All entries by this author

Everything is Fake, Including This Review *

Dec 30th, 2003 | Filed by

Michael Bywater reviews a book about faking and inauthenticity.… Read the rest

History Shmistory, This is a Movie *

Dec 30th, 2003 | Filed by

Historians watch ‘Cold Mountain’ and notice some flaws.… Read the rest

Wilentz v Hitchens v Gitlin *

Dec 29th, 2003 | Filed by

Historians disagree about Hitchens’ views on September 11.… Read the rest

Journey From Frying-Pan to Fire *

Dec 29th, 2003 | Filed by

Eagleton leaps from hip ‘theory’ to Alisdair MacIntyre. Ouch.… Read the rest

A Thought from Susan Haack

Dec 28th, 2003 11:27 pm | By

Thought for the day. From Chapter 10 of Susan Haack’s Defending Science, ‘Point of Honor’:

‘In The Mind of God, Paul Davies, also a physicist, but a believer (and winner of the million-dollar Templeton Prize “for progress in religion”) concludes that “belief in God is largely a matter of taste, to be judged by its explanatory value rather than logical compulsion. Personally I feel more comfortable with a deeper level of explanation than the laws of physics. Whether the use of ‘God’ for that deeper level is appropriate is, of course, a matter of debate.” This, from the idea that explanatoriness is just a matter of taste, through the play on “deeper,” to the insouciance about the meaning … Read the rest

Blunt Instrument

Dec 28th, 2003 9:12 pm | By

So, as promised, or threatened, a little more of the Counterblast on Religion in Politics. Because it raises so many issues, that are so very often danced around rather than addressed directly. Because the whole subject is so hedged about with squeamishness and politeness and tact and unexamined assumptions and let’s pretend and refusals to admit the obvious. Not, certainly, because I have anything new or original or profound to say. I’m not that delusional. But because what I do have to say gets drowned out by what the soapy side has to say. It’s the same point as the one Daniel Dennett made in that Op-Ed piece about the Brights: that if atheists are politely silent while theists … Read the rest

Iranian Earthquake Toll Rises to 25,000 *

Dec 28th, 2003 | Filed by

Heavy roofs on mud-brick walls with no support beams.… Read the rest

Mao’s Second Century *

Dec 28th, 2003 | Filed by

Bag the whimsical thought, keep the authoritarian state.… Read the rest

The Underground Grammarian

Dec 28th, 2003 1:48 am | By

On a lighter note. Somewhat lighter anyway. I’ve been reading Susan Haack’s wonderful new book Defending Science – Within Reason, which I strongly recommend you all read without delay. I was amused to find her twice (at least) quoting the Underground Grammarian – whom I also suggest you read without delay. This amused me partly because only a few days ago a reader emailed me with an apposite quotation from the dear Grammarian, and added that it was via B&W that he’d learned of that irascibly witty writer. That did make me feel useful.

Here’s a brief sample – although not as brief as usual, because there is no worry about copyright: the dear Grammarian gave blanket permission … Read the rest

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Dec 27th, 2003 9:00 pm | By

Part of what is so grotesque about Lieberman’s tactic (and I realise it is indeed a tactic, and part of a political campaign, and that people will say whatever they think will work in those situations [which is one of the more irritating and destructive aspects of democracy] and so in a sense perhaps not to be taken too literally – but then again if the candidate thinks the tactic will work, perhaps that makes it still worth examining) is the fact that Dean hasn’t exactly been campaigning as an atheist. Has he? Not that I’m aware of. No, it’s just that he ‘has run a steadfastly secular campaign’ as the Times put it.

So he’s not even allowed to … Read the rest

Asymmetry Again

Dec 27th, 2003 7:50 pm | By

A couple of our readers are cross with Dawkins and with me for being blunt about religion, or perhaps for oversimplifying it. Of course that’s one of those perennial irregular verb things that I’m always noticing. One of those eye of the beholder things, one of those glass half-full or half-empty things, one of those Well it depends on which way you look at it things. Granted, I did speak bluntly and even rudely – I said as much at the time. But this is part of my point. How odd that hardly anyone rushes to upbraid Lieberman for being rude about atheism or secularism. How odd that there’s such a radical asymmetry in public rhetoric about the whole question, … Read the rest

Future History *

Dec 27th, 2003 | Filed by

History for 2004 from Browning, Keegan, Bullock, Starkey, Waterfield and more.… Read the rest

Science Books in 2004 *

Dec 27th, 2003 | Filed by

The Guardian offers a preview of books from Dawkins, Penrose, Diamond, Dunbar and others.… Read the rest

Richard Dawkins

Dec 26th, 2003 8:57 pm | By

Soapy Joe again. I asked Richard Dawkins to say a few words on the subject, and he kindly obliged. You will see that he’s just as impressed with the seriousness and intellectual depth of our political campaigns as I am:

“The fact that political candidates, even those of education and intelligence like Howard Dean, are obliged to feign religious faith in order to stand a chance of getting elected, makes the United States the laughing stock of the civilized world.”

Richard Dawkins… Read the rest

Soapy Joe is all Wrong

Dec 26th, 2003 8:08 pm | By

Religion on all sides. How it does keep coming up, and how it does shape (and often distort) the debate – for that matter, how it does shape our lives. It’s inescapable, and massively influential, and yet it’s taboo to discuss it honestly. What a bizarre situation.

It’s kindly meant, of course. It’s about protecting people’s feelings and sensitivities. But the trouble is, if we give religion a permanent free pass, it can go ahead and trample on other people’s feelings and sensitivities, not to mention their freedoms and rights and bodies and lives. Religions are the foundation of a lot of the glaring systematic injustices in the world, and the more kindly-meaning people are too polite to say so, … Read the rest

Richard Dawkins at B&W *

Dec 26th, 2003 | Filed by

We asked for a comment on Soapy Joe, and were obliged.… Read the rest

Another Candidate for Jesus *

Dec 26th, 2003 | Filed by

Lieberman scolds Democrats for not godbothering, Dean acquiesces.… Read the rest

The Great Leap Backwards

Dec 26th, 2003 | By David Stanway

Shanghai in January 1993 was hardly the Shanghai it had become a decade later, but most people – including me, a first-time visitor – had an inkling of the great flourish that was to come. It was a freezing Chinese Spring Festival, and although the streets were largely empty and most of the shops shut, one sensed its coiled, irrepressible energy. The flurry of commercial development and the boom in the city’s real estate market would begin later, and the vast, space-age business district of Pudong was still in its infancy, but the city was on its way to becoming the cornerstone of the new “China Century”.

Wandering through the streets, dazed by the cold and looking for breakfast, we … Read the rest

Agenda in Plain View

Dec 25th, 2003 7:51 pm | By

RC makes a good point in a comment on the post below. Guilt by association certainly is a classic Bad Move, one that functions just as the word ‘brown’ does: as an attempt at intimidation via guilt-tripping. Maybe that’s one of the uses of entities like B&W, actually – to make moves like that just a bit less likely to work. That would be a worthy goal. If we could, by just a little, detach inquiry from ideology – maybe we could do some shaming in our turn, but in our case, I hope, by legitimate means and to good effect. If we could get people to realize and notice and accept that saying a given truth-claim is associated with … Read the rest

Who Owns Your Life? *

Dec 25th, 2003 | Filed by

‘New Prohibitionists’ cite brain chemistry to argue against all suicide.… Read the rest