Welcome to our articles section. The articles below either have been written specifically for ButterfliesandWheels or are appearing here having been published elsewhere previously.

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Sense and Sensibility

Feb 23rd, 2006 | By Paula Bourges-Waldegg

Distasteful, absurd, offensive, insulting, abusive, infamous, frivolous, grotesque, unfunny and plain stupid are some of the most common adjectives that have been used to describe the cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed published in a Danish newspaper a few months ago. Sense and sensibility are apparently the main virtues that an editorial cartoonist should now possess. So it seems that newspapers all over the world will soon need to hire new more ad hoc cartoonists. Therefore I took the liberty of writing the following job posting to help them find the “ideal” candidate.

Well-reputed newspaper looking for sensitive and sensible cartoonists

General description:

Individuals with high moral and aesthetic standards who conform with generally held views of what is acceptable, and … Read the rest

Why Truth Does Matter

Feb 21st, 2006 | By Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom

From Why Truth Matters by Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom, Continuum 2006, pp. 18-20.

But does it really matter? Is it worth bothering about? Academic fashions come and go. Dons and professors are always coming up with some New Big Thing, and then getting old and doddering off to the great library in the sky, while new dons and professors hatch new big things, some more and some less silly than others. Casaubon had his key to all mythologies, Derrida had his, someone will have a new one tomorrow; what of it.

Yes, is our answer; it does matter. It matters for various pragmatic, instrumental reasons. Meera Nanda discusses in Prophets Facing Backward the way Hindu fundamentalists in India have … Read the rest

Distortions Are Not Worth Debating

Feb 21st, 2006 | By Deborah Lipstadt

Deborah Lipstadt looks at the decision by the editors of the student newspaper of Northwestern University, The Daily Northwestern, to publish an article by Arthur Butz.

Things at Northwestern seem to be going from bad to worse. Electrical Engineering Professor Arthur Butz has, after many years of total obscurity in anything but the world of Holocaust deniers, once again grabbed headlines by praising Iranian President Ahmadinejad for his Holocaust denial. Mr. Butz has as much expertise on the history of the Holocaust as I do on building bridges. But he has tenure and this means that, as long as he does not introduce this false information into his classroom, he cannot be fired.

But Butz is an old story. … Read the rest

Why Review a Book When You Can Sneer?

Feb 20th, 2006 | By Brian Leiter

The New York Times has done it again: they’ve enlisted an ignorant reviewer to review a philosophical book. The reviewer is Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor at The New Republic. The book is Daniel Dennett’s latest book, a “naturalistic” account of religious belief. Whatever Mr. Wieseltier knows about philosophy or science, he effectively conceals in this review. The sneering starts at the beginning:

The question of the place of science in human life is not a scientific question. It is a philosophical question. Scientism, the view that science can explain all human conditions and expressions, mental as well as physical, is a superstition, one of the dominant superstitions of our day; and it is not an insult

Read the rest

Freedom of speech is not for sale

Feb 11th, 2006 | By Mina Ahadi

The images of terrifying and agitated mobs attacking centres and embassies, burning them down and threatening people to murder and decapitations are the cruel face of political Islam.

Obviously governments of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and other reactionary states together with Hamas and Islamic terrorist gangs are behind these demonstrations, which are all to familiar to us. They have no way other than killing, slaughtering, stoning to death and destroying to gain a share of power or to remain in power.

Wherever they are in the power, they eliminate anyone who thinks differently and won’t submit to their reactionary and inhumane sacred beliefs and wherever they are not, they intimidate in order to score points.

This time round, the publication … Read the rest

Silent but not Deadly

Feb 11th, 2006 | By Thomas R DeGregori

Silent but deadly is a phrase most often used to describe the effects of a quiet crepitation that is extremely potent in its olfactory impact. It could as well refer to the phobias of many concerning the deadly forces of modern life. These are the forces of modern life that allegedly pervade our environment and threaten our very existence. Vying for the top of the list are those all-pervasive chemical carcinogens that allegedly saturate our food and every other aspect of our environment. Competing
for phobic primacy is all that deadly radiation emanating from nuclear power plants. When old phobias begin to lose some of their power to frighten, there are people skilled at heightening our sensitivities to newly emerging … Read the rest

Hindutva, California Textbooks and a Smear Campaign

Feb 3rd, 2006 | By Steve Farmer

Last week this article in the Indian magazine Frontline reported that the Hindu Right’s attempts to rewrite California school textbooks on India and Hinduism were meeting with strong resistance from renowned historians and scholars in the U.S. and abroad. Steve Farmer is one of those scholars; he reported on that resistance and the smear campaign against another of them, Michael Witzel, on a listserve last December, and gave B&W permission to publish a slightly updated version. There is recent news here.

Part I: The California Textbook Issue

The smear campaign aimed against Michael Witzel is meant in retaliation for
the critical role he has played since early November – in
collaboration now with hundreds of Indian and Western researchers … Read the rest

Defend striking bus workers of Tehran!

Feb 1st, 2006 | By Bahram Soroush

Hundreds of striking bus workers of the state-owned Vahed bus company are still in detention in Tehran today, 30th January, following the vicious attack by thousands of members of the security forces on their strike last Saturday.

The exact number of the detainees is still unknown. Anywhere from 500 to 700 workers may have been arrested – according to union officials speaking on foreign-based radio stations. Further arrests have been reported today, with pressure being put on the detained workers to sign pledges to give up their fight or risk losing their jobs. In a statement issued today, the bus workers’ union has called for a stoppage on 3rd February.

The arrests started on Friday 27th January, the eve of … Read the rest

Faith is a Moral Failing

Jan 29th, 2006 | By George M Felis

Let’s be brutally honest. To describe FAITH as a “failure of reason” is a half-truth at best.

There are those who assert that their religious convictions are grounded in reason and evidence alone. But I’ve never actually met such a rare creature myself. Even the most cunning Jesuitical sophistry seeking to rationally justify religion does not entirely leave out faith as a component. And not faith in the sense of “hope” or “confidence” or any other wishy-washy alternate definition. By “faith” in this context, I mean (and honest believers also mean) believing something because one chooses to believe it, without regard to the absence of evidence/reasons to believe. (Sometimes, faith even entails believing something without regard to the presence of … Read the rest

The Kitzmiller Decision

Jan 25th, 2006 | By Dawkins, Dennett, Kurtz, Jones, Ridley, Forrest, Haack

B&W is asking various rationalists, scientists, biologists, zoologists, philosophers and the like for their reactions to the Kitzmiller decision. New ones will be added as they come in, so keep reading.

Susan Haack


The question before Judge Jones, of course, was not whether “Intelligent Design Theory” should be taught in Dover public schools, but whether the School Board’s proposed “evolution disclaimer” is constitutional. His arguments on this point were, for me, a lesson in the complexities of Establishment-Clause jurisprudence. His belt-and-braces approach results in a convincing argument that the proposed evolution disclaimer constitutes an improper state endorsement of religion, and that both its purpose and its effect would be improperly to advance religion.

But what I … Read the rest

Theory’s Empire

Jan 14th, 2006 | By Daphne Patai and Will H. Corral

Our anthology, Theory’s Empire, appears at a moment when not only have theoretical discussions of literature become stagnant but articles and books are published in defense of the conceptual stalemates that have led to this very immobility. In the early years of the new millennium, theorists are busily writing about the impasse in which theory finds itself, discoursing on the alternatives as portentously as they once wrote about the death of the novel and of the author. But there is one revealing difference between the predictably cyclical revisions of theoretical notions before structuralism and those present developments that can today be referred to simply as Theory, emblazoned with a capital T: the proponents of the latter tend to avoid … Read the rest

Reactions to the Dover Decision on Intelligent Design (with special attention to the unfortunate intervention by Professor Alschuler)

Jan 2nd, 2006 | By Brian Leiter

This blog has a rather lengthy compendium of links pertaining to yesterday’s court decision. The New York Times, meanwhile, has run a pleasingly direct editorial:

Judge Jones’s decision was a striking repudiation of intelligent design, given that Dover’s policy was minimally intrusive on classroom teaching. Administrators merely read a brief disclaimer at the beginning of a class asserting that evolution was a theory, not a fact; that there were gaps in the evidence for evolution; and that intelligent design provided an alternative explanation and could be further explored by consulting a book in the school library. Yet even that minimal statement amounted to an endorsement of religion, the judge concluded, because it caused students to doubt the theory of

Read the rest

Trading Faith for Spirituality: The Mystifications of Sam Harris

Dec 9th, 2005 | By Meera Nanda

Spirituality at Faith’s Funeral

There is something decidedly weird about this business of spirituality. Just say the word “spiritual,” or, if you prefer more gravitas, “mystical,” and you will witness a strange phenomenon. You will find many tough-talking, God-is-dead rationalists morph into Mahesh Yogi lites, peddling sweet-nothings about merging the “self” into the universe, and promoting world peace and reason while they are at it.

In his much acclaimed The End of Faith, Sam Harris declares the death of faith, only to celebrate the birth of spirituality. He wants to convince us of the proposition that “Mysticism is rational…religion is not” (p. 221). Traditional Judeo-Christian and Islamic conception of God who heeds your prayers is a mere leap of … Read the rest

Godless States in God Lands: Dilemmas of Secularism in America and India

Dec 1st, 2005 | By Meera Nanda

God and Politics in America and India

This essay tells the tale of two religious nationalisms: Christian nationalism in America that has found a welcome home in the Republican Party and George W. Bush’s two administrations, and Hindu nationalism in India which always had a welcome home in BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), the party that ruled the country, off and on, through the 1990s until 2004. Christian nationalists declare the United States of America to be a Christian nation, its land God’s New Jerusalem, and its destiny to spread liberty around the world. Hindu nationalists, for their part, proclaim India to be a Hindu nation, its land the body of the mother Goddess, and its destiny to spread spiritual enlightenment … Read the rest

Fear and Loathing in Lacania

Nov 28th, 2005 | By Filip Buekens

Abstract How do his interpreters explain and justify Jacques Lacan’s baroque and unintelligible rhetorical strategies in Ecrits and the Séminaires? Many philosophers, cultural critics and psychoanalysts begin their project of elucidating Lacan with explanations and justifications of their master’s obscure voice. I argue that all these arguments are either circular, unsound, inconsistent or – what is perhaps the worst feature they all share – that his readers are taken hostage: ‘Only if we take what he says as revealing the truth about the unconscious will we understand Lacan’ seems to be the conclusion of many scholars desperate to ‘understand’ Lacan. [1]

‘Parfaupe orecluspa nannanbryle anaphi ologi psysoscline ixipad anlana – égnia kune n’rbiol’ ô blijonter têtumaine ennounç…’ [2]

Countless readers … Read the rest

Intelligent Design or Natural Design

Nov 23rd, 2005 | By Raymond Bradley

I’m going to begin by taking you on a personal tour of my own
thinking about intelligent design over the past 60 years.

It began in 1945 when I was a 14 year old at Mt Albert Grammar.
Our Fourth Form English teacher decided we should learn the skills of
debating. The topic chosen was “Creation versus Evolution”. And I, as an
ardent young Baptist, volunteered, along with a Seventh Day Adventist,
to take up the cudgels on behalf of Creation.

But even before the debate began, I found myself cast in the role of
devil’s advocate.

While preparing, it dawned on me that the case against evolution
foundered on an ambiguity between two meanings of the simple word
“creation”: … Read the rest

Religion, Uncertainty and My Mother

Nov 15th, 2005 | By Paula Bourges-Waldegg

There are people who are very dear to you, a childhood friend for instance, that you’ll never see again in your life. You don’t know you are never going to see them again so that doesn’t hurt much, or doesn’t hurt at all. You think there’s always a chance of bumping into them someday even though that’s never going to happen. However, when you consciously know that you will never again see someone you love it’s different. That simple fact is like a great big wall. A wall that seems impossible to surmount.

My mother passed away a few weeks ago. Since then, some persons have tried to convince me that religion is the best way to jump that wall. … Read the rest

Was Freud a Pseudoscientist?

Nov 9th, 2005 | By Frank Cioffi

The following is an extract from an essay titled “Are Freud’s Critics Scurrilous?”, translated and published in Le livre noir de la psychoanalyse (Editions des Arènes).


‘He thought it wrong of Rank to propagate ideas that had not been properly tested.’ (Sigmund Freud: Life and Work, E. Jones, 1957, Vol.3 p.71)

It is a pity that the word science was ever introduced into the dispute over Freud’s claims to knowledge, though it is worth remembering that the term was introduced by Freud himself and that his critics employed it in order to counter his pretensions It would spare readers much tiresome rationalisation of Freud’s deficiencies if it were clearly understood … Read the rest

A Zero Theory

Nov 5th, 2005 | By Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen; introduction and translation by Frederick Crews

Five weeks ago, an article on this site introduced habitués of Butterflies and Wheels (among whom I enthusiastically count myself) to Le livre noir de la psychanalyse (Éditions des Arènes), a book that has had all of intellectual and therapeutic France in an uproar throughout the fall season. France is one of the few remaining countries whose psychiatric establishment remains committed to Freudian—in this case specifically Lacanian—notions, and until now no critique, most notably Jacques Bénesteau’s powerful but largely boycotted Mensonges freudiens of 2002, could make a dent in the reigning complacency. The ambitious, massive, and well-publicized Livre noir, compiled from original and reprinted contributions by forty authors, has changed all that. The book has already run through three … Read the rest

Does Relativism Matter?

Oct 18th, 2005 | By Simon Blackburn

September 11th, we are told, changed the world. That may be true, at least because it has changed how many people perceive the world. And a change in peoples’ ideas is a change in the world. We should not, however, expect many of those changes to be for the better, since it must be a general rule that when people are angry and afraid their ideas and actions go worse. In 1726, we may recall, Voltaire was exiled from France to London, where he was amazed and enchanted by the freedoms of the English. He was lucky not to be exiled here in the twenty-first century, and still less to the United States of America. As a foreign national, he … Read the rest