In Oklahoma

Oct 19th, 2009 10:28 am | By

Misogyny gone wild.

Women seeking abortions in Oklahoma are to be forced to reveal an array of personal information, such as the state of their relationships, how many children they have and their race, which will be posted on an official website…Abortion rights groups have filed a lawsuit to try to block the new law, which requires women seeking abortions to provide doctors with answers to 34 questions including their age, marital status and education levels, as well as the number of previous pregnancies and abortions. Women are required to reveal their relationship with the father, the reason for the abortion and the area where the abortion was performed. Doctors are obliged to pass the information on to the Oklahoma health department, which will post it on a public website.

In other words…a pregnant woman has no rights at all, she is public property because she is pregnant and therefore everything about her is public property and nothing about her belongs to her and no one else. In other words she is not a real person – she is a vessel for a real person, not a real person herself, and her life and her wants and needs are of no significance. It’s everyone’s business whom she had sex with and under what circumstances, why she wants to end the pregnancy, and anything else that The State feels like asking.

Last month a judge struck down a state law requiring a doctor about to perform an abortion to carry out an ultrasound with the screen positioned in front of the mother and to then describe the developing limbs and organs of the foetus. The woman could not be forced to look at the screen but would have no choice but to listen to the doctor’s description. The law required that the ultrasound be carried out vaginally if the pregnancy was in its early stages in order to get a clear picture. Rape victims were not exempted.

In other words the state mandated that women be raped by a machine if they were getting an abortion.

Let’s close for David Koresh’s birthday

Oct 18th, 2009 10:36 am | By

Two councils in East London have irritated a lot of people (and perhaps pleased a few, though that looks doubtful) by instructing all schools under their control to shut for the annual celebrations of Eid-Ul-Fitr, Diwali and Guru Nanak’s Birthday. They have their reasons.

The council has said that the policy is intended to “raise awareness of different faiths and cultures within the school community, which in turn supports cohesion for the wider community”.

Dear god – do people just swallow nauseating bromides in pill form so that they will belch them for a stipulated period afterwards? Do they get them inscribed on the inside of their eyelids? Or am I over-thinking this – is it simply a matter of learning five or six key words and then just trotting them out on all occasions so as not to have to think at all ever under any circumstances? I ask because that sure is what it looks like – and it frankly makes me want to punch something. Community community community, pause, cohesion. Then again – community community different, cohesion community different. Let’s raise awareness of our differences so that we can have more cohesion. Are you sure about that? Are you sure that’s how it works?

Especially when, if the Telegraph is right, there are more Jews in Waltham Forest than there are Sikhs, yet ‘schools have not been told to close for any Jewish holidays.’ What’s that about?

I have a question, too. I don’t understand this usage:

Parents and teaching unions have joined in the criticism of the Waltham Forest policy, which affects all community primary and secondary schools in the borough, although not Church of England or Catholic schools.

What on earth does ‘community’ mean there? Is it a euphemism for secular? If so, why is a euphemism needed? It presumably doesn’t mean ‘state’ since C of E (and Catholic?) schools can be state schools…right? Or am I confused? Does ‘community’ just mean ‘without specific religious affiliation’? Is that the normal way of saying that? Is it new?

What the Vatican will allow us to say

Oct 17th, 2009 11:34 am | By

A priest who works for something called ‘the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace’ doesn’t like the way secularists use the word ‘tolerance’. He says that ‘neutrality toward world views cannot be truly tolerant and respectful’ – which could be because he is inflating ‘tolerant’ to mean ‘respectful’ and ‘respectful’ to mean ‘obedient’ or ‘groveling’ or ‘slavish.’

When secularized citizens act in their role as citizens, they must [not] deny in principle that religious images of the world have the potential to express truth.

Ah yes – you’d like that, wouldn’t you. You’d like us to stop – when acting in our role as citizens, which presumably means doing anything at all public, such as writing for magazines or on blogs – pointing out that there is no reason to believe that ‘religious images of the world’ have anything to do with ‘expressing’ truth. You’d like us to pretend that the Catholic ‘image of the world’ is just as reasonable as any other ‘image of the world’ – despite its long-established refusal to check its world-image against the real thing and its long-established habit of building up its world image out of authority and tradition and selected bits of a very old book and its long-established contentment with just asserting things about the world and human beings and ‘God.’ Of course you would like that, because then you could go on asserting things and laying down the law without any interference from people who think you don’t know what you claim to know. But you don’t get to have that. You get to have a huge amount of power and influence and authority, and money as well; you don’t get to have universal submission. Suck it up.

In the shadows

Oct 16th, 2009 5:17 pm | By

Oh dear, poor Tony Blair.

A couple of days ago Matthew Parris went to visit the bones of St Thérèse of Lisieux which are paying a neighborly visit to Westminster Cathedral. It was all very festive.

Already there was a near-carnival atmosphere surrounding the bones. A temporary fish-and-chips stall had sprung up beside a smoothies-and-coffee tent.

And that’s not the only treat.

Next, a big notice. “The Plenary Indulgence … A plenary indulgence is the complete remission of the temporal punishment due to sin.” Apparently Pope Benedict has declared a special grant of indulgences to pilgrims to these relics at Westminster. “One plenary indulgence may be gained each day and may be applied either to a soul in Purgatory or the pilgrim himself or herself.”

Ooooooh I do like a nice bit of magic.

And then the relics. Or rather the casket containing the relics. Or rather the big arched glass box containing the ornate wooden house with little tiles, embracing the sealed alabaster box in which the bones lay. Or rather were presumed by the pilgrims to lie.

Well naturally – would you have them strain at a gnat and swallow a camel?

At the front of the cathedral, among the departing pilgrims, was a man apparently alone. It was Tony Blair. He half-acknowledged me, and walked away. Blimey. Can these relics help a man become president of Europe? This was no photo-opportunity: our former Prime Minister and warrior for Western values had not expected to see a journalist — his expression betrayed that. So he really means it. Means it not just about God, but the God to whom Catholics think they have access.

Oh lordy. Poor Tony Blair – wanting to do that, and doing it, and being caught by Matthew Parris doing it.

What is interesting and what is not

Oct 15th, 2009 5:26 pm | By

Another thought from Tom Clark on supernaturalism.

If one takes the “ontological features” of consciousness, free agency, rationality, and moral knowledge to be fundamental to reality – as resident in an all powerful God – then of course it’s no surprise that God’s favored creations should also possess such features. But absent independent evidence-based reasons to believe in God, and given competing naturalistic explanations that meet high standards of coherence, verifiability, transparency and simplicity, Moreland’s supernatural hypothesis has little appeal for those wanting to know how things really work. It’s their evidential and methodological constraints that make naturalistic explanations worth pursuing, and it’s the lack of such constraints that makes the supernatural hypothesis facile, uninteresting and ultimately empty.

That’s just it. A hypothesis that is not tethered to anything – a hypothesis that does not, to use Tom’s metaphor, have to pay any attention to a net – is fundamentally uninteresting because it doesn’t come to grips with anything. It is the coming to grips with something that is interesting, and it is the refusal to do so that makes supernaturalism uninteresting. You get this from reading about Ardipithecus, or scientific discussions of the evidence for human dispersal, or any other in-progress scientific or otherwise empirical investigation. If there is no net, if anything goes – then what’s there to think about?

Leave Barry Manilow out of this

Oct 14th, 2009 12:58 pm | By

I was reading Tom Clark on the emptiness of supernaturalism and was prompted (not for the first time) to think about the idea of objective morality.

…it’s difficult, perhaps impossible, to find in impersonal Nature any sort of validation for our moral intuitions, intuitions which evolutionary accounts suggest had adaptive value, whether or not they reflect objective values. Yet we ordinarily suppose our moral norms do reflect something objective, something that’s independent of them but which they accurately reflect. This moral logic says murder is objectively and intrinsically wrong, period, so we’re right to strongly feel that it’s wrong.

We do strongly feel that murder is wrong, but that’s because we’re the kind of beings we are; a different kind of being wouldn’t. Imagine for instance a being with thoughts but no feelings – literally no feelings. Not a being with slightly flattened feelings like Spock, but one with no feelings at all. A being like that wouldn’t, by definition, strongly feel that murder is wrong, because it wouldn’t feel anything, but it also wouldn’t because it is feeling that makes it wrong. The putative objective moral sense actually cashes out as the feeling-capacity. It depends on things mattering. Without that, murder is no more immoral than unplugging a lamp. If the being with no feelings were a whole species rather than an individual, murder would be a matter of indifference, like everything else. Murder is wrong because we value our own lives and those of other people – if none of us valued either one in the slightest (and assuming no harm to any other feeling entity, etc) then murder wouldn’t be wrong. I find this thought quite interesting.

Even she doesn’t pray to it

Oct 13th, 2009 4:23 pm | By

Just what I keep saying – Karen Armstrong’s ‘God’ is all very well but it’s not what most believers mean by ‘God’ – to put it mildly. If a ‘United Church of Christ and American Baptist minister’ (you’re allowed to ride two bicycles like that?) doesn’t buy her version of god, why should anyone else?

[H]er pastiche construct of the divine, intended as a greater god, reduces the divine to an ethereal “it” describable in ethics as compassion and as transcendence in metaphysics, but unrecognizable in any of the world’s living religions as God. Even she doesn’t pray to it.

Just what I keep saying. Yet Armstrong is pretty emphatic that her pastiche is the real ‘God,’ is ‘God’ properly understood, is the One True Scotsman.

And even if she were right it wouldn’t make any difference. The god that matters now is the god that people believe in now and for most people that is not Armstrong’s pastiche, or any other ‘sophisticated’ abstraction, whether Terry Eagleton’s or Paul Tillich’s.

The United Baptist American of Christ minister likes Armstrong in other ways though.

The virtue derives from her giving God some needed press-coverage among the chattering classes…As a public intellectual in media coverage, Armstrong is a refreshing counterpoise both to old literalists (who confuse words with truth) and to the so-called New Atheists (who narrow truth down to facts)…providing some needed public-square intellectual respectability to religious thought.

Bollocks. Needed press-coverage among the chattering classes? Needed public-square intellectual respectability? Please. God gets plenty of press-coverage among the chattering classes and public-square intellectual respectability. Plenty. Look where this very article appears, just for a start – it’s in the regular ‘faith’ column in the Washington Post. There is no regular atheism column in the Washington Post! How much more press-coverage and intellectual respectability does Willis Elliott want? All God all the time?

The Cardinal on atheism: he’s against it

Oct 12th, 2009 5:30 pm | By

Cardinal Francis George, who is President of the US Catholic Bishops’ Conference, has noticed that the natives are getting restless. He observes that US secularism is moving from taming religion to rejecting it.

The new atheism has its followers…In Chicago, we now have atheist clubs in high schools. We didn’t have those five years ago. Kids I would have confirmed in the eighth grade, by the time they’re sophomores in high school say they’re atheists. They don’t just stop going to church, they make a statement…I think it’s something of a fad, because of the aggressiveness of this new atheism. It captures people.

Yes? Well what does the Catholic church do? It ‘captures’ people, doesn’t it? At least, if atheism does the Catholic church does – since atheism doesn’t throw big nets over people, or shoot tranquilizer darts into them, or put opium in their soup and then drag them away to the Scary Atheist Compound, never to be seen again.

Oh yes but you see that’s quite different because…because…er…give me a minute, I’ll think of it…

‘It is highly evangelical, isn’t it?’ simpers the interviewer helpfully, and the cardinal is happy to agree.

Yes it is, sure. Everybody has said that, and it’s true. It’s the mirror image of a kind of fundamentalism, because it’s very restrictive in its use of reason. It’s also very triumphalistic and self-righteous.

While Catholicism, on the other hand –



Oct 11th, 2009 12:14 pm | By

Obama has an ‘adviser on Muslim affairs,’ Dalia Mogahed; she appeared on a British tv show hosted by a member of Hizb ut Tahrir, Ibtihal Bsis. Mogahed is on ‘the President’s Council on Faith-Based and Neighbourhood Partnerships,’ which is something the president shouldn’t have in the first place. On this tv show she said, according to the Telegraph, that the Western view of sharia is ‘oversimplified’ and ‘the majority of women around the world associate it with gender justice.’

Well if they do they’re crazy, but I don’t believe they do. The majority of women around the world aren’t Muslim, for a start, and not all Muslims are fond of sharia, so Mogahed’s statistic sounds made up.

Mogahed appeared alongside Hizb ut Tahrir’s national women’s officer, Nazreen Nawaz. During the 45-minute discussion, on the Islam Channel programme Muslimah Dilemma earlier this week, the two members of the group made repeated attacks on secular “man-made law” and the West’s “lethal cocktail of liberty and capitalism”. They called for Sharia Law to be “the source of legislation” and said that women should not be “permitted to hold a position of leadership in government”. Mogahed made no challenge to these demands and said that “promiscuity” and the “breakdown of traditional values” were what Muslims admired least about the West.

That’s bad. That stinks.

She said: “I think the reason so many women support Sharia is because they have a very different understanding of sharia than the common perception in Western media. The majority of women around the world associate gender justice, or justice for women, with sharia compliance. The portrayal of Sharia has been oversimplified in many cases.”

Well that’s just wrong – it’s not about the common perception in Western media, it’s about the real-world implementations of sharia. As far as I know – and do correct me if I have this wrong – there have so far been no implementations of sharia that were mild and egalitarian and obviously just. All the implementations of sharia that I know about – in Pakistan, in Algeria, in Somalia, in Sudan, in Saudi Arabia, in Afghanistan, in Malaysia, in northern Nigeria – have been harshly punitive and grossly unequal as between women and men. Seriously – if there is an example of sharia in the world that treats women fairly and doesn’t inflict savage punishments on people and especially women – do point it out. But in the meantime – there’s something revoltingly irresponsible about pretending that sharia is misunderstood, in the face of the horrible cruelties and injustices that we know about.

In that context, it’s worrying that the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center has lost its funding.

For the past five years, researchers in a modest office overlooking the New Haven green have carefully documented cases of assassination and torture of democracy activists in Iran…But just as the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center was ramping up to investigate abuses of protesters after this summer’s disputed presidential election, the group received word that – for the first time since it was formed – its federal funding request had been denied…Many see the sudden, unexplained cutoff of funding as a shift by the Obama administration away from high-profile democracy promotion in Iran, which had become a signature issue for President Bush.

It’s actually not a matter of democracy but one of rights. If a majority in Iran favored torturing protesters, that wouldn’t make it okay. In any case, I don’t like to find myself preferring a Bush policy to an Obama policy, but in this case it seems that I do. I also find myself agreeing with Joe Lieberman and somebody at the American Enterprise Institute. Come on, Barack, don’t put me in this position! Reach out, good; talk to people, good; but don’t abandon human rights and women’s rights.

Which prior assumptions

Oct 11th, 2009 11:39 am | By

Epistemology is difficult. (Remember that long discussion between G and Ben the other day? Shop talk. Difficult shop talk.) This morning I was trying to figure out the meaning of a comment by Josh Rosenau on Jerry Coyne’s post last week on Dawkins and accommodationism and I followed a link to a three-year-old post by John Wilkins on agnosticism. It’s good, and interesting, and much of it I don’t understand. This for instance:

Probabilities are based in this case on prior assumptions – one uses Bayes’ theorem to determine whether or not the hypothesis under test is likely to be true, given other assumptions we already accept. And here is where the problem lies – which assumptions? To adopt and restrict one’s priors to scientific assumptions is question begging. You in effect eliminate any other conceptual presuppositions from being in the game. This has a name in philosophy – positivism. It is the (empirically unsupportable) claim that only scientific arguments can be applied. As Popper noted, this is self-refuting. You cannot prove the basic premise of your argument that only provable (or, let’s be generous, supportable) claims should be accepted. As this is not a supportable claim in itself, you have contradicted your own position.

You cannot prove the basic premise, but can you support it? If the basic premise of your argument is that only supportable claims should be accepted, can you support that premise, and is supporting it enough? Do you have to prove it? If support is enough then you haven’t contradicted your own position, right?

An agnostic says that since one can make God likely or unlikely by shifting one’s priors appropriately, at the level of metadiscourse there is nothing that can decide between them. As it happens, I share most of Dawkins’ assumptions about how knowledge is gained, and it does seem to me that God is unnecessary in scientific reasoning, but I cannot show, nor can he or anyone else, that scientific reasoning is all that should or can ever be employed. And that is not “fence sitting” but a recognition of the limits of this kind of metalevel argument…[A]ll I am doing is admitting that, at the level of philosophical discourse, I can neither affirm nor reject these entities, and that what makes them likely or unlikely depends crucially on the priors that one accepts.

And, if I understand him correctly, ‘at the level of philosophical discourse’ you can’t say one prior is better than another (or you can say but you can’t prove or demonstrate or even support the claim that). Is that right? Is that what he means, and if it is, can it be right? Does it all depend on careful wording (you can’t prove, but you can do something short of proving) or does it say something real and significant and compelling?

The Proofs of God that Dawkins reviews in the book are not decisive, true. Neither are the Disproofs of God. Dawkins is confusing personal conviction with formal demonstrability. He may be convinced there is no God. But he cannot demonstrate that. At best he can set up the dialectic conditions in which his conclusion is shown to be justified. But, and here’s the kicker, so can theists. It’s all about what prior assumptions you feed into Bayes’ Theorem.

Yes, I get that…but some prior assumptions are more reasonable than others – which one can’t prove or demonstrate, but one can support it. One can point out what works and what doesn’t – in the world and circumstances we are familiar with. Sure maybe there’s a metalevel where none of that applies, but for our purposes, here and now, where we can only go with our best information…some prior assumptions are more reasonable than others.

I suppose that’s why I find myself saying ‘yes all kinds of things might be true but without evidence there’s no good reason to believe they are true’ so often these days. Variations on agnosticism are popular when theists meet Militant New atheists.

They were bipedal and married: a romance

Oct 10th, 2009 11:44 am | By

Hey the Family Research Council has gone all Darwin and sciencey on us.

Some people believe that religious dogma is the only reason why anyone opposes same-sex marriage. Those who believe the human race began with Adam and Eve, and that their relationship was God’s model for marriage, believe marriage should be between a man and a woman. But those who don’t believe in the Bible, who think Adam and Eve are a myth, and who don’t accept a Christian view of the human person, have no reason to believe marriage is an opposite-sex union. Right?

Well, no, not exactly. Those who don’t believe the Bible is some kind of magic rule-book and who don’t want Christians telling them what to do, have no reason to think that the word ‘marriage’ has some absolute for-all-time set in stone meaning that can’t ever be changed, or that the word ‘marriage’ is the same thing as the institution of marriage and that both (or both in one) should be treated as sacred and inviolable and immune to alteration. Those who think Adam and Eve are indeed a myth have no reason to think that we can’t shouldn’t mustn’t alter our practices and domestic arrangements as our ideas about people and sex and morality change. It’s more like that. It’s not that we disagree that marriage has always referred to the legal union of a woman and a man* – it’s that we disagree that it can’t now expand its meaning to cover other kinds of couples. It’s that we think it’s a human arrangement, intended to meet human needs of some kind, and that we are free and entitled and allowed to adapt it to meet other needs, or the same needs of other people, or both.

But never mind that, go ahead.

The scientists believe that a primate skeleton found in Ethiopia is that of a human ancestor—one that lived 4.4 million years ago. Almost at the end of this long piece, the article describes what C. Owen Lovejoy, an anthropologist at Kent State University, says about the social organization of this species:

The males, he argues, pair-bonded with females. Lovejoy sees male parental investment in the survival of offspring as a hallmark of the human lineage. So, how long has marriage (i.e., “pair-bonding”) been a male-female union? About four million, four hundred thousand years, if this secular scientist is to be believed.

Uh…..pair-bonding isn’t the same thing as marriage, which is kind of the point. Gay pair-bonding already exists and is now mostly legal, but many gay people want marriage. Ardipithecus didn’t have marriage. Furthermore, the fact that males, according to Lovejoy, pair-bonded with females, of course doesn’t necessarily mean that all males pair-bonded with females or that all females pair-bonded with males. Obviously Lovejoy would have no way of knowing that, and it’s most unlikely that he meant to imply that. He meant, it seems fair to say, that in general males pair-bonded with females – as opposed to abandoning them after mating and playing no role in child-rearing. And furthermore again – what does the Family Research Council care what some pesky secular scientist says?

It cares because it wants to say

Marriage is not merely a religious institution, nor merely a civil institution. It is, rather, a natural institution, whose definition as the union of male and female is rooted in the order of nature itself.

Fine. Marriage is the institutionalization of a natural tendency to pair-bond, if you like. Fine. But so what? Pair-bonding has fostered a vast array of elaborations and decorations over these 4.4 million years, so what is the problem if some people want to avail themselves of the institutionalized version even though they don’t match the male-female child-rearing model? The old model gets to continue, complete with quarrels and divorce and bad jokes, so what difference does it make if other people join the party too? None. But the FRC isn’t going to mention that aspect of the story.

*Though of course we do disagree – since it has meant other things too, such as polygamy.

As mild as doves

Oct 9th, 2009 12:21 pm | By

So the Church Times review of Does God Hate Women? is considerably more favorable than was Sholto Byrnes’s in the Independent or Cristina Odone’s in the Observer, to say nothing of Madeleine Bunting’s reception. There’s a profound irony in that, which I will not belabor.

A futile wish

Oct 8th, 2009 11:40 am | By

I must say, I wish Mooney would not be at it again. I wish Mooney would go do other things now. I wish he would find other despised minorities to smear with accusations of aggression and assault and bashing and other forms of wickedness. I wish he would do that so that I could go back to ignoring him (also of course because then he wouldn’t be doing the thing which I resent his doing and thus feel compelled to rebuke him for doing). Of course, I could go on ignoring him, speaking literally – I’m not forced to retort to his manipulative campaign against overt atheists. But I think his campaign ought to be rebuked, so in that sense I can’t ignore new instantiations of it. I don’t think it’s enough to deliver one overall rebuke of his campaign and leave it at that, because he keeps on. I could ignore his blog with no trouble, but items in major media, which includes Huffington, I can’t.

That’s the main reason a critic told me I’m a nasty mean aggressive bully last week – because I was ‘relentless’ about Mooney. It’s true, I was. I didn’t like being so relentless myself – not least because I think all the repetition is just boring – but also because yes, it did feel too aggressive. Not, I’m afraid, in the sense of being unfair to Mooney and Kirshenbaum – because I thought then and still think that they needed to be persuaded to stop – to stop at least using violent rhetoric and other scapegoating tactics, and I thought there was some chance, however tiny, that persuasion would work. More in the sense of being ugly. More an egoistic concern than an altruistic one. No maybe that’s not quite it – because being ugly is harmful in its own way. Yes that’s it. I didn’t like being as ugly as I thought M&K were being. I didn’t like debasing the discourse that way, so often and so ‘relentlessly.’ But but but – there they were – in one national media outlet after another. It was a relief when they’d done all the media they could do, and I could shut up about it. So…I wish Mooney would shut up, or get a different subject. I would like nothing better than to ignore him.

The center of what, exactly?

Oct 8th, 2009 11:07 am | By

Chris Mooney is at it again, this time with an article at the Huffington Post explaining that Dawkins really has changed his tune even though he explicitly and emphatically said he hasn’t when Jerry Coyne asked him while they were both at the Atheist Boys’ Alliance (emailing from room to room, apparently, as opposed to just talking, but then that means the money quote was in writing, which is always useful). Mooney acknowledges this clarification (though not the implied rebuke to the spin he and Rosenau rushed to put on it) but he turns it into a Point For His Side anyway.

But what’s truly noteworthy is where Dawkins hints as to how this all happened-e.g., he’s got an evolution book to sell now, and he’s sick of people thinking it’s an atheism book, so he’s trying to steer interviewers away from that, and seems frankly annoyed that they don’t get the difference…In other words, Dawkins appears to be grappling with a communication problem. Linking together atheist advocacy and the defense of evolution, as he has done so prominently, poses a pretty big problem when you hit the US media with a new book on the latter. After writing a million-selling atheist “consciousness-raiser” and “come-out-of-the-closet” book, is it at all surprising that Dawkins now finds his evolution book being prominently linked to atheism in the media mind?

Says the guy who has done perhaps more than any other single individual to make that true – the guy who, with his co-author, wrote an article in the LA Times announcing that Dawkins’s new book wouldn’t educate people because they would be too turned off by his evil atheist reputation. Mooney first worked hard to discredit Dawkins’s new book on the grounds that Dawkins is a vocal atheist, and now expresses pious concern about this ‘pretty big problem’ with getting people to talk about the new book when they interview him ostensibly about the new book. In other words it could be that one reason Dawkins is ‘frankly annoyed’ that reporters insist on talking about the old book instead of the new one is because of the role played by mischief-makers and scapegoaters like Mooney and Kirshenbaum.

That’s certainly a huge part of my annoyance. That’s because I think the whole thing is illegitimate, and underhanded, and somewhat dangerous, and irresponsible, and fundamentally unfair and unreasonable. It’s dressed up as a tactical thing, to do with reaching the Silent Majority, the excluded middle, the good normal everyday common sense Folks who just wanna blurghurghurgh, but behind that it seems to tap into a much deeper well of anger and hatred. I have absolutely no idea why Mooney apparently hates overt atheists so much, but I do think that’s what’s going on. Why? Because if it were just pragmatic, there wouldn’t have been all the stonewalling of critics and the serial misrepresentation of same. At least I don’t think there would. Disagreement over tactics doesn’t seem worth it, and doesn’t seem likely to motivate it either.

If Dawkins wants to change minds about evolution, and break down barriers, it makes a heck of a lot of sense to move to the center on religion, and not alienate religious believers or the U.S. media any more than he has to. Dawkins’ followers may complain that the master is being misrepresented, but the truth is that Richard Dawkins may be something else: a savvy, adaptable communicator.

There speaks the true scapegoater and marginalizer and shunner and minority-punisher – ‘it makes a heck of a lot of sense to move to the center on religion’ – and on everything else, of course, because ‘the center’ is where all decent people are, because anything outside the center is by definition evil and weird. Gotcher stones ready?

What does ‘the center on religion’ even mean? The land of split the difference? But different people have different differences to split. In any case…what’s at stake with this disagreement – atheism v vague woolly whateverism – is basically epistemological, and that’s not about what is or isn’t in the center. It’s not about majorities, it’s not about polite conformity, it’s not about not alienating people. That’s what Mooney always refuses to get, or else to accept, or else to care about – that there are principled reasons not to compromise or split the difference or ‘move to the center’ on epistemic issues, and we bristle at being told to treat truth claims the same way we treat campaign promises or votes on highway bills.

They’re sneering, he sneered

Oct 7th, 2009 5:47 pm | By

Andrew Sullivan really does have a down on Jerry Coyne, doesn’t he. He quotes from Jerry’s post on the Atheist shindig and then comments:

They’re really charming, aren’t they? It is as if everything arrogant about the academy and everything sneering about cable news culture is combined into one big snarky smugfest. Maybe these atheists will indeed help push back the fundamentalist right. Maybe they will remind people that between these atheist bigots and these fundamentalist bigots, the appeal of the Christianity of the Gospels shines like the sun.

Or maybe they will remind (different) people that some of us are tired of theists telling everyone what’s what without a whisper of (public, unapologetic) opposition. Who knows – the future is hidden from our mortal eyes. But the more people like Sullivan blow a gasket merely because atheists are atheists, the more obvious the social pressure will become. Next step – The Revolution.

(I’m kidding, Sully.)

Fill my quiver, will you, honey?

Oct 7th, 2009 5:37 pm | By

It’s interesting to know there is such a thing as ‘Quiverfull families.’

Quiverfull families tend to believe in male headship – the principle, also derived from the Bible, that men should lead households. Feminists are perhaps the fiercest critics of the budding Quiverfull movement. They accuse it of trying to undo the equality and freedom won for women over decades of struggle, and claim that the idea of automatic male leadership is anachronistic. But Robert Sanford sees his approach to family life both as authentically Christian, and as the best training for children to take on what he sees as the moral decay afflicting American society.

Here’s what I want to know: what is that ‘But’ doing there? Feminists think (or ‘claim’) that the idea of automatic male leadership is anachronistic

but Mr Quiver thinks it’s authentically Christian? How are those two incompatible or disjointed in any way? They’re not. That ‘But’ should be ‘And.’ Feminists see reactionary ‘Christian’ patriarchy as anachronistic and oppressive and unjust, and reactionary Christians see reactionary ‘Christian’ patriarchy as a good thing. That’s clear enough, I should think.

Found objects and bus-flattened treasures

Oct 6th, 2009 5:40 pm | By

Lookit! A blog post all about my friend Claire and how universe-boggling she is and what remarkable art jewelry she makes when she is not busy teaching or doing research or writing a book or picking up squashed bottle caps off the ground. There are pictures of some of the art jewelry that you can look at. I have a sensational piece of art jewelry that Claire made me for my birthday. I made all the readers of that blog post jealous by describing it. It is thrillingly complicated as well as beautiful.

No you may not learn about ethics, you little heathen

Oct 6th, 2009 5:01 pm | By

Apparently church groups in Australia think that if you’re not doing something churchy then you shouldn’t be doing anything at all.

At the moment, an archaic clause in NSW’s Education Act prohibits students who opt out of scripture from being taught anything while others receive religious instruction. At some schools, that means more than half the students are basically doing nothing…The NSW Federation of Parents and Citizens Association (P&C) has funded the St James Centre for Ethics to develop a pilot program to teach ethics to students who don’t want to learn scripture. But the program had barely crossed the Education Minister’s desk before the Government’s religious education advisory panel sounded the alarm. Approving the proposal would require the Parliament to kill that archaic clause, and the churches clearly fear this may be the crest of a very slippery slope.

A……slope to where, exactly? What is the slope that leads from an ethics class to…perdition? A tank full of broken glass? Life as a banker who moonlights as a prostitute?

The current arrangement goes back over a century to when the State took over public education from the Catholic Church. The public of that time was more worried that the State, not the Church, had too much control over education.

Oh, so that’s it. They used to have a monopoly, and when the monopoly was taken away, they were still allowed to keep a little piece of it. They want to go on keeping it, so they don’t want any competion for their ‘scripture’ classes. Yet another example of the instinctive generosity of the religious.

Who, me?

Oct 5th, 2009 5:27 pm | By

In which we learn that Dawkins does not actually have fangs and a dripping cleaver.

To most observers, Dawkins is the textbook aggressive champion of evolutionary theory…In person, Dawkins fails to live up to the “aggressive” label…So he is genuinely puzzled by people calling him aggressive. “Well, I’m nothing like as aggressive as I’m portrayed. And I’m always being labelled ‘strident’. In the bestseller lists it always has a little one-line summary of the book, and for my new one it says ‘strident academic Richard Dawkins’. I’m forever saddled with this wretched adjective. I think I’m one of the most unstrident people in the world.”

Well don’t I know the feeling – though of course on a much smaller scale. I’m spared the thing about the bestseller list for example.

But in my tiny way, don’t I know the feeling. I’ve been called strident – I’ve even been called aggressive, though not all that often. I wouldn’t go as far as Dawkins…I wouldn’t say I think I’m one of the most unstrident people in the world, or one of the most unaggressive, either. I’m not that delusional. I am often verbally aggressive, often deliberately so. I am sometimes tooverbally aggressive – I’m apt to get irritable and impatient. (As does Dawkins – and if doesn’t know this about himself, that’s a little odd. I think his reputation for ferocity is wildly and unfairly exaggerated, for political reasons, but if he thinks he’s never waspish or hasty or sharp – he’s not thinking hard enough.)

But there is a difference (and a difference that matters – quite a lot, as a matter of fact) between being sometimes waspish or irritable or impatient or disputatious, and being aggressive or militant or mean or a bully. This has been part of the issue with Mooney and Kirshenbaum ever since last May – their willingness, not to say eagerness, to use hostile rhetoric to describe people who disagree with them. I don’t think people should do that. I think it’s unfair. I would even say it has a whiff of the bully about it.

Dawkins Does a McLuhan

Oct 4th, 2009 5:59 pm | By

Jerry Coyne took a few minutes from all the fun he was having at the Boys’ Atheists jamboree to do a quick post on Dawkins and accommodationism.

An alert reader called my attention to two blog posts by Josh Rosenau and Chris Mooney/Sheril Kirshenbaum, both claiming that Richard Dawkins explicitly voiced accommodationist views in a Newsweek interview. “He’s changed!” they say.

Has not, Jerry says.

Well, I know Richard Dawkins. I am at a meeting with Richard Dawkins. I just discussed these accusations of accommodationism with Richard Dawkins. And I can tell you, Chris, Sheril, and Josh, that Richard is not one of you.

And, satisfyingly, he includes Richard’s written confirmation that he is no accommodationist:

How utterly ridiculous. All I was saying is that it is possible for a human mind to accommodate both evolution and religion because F. Collins’s mind seems to manage the feat (along with lots of vicars and bishops and rabbis).

Then Jerry expresses a hope which seems unlikely to be fulfilled…

Now that Dawkins has verified this, it would be nice to see Rosenau, Mooney, and Kirshenbaum correct their postings. And they need to stop pretending that the existence of religious scientists and religious people who accept evolution proves that science and faith are compatible. We settled that issue long ago. The issue is philosophical compatibility.

As I pointed out in the comments, Mooney did once grasp this point, though without admitting he had grasped anything new, or changed his thinking, or learned anything from his critics, much less apologizing for maligning them for weeks on end. I pointed out this oversight at the time, but fat lot of good it did me. Anyway he lost his grip on the point again, and now he’s just back at the same old stand.