Guest post on Sam Harris and the duties of public intellectuals

Guest post by Simon Frankel Pratt.

I think that Harris is good at presenting a kind of naive though not completely stupid position that many thoughtful but poorly informed secular Western liberals are likely to arrive at. In a sense, his positions should be the challenge or the foil against which informed experts and public intellectuals frame their answers. For example, Harris’s views on the links between religion and violence are almost entirely wrong, as scholars such as Atran have shown, but they are understandable.

The problem is, of course, that Harris does not engage with the experts. [Read more...]

Like a trucking company

Cardinal Pell is another one vying for the Zero Empathy Remark of the Year Award.

Cardinal George Pell has strongly defended the so-called Melbourne Response as Australia’s first comprehensive redress scheme for victims of clerical sexual abuse at the royal commission.

Appearing at the commission via video link from the Vatican in Rome on Thursday night, Cardinal Pell likened the Catholic Church’s responsibility for child abuse to that of a ”trucking company”. If a driver sexually assaulted a passenger they picked up along the way, he said, ”I don’t think it appropriate for the … leadership of that company be held responsible.”

[Read more...]

Trending

Dawkins is trending on Facebook again, thanks to his Most Recent Tweet of Infamy. At the top of the list I see (I assume the list is different for different people, because of their different Facebook histories) there are a lot of mainstream media stories and some Facebook posts by friends, and then after that…there is a long stream of right-wing, Christian, anti-abortion links.

Fabulous. Very very helpful.

There’s The Blaze.

There’s Christian News Network. [Read more...]

Muslim “community leaders” churned out televised obfuscations

Maajid Nawaz wrote a piece for the Times yesterday. It’s behind a paywall, but even the extract posted by Quilliam contains good stuff.

The Isis man who apparently beheaded James Foley had a British accent. He is likely to be among the one out of every 800 British Sunni Muslim men of fighting age — around 500 of them — to have joined these jihadists in Iraq and Syria. This does not emerge from a vacuum. We in Britain have a deeply entrenched problem. Islamist extremism is poisoning our community relations, hijacking our youth, and we are doing very little to address it. [Read more...]

Those defections do not have legal effect

J P O’Malley learns that the Irish Catholic church will not let you leave.

From aged 12, I had no belief, whatsoever, in the concept of a divine being.

By the time I was in my 20s, I was a militant-atheist.

And after my close reading of the ‘Ferns’, ‘Murphy’, and ‘Ryan Reports’, I was fully convinced that this was not an organisation I wanted to be associated with in any way.

It came as a huge surprise to me, then, last October, after I wrote to Reverend Fintan Gavin, the assistant chancellor of the Dublin Dioceses, asking if I could formally leave the Catholic Church, to be told that it was impossible.

[Read more...]

Not a vessel

There was a big turnout for a protest over Ireland’s abortion laws on O’Connell Street in Dublin yesterday.

UP TO TWO thousand people have gathered in Dublin’s city centre this evening to protest at Ireland’s abortion laws and call for a repeal of the controversial 8th Amendment of the Constitution.

Protesters held signs saying “Raped, Pregnant, Suicidal, Forced C-Section – Ireland 2014,” and “I’m not a vessel”, in reference to comments made at the UN  Human Rights Committee last month, where its chairman said Ireland’s abortion laws treat women who are raped as a vessel. [Read more...]

We cannot expect

PZ also has a post on the abortion and Down syndrome issue. In it he says this:

I recommend reading any of Michael Bérubé’s stories about having a child with Down Syndrome— he doesn’t have any regrets at all. Or you could read about how Bérubé schooled Peter Singer, and Singer did the right thing and changed his mind. He also wrote a book on the subject,reviewed in the NY Times.

I was thinking of Michael and Jamie Bérubé and of Peter Singer during all this, so I was glad to see that link, which is to a piece I read with interest at the time. (The time was December 2008.) Reading it again reminds me what a fiendishly good writer Michael is. Read the whole post, because it’s fiendishly good. I’ll just extract a little, because it’s relevant.

Surely you’ll recall—my post was only two months ago!—that in the passage at issue, Singer wrote, “To have a child with Down syndrome is to have a very different experience from having a normal child. It can still be a warm and loving experience, but we must have lowered expectations of our child’s ability. We cannot expect a child with Down syndrome to play the guitar, to develop an appreciation of science fiction, to learn a foreign language, to chat with us about the latest Woody Allen movie, or to be a respectable athlete, basketballer or tennis player.” [Read more...]

Choice is minimised

Iain Brassington comments on Dawkins’s Twitter adventure today at the Journal of Medical Ethics blog (which is a subset of the BMJ blog).

Look, I know that Twitter really isn’t the place for nuanced debate.  But, by that token, everyone else should realise that as well – especially intellectual superstars. So how, then, to explain Richard Dawkins’ spectacular foot-in-mouth moment earlier today?

Well, one leg of that explanation would be that actually Dawkins appears not to realize that. I honestly don’t know why, because 1. I know that people very close to him have told him it, and 2. it seems so blindingly obvious once you’ve been using Twitter for awhile, as he has. (Not to mention 3. doing so has blown up in his face about ten times now, and the last time was just three weeks ago.) [Read more...]

Searching and hoping for comfort

A doctor with MSF, Gabriel Fitzpatrick, gives a heartrending account of working at the center of the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone.

In the suspected cases ward I saw a small child getting his nappy changed by a nurse who was wearing a full body plastic protective suit.

The child was clinging on to the nurse, searching and hoping for comfort in a place which does not allow direct skin-to-skin contact. As a father myself, this image stuck in my mind. [Read more...]