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.


Eyes are the windows of the soul, yeh?

Jul 20th, 2010 12:00 pm | By

Martha Nussbaum has been explaining why the burqa is not such a bad thing, as well as explaining why it shouldn’t be banned. She said one thing (in a long post. much of which I skimmed) that froze me in astonishment for a second.

Several readers made the comment that the burqa is objectionable because it portrays women as non-persons.    Is this plausible?  Isn’t our poetic tradition full of the trope that eyes are the windows of the soul?  And I think this is just right: contact with another person, as individual to individual, is made primarily through eyes, not nose or mouth.

Seriously? Contact with another person, as individual to individual, is made through the face – not through the eyes or the nose or the mouth, but the whole face. That’s why men don’t wear burqas: men want to be free to interact with people (that is, in this context, men) in the normal natural way. They also want to be free to breathe, eat, drink, hear, look around – they want to be free to do all the usual things one does with one’s face.

There’s something oddly typical about that ridiculous, sentimental claim. Nussbaum is brilliant, but she also has this strange blindness and tendency to sentimentalize. It could be that having a lot of New York Times readers commenting on her posts will teach her something.



A high risk of swallowing water

Jul 20th, 2010 8:39 am | By

The problem here is not just that state schools shouldn’t be fussing around with particular religions and their rules and fasts, though of course it is that. It’s also, frankly, that state schools (or for that matter any schools) shouldn’t be helping to implement rules and fasts that are fundamentally unhealthy and unsafe. It’s a really bad idea to forbid hydration for extended periods (such as dawn to dusk), so schools should at least abstain. They shouldn’t anxiously help religions to enforce stupid dangerous “rules” of that kind. That’s not their job, and it’s a dereliction of their responsibility for the students’ safety while on the premises.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council has issued an 11-page Ramadan guide for schools to help pupils who may be fasting when the school year starts in September.

It said swimming was acceptable to Muslims but posed a high risk of swallowing water that may break a fast.

Schools and city councils shouldn’t be conveying the idea that swallowing water is “a risk.” It’s bad enough that mosques impose that idea; secular institutions should not be helping them.



Ann Widdecombe’s huge bundle of straw

Jul 19th, 2010 11:11 am | By

Ann Widdecombe explains it all to the New Statesman.

 Under the last government we saw a raft of law, principally equality law, which specifically set out to crush religious freedom and to crush freedom of conscience. There is an immense difference between being told that you must not discriminate against something and being told that you must promote it.

Like what, the NS asks. Poofters, of course. Poofter adoptions, poofters in your B&B. Half the population are non-believers, the NS says feebly; not a bit of it, says Widdecombe, most are Christians and what they say goes. No, really, the NS bleats; Widdecombe says not at all.

People may say they’re not religious, and when Richard Dawkins says he’s not religious he actually means it; so would Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry. But when people who are shrugging say they’re not religious, they mean they’re not attached to a particular church, they’re not practising at the moment. They may not necessarily mean that they discard the concept of God altogether.

Case closed! Three people really are not religious, but the others are all just shrugging, so we get to count them as believers. And yes, thank you, that does mean we get to force Christianity on everyone.

You can’t get away from the fact that our culture and our heritage is that way, and if we just deny it all and become nothing and everything we shall lose our character. That actually weakens a country: it can weaken a country very, very badly not to have a clearly defined character…So I think there are all manner of reasons for keeping the church at the centre of society, and the established Church in this country is Anglican.

So there. Take it or leave it, liberalism be damned.

And the pope was absolutely right to interfere with UK legislation.

The Vatican is a state, and we all have diplomatic relations with the Vatican. It’s not some isolated little cult somewhere, it represents 17.5 per cent of the world’s population. And that’s just the Catholics — there are all the other Christians on top of that.

It’s a state, god damn it! Plus it represents a lot of people. Plus there are all the Christians. Therefore, the pope is pretty much an honorary MP, and it’s just fine if he meddles with lawmaking in the UK.

And the child rape was only 2% of the priests, and teachers and plumbers and florists do it too.

And then there’s that pesky women question.

I left the Church of England because there was a huge bundle of straw. The ordination of women was the last straw, but it was only one of many. For years I had been disillusioned by the Church of England’s compromising on everything. The Catholic Church doesn’t care if something is unpopular. As far as the Catholic Church is concerned if it’s true it’s true, and if it’s false it’s false. The issue over women priests was not only that I think it’s theologically impossible to ordain women, it was the nature of the debate that was the damaging thing, because instead of the debate being “Is this theologically possible?” the debate was “If we don’t do this we won’t be acceptable to the outside world”. To me, that was an abdication of the Church’s role, which is to lead, not to follow.

There speaks the theocratic mind at its purest. It can’t even entertain the possibility that acceptability to what she calls the outside world, by which she means everybody who is not a priest, actually has something to do with morality and justice and equality, and that those are good things and priests should take them into account. No, to her that’s just whoring after popularity instead of buckling down and being dogmatic and authoritarian and keeping women Out.

This is not news, of course; it’s Ann Widdecombe, but it’s interesting…and it’s in the New Statesman. Make of that what you will.



Theology

Jul 18th, 2010 5:36 pm | By

Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl says it’s not that the church disrespects women. Oh fuck no, said the chair of the US bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, the church thinks women are just lovely.

Noting that women hold a variety of church leadership positions in parishes and dioceses, Archbishop Wuerl said, “The church’s gratitude toward women cannot be stated strongly enough.”

“Women offer unique insight, creative abilities and unstinting generosity at the very heart of the Catholic Church,” he said.

They have that there women’s intuition, and they’re so creative with the flowers and the packed lunches and the…the flowers, and the generosity just never quits, they give us all their money and a lot of the time they let us fuck their children. But. When all is said and done, you know, however insightful and creative and generous the dear little things are, they are after all still women. They’re soft in the head, and their crotches are all ew yuck, so they can make lunch all they like, but they can’t be priests. That’s fair. Plus it’s traditional.

But, the archbishop said, “the Catholic Church through its long and constant teaching holds that ordination has been, from the beginning, reserved to men, a fact which cannot be changed despite changing times.”

That’s unanswerable, I’m sure you’ll agree. Ordination has been from the beginning reserved to men, therefore, that is a fact which cannot be changed despite the fact that people have become slightly less stupid and narrow-minded and rigid than they were back at that beginning. No. Yes we realize that some things have changed since “the beginning,” it’s just that the maleness of the clergy isn’t one of them and isn’t going to be one of them.

You may wonder why. It’s like this. It has to do with the fitness of things. Men are better, and that’s why God is always called he, I mean He; if God were called she or She that would sound all weak and bubble-headed and wrong. It’s not that we don’t love you, it’s just that we think you’re not good enough. We love you to bits but you have to be subordinate to us and do what we say and not try to do jobs only we can do, like telling everybody not to use contraception and not to end pregnancies. If we let you share in the rule-making you might start to make rules that would suit you instead of us, and we don’t want that.



“Respecting” faith while “appreciating” science

Jul 17th, 2010 4:32 pm | By

Michael Zimmerman of the Clergy Letter Project is annoyed at (wait for it) “New Atheists.” He says members of the project have been “relentlessly attacked by “New Atheists.”

The crux of these attacks seems to take two forms. In the first, clergy members are ridiculed simply for having religious faith. In the second, supposedly intelligent people pretend they are unable to distinguish these clergy members from the fundamentalists…

He doesn’t quote or name or link to any “New Atheists” doing this, so it’s hard to know if his description is accurate, but in any case…he seems to have the usual, and socially conventional, blind spot about “religious faith.” He seems, in other words, to be blind to the fact that to people who don’t have it, ”religious faith” and fundamentalism aren’t all that different. To non-believers, the important difference is between religious belief and its absence, not degrees of fundamentalism.



Naughty dog bites when attacked

Jul 16th, 2010 4:11 pm | By

Yet another smug unthinking cliché-filled diatribe about zealous fundamentalist literalist evangelist atheism, this time from Reza Aslan. It’s as original as the other nine million.

The parallels with religious fundamentalism are obvious and startling: the conviction that they are in sole possession of truth (scientific or otherwise), the troubling lack of tolerance for the views of their critics (Dawkins has compared creationists to Holocaust deniers), the insistence on a literalist reading of scripture (more literalist, in fact, than one finds among most religious fundamentalists), the simplistic reductionism of the religious phenomenon, and, perhaps most bizarrely, their overwhelming sense of siege: the belief that they have been oppressed and marginalized by Western societies…

He says, in the very act of marginalizing them himself. Gee, why would we believe we have been marginalized, just because there’s a steady stream of mendacious vituperative horseshit directed at us by hacks like this?

This is not the philosophical atheism of Feuerbach or Marx, Schopenhauer or Nietzsche (I am not the first to think that the new atheists give atheism a bad name).

Ah, well spotted; you’re not the first to think any of this, sport; you’re not the hundredth to think of it; you’re the latest of a long, long line. You’re recycling. You’re recycling and marginalizing at the same time. You should be embarrassed.

What the new atheists do not do, and what makes them so much like the religious fundamentalists they abhor, is admit that all metaphysical claims–be they about the possibility of a transcendent presence in the universe or the birth of the incarnate God on earth–are ultimately unknowable and, perhaps, beyond the purview of science.

Yes they do. They don’t stop there, they don’t treat that as a reason to believe all metaphysical claims, but they do admit exactly what you say they don’t. Nice job.

Well the Washington Post has a “faith” column, and it has to fill it somehow.



Yet another squint at Vatican priorities

Jul 16th, 2010 10:59 am | By

Alan Cowell in the New York Times spots a connection between the Bishop of Bruges and Roman Polanski. They both fiddled with children and they have both escaped the long arm of the law.

That question seemed likely to be asked more searchingly this week after the Vatican issued new rules about the handling of priestly abuse, listing pedophilia in a catalog of other supposed grave crimes including “the attempted ordination of women.”

“What I did, supporting the ordination of women, they saw as a serious crime,” said the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, an American priest excommunicated less than two months after he participated in a ceremony ordaining women. “But priests who were abusing children, they did not see as a crime. What does that say?”

That they really really really think women are Not Good Enough. Other things too, but that’s a biggy.

“The many artists and intellectuals who haughtily dismissed what Polanski had done on the basis of his talent and achievement” were thinking of his films, Richard Cohen wrote for The Washington Post. “They should have thought of their own daughters.”

Well maybe they too really really think women are Not Good Enough. Maybe they think that partly because of the relentless pressure of the “great” monotheisms. Maybe they just do think that a male artist matters more than a female age 13. They probably don’t realize they think that, but that doesn’t mean they don’t think it, in a buried kind of way.



Blogging philosophy

Jul 16th, 2010 10:21 am | By

This is nice: Ben Nelson has joined Talking Philosophy. He has a post on Realisms, the first of a series. It has only three comments, the first two just introductions and the last just rude. Go comment, get him started. I would, but I’m not allowed, because I’m so eeeeeeevil, so you do it.

Actually even if I could comment I wouldn’t have anything of interest to say, because I don’t know enough. Ben’s clever. Go sharpen your wits on him.



News from elsewhere

Jul 15th, 2010 11:15 am | By

I’ve been commenting on that thread at CFI. The moderators want it to go away, but I think they shouldn’t want that, because the underlying issues are entirely relevant to CFI. They think it’s all personal, but it isn’t. It really isn’t. The truth is I don’t care about Chris Mooney as a person at all. Of course I don’t. I care about what he’s saying and doing; I care about the ideas and their consequences. It’s not personal. (I admit it seems personal, while it’s going on, but when I think about it, I realize it isn’t, at all.)

So here’s some of what I said.

He has still never explained what he thinks Jerry Coyne should have done differently, and by extension, what everyone should do differently.

It’s an important question, especially for people who are fans of inquiry. It’s an important question for anyone who reviews books about religion or religion-and-science or related subjects. I, for instance, wrote a review of such a book for the April/May edition of Free Inquiry. I thought it was a pretty bad book, and I said so. If I had been following Chris Mooney’s advice, presumably I would have done something else – but even if I had wanted to follow his advice, I wouldn’t have known exactly what it was. Pretend I thought the book was good? Refuse the invitation to review it in case I thought it was bad? Decide not to review it after all once I had read it, because I thought it was bad? I don’t know.

Mooney could answer that question right now. He could answer it here, where he is among friends – he works for CFI. It really is a question worth answering. He wants us – us “new” atheists – to be more civil, but he won’t explain exactly what he means by that. I don’t see why not. I also think the unwillingness is an uncomfortable fit with support for free inquiry.

I’m back. Well, I do think that. I also – still, after all this – think it’s odd that CM doesn’t think that. I still think it’s odd that he’s comfortable with this level of silencing and stonewalling, given his other commitments.



Connections between theology and the sciences can be explored

Jul 14th, 2010 11:39 am | By

Mark Vernon explains that John Polkinghorne is not a god of the gaps theist-scientist. He’s a nature is underdetermined theist-scientist. That’s much more sensible, apparently.

…there is a possibility of giving an account of divine action within nature, which is compatible with science. It relies neither upon a God who intervenes outside the usual play of nature, nor seeks low-level causal gaps. Rather, God’s action could be viewed as analogous to top-down, emergent causation – particularly when it implies signs of purpose or intentionality.

He doesn’t explain why “God” is the right name for top-down, emergent causation, or how one is to reconcile that with the familiar “God” of the people who pray to it, but never mind – it’s all worthwhile, because it introduces us to the Ian Ramsey Centre for science and religion in the University of Oxford. I didn’t know there was such a place, and now I do. Guess who has given it money? I bet you can’t.

The Ian Ramsey Centre is part of the Theology Faculty in the University of Oxford. It has the special aim of promoting high quality teaching and research in the exciting field of science and religion. Within the University the Centre runs a regular seminar series, bringing scientists, philosophers and theologians together to explore interests they have in common. The seminars are open to students and informed members of the public. In addition, the Centre sponsors regional conferences to encourage new networks through which connections between theology and the sciences can be explored. International workshops are organised to enhance the quality of courses on science and religion that are taught worldwide.

See, there’s another outfit with global reach.



Bargaining with the holey C

Jul 14th, 2010 11:24 am | By

It seems to me there’s a considerable amount of bullshit in the UK government’s response to the petition urging it to tell the pope on second thought to stay home.

The visit is described as a Papal Visit with the status of a State Visit… 

The Holy See has a global reach and so is a valuable international partner for the UK Government.  Our relationship with the Holy See enables us to address jointly a range of foreign policy and development issues…

As with any bilateral diplomatic relationship, there are issues on which we disagree.

Lots of things have “a global reach”; that doesn’t necessarily make them worth treating as honored guests. Al Qaeda has a global reach; McDonald’s has a global reach; sexual slavery has a global reach. Some global reaches are perncious and tyrannical, and liberal governments should not give them standing by inviting them for state visits.

And talking about the relationship between the government of the UK and “the Holy See” as a bilateral diplomatic relationship just seems absurd. What diplomacy can the Vatican engage in? What point is there in it? What can the Vatican offer any real government that makes it worth treating as if it were a real government too? What is the reward that makes it worth turning a blind eye to “the issues on which we disagree”?

The reality is that the UK government had no obligation at all to treat the Vatican as a real state with a real government and real diplomats and real benefits to offer. So why is it doing it?



The scarecrow of “scientism”

Jul 13th, 2010 5:10 pm | By

A note on Karl Giberson’s Huffington Post piece.

Can one accept the modern scientific view of the world and still hold to anything resembling a traditional belief in God?

My answer to this question is “yes, of course,” for I cannot see my way to clear to embrace either of the two alternatives — a fundamentalist religion prepared to reject science, or a pure scientism that denies the reality of anything beyond what science can discover.

But that isn’t the choice. Really, it’s not. Science can’t discover exactly what it feels like to be you, for example, but you know that that feeling is real. The complexity of personal experience alone is enough to keep you busy and happy for many lifetimes, and it has no need of religion at all. Why think the choice is between a traditional belief in God, fundamentalism, or “scientism”? That’s just a scarecrow.

A lot of people think that is the choice though. Why do they? Have they never talked to any godless poets or musicians or birdwatchers or gardeners or mountaineers?



Barbara Forrest on philosophical naturalism

Jul 13th, 2010 11:51 am | By

If you’re tired of hearing people say that science cannot address the supernatural, Barbara Forrest’s “Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism: Clarifying the Connection” is just what you want to read.

From the abstract:

I conclude that the relationship between methodological and philosophical naturalism, while not one of logical entailment, is the only reasonable metaphysical conclusion given (1) the demonstrated success of methodological naturalism, combined with (2) the massive amount of knowledge gained by it, (3) the lack of a method or epistemology for knowing the supernatural, and (4) the subsequent lack of evidence for the supernatural. The above factors together provide solid grounding for philosophical naturalism, while supernaturalism remains little more than a logical possibility.

From page 5

…the methodology of science is the only viable method of acquiring reliable knowledge about the cosmos. Given this fact, if there is no workable method for acquiring knowledge of the supernatural, then it is procedurally impossible to have knowledge of either a supernatural dimension or entity. In the absence of any alternative methodology, the metaphysical claims one is entitled to make are very strictly limited. The philosophical naturalist, without making any metaphysical claims over and above those warranted by science, can demand from supernaturalists the method that legitimizes their metaphysical claims. In the absence of such a method, philosophical naturalists can not only justifiably refuse assent to such claims, but can deny–tentatively, not categorically–the existence of the supernatural, and for the same reason they deny the existence of less exalted supernatural entities like fairies and ghosts: the absence of evidence.

Isn’t that like a nice strong sea breeze after a long stuffy afternoon in an overheated room?



A name change?

Jul 13th, 2010 10:51 am | By

Mooney doesn’t like being called an accommodationist. (Not unlike the way we don’t like being called “the New Atheist noise machine” or “the New Atheist comment machine,” perhaps.) He suggests different words.

I also am tired of the label “accommodationist.” It seems to imply that there is something weak about my view, as if I’m all ready to just cave to some common enemy. On the contrary, I think that I’m being tolerant and pragmatic.

Tolerant of what? Not of overt (explicit, non-apologetic, argumentative, reasoned) atheism, certainly. Tolerant of one side of a dispute that he himself has done a lot to create, so “tolerant” doesn’t really fit. (That’s not a very damning point, in my book – I think the merit of tolerance depends on the merit of what is being tolerated, so I don’t think it’s necessarily a virtue. The self-flattery is a little damning, but only a little.)

And pragmatic about what? That’s the real question. It’s not at all clear what is unpragmatic about explicit atheism. The fact that it annoys people like Mooney? But that’s because Mooney is weirdly phobic about explicit atheism, and it’s not really pragmatic to try to shape one’s thinking to allow for other people’s phobias.

Mooney’s usual way of putting the matter is that explicit atheism is “divisive” and we have to unite in order to tackle important problems. But that’s not adequate, because many things are divisive, and we can’t simply rule them all out in order to unite in tackling important problems. Mooney needs a lot more than that, and he’s never supplied it. So he can’t expect people to call him a pragmatist instead of an accommodationist when we don’t think he’s being particularly pragmatic in campaigning against explicit atheists.

It’s also question-begging. One of the disagreements is about whether there really are compelling pragmatic reasons to 1) hide one’s own atheism and 2) silence atheists in general. If you call yourself a pragmatist on this issue you’re pretending that issue has been decided, in your favor.



What and faith in dialogue?

Jul 11th, 2010 5:50 pm | By

Back when the new round of Toxic Sock-revelations set the felid among the passerines, I was having a quiet good time looking at the strange goings on at BioLogos, home of “science and faith in dialogue.” Now that the passerines are getting bored with Toxic Sock, let’s go back there. Let’s consider Albert Mohler’s sermon. It’s about Why Does the Universe Look So Old? 

He says it’s an important question.

I want to invite you to turn with me to Genesis chapter one. We dare not seek to answer this question without first looking to the Word of God. [Reads Genesis 1, 2:1-3].

Right. This is BioLogos. This is science and faith in dialogue. Remember? That’s what it says. So…what science? Where’s the science part? If we dare not seek to answer this question without first looking to the word of god, how can BioLogos claim to have anything to do with science at all?

I don’t know, and I don’t think it can. BioLogos seems to be going through some kind of crisis. I plan to keep watching.

Update: Darrel Falk, president of BioLogos tells us (see comment 28):

Let me be clear about the reason we at BioLogos posted Dr. Mohler’s talk. We disagree with it! We totally disagree with it. We have three posts showing how strongly we disagree with it and how harmful it is. We transcribed his speech even though he criticized us vehemently, because we wanted our readers to be able to read what he said, so they wouldn’t have to go back and watch the whole speech. Given our three posts and the extremely negative statements he made about us in the post, it never occurred to us that anyone would think we agreed with what his speech.

Not so much agreed with, as considered part of the dialogue, was what I thought; at any rate the clarification is welcome.



Baying for blood? Moi?

Jul 10th, 2010 12:50 pm | By

Are the few people who commented on JK’s post on the Toxic Sock affair really (though metaphorically) “participants in [a] witch-hunt” and “the 21st century, virtual-world, equivalent of a medieval mob baying for the blood their latest victim”?

No.

I can see why they (we – I was one) look like a crowd, because there are quite a few comments and they are critical and sometimes hostile. On the other hand, there are only (if I counted correctly) 23 people total, not counting Jean, and a few of them are friendly; there’s a total of 63 comments. So a rush of mostly-critical comments, yes; a mob baying for blood, no.

But more to the point: are we the Bad People? Are we the bashers, the demonizers, the bayers for blood, the pitchfork-wielders, in contrast to the kindly peaceable loving villagers who want only to be left alone to raise their raspberries and kiwis?

No.

No; I seriously don’t think so. I think the issue here is that we “new atheists” think we are allowed to be openly critical of religion, and that we think haters of “new atheists” are wrong and illiberal to keep throwing merde at us for doing so. We think that when it’s Ron Rosenbaum throwing, and we think it when it’s “William/Tom Johnson” and we think it when it’s Chris Mooney.

So we tend to push back when people throw merde at us for doing something that is not and should not be seen as wrong. We pushed back at Mooney and Kirshenbaum when they threw merde at us in their book, and the result was that they banned some of us from their blog while allowing their pets to call us liars. That’s the backstory in a nutshell. M&K have chosen to spend a lot of time demonizing a minority that in the US is already thoroughly despised. That would be reasonable if the minority in question were Child-torturers United; but we’re not, so it isn’t.

So no. We’re not the witch-hunters here.

Mark Jones finds the whole idea quite ironic.



For the record

Jul 10th, 2010 9:36 am | By

Right. I do want to talk about other things now, but I’m not going to be quiet while people say untrue things about me on blog posts with closed comments. I wrote a reply to something Jean Kazez said about me in her latest post, and I emailed her requesting that she add it and saying it’s dirty pool to go after people while preventing them from replying. I said that because it’s what I think. I told her I would post it myself if she didn’t, and she has responded not via email but by an update to her post saying “Ophelia’s now complaining that she can’t leave comments. Boo hoo.” No, I’m not “complaining” and I’m not “Boo hoo”; I’m saying it’s dirty pool.

(Aside: sadly, that remark is very reminiscent of YNH. YNH was always announcing that people were “whining” when in fact they were saying, writing, disputing, etc. It said “Waaaaaa” and “Boo hoo” a lot too. JK isn’t YNH – I don’t think that for a second – but it’s sad that she has its mannerisms.)

So: for the record:

Jean
 
Dirty pool, naming me but preventing reply.
 

#5 Some think it’s incumbent on me to “out” the mystery person behind all of this if I want to be taken seriously. That’s really strange, since just last week at The Buddha is Not Serious people were making peace with this very person, and saying they respected his desire to remain anonymous. Ophelia Benson was even writing about going Desmond Tutu. Now she’s saying she’s “frosted” because I’m “protecting” this person, despite his bouts of sexism (which she knew about during the Tutu phase).

 
I made a kind of peace, a reserved kind of peace, with this person, at that stage of the revelations (or pseudo-revelations or whatever they were) because he seemed crushed and because he claimed to be 23. It just didn’t feel right to refuse to acknowledge his apology, so I thanked him for it. (I avoided saying I actually accepted it, because I wasn’t sure I did, really, but I also didn’t want to reject it, so I punted.) I didn’t say anything about “respecting” his desire to remain anonymous – I’ve never respected it, and in fact I think it’s cowardly and ridiculous given the use he had made of his anonymity up to that point. I simply refrained from demanding his self-exposure. The Desmond Tutu thing was (obviously) partly irony directed at myself – making a show of saintly forgiveness.
 
But even that limited amount of Tutuishness was mostly based on the tentative acceptance of his claim that he was 23 (which his writing skills made plausible). If the guy is an adult with publications and a career, that makes a difference. If it really was an adult doing all this, I do think it’s very odd that people like you (liberals, feminists, etc) should be so anxious to protect his anonymity. That’s all. I’m not contradicting myself – the story has changed, and I was by no means adamant that the sock’s anonymity should be protected in the first place.
 
I’d like you to post this as a comment or an addendum, and I think you should. If you don’t I will of course post it at B&W, since there’s nothing else I can do (except let it stand undisputed, which I don’t want to do). I’ll wait awhile, but not long. Of course you’re probably out and about, on a Saturday afternoon – but I can’t help that.
 
You shouldn’t have slagged me off and closed comments. As I said – dirty pool.
 
OB



Fix the radar

Jul 9th, 2010 10:24 am | By

So now we know all about “Tom Johnson,” except that we don’t. We also don’t have a frank account of how it all went so terribly wrong.

It was just a blog post, and I had no reason to think there was anything fishy going on. And I did note that the story was “one individual’s experience and point of view, and nothing more.”

He did though. He did have reason to think there was anything fishy going on. He had – what to call it – he had an ear. He had his skeptical faculty. He had reasonable sensible journalistic caution. He had an acquaintance with human beings and the way they talk and behave. He had any reason to think Tom Johnson’s story sounded fishy for the same reason I did: because it sounded fishy!

It did. It sounded stupid. It sounded like a childish caricature. It had that stupid, childish note of exaggeration – the bit about atheists screaming in believers’ faces for instance. Come on! Yes, Virginia, that does sound fishy.

It sounded fishy in just the way the story that William told on YNH sounded fishy; the story about being a woman and “a scientist” (that itself sounds fishy) and an atheist, who saw the error of her ways when her young son came home from school with a tale of having called a goddy schoolmate “stupid.” Our scientist atheist mother realized she had taught her son this behavior, and she was stricken with remorse.

Yeah, right.

That’s it, really – Tom Johnson’s story was a “yeah, right” story. Chris Mooney is a journalist, or at least he used to be. (He’s more of a commentator now.) Surely journalists are supposed to have some ability to spot fairly obvious implausibility of this kind? Isn’t that just part of the job?

I had no reason at the time to suspect he was beginning an increasingly elaborate career of sock puppetry.

He did though. Just as before, he did. He had the same reason – there was too much of an echo effect in the comments at The Intersection. Not just agreement, but an echo effect. I noticed it at the time – though I don’t think I thought of sock puppets, I just thought (rather disgustedly) that there were a lot of brainless sheep all going “baaaaaaaa” at the same time. But then it wasn’t my blog. If I had a lot of commenters all going “baaaaaaaaaa” I hope I would have the sense to wonder if they were sock puppets, even if they agreed with me. I do in fact have one regular longstanding commenter who does go “baaaaaaa” and I don’t like the bleating any more because it agrees with me. In fact I may like it less, because it so often sounds like a parody of me. (No it’s not you, this guy knows who he is.)

Update: Really – if I haven’t told you it’s you, it’s not you. I haven’t told you it’s you. So it’s not you!

So no, M&K aren’t quite the innocent victims Mooney wants to pretend. They have seriously bad radar. Their radar tells them to ban me, and then as the months and years roll on, to ban lots and lots of other reasonable people too, while they keep people like “bilbo” and “MiltonC” and Kwok. That is some malfunctioning radar.



Mooney says what he has figured out

Jul 8th, 2010 5:27 pm | By

He told us in a comment on the “omigod there are sock puppets here!!” thread yesterday that he had figured out what is going on and would write more soon. He didn’t do it soon, but he did it. He did say more.

He said yesterday “was quite a day.” Yes, it was. What made it quite for him, do you suppose? Was it realizing quite how many people hold him in contempt? Was it seeing all his efforts at concealment and carrying on as if nothing had happened, just turn into more blog fodder and more contempt? Well yes, probably. Other than that, there wasn’t anything particularly quite – unless of course his car broke down, but he didn’t mention that. Yes, probably he didn’t much enjoy seeing his continued stonewalling of me and his frantic deletion of comment after comment after comment bring him no satisfaction other than scorn and indignation.

To those legitimate commenters who were annoyed by bad behavior—and had reason to be!–I’m sorry we didn’t catch on to what was really happening before now. And I want to emphasize: That apology goes out to ANY commenters who may have encountered a sock puppet on our site.

No it doesn’t. That’s pure bullshit. Why? Because he’s still deleting posts for no good reason apart from the fact that they mention me. He’s still banning me – so the apology does not go out for instance to me, because you can’t apologize to people while still doing arbitrarily unreasonable things to them.

Now in a sense people’s blogs are their blogs, and they can delete anything they like and ban anyone they like. But in other senses it’s not so simple. Mooney and Kirshenbaum have made a specialty of telling off various named people, so in a sense they have a certain obligation to allow disagreement for the sake of fairness.

A big reason they should not have banned me, or should have lifted the ban soon after imposing it, is the fact that some members of their fan club - some of them William’s sock puppets – asserted that I was lying, then repeated it, then repeated it several times more. The ban meant that I had no ability to reply. M&K obviously liked it that way. That’s dirty.

Some people think “Chris, The demands for apologies are absurd….You were duped and he should apologize to you…But you apologize? Nonsense. These folks would have you apologize for having 10 fingers and 10 toes.” But those people are wrong. Mooney has been determinedly demonizing atheists as a group for more than a year, and in one post he relied on an obvious fraud to do so; yes he should apologize.

So we’re looking into ways of doing more, starting now. And because of that, commenting here may become a bit more challenging than before, at least temporarily…(For now, rest assured that if your comment is substantive, thoughtful, not an attack, etcetera, then it will appear fairly promptly, although not instantly of course.)

No it won’t; not necessarily. That’s a falsehood. Plenty of comments that fit that description have been deleted; many have been posted on other blogs for safekeeping.

In short, Mooney has learned nothing.



What we know so far

Jul 8th, 2010 12:41 pm | By

What’s it all about? What have Mooney and Kirshenbaum been up to all  this time? What are they doing, what is their plan, what do they want? What are they after that is worth all this dishonesty and unethical behavior and blatant concealment and refusal ever to admit getting things wrong and slandering people they dislike while relying on obvious fakes and frauds?

The story – the “frame” – is that they want to persuade atheists to be more aware of “communication,” so that we can all unite to do something about the terrible problems we are facing. The idea behind that – one which they spell out at frequent intervals – is that the people they call “the New Atheists” are rude and mean and thus make it impossible for us all to unite. The story, or “frame,” is that we (overt atheists) are mean and bad and they (M&K and other accommodationists) are nice and good. We create division, they create unity. We are dividers, they are uniters.

Oh really. Was Mooney being a uniter when he jumped up at the AAAS conference to ask the panel, “What about the New Atheists?” Is he ever being a uniter when he shouts – for the hundredth time – “what about the new atheists?” Is he not, in fact, being the opposite of a uniter? Is he not making a great point of cutting out the “new” atheists for purposes of othering and hatemongering? Is he not “uniting” only in the sense of uniting all the Nice people in hating on the Bad new atheists? Is he not “uniting” only in the sort of sense in which the Republicans united “the silent majority” against the hated minority? I would say yes, he is.

I would say Kirshenbaum is doing the same thing, and not very subtly.

Shortly after moving, I met a new neighbor on my street. He loves astrophysics and we have similar tastes in books and music. His name isn’t Phil, but for the purpose of this post, that’s what I’ll call him.

I like Phil a lot. He’s smart and witty with a healthy dose of skepticism…Phil nearly always wears one of those black t-shirts with a large red A across the front to express “where his allegiances lie” (his words)…

Early on, Phil wanted to know whether I was an atheist too since I’m in science. I explained that I don’t like labels because they mainly serve to divide people one way or another. And then we get war, bigotry, genocide, and so on.

Really. She doesn’t like labels. And yet…The Intersection is simply packed to the rafters with labeling of “the New Atheists.” Most of it, we now know, is sock puppetry by one foul-mouthed person. Yet Sheril Kirshenbaum, who doesn’t like labels, shares the moderation at this blog where “new” atheists are scapegoated with demented levels of venom and (as we now know) plain old lying.

So, to sum up, it’s all bullshit. All of it. They’re not uniters, and they never have been. They’re otherers and demonizers, and when they are found to have embraced a flagrant fake while heavily moderating people they dislike and just plain banning me – their solution is to close comments to everyone but flatterers.

They should have copped to it. They should have apologized to all the people they’ve helped to demonize all this time. They haven’t. They have the ethics of the people at Fox News.

That’s what it’s all about.