Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Strange Cases.

Within a day of each other I have seen two very silly and misinformed pieces: one an essay from Slate’s Ron Rosenbaum the other from Guardian blogger Andrew Brown.

I will begin with Brown first. I struggle to see why the guardian lets him write anything, not least religion, atheism or science, for anything the man seems to write is nothing but tendentious tosh bordering on slander. For those of you who are interested this was the blog I posted when he severely misrepresented Sam Harris and his position on Torture. As such we should not take him seriously on anything again:

He appears to be back at it, this time on another attack on Richard Dawkins.

Here is a question that Brown quotes from a website, a mother asking Dawkins for his view:

"What would you say to parents of children who attend quite orthodox state-funded schools who are very anxious that their child be educated within that context? I am thinking specifically of the ortho-Jewish schools around my way (north London). I know for a fact a lot of these parents cannot countenance the idea of their child being educated within a non-Jewish school. What do you think they should do?"

To which he responded

"That's a good point. I believe this is putting parental rights above children's rights.”

To this Brown has this to say:

“It is impossible to read this as meaning anything but that children have a right to be educated as Richard Dawkins thinks fit, but not as their parents do. He alluded several times in the threat to the sufferings of atheist parents forced to send their children to faith schools:”


“But apparently this doesn't apply if your principles are religious ones, because then your children have a right to be educated as atheists.”

It hard to read to this and not see how wayward Brown’s thinking is. I’m starting to believe that Brown has nothing but inexplicable animosity toward Dawkins and the “new Atheists”. Brown portrays Dawkins as the grand inquisitor, a ogre wishing to snatch children away from their parents and brainwash them into science and clear thinking. Is Brown not aware that Dawkins actually advocates teaching religion. Teaching it however, in way that best allows children to make up their own minds. Now as Brown rightly points out critical thinking (something he should learn about) does take time and may only be able to be learned by older children. This however does not mean that 1. Children and young as six can understand the multitude of religions both present and past, the fact that what religion people happen to belong to is contingent upon geography and accidents of birth. 2. They can understand the basic tenets and incompatibility between them.

Later on as children are older, they can approach religion critically, in a secular school, they are more likely to be in contact with pupils who hold a plurality of views, thus providing a environment for criticism and debate. Furthermore, lets imagine how such a class may be structured. Dan Dennett, Dawkins’s ally has stated something like lets teach all religions, their history, good and bad; their doctrines, the criticisms made against them and the defence of them. He states that if people teach their children this, then they should be able to teach them whatever they want.

Hardly a dogmatic absurd proposal?

Brown then goes on to talk about Dawkins starting with the Axiom that religion has no evidence for god. Eh? Is this not the same man who spent the first half of the God Delusion criticizing the arguments for God’s existence?

Brown here makes a very basic error. An Axiom is something that is either self-evident or absurd to deny - a belief or proposition that cannot itself be proved. Dawkins does not hold this position, rather he operates on a presumption that there is (no good) evidence for the existence of god. This presumption is entirely warranted on his part as he wrote a rather large book on the subject, debated several theologians and religious scientists. Whatever you think of him, he has earned his views.

Ron Rosenbaum has written a essay so fallacious one consider that it must be some kind of hoax. However, when one here that he recently been to a Templeton meeting one considers that he may off been obliged to something nasty about atheists if not something nice about religion. This nonsense just requires a straightforward case of fisking.

1. “It is radical skepticism, doubt in the possibility of certainty, opposition to the unwarranted certainties that atheism and theism offer.”

Firstly, Atheism - or the “new atheists” do not proclaim certainty in the denial of god or indeed the gods of Olympus. Name me one who does? If anyone does and I had any money I would give them every cent I had.

The second issue here, is that he himself takes up would could be construed as a dogmatic position. Similar to the scepticism seen in Sextus Empiricus. The problem here is that this form of radical scepticism is likely, if undefended, to be just as dogmatic as the positions he attempts to criticise unlike the radical Sceptics who did know a thing or two about arguments.

Thirdly. There are two kinds of agnosticism, that he neglects to mention. Permanent agnosticism in Principle( PAP). Or Temporary Agnosticism in Principle TAP. The second position is entirely reasonable, one that any inquirer should hold at the start of inquiry “I don’t know what to think as there is quite a bit of disagreement in this area - come back in a year and ill give you my view”.

The first position PAP. Is actually giving what can be called a no argument argument. Here he is (apparently) claiming that there is no argument, that could settle the issue either way, so therefore we must be agnostics. This position seems incoherent on its face with the assertion that he is a radical sceptic (does he doubt gravity as well?) furthermore this is a rather strong and extraordinary argument that needs a good deal of support? So, where is his evidence for such a claim?

2. “I would not go so far as to argue that there's a "new agnosticism" on the rise. But I think it's time for a new agnosticism, one that takes on the New Atheists. Indeed agnostics see atheism as "a theism"—as much a faith-based creed as the most orthodox of the religious variety.”

If they do then it would appear that they deserve the title the “new idiots”. Again, another canard, where is the holy book, the profession of faith, the church to be attended every day (or every other day) where is this religion then?

3. Faith-based atheism? Yes, alas. Atheists display a credulous and childlike faith, worship a certainty as yet unsupported by evidence—the certainty that they can or will be able to explain how and why the universe came into existence. (And some of them can behave as intolerantly to heretics who deviate from their unproven orthodoxy as the most unbending religious Inquisitor.)

I have disposed of the certainty and faith canard? Can he name a single scientist who claims, for absolute certainty that they know all the answers to the mysteries of the universe? While it is true that there are some scientist who do think we can, in the future will be able to answer most of our questions, none of them appear to offer certainty in their answers. However, many scientists and secular philosophers believe there are many answers we will never get, that gaps in our knowledge is something we will all have to live with. Hardly an orthodoxy then.

4. Atheists have no evidence—and certainly no proof!—that science will ever solve the question of why there is something rather than nothing. Just because other difficult-seeming problems have been solved does not mean all difficult problems will always be solved. And so atheists really exist on the same superstitious plane as Aquinas.

This is a mistake a school boy would not even make. He is conflating Atheism and science, and certain answers given by scientists to this question as representing some kind of atheist orthodoxy.

5. In fact, I challenge any atheist, New or old, to send me their answer to the question: "Why is there something rather than nothing?" I can't wait for the evasions to pour forth. Or even the evidence that this question ever could be answered by science and logic.

PZ Meyers has given answers to what scientist think of this question. I suspect the question itself is incoherent. Well here is what I think: why does there have to be anything in the first place? Why not nothing rather than something? Any framing of the question will never lead a priori to the self-evident conclusion that there is a god, with a plan and a purpose.

Will you can read the rest for yourself - air headed nonsense - all of it. If I ever met this man I would ask him if he is agnostics about Zeus or about Witchcraft or about Creationism



Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The moral bankruptcy of religion

One of my very first posts on this blog involved the odious and equally idiotic Iris Robinson: former member of the fundamentalist and fundamentally noxious Democratic Unionist Party. I wrote about her views on homosexuality - arguing that, while being perfectly compatible with scripture there were other biblical recommendations she might have liked to mention - slavery for one, killing heretics another, or even - alas - the punishment for adultery - yep death again. In fairness, we could acquit her of bigotry only on the conviction of idiocy. Developments in the time since, however, force me to revise this assessment: not only is Iris guilty of moral midgetry but also of breathtaking moral hypocrisy.

Her “sin” was to seduce and sleep with a teenager; a boy, old enough to be her grandson. Now, I would contend that this tryst is not especially interesting, nor indeed, seriously wrong. Though the affair would have received similar attention had it happened to any politician or public figure; it was, however, her earlier actions - as a votary of God’s good works that made this revelation something of a schadenfreude moment. While her affair was a straightforward case of hypocrisy, from what I gather, she was fucking him around the same time as she was calling homosexuality “vile” “immoral” and in need of medical intervention. When the story broke, it was Iris however who needed the psychiatrist; though if one were not overly cynical, one would think that all that was needed was “forgiveness” and the grace of god.

What is more dubious, and more important is the possibility that Iris had manipulated the young man in order to obtain money for her own private purposes. This would elevate the affair and Iris Robinson from a woman brought down by earthly passion, to more sinister case of sexual predation for financial gain. Not only has Iris suffered the political consequences - psychological ones as well, her husband, Peter Robinson, has been made to feel the electoral lash as well for he too has some questions to answer over possible financial malfeasance. It seems no surprise to learn meanwhile, that the people of Northern Ireland have dubbed them: “Swish family Robinson”.

The lessons from this are obvious when we regard religion: it does not make people better, but in invariably makes them worse; in this case - quick to persecute, fulminate and pontificate, while ignoring the large specks in their own discriminating, deluded and woefully myopic Iris. That religion, in order to avoid embarrassingly displays of emptiness, shrillness and hypocrisy should shun politics and public life and tend its own garden - that is, it should preach and practice in quiet.

Even this last thought may need to be revised - that we should aim to shunt religion off into some quiet corner when we come to consider what is surely one of the greatest scandals in history. A scandal - one intensified in the last year - a disgrace, institutionalised and subsequently covered up by a religious organisation; occurring not just in one country or even one continent - but a truly worldwide phenomenon - a grizzly testament to religion’s claim and indeed - proof of its boastful universality. I am of course, speaking of the Catholic child rape scandal.

While it should not be necessary to point out that nothing in the Church’s teaching or its doctrines could ever justify such actions (the same alas cannot be claimed for another monotheism which I’m coming to shortly), it is impossible however to deny that this decades long racket of paedophilia and corruption is a direct consequence of the Church’s cleaving to power; its enforced secrecy; its belief that it is a law onto itself. Even the current Pope - Herr Ratzinger, has himself been implicated in the cover up of Priests guilty of abuse. The reason seems, to be nothing so “gross” or material - so human and man made as the need to protect its earthly power and prestige, to prevent the disfiguring of good name of the Church, to maintain its craven desire to survive at any cost - and of course - not to give ammunition to its enemies: the “Jews and atheists”.

The Church’s record on human rights - or if you like - its record breaking success in promotion and propagation of human suffering - forces upon us the conclusion, that there is no other organisation, religion or institution whose sole purpose self-evidently seems to be the accumulation of power, the retention of authority in all aspects of life with the purpose of propagating abject misery, delusion and division - especially to the poorest and the most venerable.

As parlous as the Catholic Church is, it appears to be in a running battle and indeed, what ever its misdeeds, appears to be losing the title of greatest enemy of civilization to Islam. The problem with Islam does not need to be stated in terms of the clash with the west. No. The first thing to say is that it is Muslims men and women themselves who suffer most under the totalitarian shadow of the Koran. Hardly a day passes, when another Mosque has been bombed with a fresh score (at least) of dead Muslims littering the prayers halls. Last Christmas, to take one example from many - it would appear that a fanatic was so incensed by a volleyball match that he unmade himself and fellow co-religionists with a bomb strapped to his body. Not to mention the persistent and flagrant abuse of its women with the constant trickle of reports of beatings, honour killings and rapes.

All of this, is Muslim on Muslim violence. While there is much made of Western humiliation of Islam, or the damage done to Muslim minds and Muslim societies by for instance the civilian death toll from Iraq or the pictures of Abu Graib. This is, of course, true and important. This thesis however (that pain and anger have been caused by the West) can be swallowed whole, while simultaneously admitting that the biggest cause of humiliation and the greatest damage done to Islamic societies is the contents of the Koran and the details of Sharia law itself.

The depressing and absurd conclusion however is that much of this is simply slurred over, denied or explained away. Blandishments like “all religion has its fanatics” “ we need to address the educational and economic factors of this malaise” “we should not blame an entire religion on the actions of a small minority of its members” “ we need to remember all the good that religion does”. All of the these statements could apply equally to the Catholic Church as well as Islam, though I could modify the first statement by saying: “all religions have its paedophiles” - though in the case of Islam following the example of its beloved prophet - thinks it perfectly acceptable that grown men should marry and enjoy full “conjugal” relations with girls as young as nine. Maybe the only difference is that Catholicism keeps its child rapes secret - while Islam boasts of it - that you tell you something at least about the “clash of civilisations.”

It is time we ended the dogma that there is such a thing as freedom of belief or respect for beliefs that have nothing supporting them but ignorance and tradition, either a belief is supported by the evidence or it is not, if it is not then it should be abandoned. Religious belief has the same ontological status as fairies, ghosts and goblins. Its books belong to the same shelf as the Odyssey; Arabian Nights; or the Lord of the Rings. People are killing and dying in the name of nothing. Organizing their lives around a fiction. Religious moderates, condescending secularists and liberals are all engaged in the ponzi scheme that religion is useful and necessary for the uneducated and the unwell. The results of this Faustian bargain with faith meanwhile are bodies piled higher than the sun, the slavery of many millions of women, the relentless demonising of Jews and homosexuals and the abandonment of children to religious demagoguery and sexual predation.

Truly, God loves his children.