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Oct 29 2011

Be firm but not too firm, dogmatic but not too dogmatic

To continue

What I call dogmatophobia is the liberal fear of being judgmental of the beliefs of others. Because everyone has a right to her opinion and no one has a monopoly on the truth, there is a tendency to think that any kind of assertion of a truth, other than of the blandest factual kind (“Paris is the capital of France”), is intolerant and morally imperialistic. Hence, people who assiduously avoid factory-farmed meat will go out of their way not to condemn ritual animal slaughter that causes needless suffering. People who would not tolerate even the sniff of sexism in their workplace bend over backwards to allow religious traditions their “right” to systemically discriminate against women.

Yes…

It is, of course, true that an excessive desire for certainty is deeply problematic. But pretty much every reasonable person agrees with this, and most are not agnostic. Accepting that the world is full of uncertainty and ambiguity does not and should not stop people from being pretty sure about a lot of things. To criticise people who express a firm belief as suffering from a lust for certainty is therefore to see the speck in another’s eye while missing the plank in one’s own: an excessive lust for uncertainty that makes any conviction appear misplaced.

Ok – but then what is it that is so terrible about “the new atheists”? In what way are “the new atheists” like religious fundamentalists?

Well I guess I see why, but that’s not to say I understand it:

Unfortunately, the middle ground in the God debate is occupied by too many people who screw up their eyes to create the illusion of a mist when the view is really clear. And this is not just wrong: it’s dangerous, because if we make too much of our inability to be certain, we make ourselves incapable of clear and unequivocal condemnation of just those extreme dogmatists whom agnostics and moderate but committed believers fear. The main problem with young-Earth creationists who assert that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, for instance, is not that they are certain, but that they are wrong. It’s the matter of the belief that is pernicious, not just the manner of its holding.

Nope; I don’t understand it at all. Apparently the middle ground in the God debate is the good and right ground, so it seems fair to conclude that “the new atheists” are bad because we don’t occupy the middle ground. But what is the middle ground, exactly? It’s against extreme dogmatism, but how exactly does the extreme dogmatism of “the new atheists” differ from expressing a firm belief?

Let’s go over it again. Religious fundamentalists and “the new atheists” are extreme; the right thing to be is a moderate who occupies the middle ground in the God debate and condemns those extreme dogmatists whom agnostics and moderate but committed believers fear. However, that moderate should also have and express firm beliefs.

Ok, I get it. Moderates have firm beliefs and we new atheists are extreme dogmatists. It’s one of those irregular verbs. You’re stubborn; I have a firm will. You’re bad-tempered; I’m passionate. You’re dogmatic, I have firm beliefs. You get the idea.

 

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  1. 1
    daveau

    I don’t know what to say about this. How is there middle ground when all of the available evidence is on the side of the nonexistence of God? And I don’t see anything reasonable in a laissez faire attitude toward people who believe crazy shit.

  2. 2
    Ophelia Benson

    I don’t know. I do not know. I can’t make sense of it.

    But I’m excited to have the picture of Merlyn in his pirate hat here!

  3. 3
    Stephanie Zvan

    I read the title and thought of “Mr. Fox.” Having read the whole piece, I think the warning about stepping into what someone else considers their territory may still apply. Now you just need to tell them you had a dream in which they didn’t start criticizing the religious extremists until you did.

  4. 4
    Jon Jermey

    So you’re an infidel in Indonesia or Pakistan or Nigeria. You’ve just seen mad cultists butcher all your friends and neighbours, a swarm is heading for your house, and you have no reason to believe that they have anything in mind except your destruction. And according to Baggini, you should adopt a moderate position and tell the police that you are mildly concerned that you may be in a slight bit of bother in the not-too-distant future?

    What does Baggini regard as a ‘moderate’ position, I wonder, towards beliefs that cause people to fly planes into buildings, cover up child rape and mutilate their own children’s organs of reproduction?

  5. 5
    Rieux

    I dunno; I actually liked the linked essay quite a bit. If you don’t worry about trying to reconcile it with Baggini’s previous points about gnus, I think it’s pretty consistently nice.

  6. 6
    Chris Lawson

    My view on this subject is that the problem is one of honest representation. The gnus, as it were, are continuously mis-represented. While they can be abrasive (esp. Hitchens), whenever I read a description about some awful thing a gnu has said and then gone and read the original, the complaint almost always turns out to be a complete lie. Not always, but mostly.

    (This is especially true of Dawkins. I still recall with disgust the “review” of Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene in the New York Sun in 2008, which accused Dawkins of failing to recognise the role of kin selection in the evolution of altruism (link here). Since Dawkins actually spent several chapters of The Selfish Gene talking about kin selection, variations on kin selection, and how crucial it was for his understanding of altruism, it is quite clear that the reviewer, a professor of biological anthropology, had not even read the book.)

    Reasonable and coherent argumentation against religious beliefs is being represented as being on the same level as pissing in the baptismal font before a christening (see: Jen McCreight’s recent experience of being called “dogmatic” by science professors for wanting to promote the teaching evolution). The sad thing is that so many people have fallen for it — especially sad to see it happen among people who should be allies, or at least neutrals.

  7. 7
    Chris Lawson

    Rieux,

    I don’t think it’s possible to disentangle an essay like this from Baggini’s past efforts. I suspect it’s a change of tack rather than a change of destination, although I do hope to be proven wrong.

  8. 8
    Felix

    I don’t understand your upset about this essay.

    To parse his final paragraph:

    “So of one thing we can be sure: it’s high time we realised that adopting a moderate position in the God debate is not the same as adopting a non-judgmental one in which uncertainty becomes the new object of veneration.”

    “a moderate position” is one that is most consistent with the available facts.
    “a non-judgemental” position is that of agnosticism based upon the fact that total certainty in this question is not obtainable and we don’t want to offend anybody.

    Thus he says:

    “So of one thing we can be sure: it’s high time we realised that adopting a position based upon reason in the God debate is not the same as professing agnosticism”

  9. 9
    Egbert

    Baggini is a little confused and confusing, probably because his project is a work in progress. He sees something wrong with idealistic or even dogmatic forms of moderation, and therefore seems to move toward an even more odd position between accommodationist and gnu.

    The reason why I think Baggini considers gnus as dogmatic, is in our self-righteous and moralistic sweeping condemnation of the religious or irrational. Not necessarily in the sense of being dogmatic about the naturalistic world view. And so gnus are dogmatic in terms of politics or ethics (or therefore we are intolerant of other political and ethical views). I think that might be a fair criticism, because we certainly do feel as if we are right and good. But no accommodationist–that I’m aware of–has explicitly made such a point as yet, because they don’t really understand what it means to be tolerant.

    What makes the accommodationist argument thus far so ridiculous is that they’re confrontational against gnus for being confrontational, nothing could be more hypocritically silly and non-reflective than that. But at least Baggini is being reflective and seems to be distancing himself from the likes of Vernon.

    In other words, at least if I am interpreting Baggini correctly, accommodationists have been as guilty of being intolerant as their accusations against gnus. But we’ve known this all along, which is why we’ve thus far rejected their hypocritical criticisms.

    Ultimately, it’s all about how we interpret the value of ‘toleration’. Should we be tolerant of intolerance? The moderate ‘position’ makes no sense to me if it is followed blindly, and I think at least Baggini now realizes that. But he still–for whatever reason–wants to be a moderate, and that is how he interprets tolerance.

    But I don’t think tolerance has anything to do with moderation. In effect, tolerance has been compromising the position of liberals, making them moderates. Tolerance ought to be about holding your position firmly while tolerating others. Its that simple. I can be a radical liberal and tolerate fundamentalists, only to the point that they pose a direct threat to me or those I value.

  10. 10
    sailor1031

    What ‘god debate’? Religionists say ‘god exists’. Atheists say ‘there is no god’. Where is the middle ground in this? Does Julian actually have a point to make somewhere in this excessively prolix melange?

  11. 11
    Felix

    @sailor1031

    Seems to me that he is gently suggesting that the moderate position is the atheist one.

  12. 12
    Egbert

    @ Felix & Sailor1031,

    The atheist is the one who lacks belief in God, not necessarily the position that God does not exist. Unfortunately, most of us do actually believe God does not exist, as a propositional belief. We moved from a sceptical position to a naturalist position.

    But naturalism is not supposed to be a dogmatic world view, or even a world view that is the true or certain one. Science is not meant to be metaphysical but methodological.

    To add to the confusion, moderation refers to a political or ethical view, and not a sceptical or naturalistic view.

    There is no political or ethical or epistemological consensus that can spring from atheism, with the exception that it leaves out god belief.

    If I move back to the sceptical atheist position, then I am not asserting there is no God, rather I turn to reason and withhold judgment on the existence of God until there is sufficient evidence, and that is the agnostic position. That would be Bagganni’s position, and it ought to be the naturalist position too.

    But here is the problem–how does the sceptic or naturalist jump from epistemology to ethics or politics? I don’t understand how moderation necessarily follows. If I hold firm liberal values, then where do those values come from? Are they universal, natural or human-made, and if they’re only man-made, how can hold them with any firm conviction? There is a dilemma within the liberal world view, where only liberal values are possible, and that is a kind of tyranny of liberalism. If we tolerate illiberal values in others, that might make us seem more liberal and accommodating and moderate, but it devalues our own values considerably. It’s like a catch-22 which should make us reflect much more on the consequences of our liberal activism.

  13. 13
    Svlad Cjelli

    Truth is a tyrant. A merciless Sorcerer-King.

  14. 14
    jamessweet

    What ‘god debate’? Religionists say ‘god exists’. Atheists say ‘there is no god’. Where is the middle ground in this? Does Julian actually have a point to make somewhere in this excessively prolix melange?

    Half a god. Obviously.

  15. 15
    Ewan Macdonald

    The first Baggini article that I’ve actually enjoyed. I mean, of course he has to throw the gnus under the bus, that’s what he’s getting paid for, but I’m so adept at filtering this out these days that I barely notice it. The rest of the piece is, I think, spot on.

  16. 16
    Ophelia Benson

    Huh. I can’t do that “apart from the gratuituous swipe at ‘the new atheists’ it’s a pretty benign article” thing. I can’t see any article that includes a gratuituous swipe at “the new atheists” as benign, especially when it goes on to situate itself in the good moderate middle and “the new atheists” and religious fundamentalists at the evil extremes. I can’t see the relentless and unargued othering of the gnus as benign.

  17. 17
    Steerpike

    Humans have evolved a tendency to seek a moderate position between extremes, as a means of consensus- and community-building, but this tendency is exploited by partisans who seek to move opinion toward their own extreme positions. If I say, “Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs.” and someone else says “Babe Ruth never played the game of baseball,” the tendency is to assume that the truth lies somewhere in between. “Maybe he hit a few home runs, but maybe 714 is an exaggeration. Opinions differ.”

    A perfect example from the recent past was the odious “Swift-Boating” of John Kerry in the 2004 election. John Kerry was a bona fide, decorated war hero, so to discredit him, a lie was circulated that he was actually a base coward in combat. Even though most people didn’t necessarily believe the lie, it was sufficient to cast doubt on his achievements, and sully an otherwise demonstrably heroic military career. Thus Kerry’s greatest strength versus the draft-evading George W. Bush was effectively neutralized. News organizations, in order to appear “unbiased” and “neutral” dutifully reported both sides of the “controversy”, and refused to settle the matter with the simple truth.

    The theist/atheist dichotomy is being manipulated in much the same way. By accusing non-believers of being as intolerant and dogmatic as, say, members of the Westboro Baptist Church, reasonable people are expected to find some non-existent “happy medium” between the two positions. “Maybe there is a God,” they think, “but maybe He’s not quite as powerful or judgemental as we’ve been taught.”

    The fact is, it is a dichotomy, not a spectrum. Gods either exist, or they do not. You can look up Babe Ruth’s stats; you can research John Kerry’s war record; and you can conduct your own inquiry into the various claims made by religions in the world, and if you do, you have to admit that there is absolutely ZERO empirical evidence for any of them. Zero. Period. If that makes us dogmatic, or intolerant, or arrogant, so be it.

  18. 18
    Ophelia Benson

    Quite…and the thing is, Julian knows all that perfectly well. He used to do a column for B&W – Bad Moves – that found examples of that kind of thing in the newspapers and said what was wrong with them. He later collected them in a book. I can’t really figure out how he can so easily resort to the same kind of thing himself.

  19. 19
    gillt

    But what is the middle ground, exactly?

    The establishment, the status quo, the smug center.

    In politics, the voices in the middle have never lead the fight for minorities and the underrepresented when they’re calling the shots.

    As progressives we should stop treating them as having our best intentions in mind.

  20. 20
    A. Noyd

    Egbert (#12)

    If I move back to the sceptical atheist position, then I am not asserting there is no God, rather I turn to reason and withhold judgment on the existence of God until there is sufficient evidence, and that is the agnostic position. That would be Bagganni’s position, and it ought to be the naturalist position too.

    Assertion assmertion. One can reasonably conclude there is no god. In the case of interventionist gods, absence of evidence is evidence of absence. Parsimony takes care of deistic ones. Given how normal religion is, it’s easy to forget how absurd the god hypothesis is. If you can peel it out of the cultural institutions that prop it up, you notice there’s no more reason to entertain it seriously (even so far as to remain agnostic) than there is to entertain the notions that some children are witches who need to be killed or that disease can be cured by restoring the flow of some sort of vital energy or that pyramids were built by alien visitors to our planet. We might need to confront those beliefs depending on the harm they do, but it’s not being a bad naturalist to say “those things are false.”

  21. 21
    Ophelia Benson

    Egbert, I don’t see what your # 9 is based on. I can’t see what connection it has to the article. My post is about particulars in the article itself, while your comment is a generalized rumination. I don’t see what the latter has to do with anything. I think comments are usually more interesting and valuable if they’re actually addressed to the post or the subject of the post as opposed to being freestanding essays.

  22. 22
    Egbert

    Ophelia, your point taken.

  23. 23
    Stewart

    If the Gnu Atheists are not seen as occupying the middle ground, it’s because the Overton Window has been tugged to its present position by others whose numbers presently dwarf ours. I don’t think it’s merely a question of right or wrong, true or false. There are so many religious ideas out there that go unquestioned, or at least enjoy much more than tolerance, because they have not yet successfully been painted in the radical colours they deserve.

  24. 24
    Daniel Lafave

    Part of the mistake is seeing dogmatism as a matter of the firmness of belief rather than of its incorrigibility in the face of contrary evidence. The problem with the dogmatist isn’t that she has firm beliefs, it’s that she doesn’t revise those beliefs appropriately on the basis of new contrary evidence (or old contrary evidence for that matter). When someone says that there is nothing that would make him disbelieve the divinity of Jesus, that is dogmatism, not a scientist concluding on the basis of evidence that global temperatures are rising.

    I still don’t understand why Baggini plays this moderate schtick, but it is getting tiresome.

  25. 25
    Stewart

    Hear, hear. Moderation is fine, in moderation, but some people get fanatical about it.

  26. 26
    Aratina Cage

    Part of the mistake is seeing dogmatism as a matter of the firmness of belief rather than of its incorrigibility in the face of contrary evidence. The problem with the dogmatist isn’t that she has firm beliefs, it’s that she doesn’t revise those beliefs appropriately on the basis of new contrary evidence (or old contrary evidence for that matter). –Daniel Lafave

    Quite so. And that is why Gnu Atheists are not dogmatists at all on the question for which we adopt or are called the label atheist: all evidence points to no gods existing. Daniel Dennett has said when asked if he believes God exists, “It depends what you mean by God.”

    If God is love, then sure, I think Gnus will agree it exists. Who wouldn’t? If God is the cosmos, then sure, it exists. Nobody is going to pretend that the cosmos is not real. But the kind of thing theists mean when they say, “God”, not only has no evidence going for it, it also contradicts much of the evidence; has invalid, ungrounded logic behind it; and breaks numerous physical laws that science has discovered. There is no discernable way to extract a sense of dogma out of that realization without also slamming science, rational skepticism, rational inquiry, thoughtfulness, and disbelief in Santa and other mythical people/creatures as dogmatic.

  27. 27
    Eric MacDonald

    Ophelia, right on:

    Huh. I can’t do that “apart from the gratuituous swipe at ‘the new atheists’ it’s a pretty benign article” thing. I can’t see any article that includes a gratuituous swipe at “the new atheists” as benign, especially when it goes on to situate itself in the good moderate middle and “the new atheists” and religious fundamentalists at the evil extremes. I can’t see the relentless and unargued othering of the gnus as benign.

    One thing that really needs emphasising here is that the new atheists simply do not take the position that Baggini ascribes to them. Why is it that, given the evidence, he insists on classing the gnus with fundamentalists? There is simply no ground for doing this.

    Some people, gnus or news included, think that there is nothing new about the new atheism. I disagree. What is new is the insistance on telling the religious that they are required to provide evidence for the claims of their religion. Refusing this is no longer an option. It is tiresome having people play accommodationist games — as Baggini is doing — when there is simply no basis for religious claims. There’s no point in going on saying that religion is about mystery, or about the ungraspable or about any number of different things. This is unacceptable. If it’s about mystery, then they need to say why there are so many different religions and so many different sects of any given religion. They have to actually give reasons instead of pretending that there’s something intellectually respectable where there isn’t.

    I think this iterated demand is very new. It’s a repeated challenge to religions. Either put up or shut up! And this is something that Baggini needs to say much more clearly than he does.

    He’s right, of course, that there are some things that we know with some degree of certainty. What he needs to point out is that there is not one religion that can provide sufficient grounds for any positive claims about the nature of reality that it cares to make, and every religion, even if it has a liberal wing that is quite prepared to say that religion is a purely human creation, has a basis in metaphysical claims that it simply cannot avoid facing.

    If all the religions were to acknowledge tomorrow that they were simply human constructions, and that there is no intention to speak positively about supernatural reality, religions themselves would cease immediately to function, and groups would hive off so quickly making precisely those claims, that existing religions would not know what hit them. Baggini’s assumption that only fundamentalists make such positive claims is ludicrous, and he must know that his accusation that the new atheists are reasonably associated with religious fundamentalism is simply false. Why should he misrepresent things so badly? That’s what I would like to know.

  28. 28
    Chris Lawson

    Eric,

    Being outspoken and insisting that religious ideas be exposed to critical scrutiny is not New. Even the most acerbic of the New Atheists are merely joining company with Voltaire, Diderot, Euhemerus (not strictly an atheist, but a savage critic of the established religion who claimed the gods were merely the fossils of old kings and empires long forgotten), Socrates, and many others.

    What is New about the New Atheists is that they can make these claims without being executed (Socrates), forced to flee the country (Diderot), imprisonment and exile (Voltaire). And the religious powers don’t take kindly to that.

  29. 29
    Ophelia Benson

    I don’t know, Eric. It’s mystifying. And of course he makes it impossible to figure out by never giving any specifics.

  30. 30
    sailor1031

    @12 Egbert. Yes I know but Baggini is just so overthinking this. It’s really not that difficult.

    @11 Felix. Thanks but I don’t think there is a moderate position. DoG either is or isn’t. There’s no middle ground.

  31. 31
    Eric MacDonald

    Chris Lawson. Most of the philosophes were deists, like Voltaire, and only objected to religion insofar as it was institutionalised and, as an institution, tended to side with the powers that be. My knowledge of the history of disbelief is fairly sketchy, but I do not remember great emphasis being placed on challenging religion to provide evidence, and doing so in and out of season. Certainly, there were atheists who challenged religion to provide its bona fides, but still, except perhaps for d’Holbach, none of them were so bluntly and intransigently unbelieving as many of the gnus are today.

    I’m not making a particularly profound historical point — just pointing out that there is a refusal amongst atheists to make common cause with the religious, and that is quite new, I think. The challenge is always there, and the religious are being constantly reminded that they have a lot of hard work to do before they can sleep quietly at night. This refusal to accept religionists at their word, and support them in the kinds of missional endeavours that they tout as perhaps their most important function — as though religious philanthropy can be separated from their supernatural beliefs — is I think genuinely new.

    It may of course simply be the fact that there are more of us, so that the challenge seems more salient than before. In any event, the constant challenge to the religious to justify their beliefs, whether new or not, is certainly more insistent now, and that’s why there are so many atheists, like Baggini, who feel they have to jump to religion’s defence.

    Liberalism is all very well, but we need to make it clear that toleration has its limits, and when religions make claims to have a place in the public sphere, they have to be challenged to provide evidence for the beliefs that determine what that intervention will be. For the life of me I can’t see that this is not new. I spent most of my life in religion, and it is quite clear that religion is playing in a much more challenging context than ever before. The routine respect that was given to religion in the past, even by nonbelievers, is something that the religious can no longer count on. I was becoming aware of this myself as I came to the end of my active participation in the church. I think it is even stronger now, with the resurgence of atheism just when people like McGrath were claiming that atheism had run its course.

  32. 32
    Matt Penfold

    Surely the problem with creationists who think the Earth is 6000 years old is that they are both wrong and certain ?

    Simply being wrong need not be a problem. Scientists can get things wrong, and assuming there no intent to deceive, valuable knowledge can be gained from examining ideas that turn out to be wrong. Nor is certainty a problem, providing it is not an absolute certainty and the degree of certainty is commensurate with the evidence. What is a problem is being wrong and also being certain, for then there is little hope of having your mind changed by evidence.

  33. 33
    Ewan Macdonald

    Huh. I can’t do that “apart from the gratuituous swipe at ‘the new atheists’ it’s a pretty benign article” thing. I can’t see any article that includes a gratuituous swipe at “the new atheists” as benign, especially when it goes on to situate itself in the good moderate middle and “the new atheists” and religious fundamentalists at the evil extremes. I can’t see the relentless and unargued othering of the gnus as benign.

    It’s not that I think it’s benign. It’s that I think it’s noise. This trope – that religious extremists and gnus are somehow two sides of the same coin – is just repeated so often and unthinkingly that it’s taken on the properties of an ‘amen’ affirmation – i.e. you can’t say “religious fundamentalists are bad” without the pleasant suffix of “and so are the new atheists, of course”.

    I would absolutely prefer that people stopped saying it but I’m frankly too tired and bored with it to continue arguing against it.

  34. 34
    Ophelia Benson

    Well it’s certainly noise, and a trope, but I think tropes of that kind do harm, and are usually intended to do harm, however automatic they are. Also, Julian is a philosopher, and I think philosophers should be in the business of interrogating malevolent tropes of that kind, not helping them to circulate.

  35. 35
    ewanmacdonald

    Yes, on reflection, you’re right – it’s not something that we can just shrug off.

  36. 36
    Ophelia Benson

    Well you personally certainly can! :- )

    It is unquestionably tiresome and boring. I’m just saying it’s worth resisting in general, not that everyone has to resist.

  37. 37
    ewanmacdonald

    As much time as I waste arguing on the internet it would be remiss of me not to help out :)

  38. 38
    Ophelia Benson

    Heehee. Welcome aboard, comrade.

  39. 39
    Steersman

    daveau said (#1):

    I don’t know what to say about this. How is there middle ground when all of the available evidence is on the side of the nonexistence of God? And I don’t see anything reasonable in a laissez faire attitude toward people who believe crazy shit.

    What type of God did you have in mind? The anthropomorphic one, tens of thousands of which have been worshipped and sacrificed to over tens of millennia? The god of the physicists which Dawkins’ asserted was “light-years away from the interventionist, miracle-wreaking, thought-reading, sin-punishing, prayer-answering God of the Bible, of priests, mullahs and rabbis”? [God Delusion; pg 41] Or maybe the panentheistic one in which “God is viewed as the eternal animating force behind the universe”? Personally, I tend to be at least sympathetic to the latter in part because it is somewhat consistent with the god of the physicists and numbered among its adherents or promoters both Einstein and Spinoza.

    While I will quite readily agree that a “laissez faire” attitude to the first option is generally not justified at all and the belief itself justifies strong criticism if not condemnation – with 99.99% of them rejected by history probability should be sufficient to reject the other 0.01 % on the same basis, a categorical rejection of either of the last two – which Dawkins himself was apparently loathe to do – seems to be shading over from the “firm belief” category into that of “dogmaticism”.

    But believing crazy shit is one thing; denying civil rights on the basis of those beliefs or claiming extra ones which is just as problematic – though I expect there are exceptions – seems to be something entirely different.

  40. 40
    Coy Seiersen

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  41. 41
    Jurjen S.

    [...] if we make too much of our inability to be certain, we make ourselves incapable of clear and unequivocal condemnation of just those extreme dogmatists whom agnostics and moderate but committed believers fear. The main problem with young-Earth creationists who assert that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, for instance, is not that they are certain, but that they are wrong. It’s the matter of the belief that is pernicious, not just the manner of its holding.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but Baggini seems to be contradicting himself here. If “the main problem with” “extreme dogmatists” “is not that they are certain, but that they are wrong,” then it logically follows that being wrong is worthy of stronger condemnation than being “dogmatic” about it. But then he lumps “agnostics and moderate but committed believers” into a single category of those “adopting a moderate position in the God debate” in spite of the fact that their positions are mutually exclusive: you can’t be an agnostic and a committed believer at the same time. So that “moderate position” can only be based on the lack of vehemence with which they express their views. But since it’s a bigger problem to be wrong than to be dogmatic about it, those same moderates should by Baggini’s reasoning, be raining “clear and unequivocal condemnation” on each other, since (as I said) their positions are mutually exclusive.

    That’s leaving aside the issue that Baggini blithely conflates “the matter of the belief” and “the manner of its holding,” implying throughout that those who are united in being least vehement about expressing their beliefs are ipso facto right. Which is bollocks.

  42. 42
    Business Phone service

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  1. 43
    The healthy mind lives with uncertainty and ambiguity, but only with as much as there is « Choice in Dying

    [...] so careful way of hedging his bets. Ophelia’s peroration deserves to be quoted in full (but go over to B&W and read the whole thing): Ok, I get it. Moderates have firm beliefs and we new atheists are extreme dogmatists. It’s one [...]

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