Falling at the first post

Jun 12th, 2010 4:18 pm | By

Mary Midgley begins badly.

Science really isn’t connected to the rest of life half as straightforwardly as one might wish. For instance, Isaac Newton noted gladly that his theory of gravitation gave a scientific proof of God’s existence. Today’s anti-god warriors, by contrast, declare that Darwin’s evolutionary theory gives a scientific disproof of that existence and use this reasoning, quite as confidently as Newton used his, to convert the public.

No they don’t. So why should we pay any attention to the rest of what she says? If she can’t even get the first paragraph right, why trust her?

No reason, so I won’t bother discussing the rest of what she says, which is just sentimental gesturing. But it’s interesting that people keep cranking this kind of thing out, without even bothering to improve it. God is special, God is nice, today’s anti-god warriors are nasty. For this Comment is Free needs a philosopher?



You call that a response?

Jun 11th, 2010 4:32 pm | By

Sholto Byrnes has heeded all the comments on his sharia post and has posted a thoughtful well-reasoned explanation of his meaning.

No he hasn’t, of course he hasn’t, I’m making it up. I’m saying what he should have done instead of what he did do. What he did do is complain about comments at Harry’s Place – comments, not the post – and then offer more useless generalities and then accuse the people who disagree with him, which is almost everyone who has said anything about him, of wanting a “bloody and cataclysmic clash of civilisations.” That’s it. No particulars of where there actually is the good benign justice-seeking kind of sharia, or of how that differs from secular law, or of how he responds to the urgent concerns of women who don’t want to wave a forlorn bye-bye to their rights. No, just a snicker, and a whine, and a smear.

[T]he majority of commenters prove my point by focusing on the most extreme forms of sharia — which as I have said, many Muslims feel to be perversions — and concluding that that’s all it is. They don’t seem to be remotely open to the possibility that it could vary in any way.

As I none too gently pointed out, that’s because he hasn’t bothered to say anything about some “less extreme” form of sharia – he’s used the words, but he hasn’t told us where we can look to examine any.

He needs to explain why anyone needs sharia instead of secular law to begin with. He needs to explain what the problems are with secular law that theocratic law would fix. He hasn’t so much as made a pass at doing that – he seems to be simply assuming it. But it’s far from self-evident.

I find his flippancy and indifference highly offensive – “offensive” is for once the right word. He can’t be bothered to defend his own claims, he can’t be bothered to engage with what his critics say, he just shrugs and says he has to go have his weekend now.

This is no time to play Bertie Wooster.



Submission, abject

Jun 10th, 2010 5:44 pm | By

Just a little more about Sholto. It doesn’t seem to have gone very well for him – the comments at the New Statesman are scathing, and Google blogsearch turns up only more scathe, no pleased cries of “At last somebody talking sense about sharia.” He must be feeling sadly disappointed in the multicultural broadmindedness and flexibility of – of – well of everybody but himself, I guess. There’s one comment at the NS that looks favorable at first blush, but when you read on it becomes obvious that it’s a parody. So Sholto is 0 for 0 with the “let’s look at the good side of sharia” enterprise.

Back to the article for a moment.

The example of Saudi Arabia undoubtedly has much to do with this [distaste for sharia]. Yet it is important to stress that to look at that country and then assume that its version of sharia is the only one, or the one to which Muslims all secretly aspire, would be akin to holding up a vision of Torquemada’s Inquisition and concluding that this was what real Christianity was.

So the Saudi version of sharia is not the only one; so what other version is there? He never says. He says that in Malaysia non-Muslims are allowed to ignore it, but he doesn’t point to some other kind of sharia that is benign and fair and reasonable and just the right kind of thing. Actually he doesn’t even say that the Saudi version is not the only one, he just says what it would be like to assume that it is. Maybe that’s because even he doesn’t actually believe that there is a different one, he just wants his readers to think so. Tut tut, Sholto.

He commented only once, and concluded with something really silly when he did:

There are plenty of atheists and anti-religious writers who appear in the NS – surely you don’t object to the debate being a bit wider than that?

Yes, I damn well do, when “a bit wider” means “pro-sharia.” The NS is supposed to be a left-wing magazine and there are some things that are not left-wing by any definition. Sharia is right-wing; it’s savagely, harshly, vengefully right-wing, and there is nothing left-wing about it. Nothing at all. The New Statesman is a disgrace.



Next week on Oprah

Jun 10th, 2010 10:35 am | By

Chuck should team up with Sholto Byrnes. Together they could make Britain a more spiritual and caring place. Chuck has told the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies that environmental problems are on account of not believing in “the soul” and that it’s Galileo’s fault and that scientists are baffling because they don’t see things his way.

“As a result, Nature has been completely objectified — ‘She’ has become an ‘it’ — and we are persuaded to concentrate on the material aspect of reality that fits within Galileo’s scheme.” The Prince said that he believed “green technology” alone could not resolve the world’s environmental problems. Instead, the West must do something about its “deep, inner crisis of the soul”.

That ‘she has become an it’ is choice, don’t you think? As if he somehow knows that it’s a she (or a he) in the first place? As if he is privy to secret information that nature is a person, with a soul, who deserves a personal pronoun?

Speaking at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies to mark its 25th anniversary, the Prince — who is patron of the centre — said that the West had been been “de-souled” by consumerism.

He said that the present approach to the environment was contrary to the teachings of all of the world’s sacred traditions. The desire for financial profit ignored the spiritual teachings.

Maybe he and Sholto could get Sarah Ferguson to join them and they could all go on Oprah and explain it to everyone, and then global warming would stop and women would all wear hijabs and the lion would lie down with the kid. Sound good?



Vatican to clamp down on liberal secular opinion

Jun 9th, 2010 12:01 pm | By

And how about those fun-loving guys at the Vatican?

Vatican investigators to Ireland appointed by Pope Benedict XVI are to clamp down on liberal secular opinion in an intensive drive to re-impose traditional respect for clergy, according to informed sources in the Catholic Church.

Uh…what? The investigators have been appointed to go to Ireland by the pope to investigate the church’s long history of tormenting children and shielding child-raping priests from the law. Why then do they think the job is to re-impose traditional respect for clergy? And why the fuck do they think the way to do that is to “clamp down” on secular liberal opinion (which frowns on practices like sticking children in prisons and then starving and beating and terrorizing them, also on raping them) and replace it with traditional respect for the very shits who have been doing the tormenting and raping? And why do they think they get to “clamp down” on anything in Ireland anyway? Who do they think they are? What do they think Ireland is? What century do they think this is?

The nine-member team led by two cardinals will be instructed by the Vatican to restore a traditional sense of reverence among ordinary Catholics for their priests…

Which will presumably require explaining away the fact that some of “their priests” used their confessionals as pleasantly secluded spots to rape children in. That could be uphill work.

A major thrust of the Vatican investigation will be to counteract materialistic and secularist attitudes, which Pope Benedict believes have led many Irish Catholics to ignore church disciplines and become lax in following devotional practices such as going on pilgrimages and doing penance.

But that’s got nothing to do with anything! Even if you care, even if you think that’s a bad thing, it’s still got nothing to do with anything. It’s not the Irish Catholics who are at fault here, it is the church, the priests, the hierarchy that protected them and did not protect their victims. What the fuck is the pope worrying about the “laxity” of Irish Catholics for when he’s supposed to be, and pretending to be, doing something about the crimes of his employees in Ireland? What is he doing pretending it is the people of Ireland who are at fault? What kind of vile sanctimonious stony-hearted bastard is he?



A sharting pot

Jun 9th, 2010 11:28 am | By

Of course – a reasonable sensible even-toned review of Stephen Prothero’s God is Not One which stops the reasonable sensible even-toned bit for the final paragraph in order to say the obligatory:

Prothero debunks not only the fallacy of religious sameness, but also the “New Atheists” who have, lately, become so pervasive and culturally relevant. Atheism can take on its own religion, one dedicated entirely to disparaging the god-fearing, and, in doing so, become as nasty, hostile and ill-informed as the religious fanatics they so thoroughly condemn.

Keep it up. The steady relentless malicious othering is just the way to bounce more and more and more people into the “New Atheist” camp.



Sholto Byrnes is “rethinking Islamism”

Jun 9th, 2010 9:21 am | By

Oh jeezis – the New Statesman is telling us to love sharia now – at least Sholto Byrnes is on the NS blog, and he wouldn’t be doing that if the NS didn’t approve. If you see an article in the Nation telling us to love Nazism you’re entitled to conclude that the Nation has lost its mind and is endorsing Nazism. Same with sharia – and yes they are pretty similar. They at least share a ballpark.

But the very concept of sharia has been so oversimplified by scaremongers that in the popular imagination it is inextricably linked with the punishments of beheading, flogging and amputation for crimes such as theft and adultery, and for which Saudi Arabia has long been notorious.

Yes, that’s right, along with stoning to death, and rules of evidence that mean men accused of rape can just say “I didn’t do it” and get off while the women who make the accusation are then automatically convicted of adultery because after all they have admitted to fornication by accusing the man of rape and the man said he didn’t do it (and the woman forgot to bring along the requisite four men of good character to watch, without whom she has no case), so she must be flogged or perhaps stoned to death. And similar items of limpid justice and fairness.

Then Byrnes quotes Tariq Ramadan saying it’s all a misunderstanding, then Byrnes says it’s all a misunderstanding some more, without ever actually managing to offer a particular example of sharia being a good thing. He says in Malaysia it’s not so bad because it applies only to Muslims (which is dubious itself), but he still doesn’t say why it’s actually good. Then he concludes with a great burst of powerful argument:

Of course, there are plenty who will object to any legal system or way of life that has a religious basis, regardless of how it operates. But the one word that is, above all, associated with sharia, stressed by Ramadan in his writings, Mahathir in his interview with me, by Bernard Lewis in his latest book and by countless others, is “justice”. I think we can agree that it is not just Islamists who are in favour of that.

Lots of people say sharia has something to do with “justice,” therefore…

Oh, god. It’s too depressing.



Street censorship

Jun 8th, 2010 6:07 pm | By

Imagine being a writer, or a reader, in Egypt.

More recently, the literary magazine Ibdaa (“Creativity”) had its license revoked over the publication, in 2007, of a poem by the renowned poet Helmy Salem, deemed blasphemous because it personified God with lines such as: “The Lord isn’t a policeman/who catches criminals by the scruff of their necks”…Before Ibdaa was shut down, Salem had already been forced to return a State Award for Achievement in the Arts, honoring his entire body of work. The court that rescinded the award found that “The sin that he committed … against God and against society, challenging its traditions and religious beliefs should fail the sum total of his work, rendering him ineligible for any state honor or prize.”

We need Nicholas Kristof about now, to tell us that yes Islam does crush women and hate gays and forbid people to leave and fuck up literature and art and thought but hey the calligraphy is pretty.

Salem was the victim of a hisba case — what has become the legal weapon of choice in the arsenal of would-be censors. These are cases — based on a principle in Islamic law — in which an individual may sue another on behalf of society, alleging some grave harm has been done it. Several Islamist lawyers specialize in hisba lawsuits and use them with alarming frequency against writers, intellectuals, and professors whose opinions they deem to have denigrated Islam. Egypt’s minority Christian Coptic population also has its self-appointed moral guardians, eager to take novelists to court. And while charges against a book, author, or publisher are being investigated, the book is usually confiscated from the market.

Can you imagine anything more nightmarish? A situation in which any ignorant benighted mindless godbothering fool can take you to court for writing something it doesn’t like, and win? There are a lot of ignorant benighted mindless fools out there, godbotherers and non-godbotherers. Imagine knowing they could shut you down any time they felt like it.

[A]ny one book or film may find itself the center of a public scandal, singled out on the basis of a few lines. The arbitrariness of censorship in Egypt makes publishers (especially the government-run ones) afraid to take risks and leads writers to second-guess themselves. “In Egypt we’re born and we live in a state of constant self-censorship,” the writer Khaled Al Khamissi, whose book Taxi has been an international hit, once told me.

That’s what I mean. Nightmare.

Update: On the other hand – a bit of good news for a change – the last comment on the article linked to a news flash: the prosecutor threw out the case.

Prosecutor Abdel Megid Mahmud threw out the case, saying the epic tales had been published for centuries without problems, and had been an inspiration to countless artists.

Yessss!



Respect is being redefined as agreement

Jun 8th, 2010 1:46 pm | By

Salman Rushdie knows a thing or two about free speech and the other thing.

“We are in danger of losing the battle for freedom of speech,” Mr. Rushdie said. It is being recast as a Western imposition, not a universal human right. Respect is being redefined as agreement, and censorship disguised as a virtuous defence of diversity…Freedom of expression and imagination “is now very much back in question, and is strongly under attack by religious authorities and religious armies of different sorts, and not only Islam,” Mr. Rushdie said.

And religious newspaper columnists are doing their bit, too.



The Odone file

Jun 8th, 2010 7:11 am | By

Want some more Cristina Odone? Why not – she repays attention. She does a nice job of modeling the religious mind for us.

As I read Nomad, the tone of this feverish, self-justifying tome reminded me of a Dutch social worker I met once. Hirsi Ali (who indeed worked for years as a translator for the Dutch social services) shares that same intolerant world view and politically correct instincts.

This is Odone, complaining about someone else being feverish and self-justifying, and intolerant and politically correct. Does Odone think her writing comes across as placid and generous, tolerant and autonomous? Seriously?

In her autobiographical accounts, Infidel (a worldwide bestseller) and now Nomad, Hirsi Ali blames everything that goes wrong in her own and her family life on Islam.

Odone goes Kristof one better – she not only knows more than Hirsi Ali about Islam, she knows more about the cause of everything that went wrong in her life. Hirsi Ali thinks Islam was behind a lot of it, but Odone knows better. How? Well…because, that’s how. Because Islam is a religion, so it couldn’t have been a religion that was the cause, so that’s how. Odone is all-knowing and all-seeing. And humble.

Hirsi Ali’s attack on the faith she has renounced would gain credibility if she could acknowledge its virtues as well as its flaws. But no, Islam is without merit in her eyes, a religion without poetry, charity, or wisdom. Its fanatics are not extremists; they are the norm.

Now, pesky secularists might think that Hirsi Ali would know what she was talking about because she was there at the time and Odone was not, but sensible people can see through that kind of thing with no trouble, thank you very much. Hirsi Ali was there and being there was bad so it made her all like twisted and biased, while Odone was not there, Odone was in the UK where people like her don’t so much get their genitalia chopped off when they’re five or forced into marriage with some stranger a few years later, so she is in a position to second-guess Hirsi Ali about Hirsi Ali’s own experience because Odone is mellow and calm and reasonable and she loves the pope like a father.

After that powerful insight, Odone complains about Hirsi Ali’s success (though she forgets to mention the death threats, and the dead Theo Van Gogh, and the having to live as a fugitive, and the being kicked out of her apartment and then out of the Netherlands), and then she gets down to business.

A Muslim-basher, in our secular culture, is welcome everywhere. Even when they are capable only of the kind of obsessive, one-track thinking that gives social workers a bad name.

A “Muslim-basher.”

I cannot remain civil when commenting on Cristina Odone, so I had best stop. She makes me angry.



Update on CFI

Jun 6th, 2010 1:43 pm | By

There’s been a lot of unhappy and unfortunate stuff going on at the Center for Inquiry lately. I’m not going to link to any sources because I haven’t been able to find any that seem at all impartial (and also because several of them are at Facebook rather than at more public sites). To summarize briefly – Paul Kurtz was ousted or removed or set aside (see? I can’t even find an impartial verb) as CEO, and Ron Lindsay took over that job. There were changes. There were funding cuts or re-allocations. (See? Depends what you call it.) Senior people left, for various reasons. (See?) Paul Kurtz resigned altogether, and published an open letter about his resignation and the changes at CFI. There were pointed editorials in Free Inquiry; there were pointed blog posts at the CFI blog and elsewhere, which generated long threads full of pointed comments from CFI staffers and former staffers and members.

Stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. Competing and conflicting accounts; resentments; bad blood; gossip; attempts to tamp down all these; repeat. Public linen-washing. Recrimination.

On June 1 CFI issued an urgent fundraising appeal. That’s an exception to the no links, because it’s a press release and it’s unambiguous. They need money. By all means donate to them if you’re so inclined.

They had a donor who had forked over 800 grand every year; the donor has stopped giving and has also not responded to communications from CFI.

CFI was forced to lay off some people. One of them was Norm Allen, who among other things ran the African Americans for Humanism program. He was also – this is my addition, I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere – their liason with Leo Igwe. I don’t mean “Leo will be cut off from CFI now!” – I just mean that’s another valuable thing he was involved with, and one that I know a little about. Debbie Goddard is taking over much of Norm Allen’s work, and I’m confident that Leo will not be cut off from CFI – though I can’t say I’m confident that whatever money they were spending on their Nigerian branch is safe. I don’t know what their Nigerian branch involves – maybe it’s just a notional branch that really means some part-time volunteers, and maybe it will be no worse off than it was. I hope so.

At any rate, all this did not go smoothly. That’s not surprising. That’s you updated.



Always look on the bright side of FGM

Jun 5th, 2010 12:11 pm | By

Nicholas Kristof tells off Ayaan Hirsi Ali because of course he knows far more about Islam than she does.

To those of us who have lived and traveled widely in Africa and Asia, descriptions of Islam often seem true but incomplete.

Including, apparently, descriptions by people who grew up immersed in Islam, genitally mutilated under Islam, beaten up by their teachers of Islam, issued death threats from adherents of Islam. The descriptions are true – but Kristof wants more. He wants to hear about the pretty calligraphy.

The repression of women, the persecution complexes, the lack of democracy, the volatility, the anti-Semitism, the difficulties modernizing, the disproportionate role in terrorism — those are all real. But if those were the only faces of Islam, it wouldn’t be one of the fastest-growing religions in the world today. There is also the warm hospitality toward guests, including Christians and Jews; charity for the poor; the aesthetic beauty of Koranic Arabic; the sense of democratic unity as rich and poor pray shoulder to shoulder in the mosque.

That first list is quite a doozy! Repression of women, no democracy, anti-Semitism, anti-modernism, affinity for terrorism [and he forgot homophobia, hatred of outsiders and “infidels,” madrassas, the death penalty for leaving, and a few more large items] – with all that is it really surprising that Islam gets some criticism? It sounds absurd to admit to all that and then say yes but, especially when the yes buts are themselves dubious. Hospitality to Christians and Jews? What – they get a nice meal before they get driven out of town? And as for the sense of “democratic unity as rich and poor pray shoulder to shoulder” – well it may be democratic unity but it sure as hell isn’t gender unity; women are banished to the back of the bus. Forgive me if I can’t get too sentimental because Kristof gets dewy about rich and poor men praying shoulder to shoulder in the mosque.

Really – he should know better. He should know better to admit repression of women, no democracy, anti-Semitism, anti-modernism, affinity for terrorism and then go on to say “but it’s not all bad.” Fuck that. With that list, it’s bad enough, and good liberals shouldn’t be cobbling together feeble excuses for it.



More tinkling cymbal

Jun 5th, 2010 11:42 am | By

But that’s not all, of course. Odone has more to say than that. Odone has a lot to say.

First of all she complains that Channel 4 chose, to present a show on paedophile priests, a guy who is “an avowed atheist” and who has “no knowledge of the contemporary Catholic Church,” as if both are obvious disqualifications for presenting a show on paedophile priests. Her thinking seems to be that you have to believe in god and be an expert on the Catholic church in order to present a tv show on a concentration of child rapists in a particular profession. In other words her thinking seems to be that only someone who starts out with some sympathy for clerics in general and Catholic priests in particular can do a good job of presenting the subject. But that kind of sympathy is just what has allowed rapists to hide behind the robes of the church for so long. Sympathy is not what’s wanted; what’s wanted is the kind of stony unsympathy that Johann Hari so beautifully demonstrated on the BBC a few weeks ago. You don’t want people who will make allowances and excuses, you want people who will say this is criminal and outrageous and has to stop right now.

Then she goes on to complain that Peter Tatchell is presenting a show on the pope.

How appropriate, huh? Tatchell, the gay rights campaigner, getting his hooks into his favourite hate figure. Who cares that in doing so he will be offending the more than four million Catholics in this country?

Ugly, isn’t it – “his hooks.” Who is accusing whom of having a hate figure? And then the self-pity about offending Catholics – because Peter Tatchell presents a show on the reactionary head of a reactionary church. If the four million Catholics don’t want to be “offended” then they should have a better church. (Yes, that’s irony. They can’t have a better church, of course, because they don’t get to decide. But this is why their being “offended” is so beside the point. They aren’t the church, they didn’t create the church, talking about the pope is not talking about them. They’re to blame for sticking with it; others are not to blame for saying what’s wrong with it.)

As for Channel 4, there is a very clear way for it to show itself to be in good faith, rather than bad: it must commission a programme on gays presented by Anne Atkins.

That’s simply disgusting. “Gays” are not the pope; “gays” do not tell millions of people what to do; gays are not the Catholic church or any other church, gays have no institutional power over other people; a programme on gays would not be the same kind of thing as one on the pope, so there is no need to have a homophobic presenter for the sake of “balance.”

Milk of human kindness eh.



A duel at sunrise

Jun 5th, 2010 10:58 am | By

Seriously. Cristina Odone must feel very sure that Richard Dawkins won’t sue her for libel, or she wouldn’t say “Richard Dawkins is responsible for peddling a lot of lies about faith” in her blog at The Telegraph, and the Telegraph wouldn’t let her, either. She wouldn’t just casually risk a money-devouring and time-devouring lawsuit just for the hell of it, or for the tiny fun of accusing Dawkins of peddling lies in a Telegraph blog. She writes for the national press in the UK, so she can’t possibly be unaware of the UK’s insane libel laws and how they are used. She can’t possibly be unaware of Simon Singh and the BCA and the word “bogus” – so it’s surely fair to say that she simply would not use that word if she were not very confident that she and her paper would not be sued when she did. That’s fair isn’t it? I’m not being uncharitable? She can’t have thought “Risky word – libel – lawsuits – Singh – two years – hundreds of thousands – better not – oh what the hell, I’ll risk it, because it’s worth it.” Can she?

No. So she must have felt safe. How could she have felt safe other than because she knows Dawkins was part of the campaign against the libel laws and for Singh’s right to say what he said? Or perhaps because she knows more generally what his principles are. At any rate she clearly did feel safe, and feeling safe, she went right ahead and accused him of lying.

She’s not a good person. She is apparently a “good Catholic,” in the sense that she is blindly loyal to the Catholic church and will stoop to almost anything to defend it – but she is not a good person. She takes advantage of other people’s principles in order to defame them.



My owner knows what’s best for me

Jun 4th, 2010 4:32 pm | By

There’s Rowdha Yousef, who is worried about this alarming trend for Saudi women to start making a few faint gestures toward acting like human beings. She is outraged.

With 15 other women, she started a campaign, “My Guardian Knows What’s Best for Me.” Within two months, they had collected more than 5,400 signatures on a petition “rejecting the ignorant requests of those inciting liberty” and demanding “punishments for those who call for equality between men and women, mingling between men and women in mixed environments, and other unacceptable behaviors.”

Her guardian knows what’s best for her, therefore she wants to help see to it that all women will continue to be required to have guardians whether they want them or not. She is not, apparently, content to have a ‘guardian’ herself (at age 39, with three children), she wants all women to be forced to have them. She doesn’t seem to be slowed down by the thought that the fact that her guardian knows what’s best for her doesn’t automatically mean that all guardians know what’s best for women. It would be expecting far too much to think she should suspect that requiring women to have ‘guardians’ indicates a view of women that is not altogether egalitarian.



But is there a common ground to be found?

Jun 4th, 2010 4:08 pm | By

Eli Horowitz of Rust Belt Philosophy finds the Templeton Foundation and its everlasting questions irksome. The World Science Festival has its Science ‘N’ Faith panel, as we know, which asks rilly deep questions:

For all their historical tensions, scientists and religious scholars from a wide variety of faiths ponder many similar questions—how did the universe begin? How might it end? What is the origin of matter, energy, and life?

Ooh yeah, how, how? Eli adds a few more deep questions.

How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free? Who put the “bop” in the “bop-shoo-bop-shoo-bop”? Why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways? What’s eating Gilbert Grape? Who framed Roger Rabbit?

Ooh yeah, who, what, how? I bet Chad Orzel would know.

Meanwhile – Josh Rosenau’s claim, in his post on why there shouldn’t be any atheist scientists on the panel, tells us what the panel will be about:

The premise of a panel on “the relationship between science and faith” is, after all, that there is a relationship…The whole point Affirmative Atheists are making is that there is no dialogue to be had. Which means that the panel would descend into a metaconversation about whether there should even be conversations like the one they were supposed to be having.

But Josh’s description doesn’t match the description given by the World Science Festival itself:

The modes of inquiry and standards for judging progress are, to be sure, very different. But is there a common ground to be found? ABC News’ Bill Blakemore moderates a panel that includes evolutionary geneticist Francisco Ayala, astrobiologist Paul Davies, Biblical scholar Elaine Pagels and Buddhist scholar Thupten Jinpa. These leading thinkers who come at these issues from a range of perspectives will address the evolving relationship between science and faith.

The question mark after the word ‘found’ seems to indicate that the panel has not been given orders to start from the certainty that there is a common ground to be found, but rather to discuss whether there is or not; that being the case, it is entirely unobvious that an atheist would send the discussion careening off into obsesso-crazy land, as Josh claims.



More irregular verbs

Jun 4th, 2010 11:29 am | By

Jason Rosenhouse has an excellent post on the science ‘n’ faith panel at the World Science Festival.

He notes that Chad Orzel says, “The simple fact is that people with fixed and absolute views do not make for an interesting conversation,” and comments

Right, because it’s only New Atheists that have fixed and absolute viewpoints. When someone like Francisco Ayala writes,

I contend that both — scientists denying religion and believers rejecting science — are wrong. Science and religious beliefs need not be in contradiction. If they are properly understood, they cannot be in contradiction because science and religion concern different matters.

there is nothing fixed or absolute in his views? To declare bluntly that any conception of the science and religious dispute different from his own is an improper (as opposed to merely different) view is every bit as absolute as anything the New Atheists say.

And he gets to say it louder than most of us, thanks to the Templeton Prize. Not because he wrote a book that appealed to a lot of people, as several of the New Atheists did, but because Templeton gave him its prize. Templeton gave him its prize because he could be relied on to say things that Templeton wants said – in other words, because his view is pretty fixed and absolute.



The modes of inquiry are, to be sure, very different

Jun 3rd, 2010 12:29 pm | By

The World Science Festival is offering a “Faith and Science” panel, funded by the Templeton Foundation, of course. Chad Orzel disagrees with Jerry Coyne and Sean Carroll on the wrong-headedness of this. Sean points out

there is a somewhat obvious omission of a certain viewpoint: those of us who think that science and religion are not compatible. And there are a lot of us! Also, we’re right. A panel like this does a true disservice to people who are curious about these questions and could benefit from a rigorous airing of the issues, rather than a whitewash where everyone mumbles pleasantly about how we should all just get along.

To which Orzel responds

I’m not convinced you need anyone on the panel to make the case that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible…The interesting subject of conversation is not so much the absolute compatibility or not of science and religion– given that neither side is really going to budge on that– but rather how it is that religious scientists reconcile the supposedly incompatible sides of the issue.

He doesn’t know that “neither side is really going to budge on that” and therefore he doesn’t really know that a discussion of it would be immovable and uninteresting. It’s true that it’s unlikely that either side will budge as a side and as a result of being on the panel, but what individuals including those attending the panel will do is much less obvious. His dismissal is, as so often with accommodationists, flippant and dogmatic at once.

Josh Rosenau thinks it’s good stuff though – in fact better than that: he says Orzel is absolutely right.

Someone like Dawkins would stop the World Science Festival panel cold. The whole point Affirmative Atheists are making is that there is no dialogue to be had. Which means that the panel would descend into a metaconversation about whether there should even be conversations like the one they were supposed to be having. And that wouldn’t inform anyone.

Why wouldn’t that inform anyone? Rosenau doesn’t say. Why should there be conversations like the one they were supposed to be having at a science fest? It’s certainly not obvious to me, given that science and “faith” operate in rather different ways. It’s also not obvious to me that, or why, an explanation of that fact would not be interesting.

Larry Moran comments on Orzel and Rosenau.



Don’t mess with the Vatican

Jun 2nd, 2010 12:28 pm | By

Okay, I give up – why is the Obama administration siding with the Vatican against people who think it should be accountable for its many crimes?

Faced with a number of court cases in the United States that have named the pope himself as a defendant in the enabling and covering up of many rapes, the Vatican has evolved the strategy of claiming that the Holy See is in effect a sovereign state and thus possessed of immunity from prosecution. It has now been announced that the Obama administration will be advising the Supreme Court to adopt this view of the matter.

Why? What’s the thinking? Why should a church be declared a sovereign state? Why especially should the Obama admin be taking that view at the very time when there is a push to prosecute that church for protecting child-rapists for decades?

[T]he State Department is required by Congress to make an annual report on the human rights record of every government with which we have relations. Yet there is no annual human rights report on the Vatican—or Vatican City or the Holy See, if you prefer. When questioned on this rather glaring lacuna, officials at Foggy Bottom say that for human rights purposes, the Vatican is not a state.

So it gets to be a state when that is convenient for it, and it gets to be not a state when that is convenient for it. Why? Why is the catholic church alone among religious outfits given such special privileges? Why is the rule of law not more important than the Vatican’s desire to escape any form of accountability for its cowardly self-regarding cruelty-perpetuating actions?



Another bit of postmodernist irony from the Vatican

Jun 2nd, 2010 11:12 am | By

You have to admire the Vatican for sheer effrontery. Which archbishops did it choose to send on an ‘apostolic visit’ to Ireland to look into the way Catholic priests and nuns have been tormenting Irish children for generations? Why, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, who decided

in 1985, when he was bishop of Arundel and Brighton, to move the priest Fr Michael Hill to a chaplaincy at Gatwick airport. Eighteen months previously the cardinal had removed Hill from ministry because of child abuse allegations but then allowed him back to work at the airport where Hill abused a child. Hill was jailed in 2002.

And Seán O’Malley:

in his diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, the district attorney in 2002 was so disturbed at Cardinal O’Malley’s failure to inform the public of sexual offenders that he himself went public with a list of names of accused priests.

And Timothy Dolan, who

let a priest sue his accuser in St Louis and fought against reforming Wisconsin child sex abuse laws.

Dolan is also the fella who wrote that nauseating self-pitying “they do it too!” blog post last March, the one that showed with such piercing clarity that church officials are incapable of even perceiving the wrong they have done to other people, much less giving a shit about it.

And these three mafiosi are the enforcers the Vatican has picked to go to Ireland and look into the matter. It simply boggles the mind.