Friday, 24 September 2010

Nouvelle Atheism

Eurobarometer Poll 2005 Percentage of those wh...Image via Wikipedia
Caspar Melville followed up his poorly argued piece on new atheism with a report on the debate that took place between Marilynne Robinson, Roger Scruton and Jonathan Rée, with Laurie Taylor chairing. I'm reproducing here the comment I made on RD.NET.

What a waste of an evening that sounds. Accommodationists sitting round chundering about tone whilst slagging off new atheists in an even worse tone. Maybe one day they will actually come up with some action points that aren't self-defeating.
I presume Melville misspelled accommodationist because someone here did? I realise this is pedantic, but can we please get this right? M & M, like the chocolates, not one M.
I suppose it [accommodationist] means that I am prepared to debate with people who have views that are different from mine, including those who have religious belief and those who liked the film Amelie. If this is what it means, then I am, and proud of it.
No, that's not what it means, else Dawkins would be one and everyone who posts on this board. Sheesh; how do these people get paid employment? There are two meanings:
  1. An advocate of NOMA.
  2. A tone troll; someone who waffles on about tone (which is important), but doesn't present any evidence to back up why the tone they prefer is the best one, and constantly falls foul of her own tone rules. For an example, see the You're Not Helping debacle.
I suppose if you think that this really is some kind battle [sic] – between religious believers (all in one camp) and atheists (all in another) you could believe that, but I don't (in fact I think this is very dangerous view).
Plainly not, with milquetoasts about!
I'm suspicious of arguments that sound like they have discovered the Truth. They always sound too much like dogma for my taste, and if the non-believing gang is against anything, surely it's dogmatism?
Exactly; the problem with accommodationists is they are telling people what to do, based on nothing but, well, dogma, apparently. That doesn't go down well amongst genuine sceptics.
Subsequently Steve Zara made this point:
For people like Melville to moan because the arguments of theology aren't addressed in detail by people like Richard is like someone saying that complaints about the UK's national eating habits are absurd because the fine and rare dishes served at The Savoy aren't being considered. The "fine dishes" (actually a form of homeopathic cuisine - the plates look empty) of theology aren't what the vast majority consume. When people want to try and understand and deal with religion, they have to confront the everyday reality of religion.
Very true, but the problem with faitheists, accommodationists is their lack of substantive argument. It is perhaps only to be expected. Atheism itself is pretty empty, being a lack of belief; attacking it from another atheistic viewpoint has always seemed a pretty pointless occupation. So this allusion suggested to me another for those of an accommodationist bent - that of Nouvelle Atheism - a tiny serving of the right ingredients that doesn't satisfy.
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Monday, 20 September 2010

Press Ganged Up

The visit of a dictatorial absolute monarch telling the plucky Brits how to behave would normally, you would think, bring howls of outrage from the famed 'free' press of the United Kingdom and its politicians. But they, and the television media, have been falling over themselves to fawn sycophantically over one of the most harmful men alive in the world today. Armies are mobilised to track down Bin Laden, who has a few thousand deaths to his name, admittedly, but this dealer in the death of millions gets an audience with the Queen and the thumbs up from all our political leaders! Ironic, then, that Pope Benedict XVI should start by saying, in a speech where he blamed Nazism on atheism:
Today, the United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society. In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate.
Secularism is the idea that *religion* be kept separate from government. It's difficult to see how this could get 'aggressive'. Secularism would protect Catholics in theocracies like Iran, if only the Mullahs believed in it.
Secular opposition to the Islamist government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has been active in the country up until 1984, afterwards they were branded heretics and apostates by the clerical hierarchy, and eventually jailed and executed, or exiled.
So it would seem the Pope isn't too keen on something that would actually help some of his sheeple. Strange man. So, is the UK a hotbed of aggressive secularism? Look at this from the Daily Mail Comment page:
Doesn’t the Pope make a timely point when he warns against the march of ‘aggressive secularism’?
And this after lily-livered comments like this from the Daily Heil:
Yes, as Benedict humbly admits, the ‘unspeakable crimes’ of Catholic priests have brought ‘shame and humiliation’ on the church, while his own handling of the scandal has been lamentable.
And yes, millions find it impossible to accept the Vatican’s continuing opposition to the use of condoms in tackling Aids.
He's *so* humble, with his demands to be heard and followed, *so* humble. The Comment wibbles on:
But who can doubt that the Pope’s central theme deserves a hearing in a society increasingly devoted to instant self-gratification?
And yet what else have we seen from the Catholic hordes in the past few days but an appallingly self-indulgent festival of instant self-gratification? The fatuous Peter McKay in the same paper on the same day makes the point for me:
But those who turned out to protest about Benedict's visit, on the grounds that he held incorrect views on homosexuality, women and condoms, seemed shrill and ill-mannered alongside the hundreds of thousands of people who received obvious pleasure from seeing and hearing the Pope in Britain.
What does the Telegraph think?
In his speeches, His Holiness has shown a clarity of thought to shame the woolly utterances of Britain’s politicians, throwing down the gauntlet to our overly secularised society and insisting – as this newspaper has on many occasions – that religion still has a vital role to play within our culture.
More of that aggressive secularism the Pope was warning about? No, just more sycophantic chundering about how wonderful this professional harbourer of child abusers is:
Before the Pope’s arrival, there was one particular issue that concerned many: the vile abuse of children perpetrated in several different countries by members of the Church’s hierarchy over several decades, and the efforts that had been made to conceal those crimes. Here, the Pope has shown great moral courage. As well as meeting some of the victims, he has addressed the topic on repeated occasions, expressing his “deep sorrow” about these “unspeakable crimes”, which have caused “immense suffering”, and brought “shame and humiliation” to the institution that he leads.
What good are a few weasel words to the thousands of child abuse victims around the world? Words are not enough. And why should others care about *his* institution? It's time for the Pope to *act*, and it should also be time for journalists who have a conscience to speak up. But it seems we have very few of those. Here's the Guardian Editorial:
If the pope has not done much reconciling, then neither have his militant opponents. The thousands who traipsed through London chanting "he belongs in jail" may not see any connection between themselves and the anti-papist mobs of the past, but there is a failure to afford sincere faith the respect it is due.
So every time someone wants to protest against the Catholic Church they are automatically linked to anti-papist mobs of the past? What a disgraceful thing to say about people with *genuine* grievances.

In the Sunday Times (behind a paywall) faitheist extraodinaire Bryan Appleyard was at it again with his boring framing of the Protest the Pope demonstration:
It was noisy. A truck led the way manned by two chanters leading a quasi-religious call-and-response ritual
The crowd shrieked back in unison. It was a bizarre coalition of unreconstructed hippies, feminists, gays, condom users and all-purpose angry folk. And then there were the suddenly child-protecting zealots.
Wow; another disgusting thing to say, as if the people protesting were Johnny come latelys only interested in child abuse for politically expedient reasons. And what's bizarre about feminists, gays and hippies forming coalitions? Has Appleyard attacked the bizarre (and doomed) attempts at ecumenical coalition?

Our Prime Minister said of the visit:
The Holy See can also be a partner for us with great influence across the world and we have incredibly important work to do together on fighting poverty and disease, on winning the argument to get to grip with climate change, and on promoting a multi-faith dialogue and working for peace across our world.
Can it be a partner? Can it really? And how does one reconcile the beliefs of people who believe in things just because they do? This Conservative seems very welcoming to this absolute monarch telling us what to do, but doesn't seem so keen on the EEC doing the same:
The steady and unaccountable intrusion of the European Union into almost every aspect of our lives has been made worse by the Lisbon Treaty.
Oh for a similar injunction against this meddling Pope.

Atheist Deputy PM Nick Clegg said:
It was very exciting. Whatever your views of Catholicism, he is the leader of one of the great world religions. I can understand all the debates that are raging but we should be giving a very, very warm welcome to him.
Should we be giving a 'very, very warm welcome' to anybody responsible for the cover-up of crimes around the world, and one who hides behind state immunity to ensure he's safe from prosecution? Or just those with a significant percentage of the electorate hanging on their every inanity? Blimey, the mind boggles.

And I haven't even started on the wall-to-wall coverage of this evil man's visit by the TV networks. So forgive me for thinking that the UK is a long way from being anything like the sort of secular society that would actually *safeguard* the beliefs of lunatics like Benedict XVI.

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Friday, 3 September 2010

Philosophy is Dead; Long Live Philosophy?

Stephen Hawking NASA 50th (200804210008HQ)Image by nasa hq photo via Flickr

Stephen Hawking writes in his new book, The Grand Design:
Where did all this come from? Did the Universe need a creator?
Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.

The philos won't like that. I'm also not sure that it's quite fair. I think there's still a place for philosophising, but, as with Dennett, it must be anchored in as good an understanding of modern science as can be managed by one person. That is the challenge for modern philosophy, IMHO.
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