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.

The revival of bigotry

May 22nd, 2011 5:25 pm | By

Guest post by John Stuart Mill.

On Liberty, Chapter II: Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion

What is boasted of at the present time as the revival of religion, is always, in narrow and uncultivated minds, at least as much the revival of bigotry; and where there is the strong permanent leaven of intolerance in the feelings of a people, which at all times abides in the middle classes of this country, it needs but little to provoke them into actively persecuting those whom they have never ceased to think proper objects of persecution. 5 For it is this—it is the opinions men entertain, and the feelings they cherish, respecting those who disown the beliefs they deem important, which makes this country not a place of mental freedom. For a long time past, the chief mischief of the legal penalties is that they strengthen the social stigma. It is that stigma which is really effective, and so effective is it, that the profession of opinions which are under the ban of society is much less common in England, than is, in many other countries, the avowal of those which incur risk of judicial punishment. In respect to all persons but those whose pecuniary circumstances make them independent of the good will of other people, opinion, on this subject, is as efficacious as law; men might as well be imprisoned, as excluded from the means of earning their bread. Those whose bread is already secured, and who desire no favours from men in power, or from bodies of men, or from the public, have nothing to fear from the open avowal of any opinions, but to be ill-thought of and ill-spoken of, and this it ought not to require a very heroic mould to enable them to bear. There is no room for any appeal ad misericordiam in behalf of such persons. But though we do not now inflict so much evil on those who think differently from us, as it was formerly our custom to do, it may be that we do ourselves as much evil as ever by our treatment of them. Socrates was put to death, but the Socratic philosophy rose like the sun in heaven, and spread its illumination over the whole intellectual firmament. Christians were cast to the lions, but the Christian church grew up a stately and spreading tree, overtopping the older and less vigorous growths, and stifling them by its shade. Our merely social intolerance kills no one, roots out no opinions, but induces men to disguise them, or to abstain from any active effort for their diffusion. With us, heretical opinions do not perceptibly gain, or even lose, ground in each decade or generation; they never blaze out far and wide, but continue to smoulder in the narrow circles of thinking and studious persons among whom they originate, without ever lighting up the general affairs of mankind with either a true or a deceptive light. And thus is kept up a state of things very satisfactory to some minds, because, without the unpleasant process of fining or imprisoning anybody, it maintains all prevailing opinions outwardly undisturbed, while it does not absolutely interdict the exercise of reason by dissentients afflicted with the malady of thought. A convenient plan for having peace in the intellectual world, and keeping all things going on therein very much as they do already. But the price paid for this sort of intellectual pacification, is the sacrifice of the entire moral courage of the human mind. A state of things in which a large portion of the most active and inquiring intellects find it advisable to keep the general principles and grounds of their convictions within their own breasts, and attempt, in what they address to the public, to fit as much as they can of their own conclusions to premises which they have internally renounced, cannot send forth the open, fearless characters, and logical, consistent intellects who once adorned the thinking world. The sort of men who can be looked for under it, are either mere conformers to commonplace, or time-servers for truth, whose arguments on all great subjects are meant for their hearers, and are not those which have convinced themselves. Those who avoid this alternative, do so by narrowing their thoughts and interest to things which can be spoken of without venturing within the region of principles, that is, to small practical matters, which would come right of themselves, if but the minds of mankind were strengthened and enlarged, and which will never be made effectually right until then: while that which would strengthen and enlarge men’s minds, free and daring speculation on the highest subjects, is abandoned.


May 22nd, 2011 11:35 am | By

Well now let’s see. Making women wear bags over their heads is a foible of Islam’s, and Islam=Muslims, and Muslims are mostly non-white, so making women wear bags over their heads must be somehow egalitarian and about justice and postcolonial and generally right on. Korrekt? You bet. Especially if it’s Leila Ahmed of the Harvard Divinity School – oh what a blissful combination! Leila! Ahmed! Harvard! Divinity School! – who has written a book about the subject.

By the 1970s, disillusioned students and professionals were turning to an activist Islam – Islamism – that promised social, moral and political renewal. Observing strict dress became one means of displaying egalitarian principles and conveying the wearer’s strength and authority. From a symbol of disempowerment, the veil now, for some, became a mark of liberation.

Well, Islamism may have “promised” social, moral and political renewal, but it sure as hell didn’t deliver it. What would that renewal look like? Saudi Arabia? Afghanistan under the Taliban? Somalia? That’s an interesting notion of renewal. I think Rachel Aspden might have paused to mention that.

And as for the claim that wearing a burqa or niqab or abaya or hijab is one means of displaying egalitarian principles and conveying the wearer’s strength and authority, I call bullshit. Total, brazen, shameless bullshit.

Out of the basket

May 21st, 2011 10:51 am | By

Such a pity about Jim Wallis and Sojourners (if you like that sort of thing, at least).

But the rejection of so mild a political message, by a magazine whose editor has laboured mightily to establish himself as the face of the religious left, has sparked recrimination and soul searching among progressive people of faith in the US.

Maybe that’s because “progressive people of faith” care way too much about unity and cohesion and community among progressive people of faith and not nearly enough about free inquiry and principle and substantive issues and dissent. We ornery disputatious gnu atheists are the opposite. We’ll be a community of one if that’s what it takes.

Seriously, “progressive people of faith” do seem to have some kind of weird bug about unity, which to a jaundiced outsider would be better named “conformity.” Everything is to be sacrificed to “working together,” as if people who disagree can’t work together despite disagreeing. This imperative fosters an ooky mix of coercion and sentimentality which I find less than congenial.

Jim Wallis’s supporters, who are more liberal than conservative, believe he has had a knack for creating a safe space in which religious leaders who hold divergent views on issues rooted in sexuality can make common cause against hunger, poverty and war. His detractors believe that his is largely a ministry based on media attention, painting him as a skilful straddler and self-promoter, who convenes gatherings of less politically savvy religious leaders, and then emerges as their spokesman.

Yes…I recognize the type, and I’m not crazy about it. That’s especially true because the self-promotion so often comes at the expense of that eternally despised minority, The Atheists.

In Barack Obama’s Washington, there is no more visible Christian leader than Wallis, who is sometimes described as one of the president’s “spiritual counsellors”.

But see I think Barack Obama’s Washington should be secular; that it shouldn’t be haunted by “Christian leaders” at all; that the president shouldn’t have “spiritual counsellors” except in private.

But one cannot be both the left bank and the bridge. Either one is the face of a movement whose values one embraces and espouses, or one practises circumspection to play the honest broker, the great convener, the architect of the grand synthesis. Wallis still wants to be both, and this is now manifestly unhelpful to LGBT people and their supporters.

Pre-cisely. One cannot be both the left bank and the bridge. One can’t do everything, have everything, be everything.

…this argument opens a self-inflicted wound, calling attention to the fact that Wallis’s appeal to the political right is based precisely on his willingness to toss LGBT people and women in need of abortions out of the basket when the balloon starts to lose altitude.

That’s the problem with the “of faith” bit. The reasons for doing that are faithy, and they have no purchase on atheists. Atheists don’t have a demanding heartless Boss to appease.

God put you here to have 20 babies

May 20th, 2011 3:55 pm | By

At the heart of every great religion is compassion.

Catholic bishops have threatened to excommunicate President Benigno Aquino over a reproductive health bill introduced into the Congress yesterday…The aim of the bill is to control population growth, reduce HIV infection rates and eradicate the need for women to seek backstreet abortions.

Well the Catholic church isn’t having that. Hell no. More population growth despite grinding poverty; higher HIV infection rates; more backstreet abortions. The compassionate approach.

…the church, which has enormous clout in the Philippines, is not about to give way. Since 1998, it has quashed several previous versions of the bill. “Sex is not a game that should be taught to children, along with the use of condoms, supposedly to avoid disease,” the Archbishop of Manila, Gaudencio Rosales, told an anti-contraception rally in the capital two months ago.

Sex is also not a game that should be taught to archbishops, we’re told, yet archbishops don’t hesitate to tell all 7 billion of us all about it. Compassion in action.

Let’s have a Draw an Archbishop Day, and see what Chris Stedman says about that.

Being constructive

May 20th, 2011 12:23 pm | By

Chris Stedman is patting himself on the back again for being more “constructive” and bridge-building and worried about marginalized communities than everyone else. He patted himself on the back on Facebook this morning for a blog post about Draw Mo Day.

In my work for the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) I’ve labored alongside Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims. My biggest takeaway has been the notion that people of different religious and philosophical identities have a lot more in common than we instinctually imagine. Sure, my Muslim collaborators think Muhammad was the prophet of a God that I don’t even think exists. But, I don’t care much about that difference between us. Our deeper convictions—that all people have the right to dignity, that we need to find a way to achieve a more peaceful world—are the same and, frankly, they matter more.

That’s lovely – as long as their deeper convictions are in fact that all people have the right to dignity (with all that that entails). It’s not safe to assume that with theists, though – theists always have the potential for believing the opposite – that not all people do have the right to dignity. Religions play a very large part in rejecting that very conviction and assertion.

The theists (and Buddhists) Chris Stedman knows nevertheless hold that conviction, according to him. Good; excellent. But he doesn’t get to extrapolate from that that all theists do. He doesn’t get to assume that all theists put human dignity (and thus equality) first and belief in their god or their god’s prophet second.

The significant disagreement among secular folks around EDMD isn’t a new phenomenon. Our community is an oft divided bunch. This diversity can be an asset as often as it is a weakness. But the only way this will be a source for strength is if we can come to a consensus on some ground rules. The first of these must be respect for our ideological differences, a respect we must extend to communities beyond our own.

No it must not. That’s why I refuse to join Stedman’s parade, and why I keep raining on it. (Well, that plus the relentless way he keeps saying how swell he is for saying things like that.) I’m not going to sign up for any ridiculous blanket respect for ideological differences; I’m not going to respect the Catholic church’s ideology about women, for one example, and there are plenty more where that came from.

I guess that means I’m not “constructive.” Well, too bad.

Trouble rears its

May 19th, 2011 4:50 pm | By

James Hannam reiterates that religion and science have always been quite matey despite what Some People say to the contrary.

…today, science and religion are the two most powerful intellectual forces on the planet. Both are capable of doing enormous good, but their chances of doing so are much greater if they can work together. The award of the Templeton Prize to Lord Rees is a small step in the right direction.

Well religion is one of the most powerful intellectual forces on the planet if by “intellectual force” you mean “force that interferes with humans’ best intellectual skills,” but I suspect that’s not what Hannam wants us to take away from his happy thought.

He has some critics on that post, too. Like the one by James Hrynshyn:

…it seems the facts as laid out by Prof. Hannan’s review suggest the precise opposite of the idea that science and religion can work well together. He notes that the two are compatible when science does not challenge anything consequential. So long as science sticks to abstract notions, everyone gets along. But as soon as science challenges anything the churches care about, trouble rears its ugly head.

It’s the usual thing – yes they can “get along” if religion stays in its compartment; no they can’t “get along” in any substantive sense.

Beneath contempt

May 19th, 2011 11:16 am | By

Be.neath. con.tempt.

Cowardice. Buck-passing. Blame-shifting. Hiding. Bullshitting.

Refusing to take responsibility.

A report on the child abuse scandal in the US Catholic Church has provoked condemnation for concluding that the permissive society of the 1960s was to blame for the rise in sexual offences by priests.

The investigation commissioned by Catholic bishops said that the peak incidence of sexual abuse by priests in the 1960s and 70s reflected the increased level of other deviant behaviours in American society in the period, including “drug use and crime, as well as social changes, such as an increase in premarital sex and divorce.”

Right, because raping children is exactly the same kind of thing as sex without marriage. That’s high-class episcopal-level moral thinking, is it?

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests dismissed the report as “garbage in, garbage out” because the bishops provid[ed] much of the funding for the report.

But Terry defended the independence of the findings: “This is our report. None of the bishops had any influence on the findings of the study.”

Bollocks. The bishops commissioned it. It’s their responsibility. It’s not “independent” any more than the bishops are.

It’s just class warfare, I tell you

May 18th, 2011 4:42 pm | By

What unites dashing open-shirted Bernard-Henri Levy and dreary “Expelled” “comedian” Ben Stein? Jason Linkins knows.

Levy and Stein find themselves offering up the same response — two of the World’s Most Interesting Men, defending another Interesting Man, on the grounds that the privilege all enjoy makes the crime inconceivable on its face.

Beautifully put, I think. They matter, so they think their friend, who also matters, must be officially Not Guilty, regardless of what he may actually have done. If he did anything, it was Her fault.

And so while it can be acknowledged that the possibility exists that DSK is the perpetrator of a crime (Levy: “I do not know what actually happened.” Stein: “…it’s possible indeed, maybe even likely, that he is guilty as the prosecutors charge.”), the important thing to do right now is remind the world that in this life, Interesting Men are never supposed to experience shame, let alone experience it publicly. Isn’t that the greater indignity?

Note especially what Stein said:

This is a case about the hatred of the have-nots for the haves, and that’s what it’s all about. A man pays $3,000 a night for a hotel room? He’s got to be guilty of something. Bring out the guillotine.

That’s what it’s all about…Really?

It’s amazing stuff. Polanski syndrome.

The old epithet question

May 18th, 2011 12:30 pm | By

What’s wrong with this picture?

A guy commented on a Facebook thread about Carmen Callil’s boycott (as it were) of the Booker International prize over its decision to give it to Philip Roth:

So much to love about that story. Virago indeed. [plus some more that's not relevant]

I said

“Virago indeed”?


He said

@Ophelia — no offense intended. Just reading the article, and following up with a visit to Webster’s.

Sigh. Whether intended or not – it’s sexist. Never mind “offense”; it’s both less and more than that.

But I couldn’t say that, on someone else’s FB page, so I was more diplomatic.

[His name] - sure, but sex- (or race etc) specific epithets are just that. That was the point of calling Virago, Virago…

He said

Respectfully, I’ll take my free pass on irony too, then. Now, about the merits of Ms. Callil’s comments on Roth’s oeuvre…

What’s wrong with this picture?

It’s that he doesn’t get to take “his” free pass on irony too. Why? Because he’s a guy. We don’t get to help ourselves to free passes on “irony” when it comes to epithets that don’t apply to us.

Isn’t that obvious? If it’s not it should be. I know I’ve had a few million arguments about it, so I guess it’s not, but godalmighty, I can’t for the life of me see why not.

He wasn’t being ironic in using “virago” about a woman who’d done something he didn’t like. The women who founded Virago were being ironic in using the word, but he was not, and he doesn’t get to hide behind the word “irony” when he just used a sexist insult.

This thread was on the page of a rather well-known writer of Indian origin. I don’t think this guy would call the writer a “wog” or a “darky” or any other epithet of that kind, even ironically. I don’t think he would refer to anyone as a “wog” or a “darky” on the writer’s page, even ironically. Maybe I’m wrong; that’s a conditional verb; but I do strongly believe that – it would be such a clanger. Yet for a woman…

That’s what’s wrong with this picture.

I get fokking tired of it sometimes.

Sympathy for the mighty

May 17th, 2011 12:23 pm | By

Michael Ruse bending over backward and kissing his own ass in his effort to be Nice to religious believers again. The pope says in his Easter sermon that humans can’t be “a chance of nature.” Ruse Understands.

Now let me try to be understanding here. I realize where the Pope is coming from. As a Christian, humans cannot be just a chance occurrence.

No kidding; we all understand that much; it’s obvious. But never mind that – what I want to know is, why does Ruse try to be understanding there? Why is he so keen to understand the pope when he never ever says “Now let me try to be understanding here. I realize where the new atheists are coming from”?

Why is he so eager to give the pope the benefit of the doubt? Does he think the pope is a sad lonely isolated figure who gets no support? Why is he so prompt to suck up to existing established power and privilege and at the same time so intensely hostile to people challenging that power and privilege?

I wonder.

H/t Jerry Coyne.

A split within the movement

May 17th, 2011 11:51 am | By

The Freedom Rides were fifty years ago this month.

They weren’t universally seen as a good idea within the movement at the time – many people thought they were too much: too much of a deliberate provocation, too likely to trigger violence, too risky.

Well – they were a deliberate provocation, made by doing something that was entirely legal, and unexceptionable (to wit, making use of a public commercial facility). They did trigger violence, but the violence finally, after a lot of chickenshit footdragging by the Kennedy brothers, in turn triggered a federal response: when a mob attacked a church full of civil rights activists in Montgomery and pinned them inside, in fear of being burned alive, martial law was declared and federal troops arrived to prevent a mob victory.

The tame safe moderate unprovocative quiet thing is not always the best thing to do.

“We have no remorse.”

May 16th, 2011 3:17 pm | By

Fucking hell.

Police in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh have filed preliminary charges against two women accused of killing their daughters.

The women, who were neighbours and are both Muslim, were reportedly furious with their daughters for eloping with Hindu men, police told the BBC.

Zahida, 19, and Husna, 26, were strangled last week after they returned home to make peace with their families.

I know it’s nothing new.  It’s just so depressing. They went home, to make peace with their families – and their mothers strangled them.

That just……..

it makes me despair. Their mothers strangled them. For marrying Hindu men.

One of the accused is quoted by the Indian Express newspaper as saying after being arrested, “How could they elope with Hindus? They deserved to die. We have no remorse.”

Despair piled on despair.

The Kikonians

May 15th, 2011 4:30 pm | By

I thought the first couple of paragraphs of Joshua Rothman’s interview with Patricia Churchland were more interesting than anything in The Moral Landscape. That sounds very rude, but it’s not meant to – it’s just that TML was fundamentally uninteresting to me because it sidestepped everything that’s genuinely interesting about humans and morality. Churchland, on the other hand, zoomed right in on it.

 She starts by explaining what’s most clearly known about how morality works in the brain. We know, she argues, that human moral behavior is rooted in the brain’s “circuitry for caring”—ancient biological circuitry that we share with other mammals. (When wolves care about their offspring, what happens in their brains and bodies is remarkably similar to what happens in ours.) Most mammals care only about themselves and their children. In human beings, though, the circle of caring extends widely, even to strangers.

See? That is interesting, where just insisting “it’s about well-being” over and over isn’t.

I said the same thing a year ago, too. I said it while discussing the article based on the book that Harris published at the time. I said it’s about caring, and that he’d forgotten to spell that out. Inexplicably.

I got it from the Odyssey, and an interesting passage in which Odysseus and his crew invade an island and treat the inhabitants as a predator treats prey.

The first and only glimpse of moral concern (or perhaps it’s prudential, or more likely it’s both) is Odysseus’s concern to make sure all his men got their fare share of the treasure and the women that they had all grabbed. The Kikonians might as well be animated figures in a computer game. This isn’t a factual issue. It’s not that Odysseus and his crew think the Kikonians are robots or zombies – it’s that they don’t care. They should care, but they don’t. Facts are part of getting them to care, but they’re not enough. Facts are necessary but not sufficient.

That’s still what I see as missing from The Moral Landscape, still what makes it an unhelpful and uninteresting book on morality. Churchland’s book, on the other hand, sounds terrific; I’m looking forward to reading it.

Adventures in credulity

May 15th, 2011 11:00 am | By

I didn’t know there was a myth that Oliver North told the Iran-Contra investigation and in particular Al Gore (!) that the reason he had such a pricey security system was because he was afraid of “the most evil man in the world” and that that man was Osama bin Laden.

(Actually maybe I did know it, once upon a time. It sounds very faintly familiar now – I may have caught a whiff or a glimpse of it at some point. But if so, the knowledge didn’t stick.)

I was told it yesterday. I was driving an acquaintance back from the airport, and he told me it. He told me it as something he saw – he saw Al Gore questioning Oliver North, and he saw Oliver North tell Al Gore that.

Wait, what? I said. Are you sure? That can’t be right. That was in the 80s – bin Laden was a mujahid then. He was an anti-CommOnist, just Olly North’s kind of guy. (I forebore to point out that Al Gore wasn’t on the Iran-Contra committee, because I’m a kind and loving person.)

My acquaintance all but laughed. He knew absolutely that it was right; he remembered very clearly watching it. There was no possibility of error whatsoever.

You know…I’m not used to people like that. I don’t get out much, so I don’t meet them. I’m not used to people who are so stupid that they think their memories are infallible. That level of certainty combined with cluelessness kind of startles me. (It also profoundly bores me, but that’s another story.)

I wasn’t having it though. He’d been talking non-stop since the instant he got in the car, lecturing on this and then on that, not even paying attention to whether I was interested or not, so I wasn’t having it. I kept pointing out that it was in the 80s, bin Laden was on Reagan’s side, what he was saying made no sense. Once I mentioned the dates for about the sixth time, his certainty wobbled a little, so then he started to lecture about something else.

My friend Claire looked it up on Snopes for me, so now I know it’s not just some fantasy my acquaintance made up from scratch, it’s an existing myth, that went flying around the internet in 2001. He’s a sucker for things that go flying around the internet, and emails them to everyone in his address book, which unfortunately includes me. He got it from some stupid mailing or other, swallowed it whole, and now thinks he saw it happen, and thinks he remembers seeing it. Not even that: he’s certain he remembers seeing it, and he treats skepticism with amused contempt.

Stupidity in action. It’s not a pretty sight.

(He embellished the story with a bit about Gore trying to scare North, saying North had looked down the barrel of a blah blah blah and wasn’t about to be scared by blah blah blah – I became less kind and loving for long enough to interject that Gore had been in the military too. I wanted also to point out that most military people despise Oliver North; they think he’s a traitor and a disgrace to the service…but I didn’t. Too many flies to swat.)

Not a pretty sight.

Slowly working away

May 14th, 2011 4:57 pm | By

The Ian Ramsey Centre via the Wayback Machine.

It has an epigraph.

Science and religion are two windows that people look through, trying to understand the big universe outside, trying to understand why we are here. The two windows give different views, but both look out at the same universe. Both views are one-sided, neither is complete. Both leave out essential features of the real world. And both are worthy of respect. Freeman Dyson 

Not really; not really; not exactly; not in the sense implied; not really; not at all.

The Centre also sponsors regional conferences to encourage new networks for examining connections between theology and the sciences; and through its international workshops it enhances the quality of courses on science and religion that are taught worldwide.

What connections between theology and the sciences? What connections are there? None that I know of. What connections could there be?

As for courses on science and religion, the whole idea of such courses is mostly the child of the Templeton Foundation, fostered through satellite outfits like the Ian Ramsey Centre, so that Templeton “Fellows” can fan out and talk about science’n'religion as if they went together like salt’n'pepper.


May 14th, 2011 9:40 am | By

Here we go again. Via Jerry – we learn of a CNN report on a “huge” new study that tells us religion is everywhere. (You don’t say.)

What the CNN report does not tell us, however, is that the “huge” new study was funded by the Templeton Foundation. CNN doesn’t bother to mention Templeton. It doesn’t bother to mention that Roger Trigg is at the Ian Ramsey Centre, which is Templeton up to its eyeballs.

Interestingly, perhaps, I can’t find the IRC’s history on its site or elsewhere (and I have to rush away soon, so can’t dig harder). I know I found it in the past, and I’m pretty sure it was on its site, on the About page. I wonder if they’ve…doctored it.

At any rate – this Huge project is Templeton apologetics, yet the CNN article doesn’t mention the fact. Yet fans of Templeton express outrage when anyone says it operates by stealth. Well…what would you call this?

Like the Force, but without the lightsabers

May 13th, 2011 4:48 pm | By

Jerry has a post (how does he do it while on the road admiring the beauties of Banff?) about a reader who reports on one path out of theism, from the literal kind to “the ground of all being” to the gleaming port of gnu atheism. I seized the opportunity to ask this reader what that meant to her/him, explaining that I always wonder what people mean by it. The answer was both informative and amusing.

When I was in the “ground of all being” stage, I thought of it as a representation of some mystical spiritual energy which imbued the universe with intelligence and purpose. Looking back, they were basically filler words to represent a concept I didn’t want to think about too deeply for fear of losing the sense of community I found in the church. When I did eventually begin to think about it honestly, I realized it sounded a lot like the Force from Star Wars, but without the cool lightsabers (I still want one of those).

I don’t know what authors like Tillich and Spong really mean by it, even after reading four or five of Spong’s books. I guess that’s why it was such a short hop to reading The God Delusion and thinking, “This makes so much more sense!”


The cause that wit is in other people

May 13th, 2011 4:18 pm | By

One good thing, Rosenau’s goofy “I haven’t heard the Lindsay-Mooney podcast but I know PZ (who has heard it) is rong about it anyway” post elicited some good comments (along with a whole lot of bad ones from the usual suspects, especially the indefatigable McCarthy). From PZ for instance.

Your problem, Josh, is a total inability to appreciate any approach beyond your own. There is no surprising inconsistency in my views; all along the Gnus have been saying we need a multiplicity of approaches, so I can simultaneously endorse someone advocating a softer approach while favoring a hard core strategy myself.

My approach works for some people — actually, it works very, very well for a lot of people. And some people run away screaming. So? I’m not the one pretending a one-size-fits-all set of tactics is the way to go.

Quite. Me neither. I certainly don’t dispute that some people run away screaming. Mooney seems to think we don’t get that. Of course we get it.

And from someone called horse-pheathers.

Being nice doesn’t work. All that happens when you treat rank superstition with respect is you lend it credence it doesn’t deserve. If polite, rational argument stood a chance of swaying the believers, we wouldn’t be living in a world where over 80% of the population is some form of theist.

As H.L.Mencken observed in 1925, “The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by persons who should know better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame.”

See? We ain’t so gnu.

Correction: May 14 6:59 a.m. We ain’t so new. We are gnu, but not new.

Invisible companions

May 13th, 2011 3:59 pm | By

I have a few stalkers. Not real stalkers, just cyberstalkers. Maybe not even real cyberstalkers – just people who hate me and monitor my every online move and frequently blog or comment or tweet about how bad and stupid I am. One of them (that I know of) goes in for obscenity, but he talks that way about everyone and everything, so I don’t suppose he has many readers, especially not readers with any sense. Others just do stupid sneery stuff about new atheism and how pathetic it is that I’m saying whatever it is this time.

They’re all male, the ones I know about. Make of that what you will.

It’s odd having stalkers. It’s odd having people that worked up about One. It’s odd having people who after months or even years are still watching, still staring, still fuming, still blogging or commenting or tweeting.

(Mind you, I suppose C___s M____y could say the same thing about me. But C___s M____y has a much bigger public profile than I do – what C___s M____y says and writes has far more impact in the wider world. Furthermore, months go by when I don’t murmur a syllable about C___s M____y. My stalkers take much shorter breaks.)

Never mind. It’s Friday afternoon, and the people gutting the house 10 feet away from me across the alley will be leaving soon, and then I won’t be hearing them again until Monday morning; that will be pleasant.

Have a nice weekend, Stalkers! Well, a weekend, anyway. Have one. Have a weekend, and a rest, and maybe a chill pill.

Switching claims in midstream

May 12th, 2011 3:23 pm | By

Hmmyes. I listened to some of the interview again. As Tyro pointed out, there’s one place where Mooney very sharply contradicts himself – admits he has no evidence then almost instantly says he has a lot of evidence and a lot of knowledge. It’s quite remarkable.

This is in the part where they’re talking about the controversy over Mooney’s dogma that frank atheism is “counter-productive” (to what, is not spelled out). Lindsay says what’s the evidence, isn’t it a hunch.

Mooney says no, we know this: religion is a deeply held belief, it’s part of people’s identity, challenges to it trigger a defensive response. Lindsay says yes but that’s a general theory of the psychology of belief; do you have any actual evidence that the books and so on of the new atheists have actually been counter-productive.

No, not as such, Mooney says, but you say it like I should have, it would be expensive, complicated, difficult, blah blah – someone should do a study, and if someone did and the results were – I don’t know what they would be, I have a suspicion, but I don’t know, but if they were different from what I’m saying, I’d be happy to acknowledge that.

Big of him, isn’t it.

Lindsay says right, so it’s a hunch, so do you have any evidence that -

And Mooney interrupts and says quite sharply:

It’s more than a suspicion, it’s an inference from a lot of evidence and a lot of knowledge.

This must be about ten seconds after admitting that he did not have evidence.

He’s apparently too glib and too pleased with himself and too self-righteous even to hang on to an awareness that he in fact does not have any evidence for the claims he’s actually making (as opposed to a much wider looser more obvious and common sense claim that some people don’t change their beliefs just because an atheist challenges them) for more than a few seconds.

It’s not about that claim. Duh. We know that some people cling to their beliefs no matter what. We don’t need Chris Mooney to tell us that. That’s not the claim that’s disputed. The claim that’s disputed is that frank atheism is counter-productive. That is a different claim. Chris Mooney doesn’t have a shred of evidence for it – and in fact he’s never even defined it.

Science communication indeed.