so that they can win.

Only four of the known 30 member organisations of Care Not Killing are non-religious. So much for “a broad coalition”. Dr Peter Saunders, CEO of the Christian Medical Fellowship and Campaign Director of Care Not Killing, made the strategy clear:

“As Christian doctors we oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide because we believe in the sanctity of human life made in the image of God … But to win the debate on assisted dying we need to be using arguments that will make sense to those who do not share our Christian beliefs … Christian doctors need to play a key role in this debate; and they will do so most effectively by learning to put what are essentially Christian arguments in secular language.”

In other words, we christians want to bully everyone, so we’ll hide our christianness to fool people into thinking we have secular reasons so that they will let us bully them into doing what we want-because-god.

Most faith-based opponents of assisted dying, therefore, conceal their real reasons behind arguments intended to instil fear of the consequences of legalisation – mobilising factoids that do not withstand scrutiny as part of the “strictly evidence-based approach” referred to by Living and Dying Well.

He ends with the horrible death of Ann McPherson – a doctor and the wife and mother of doctors – who had wanted and campaigned for choice in dying but didn’t get it.

The end came at last, after three endless, unbearable weeks of unremitting suffering:

“Even as she died, her body seemed furious with its final fight, gasping to the end, and in a desperate haunting shudder I found myself sitting in pools of expelled fluid. That was not what she wanted. Mum had seen this happen before and wanted to avoid it, for future patients and their families.”

Thus the testimony (much abbreviated) of a loving daughter.

Because of the fancy footwork of those who have beliefs I do not share, this is a fate that could await me or those I love. A small but vocal group, prepared to bear other people’s suffering heroically for the sake of God, must not be allowed to impose their views on the rest of the medical profession, and through them on society as a whole. Opponents of change make a lot of noise – it’s time that the relatively silent majority made more.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

You’re back!

Aug 16th, 2012 10:11 am | By

Awwww department. Two gorilla brothers are re-united after the older one, silverback Kesho, had been taken away for stud duties. The Beeb has a slide show. Awww. Those faces they’re making – those are “play-faces.” The lips cover the teeth.


H/t Bernard Hurley

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

A city in a ditch

Aug 15th, 2012 5:48 pm | By

Taslima’s very pissed off at Saudi Arabia, and rightly so. It’s planning to build women-only cities, Caroline Davies reports.

A women-only industrial city dedicated to female workers is to be constructed  in Saudi Arabia to provide a working environment that is in line with the kingdom’s strict customs.

The city, to be built in the Eastern Province city of Hofuf, is set to be the first of several planned for the Gulf kingdom. The aim is to allow more women to work and achieve greater financial independence, but to maintain the gender segregation, according to reports.

Sweet and thoughtful, isn’t it.

Homa Khaleeli doesn’t think so.

The female half of the adult population of Saudi Arabia is considered unfit to control their own lives. Women cannot decide whether to leave the house, whether or who to marry, whether to work or study, whether to travel, what to wear, or even whether to have major surgery – without the consent of a male guardian.

In a country of such startling misogyny, which treats women like children, it is hardly surprising there are few women in work and that it is becoming a crises the ruling elite is being forced to take notice of. Almost 60% of the country’s college graduates are women, but 78% of female university graduates are apparently unemployed – despite the fact more than 1,000 hold a doctorate degree. In total only 15% of Saudi Arabia’s workforce are women. And unlike in many recession-hit countries, there are more than enough jobs to go around – the economy apparently booming.

Well who wants to hire someone in a body bag? Who can’t drive or talk to men or do most things without a male escort?

But how can further segregation be expected to solve the problems caused by discrimination? It takes a peculiar leap of logic to think the answer is instead to build whole new cities where women who choose to have careers can be herded. Would this be seen as acceptable, even progressive, if the cities were there to house workplaces for people of one race rather than one gender? But where are the voices calling for an end to the country’s discriminatory practices? There has been none of the broad support that would have ensued had the segregation been along race lines. In South Africa such segregation was the basis for a worldwide boycott, yet Saudi Arabia is merely seen as an “exceptional” place with a different culture.

Oh, it’s just women. Cool your jets.




(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

On ‘A Plea in Law for Equal Marriage’

Aug 15th, 2012 3:41 pm | By

Helen Dale won the 2012 Law Society of Scotland Essay Award for a piece entitled ‘A Plea in Law for Equal Marriage’. The Journal of the Law Society of Scotland has published that piece.

Helen explains at Skepticlawyer why she wrote the piece. It’s because the arguments in play were crap.

I suspect that this is why the arguments both groups used (and continue to use, alas) were very, very bad.

Now, I agreed with the LGBT ‘side’; that’s why I wrote the essay I did. But their arguments were crap. And the Catholic Church’s were similarly awful. Sometimes it really is a case of ‘play to your strengths’, lads (even when the batsman in question, like Kevin Pietersen, wants to belt everything on the leg side).

To that end, I wrote an empirical, positivist essay on the arguments for same-sex marriage. When I reference ‘human rights’, it is only incidental to my major focus: providing empirical proof and establishing formal validity for a proposed change in the law. At all times, I kept my eyes focussed on the human institution of the Scottish Parliament (‘it looks like someone swallowed a jigsaw,’ says one friend of mine ‘and then threw up on the Old Town’).

The virtue of making an empirical argument focussed on validity and ‘doability’ is that it allowed Peter Nicholson, The Journal’s splendid editor, to extract a natural law argument against equal marriage from John Deighan, the Parliamentary Officer for the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland.

This is the right way around, jurisprudentially, and both arguments are better for it. The Catholic natural lawyer draws on his tradition, bringing forth its contribution to human rights law and the notion of entrenched rights. The Skeptic legal positivist draws on her tradition, bringing forth its contribution to liberal parliamentary institutions and scientific rigour.

In the prize-winning essay Helen sets us straight on the history (as she has done here, enlighteningly).

It has become fashionable to argue that marriage in the past was always loveless, and a matter of arrangement and alliances, but that is just as historically illiterate as universalising the modern world’s focus on love and affection.

Although the assertion that Christianity invented marriage is ridiculous, it is worth addressing because it is sometimes allied to another falsity: that Christian Europe was the first truly monogamous civilisation. In fact, pagan Rome made monogamy a marital universal, with its great Empire imposing civilisational family values on conquered peoples in a manner to make the governors of British India blush.(7)

The difference, of course, is that classical Roman monogamy was strikingly modern, while the later Christian version (enacted, of course, by Roman Christians) was not. Classical Roman marriage law protected women’s property,(8) respected women’s autonomy,(9) did not impair married women’s capacity to contract, and allowed unilateral and consensual divorce to both men and women on equal terms.(10)

By contrast, Christian emperors constricted access to divorce, eventually banning it outright; severely impaired a married woman’s capacity not only to manage her property but also to leave the house without her husband’s permission, and – under Constantine – attempted to make (female) adultery a capital offence.(11)

Read the whole thing.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

To combat a nefarious “other”

Aug 15th, 2012 11:43 am | By

Paul Fidalgo has a great contribution to Amy’s series. (That’s Amy Davis Roth, Surlyramics Amy. Just in case you’ve forgotten.)

There’s this movement, the skeptical/atheist movement. Why are we in it? Various reasons.

Some are moved by social justice and civil rights, some by a devotion to reality and truth, some who simply want a community of intelligent, creative folks, and of course there will be some who want a faction to join in order to combat a nefarious “other.”

Ah yes that nefarious other. I try to make the nefarious other be a thing rather than a set of people, but do I always succeed? Of course not.

But for some folks, that kind of factioning isn’t enough. It needs to go deeper. There needs to be an enemy. What is so deeply saddening to me is that for many who consider themselves part of this community, the enemy is women. And why? Because they’d like you to stop threatening them with rape and violence and treating them like chattel, thank you very much. I know. The nerve.

Also because women are so handy for the purpose. It’s such a quick and easy way to big up the self, if you don’t happen to be a woman – you can just remind yourself that you’re not stupid or weak or treacherous or whiny or manipulative or sly or bitchy or a cunt or slutty like those awful women.

So what I think might be helpful here is a distinguishing between those who simply operate in the skepto-atheosphere (on and off-line) and those who consider themselves part of a movement. Because you can be a skeptic and you can be an atheist and also be a rotten person who thinks little of your fellow humans who happen to have a double-X chromosome.

But I don’t think you can be part of this movement.

I know, I don’t get to decide these kinds of things. But if I did, it’d go something like this:

This movement (not merely the community of heretics, but the movement) is about lessening the power of religion, superstition, and credulous thinking because we want to live in a world guided by facts, science, and reason, because (and here’s the part I might lose some of you) we want to live in a world that maximizes human happiness, morality, freedom of thought and expression, and equality. Atheism and skepticism for their own sakes are not “causes.” They are not, in and of themselves, worthy of a movement. But we pursue these goals because we know they will bring about a society in which we are more free and equal, and in turn we will be more fulfilled and enriched as a result.

Yes. Atheism without morality, freedom of thought and expression, and equality? No fucking thank you. Yes this means giving up the delicious pleasure of bigging up the self by reminding it that it’s not like that horrible other – but you know what? It’s worth it.

So here is my opinion (not necessarily that of my employer). If you don’t share the goals outlined above, if you think it’s cool or funny or even necessary to debase or threaten women, then you’re just not part of the movement, even if you think you are. Because if making a fairer, better world is not your goal, then what are you fighting for? The right to terrorize people? The right to feel superior? Them’s small fries, my friend. You can do better.

Yes they are, and yes you can.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

A one-way trip to hell and that lifelong bunsen burner

Aug 15th, 2012 10:29 am | By

The Heresy Club is great value, as you probably know.

Siana Bangura has a great post on “Black Atheism and why it’s something to talk about.”

For me, the biggest battle I face is dealing with the confusion and pity that my lack of belief often stirs in some. I remember an episode at school one lunchtime when I was surrounded by ‘The God Squad’ who chanted and prayed *AT* me with their Bibles and Rosary Beads. They said my ‘soul’ needed ‘saving’ and that I was on a one-way trip to hell and that lifelong bunsen burner if I didn’t ‘repent’. It was truly terrifying and also extremely laughable all at once. They simply didn’t understand me. I didn’t fit into their box, their little world, their narrow world view. They told me I was trying to be ‘white’. I was often called a ‘coconut’, or a ‘milkyway’ or an ‘Oreo’ if the mood was right. You know, black on the outside and white on the inside? I didn’t see it as bullying, and I don’t think it was. It was a terrifyingly real demonstration of the power of religion though. These girls quite often behaved in Un-Christian ways (although there was a wave of “Born Again” business just before we finished year eleven) and I didn’t quite understand why they felt they had the right to preach at me. But then again, the hypocrisy of religious people is something I have always known. The type of black community I was surrounded by was the type that accepts crooks, cons, thugs, woman beaters, drug dealers, absent fathers, womanizers and adulterers, but never gays and never non-believers. The latter did not exist.

She has a lot to say.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Underwear on toast

Aug 15th, 2012 10:11 am | By

American Atheists is putting up two billboards for the presidential nominating conventions.


[Courtesy of American Atheists]

God the space alien in magic Mormon underwear. Jesus on toast.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Remembering that we can be wrong

Aug 14th, 2012 4:31 pm | By

Jacques Rousseau has a guest post at Martin Pribble’s blog in which he talks about atheists’ shared commitment to reason and desire to be guided by the evidence rather than superstition or dogma.

…it doesn’t seem much of a stretch to suggest that we should apply the same critical mindset to propositions beyond merely the god hypothesis.

So, when we speak of social justice, equality, freedom of speech and so forth, it’s reasonable to expect some similarity in approach, even if not in conclusions reached. To put it plainly, an approach in which we listen to the evidence, in other words to each other, without pre-judging what someone is going to say, what they believe, or what ideological faction they belong to. Their arguments are assessed on their merits, rather than via knowing which websites they frequently comment on.

Nobody can deny that some participants in these conversations are not honest brokers. Some are simply unreconstructed trolls, others trolls of the sly sort, mimicking critical reflection while subtly distracting – and detracting – from the real issues that others are trying to address. Another set of “others” aren’t trolls at all – and it seems to me that the community of sceptical and/or atheist activists and bloggers sometimes have a difficult time of it in distinguishing between these sorts of contributor to the debate.

Sometimes! Difficult! More like all the time and damn near impossible. Trolls of both kinds have so cluttered everything up with their dedicated full-time trolling that curating comments can be a nightmare. This situation is not conducive to fostering a critical mindset.

…the debate on misogyny in the sceptical community has escalated to such an extent that there’s a lot that can’t be heard over the screaming. Yes, there is certainly plenty that doesn’t need to be heard because it genuinely is sexist, or excuses sexism. But simply labelling someone a “rape apologist”, for example, doesn’t magically transform someone into actually being a rape apologist.

Although it might do so non-magically, out of sheer rage and frustration. I don’t think I use that particular epithet though…

A problem here is that we could mean different things by a phrase like “rape apologist”. Coming from a position of privilege, most men might well be unaware of how that privilege biases them against seeing various threats, insults or instances of being demeaned or trivialised that women experience. This blindness might make them too tolerant (in other words, at all tolerant) of sexist language, or stereotypes around what it means when a woman dresses in a particular way.

To be clear, this blindness is bad, and needs correction. It’s certainly bad if we create, endorse, or fail to combat a climate of hostility to any poorly defined (and heterogeneous) group like “women”. And the fact that some women believe that such a climate currently exists is a problem in itself, whether or not you’re complicit in creating that climate. In fact, it’s a problem whether or not such hostility even exists – unless you want to claim it’s a complete fabrication, the perception most likely finds inspiration in some forms of behaviour or speech that we could modify at little or no cost.

Yes it’s a problem. The failure to combat the climate of hostility is a huge, huge problem. The endless coffee jokes and elevator jokes and she so ugly jokes – huge problem. Bridges crumbling and disappearing into the bottomless chasm, for the sake of just one more coffee joke. It’s sad.

And this is a key thing: it’s not PZ (or whoever’s) job to control the people who comment on their posts. But we all need to be aware that we set the tone at our websites not only by what we write, but also by how we respond to those who leave comments.

So if someone doesn’t give someone else a chance to explain what might be an honest mistake, rather than an attempt at trolling or rape apologetics, before descending on them with abuse, that abusive reaction is also antithetical to the skeptical cause, and should also be called out by the blog owner or other commenters. If it’s not called out, we quickly become gangs who have chosen a side, and chosen our authorities or leaders, and who then defend our turf by whatever means necessary – whether principled or not.

I think he’s right about that…But then another apparent troll (or just genuine dissenter) turns up, and it becomes difficult to act accordingly. Also, sometimes, several people respond to something at the same time, and it looks like piling on but isn’t – it’s people typing simultaneously and not realizing it until the comments are already posted.

Yet, we have to make distinctions between well-meaning interlocutors and trolls, and we all want to keep our websites and blogs free of trollish pestilence. So patience cannot be infinite. But when the current tensions started escalating to the point of an apparent civil war, it started to appear as if – increasingly – some members of this community started making judgements before hearing any arguments.

If all we want is to feel self-righteous, and right, that’s fine. It is indeed good to know who the enemy is. But it’s also good to change the enemy’s mind, where possible, and it’s good to discover that someone you thought of as an enemy is actually simply a confused friend. Let’s be wary of making the latter two sorts of interaction impossible.

Yes let’s.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Atoms in motion, or just atoms in motion?

Aug 14th, 2012 3:18 pm | By

Now it’s Dawkins’s turn to be called a bully for no real reason.

This time it’s an Australian theologian. His argument reminds me of the claim of “Froborr” last winter that Greta Christina’s aspiration for a world where religion no longer exists is “evil in one of its purest forms,” although Neil Ormerod is much less clumsy about it. It’s to do with purpose and free will and whether it’s possible to consider reason normative for humans while also considering humans “just atoms in motion.” (But does Dawkins consider humans just atoms in motion? It depends what you mean by “just,” but I think it’s fair to say he doesn’t in the sense that seems to imply. If he did he wouldn’t bother, would he.)

He might view what we think of as our free choices as nothing more than the statistical outcome of more basic physical processes, so that some move one way and others another. In which case, people are not moved by reason to change their position, but by complex forces they cannot grasp. The appeal to reason, then, is simply a mask for other forces which shift the probability of people moving in the direction Dawkins wishes them to move in. It really is then nothing more than an alpha male beating his chest in a display of force seeking to intimidate the weaker members of the group into accepting his leadership. Among human beings, this is called bullying.

No I don’t think so. Substitute the word “ultimately” for “just” and then perhaps you can see why. I, for instance, do think that I am “ultimately” atoms in motion, but I keep busy during this period that the atoms make up a sentient animal. That’s because I don’t think I’m “just” atoms in motion.

So which Richard Dawkins should we accept? Is it the one who implicitly believes that human beings have a purpose to their living, and that this purpose is to be guided by reason, who appeals to the innate reasonableness of every human being and the exigency to be led by that reasonableness? Or it is the one who explicitly eschews meaning and purpose in the universe and whose writings the[n] amount to a form of social bullying, because the decisions we make are nothing but reactions to the ebb and flow of physical forces around us?

See what he did there? Adding the words in the universe makes a difference. I don’t think there is any meaning and purpose in the universe, but down here in the layer of life on this planet, I think humans make meaning and purpose. One way to make meaning and purpose is to encourage and train people to use their faculties – gymnastics, music, reason, whatever. Dawkins does that. Calling it bullying is a stretch.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Nuns pushing back

Aug 14th, 2012 9:24 am | By

The disobedient nuns had their annual meeting last week in St Louis. (How appropriate. I wonder if they always hold their meetings in a saintly or otherwise piously-named city. They have a lot to choose from – St Paul, San Antonio, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Santa Fe, Providence…)

They’re not defying, but they’re not giving in, either. Maybe they’re just playing for time.

American nuns described as dissenters in a Vatican report that ordered an overhaul of their group said Friday they will talk with church leaders about potential changes but will not compromise on the sisters’ mission.

Sister Pat Farrell, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, called the Vatican assessment of the organization a “misrepresentation.” But she said the more than 900 women who attended the group’s national assembly this week decided they would for now stay open to discussion with three bishops the Vatican appointed to oversee them.

The thing about that of course is that it’s not discussion that the Vatican intends. The Vatican doesn’t consider itself a partner in dialogue with a buncha nuns. The Vatican is telling them what’s what, not chatting.

The nuns must know that, but the plan seems to be to pretend they don’t. The bishops helpfully spell it out for them every chance they get, but the nuns go on pretending (or really not understanding, but that seems hard to credit).

“The officers will proceed with these discussions as long as possible but will reconsider if LCWR is forced to compromise the integrity of its mission,” Farrell said at a news conference, where she declined to discuss specifics.

“As long as possible” – playing for time.

The St. Louis meeting was the group’s first national gathering since a Vatican review concluded the sisters had “serious doctrinal problems” and promoted “certain radical feminist themes” that undermine Catholic teaching on all-male priesthood, birth control and homosexuality. The nuns also were criticized for remaining nearly silent in the fight against abortion.

Radical feminist – me, Rebecca, and the nuns.

“I think what we want is to finally, at some end stage of the process, to be recognized and understood as equal in the church, that our form of religious life can be respected and affirmed,” Farrell said Friday.

She said she wanted to create [a] church environment that allows them to “openly and honestly search for truth together, to talk about issues that are very complicated and there is not that climate right now.”

No there isn’t, but then that’s the nature of the Catholic church.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Woman iz associate to man, can haz some rites

Aug 13th, 2012 5:45 pm | By

Uh oh.

Tunisia is working on a new constitution. That is, Tunisia’s government is. Tunisia’s government is Islamist.

Tunisian politicians have provoked outrage by debating draft laws that would impose prison sentences for vaguely defined acts of blasphemy and approving wording in the country’s new constitution that says women are “complementary” to men.

The panel approved an article to the new constitution under the principle that a woman is a “complement with the man in the family and an associate to the man in the development of the country”, according to Ms Mabrouk’s August 1 Facebook post.

Another version.

The newly written constitutional clause protecting women’s rights in the Tunisian constitution has angered feminists and opposition politicians with wording that calls women the “associate” of man.

The article – article 27 of the constitution – states that women’s rights should be protected “under the principal of complementarity at the heart of the family and as man’s associate in the development of the country,” according to versions of the text, translated from Arabic to French, which have circulated on the Internet and in Tunisian media.

It was approved by a vote of 12 to 8 by the Commission of Rights and Liberties, with 9 of those voting for the clause coming from Tunisia’s ruling Islamist party, Ennahdha.

The article was quickly and publicly condemned by Salma Mabrouk, a member of the center-left Ettakatol party who voted against the version of the clause passed by the committee. In a statement on her official Facebook page that quickly spread throughout the activist and feminist communities, she stated, “The majority version completely annuls the concept of equality of the sexes.”

This is not good.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

A poem for Gabby Douglas

Aug 13th, 2012 5:07 pm | By

“So I find it repugnant to sit here and talk about her pony tail.”

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

For whom?

Aug 13th, 2012 4:38 pm | By

Another point about James Fitzjames Stephen on gender equality.

He’s claiming that Mill is being insufficiently utilitarian (echoes of Bentham and “nonsense upon stilts” here).

First, as to the proposition that justice requires that all people should live in society as equals. I have already shown that this is equivalent to the proposition that it is expedient that all people should live in society as equals. Can this be proved? for it is certainly not a self-evident proposition.

Expedient – but expedient for whom?

Stephen doesn’t say, and what he does go on to say has what ought to be a very obvious problem, but he apparently never noticed it. The problem is that he’s not going to be one of the people who are declared not equal. If there’s anything we’ve learned over the past century or so it’s that people who are in no danger of being declared unequal have a conflict of interest when they declare other people unequal.

The shorthand for this issue is “privilege,” but that word causes some people to go into frothing rages, so maybe it’s better to avoid it. But it’s a terrible idea to avoid the issue, because the issue is important. If gentiles are declaring Jews unequal, there’s an issue. If white people are declaring brown people unequal, there’s an issue. If men are declaring women unequal, there’s an issue. Straight/gay; native/foreign; Brahmin/dalit; European/aboriginal; theist/atheist; Protestant/Catholic or vice versa; you get the idea. That’s why the Original Position is needed.

The main distinguishing feature of the original position is “the veil of ignorance”: to insure impartiality of judgment, the parties are deprived of all knowledge of their personal characteristics and social and historical circumstances.

And without that – the judgment isn’t impartial.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Half full or half empty? Lemonade or dishwater?

Aug 13th, 2012 3:00 pm | By

Crommunist on the other hand is optimistic.

Three years ago, when I first entered the atheist blogosphere, basic 101-level social justice was well outside the mainstream. There was a small number of voices articulating positions that did not fall into the bread-and-butter topics of evolution, cosmology, and theology. Now, mainstream atheist forums like Reddit’s r/atheism is often (half-jokingly) derided for being synonymous with r/LGBT insofar as the fight for recognition of gay rights dovetails the fight against religious domination of public life, and the popularly-shared links reflect that. The community at large is (always too slowly) realizing that atheism is a social justice issue, and that our struggle is a similar struggle to that of gay people, people of colour, women, trans persons, people with disabilities, people with mental health issues… the list goes on.

I guess. I suppose I’d assumed the community at large knew that all along, and have been shocked to learn otherwise. It still creeps me out to see what apparently educated and in some sense thoughtful people will allow themselves (provided, usually, that they’re pseudonymous) to say, but that doesn’t mean we’re not winning.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Vocal and unabashed

Aug 13th, 2012 11:49 am | By

PZ also did a post on Liberal Will, which has a squillion comments which include a sub-theme that Rebecca and I are not/are “radical feminists” and what is a radical feminist anyway.

The sub-theme starts with

although someone did allege Rebecca Watson and Ophelia Benson were “radical feminists” — they’re really not —

They may not be, but they sure give off that impression.

and continues with several people saying “under what definition?” Ibis gives the right answer.

When people call Ophelia or Rebecca “radical feminists” they are using the term as a slur* for “vocal, unabashed feminists”. Just like when people use the term “militant atheists” they are not using it for atheists who are running around with assault rifles and a plan to take over the government, but rather as a slur for “vocal, unabashed atheists”.

*mostly because they misunderstand the term entirely and think it refers to women who hate men and want to oppress them as some kind of revenge fantasy payback

Quite. It’s just clueless. “Radical feminist” has a meaning, and I don’t fit it at all. (Neither does Rebecca.) I’m a boringly normal liberal feminist.

Obviously the underlying assumption is that any kind of feminism that goes beyond suffrage and equal pay is “radical” and crazy.

The thing is, it’s possible to be boringly normal liberal feminist and still be the kind of feminist who really does think that feminism matters and that it hasn’t “won” yet, and that there still is a lot of stupid sexist shit embedded in the culture, in habits, in ways of talking and behaving, in the media, in sport – you name it. I’m absolutely that kind of feminist…and I do self-identify as a radical, broadly speaking. But “radical feminist” has a specific and rather narrow meaning, and I’m not one. But vocal and unabashed? Hell yes.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)