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Nice list

I guess R. Joseph Hoffman is trolling for attention again. Joey — or is it Joe? Joseph seems so fussy. Maybe R.? — R., then, is so disappointed in those dissolute insult-mongering New Atheists that he has scribbled up another sloppy, incoherent, lazy whine in which engages in prolonged insult-mongering, nothing more. It’s an astonishing demonstration of projection and an absolute lack of self-awareness: the post is little more than a clumsy list of the atheists who piss off R., with bombastic, affected explanations for why they are so stupid. It’s a rather useful guide, though, to who’s cool in the atheist movement; I’m flattered that he despises me so, and included me in the list.

Here’s R.’s list, with his tumid awkward insults pared down to a single summary sentence:

Dawkins: Unabashed science-thumper.

Dennett: Sloppy.

Harris: Singularly incoherent.

Hitchens: The only true intellectual of the group.

Headlights:

Coyne: How can he be such a scientist when the U of Chicago has one of the most venerable divinity schools in the country?

Myers: Moral nihilist who once destroyed a cracker.

Sidelights:

Christina: Radical feminist and lesbian who sees everything as a weird sexual joke.

Benson: Runs a chat room for neo-atheist spleen.

MacDonald: Another horn in the bagpipe blown by Coyne and Myers.

Rosenhouse: Doesn’t like anything that rises an inch beyond cultural Judaism.

Now you know who to turn to for the intelligent and interesting commentary on religion. Keep in mind, though, that R. is a brilliant fellow who thinks Dawkins’ entire argument was devastated by this Terry Eagleton quote:

“What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? Has he read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace, or Moltmann on hope? Has he even heard of them? Or does he imagine like a bumptious young barrister that you can defeat the opposition while being complacently ignorant of its toughest case?”

The knob-polishers and filigree-painters of religion and theology are not at all relevant to the fundamental question of whether a god exists or not — but they make useful distractions for the pompous, pretentious buffoons who try to hide the fact that there is no elephant in the room with learned discussions about what color he paints his toenails.

Comments

  1. irisvanderpluym says

    As brilliant and enjoyable as your Courtier’s Reply is, it’s nice to have a more succinct version in one’s arsenal should the need arise:

    The knob-polishers and filigree-painters of religion and theology are not at all relevant to the fundamental question of whether a god exists or not — but they make useful distractions for the pompous, pretentious buffoons who try to hide the fact that there is no elephant in the room with learned discussions about what color he paints his toenails.

    Well done and much appreciated, O Tentacled One.

  2. dianne says

    How can he be such a scientist when the U of Chicago has one of the most venerable divinity schools in the country?

    As a U of C alum, I can assure you that virtually all the divinity students and certainly almost all the professors are atheists. Religion is harder to take seriously when you study it in detail. Also the div school coffee shop used to have the best brownies on campus. Possibly related to the critical ingredient of theobromine. Not, of course, that the divinity school has the slightest influence on the science department, whatever its actual beliefs. Doesn’t R remember U of C’s other most famous “product”? Named for a borough in a city that Chicago likes to claim to rival? How can U of C have such a venerable divinity school when their most famous intellectual product was death and destruction?

  3. irisvanderpluym says

    @dianne #2:

    I am not sure what you are alluding to at the end of your comment, but whenever I hear “University of Chicago,” what immediately jumps to mind is the Chicago school of economics, that endless font of libertarian/conservative free-market dogma that has enjoyed a chokehold on U.S. economic policy for decades. Plenty of death and destruction has erupted out of that pustule, to be sure.

    But yeah, the cluelessness implicit in that comment about U of C is beyond laughable. “How can someone possibly get a good scientific education at a University that also teaches…art history?” LMAO.

  4. Alverant says

    “Moral nihilist”?? WTF is that? Given the posts expressing moral outrage at the evil things people of faith have done I’d hardly call the label accurate.

  5. azportsider says

    Once again R’s just exhibiting his envy. It ain’t pretty, especially in such an erudite (just ask him, or even pause casually at his blog) Prophet of the One True Atheism®.

  6. says

    Mr R. has so many other good things to say about you, PZ.
    Kicking the Pope in the balls by spearing a consecrated host.
    Also, you’re anti-intelligent design, pro-evolution, and happy to be known as the Don Rickles of the Dawkins theatre troupe.
    You’re one cool dude PZ!
    Break’s over! Back to Deep Intellect, an octopus story.

  7. peterh says

    When you’re being ignored, shout a lot & throw your shit against the wall. 2-year olds know this well.

  8. says

    What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? Has he read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace, or Moltmann on hope? Has he even heard of them? Or does he imagine like a bumptious young barrister that you can defeat the opposition while being complacently ignorant of its toughest case?”

    Shorter version via analogy

    Ing “I must say this house is unacceptable for my needs, or anyone’s for that matter. The foundation is obscene, unsafe, unstable and the main support beams seem to be made out of some form of rotting cork wood. The basement is infested with vermin, there’s toxic black mold on all the walls, it has a radon leak, the floors are bowing from water damage, and I believe I saw a sink hole forming in the basement.

    Theologian/Realitor: “But have you seen how nice the bathrooms are!?”

  9. says

    “Moral nihilist”?? WTF is that? Given the posts expressing moral outrage at the evil things people of faith have done I’d hardly call the label accurate.

    Due to differing definitions in philosophy it might actually be technically accurate.

  10. stonyground says

    I’m not sure that Greta Christina would have a problem with his description of her, after having read quite a lot of her stuff it seems pretty accurate to me.

    I think that there are certain people who actually prove that you are doing something right by dissagreeing with you. Could it be that Mr. Hoffman is one of them.

  11. says

    @Stonyground

    While she is married to a woman I was under the impression that Mrs. Christina is not strictly speaking a lesbian.

    Possibly technically inaccurate.

  12. lynxreign says

    What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus?

    Ah yes, Duns Scotus, the man so inane that it is from his name we get the word “dunce”. You’d think they’d have someone better to put forward than a man who’s name is synonymous with “idiot”.

  13. says

    This guy is such an annoying asshat… does he ever post anything that isn’t an insult towards the cool kids, from his table of goth kids in the far corner of the cafeteria? This is very obviously attention-seeking and whining from someone’s whose public recognition fails to match his planet-sized self-regard.

  14. says

    Off Topic: Is it is seen as very annoying amongst other bisexuals to be rounded up to gay/straight based on current or long term partner? It bugs me

  15. Dr. Audley Z. Darkheart, liar and scoundrel says

    Moral nihilist who once destroyed a cracker.

    Wouldn’t a “moral nihilist” be someone who is simply amoral? And if that’s the case, it’s pretty clear that R. Joey hasn’t read Pharyngula, he would just rather have a conniption over a fucking cracker.

  16. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    irisvanderpluym #3

    Thank you for your succinct description of the Chicago School economists. Certainly that’s who I think of when the University of Chicago is mentioned, not the divinity school. In fact, until I read R.’s screed, I didn’t know U of C had a divinity school.

  17. carbonbasedlifeform says

    I’ve never been happy about the Courtier’s Reply. It comes across as a way of saying “I don’t know anything about religion, but that is no problem.” We claim, quite correctly, that creationist ignorance of evolution is inexcusable in discussing evolution; but ignorance of theology is acceptable in discussing religion. You can’t have it both ways.
    Yes, there is merit in Eagleton’s response to Dawkins. PZ doesn’t like it, perhaps because he has no response to Eagleton.

  18. Dr. Audley Z. Darkheart, liar and scoundrel says

    Ing,
    I guess that would work, too. I’m just baffled over the bit where R. Joey says:

    Myers, who describes himself as a moral nihilist…

    Really? I can’t recall PZ ever claiming to be (or acting like) a nihilist, moral or otherwise. This seems to be the case of R. Joey using the ever so annoying “atheism = nihilism” trope.

    I do like this bit, however:

    That means he is anti-intelligent design, pro-evolution, and happy to be known as the Don Rickles of the Dawkins theatre troupe.

    Oooooo, burn!

  19. says

    You don’t understand the Courtier’s Reply.

    It’s not about encouraging ignorance; atheists know more about Christianity than most Christians, and many of us are entirely comfortable with those ‘sophisticated theologians’ (we’ve read them, they’re idiots.)

    No, it’s about the irrelevancy of hashing over fine details of theology when the central subject of theology is invisible and intangible and seems to have had no effect on the universe at all. It’s telling believers to get their fucking act together and actually address the substance of their god-belief.

  20. Alverant says

    @We Are Ing #9, #17
    Except PZ isn’t an nilhist. A nilhist is someone who talks about how nothing matters because everything ends (ideally soon). But even though PZ has talked about how everything material and living does end, he turned it into a positive by saying it’s why we should make life better for everything in the here and now. A nilhist is someone who’d say, “Well some idiot in Whogivesafuckistan killed his daughter for bring dishonor to his family by being born a female. But since she’s going to die anyone and likely live in poverty all her life, she’s better off dead. Now where’s my razor? I feel the need to cut myself.” PZ would go on about the evil practice and demand the father be thrown in jail and attack the culture that allowed it to happen in the first place. Big difference!

  21. Dr. Audley Z. Darkheart, liar and scoundrel says

    Maybe “moral nihilist” is someone who is moral, but still is a nihilist, somehow? Obviously, I’m a little confused about (and hung up on) what the fuck R. Joey is trying to say.

    Bah.

  22. dianne says

    irisvanderpluym #3

    I was referring to Manhattan project. It is rumored that the first successful chain reaction occurred underneath what is now the main library at U of C, though I’m inclined to think that that’s just confabulation. The economics school is another good one though. Also Allen Bloom, though he mercifully faded into well deserved obscurity quickly. Lots of not so wonderful things have happened at the U of C, but the div school upholding Christianity is probably not a major one.

  23. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I’ve never been happy about the Courtier’s Reply. It comes across as a way of saying “I don’t know anything about religion, but that is no problem.” We claim, quite correctly, that creationist ignorance of evolution is inexcusable in discussing evolution; but ignorance of theology is acceptable in discussing religion. You can’t have it both ways.

    Actually there is no problem discussing the lack of evidence for your imaginary deity. You must first present solid and conclusive physical evidence for your imaginary deity to show actual existence. Evidence that will pass muster with scientists, magicians, and professional debunkers, as being of divine, and not natural (scientifically explained), origin. Something equivalent to the eternally burning bush.

    Until that happens, all you godbots have is presupposition and mental masturbation called theology. And your theology is based on the two fallacious presuppositions 1) that your imaginary deity exists and 2) your babble is not a book of mythology/fiction. Ergo, theology can be dismissed for the bullshit it is.

  24. nightshadequeen says

    Yes, there is merit in Eagleton’s response to Dawkins. PZ doesn’t like it, perhaps because he has no response to Eagleton.

    I’m assuming that you’re not going to dismiss Bigfoot then, just because you don’t know the color of its hair?

    (I’m NightShadeQueen, by the way – just in case this doesn’t display right)

  25. Aquaria says

    I’ve never been happy about the Courtier’s Reply. It comes across as a way of saying “I don’t know anything about religion, but that is no problem.” We claim, quite correctly, that creationist ignorance of evolution is inexcusable in discussing evolution; but ignorance of theology is acceptable in discussing religion. You can’t have it both ways.
    Yes, there is merit in Eagleton’s response to Dawkins. PZ doesn’t like it, perhaps because he has no response to Eagleton.

    There’s as much merit in it as there is in Star Trek trivia for determining whether or not a genocidal scumbag in the sky exists.

    Actually, Star Trek is probably more intellectually coherent and consistent as an imaginary world goes than any of the money-making scams known as religion.

    That you’re too stupid to understand the difference only indicates that you need to go back to the kid’s table, fuckface.

  26. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Carbon-based assclam,
    The problem with your criticism of the “Courtier’s Reply” is that your criticism ignores the fact that what one views as “sophisticated” is in itself utterly subjective. Thus, YOU would claim that unless one has read absolutely every “sophistimacated” apologist, one cannot reject “sophistimicated” religion.
    The problem is that the rejection of religion is not predicated on whether it is sophisticated or not. It rests only on the fact that it is inconsistent with the evidence. In fact, a sophisticated religious argument doesn’t contradict the evidence only to the extent that it avoids the possibility of evidence. One could just as easily substitute the Easter bunny, the Tooth Fairy or an invisible pink elephant with blue toenail polish for “god” and have an equally compelling argument. If the only god that is consistent with our experience of the universe is a god that does nothing, then it is only humane that we let that god cease to exist rather than sentencing it to an eternity of boredom.

  27. ShowMetheData says

    Yes, there is merit in Eagleton’s response to Dawkins. PZ doesn’t like it, perhaps because he has no response to Eagleton

    Is there evidence in those books?? As with “Signature in a Cell” and other books, PZ has worked through them and laid out their weaknesses – horrible weakness and often bad and fuzzy writing. He’s also worked over many other scientific and theological pieces – long and short.

    Merely citing a list of theological works not yet read is not sufficient because if there was real confirmed evidence, all the most excellent works you cite would have that real confirmed evidence. And then you, PZ, and the world could talk and weigh the evidence independent of bad or excellent theological sophistry.

  28. says

    There’s as much merit in it as there is in Star Trek trivia for determining whether or not a genocidal scumbag in the sky exists.

    Actually to bring in an analogy using Trek

    Say a captain (like Janeway) allows a race to die out from an invasion by a genocidal alien threat. They seeing their enemy were alien made a desperate guess and sent out an SOS in hopes that other aliens might pick it up and help. Janeway chooses to under the prime directive refuse to help and lets them die.

    Now you can argue over the exact intricacies of the PD, digging up the old examples or the lawyers explaining the meaning of it all day and bring in philosophical and moral arguments to whether it was or wasn’t valid to break it…except the real problem is that the PD wasn’t in effect. The invaders were a warp capable race, removing them from the restriction, and the invadees specifically asked for help.

    Theology meanwhile is arguing over the PD when someone takes a dump on the bridge.

  29. ShowMetheData says

    JT Eberhard has remarked in Dad Creates a Learning Situation that the books that Christians offer up as “things to be read” – many times they have not read them. And the books themselves can be riddled with errors and faults.

    JT’s father offered a solution when he found a gross error in a recommended error. He asked the “book-suggester” that they explain the error and he will continue reading the next page until the next error is found.

  30. DLC says

    I shall now proceed to prattle on about the finer points of God, and the infinite justice therein, while the rest of you contemplate the magnificent quality of the Emperor’s new clothes.
    When we’re done with that, there will be cake.

  31. says

    Again, I don’t see how it’s a valid criticism to tell people they’re missing the forest through the trees when we’re all looking at a medow

  32. Sastra says

    Well, I just read Hoffman’s essay and find it very ironic that he compares the hucksters in Huckleberry Finn to atheists — who are after all arguing against a deeply-entrenched and smugly confident status quo. If you want to look for unthinking populist pap, the so-called New Atheists are crushed beneath the feet of the rumbling behemoth that is Religion in America. Heaven is Real. THEIR best seller.

    Hoffman still doesn’t really understand the basic thrust of the argument. For example, he apparently thinks that this is a devastating rebuttal to Dawkins’ evolutionary approach to analyzing God:

    the question “Who made God?”only makes sense if one assumes that the Divine nature is subject to a kind of inverted evolutionary process by which the complex is preceded by the still more complex, but why on earth should we assume this? Why should God be subject to any version of a biological theorem? Why not the laws of physics, or of chemistry?

    God is supposed to be a person, a Mind, an agent. It falls under biology. But, even if you examine it using physics or chemistry, it falls apart. The real quarrel is with using science on something that is supposed to be in its own category.

    Yes, we KNOW that theologians like to insist that “God is simple.” Yes, we KNOW that theologians like to insist that God is not subject to the same rules and methods that would apply to other claims. Yes, we KNOW that the concept of God is surrounded by a dense haze of special pleading and category error. Our point is that this haze is the result of immunizing strategies: they are not to be taken as absolute characteristics of God. Special pleading and category errors are bad things.

    Hoffman seems obsessed with the fact that some of the roots of science can be found among intellectual priests, monks, and theologians working in religious settings and using religious assumptions. Somehow, the gnu atheists must be failing to appreciate this in their criticisms of religion and their insistence that science and religion are inherently at odds.

    No, we GET that connection. What we’re pointing out is that science was only able to proceed because theology combined with enough philosophy and the secular world and secular ways of thought were split off from the religious realms and religious ways of thinking. So we also get the disconnect — and focus on that.

    Does God exist? Hoffman, can we stop waxing eloquent over history and aesthetics and anthropology and psychology and therapy long enough to care about that specific question?

    Is God a hypothesis? Sophisticated theology answers with “no.” Or with “that’s not the right question.” And Hoffman apparently goes along with this.

    It IS a hypothesis. As the subtitle of Vic Stenger’s book has it, it is a FAILED hypothesis. This is not “scientism” because we do not accept the religious frame which protects the concept of God from critical inquiry of a scientific and objective nature. No atheist should.

    I am very unimpressed with Hoffman.

  33. says

    What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus?

    Has Dawkins, or any other scientist, made a meaningful explanation using religion or the “divine”?

    Any further questions, R?

    Oh, I bet you have a lot of further questions, they’re just irrelevant gas.

    Glen Davidson

  34. says

    the question “Who made God?”only makes sense if one assumes that the Divine nature is subject to a kind of inverted evolutionary

    Or you know…if the person being asked just said that everything needs a creator/cause.

  35. Happiestsadist says

    Ing @ #15: Yes, yes it is. It’s especially awkward when you’re poly, but each of your partners move in different social circles. And you’re genderqueer, so technically all of your relationships are queer, and blergh.

    I get really pissed off when people insist my orientation is x depending on which partner I’m out with at the time. (Though it’s interesting when people decide I’m a dyke when I’m with my boyfriend. And refuse to get it.)

  36. says

    What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus?

    One wonders what (die passive voice die) Dawkin’s views on the intricacies and complexities of modern geocentrism are. How can he dismiss the entire field when there are smart people constantly coming up with new explanations and theories!

  37. bovarchist says

    Let me get this straight. Eagleton’s response to the idea that the whole field of theology has no point of contact with reality, but is nothing more than memorizing authorities…is to cite authorities?

  38. says

    carbonbasedlifeform:

    I’ve never been happy about the Courtier’s Reply. It comes across as a way of saying “I don’t know anything about religion, but that is no problem.”

    It does not rest on ignorance of religion. Not at all. In fact, notice that observation is primary? Those who claim there are no clothes do have knowledge of the clothes: the fact they can’t see them, feel them, or in any other way apprehend them is vital. Further, the fact that the courtiers can’t provide any evidence the clothes actually exist constitutes knowledge of the clothes: it indicates nobody else can perceive them either. In fact, that’s the fucking point.

    Disregarding sophisticated theology requires a certain understanding of religion. It requires the understanding that religions make positive claims about the existence of a deity, but no evidence for any deity exists. The Courtier’s Reply indicates only that further discussion of the magnificent traits of this deity is useless until the fundamental existence of the deity can be established. Until we can perceive the effects of the existence of this deity, there is no way to know a fucking thing about the deity.

    So, no. Eagleton hos not the tiniest fucking relevance here. His blathering on in support of ignorance is that: support of ignorance. It doesn’t matter how sophisticated that ignorance is.

    Sophisticated ignorance is still just ignorance.

  39. Sastra says

    carbonbasedlifeform #19 wrote:

    I’ve never been happy about the Courtier’s Reply. It comes across as a way of saying “I don’t know anything about religion, but that is no problem.”

    No; as others have pointed out, the gnu atheists are saying “first things first.”

    To bring in some support and analogies from the skeptic movement, consider Ray Hyman’s famous dictum “Before you try to explain something, first be sure there is something to explain.” There is no need to figure out how, say, homeopathy might work if there is no good evidence that it does work in the first place.

    Or look at Skepdoc Harriet Hall’s metaphor of “Tooth Fairy Science” — skilled, careful, painstaking studies done on how much money the tooth fairy leaves, where she leaves it, how she leaves it, etc… all possible to do without reference to the existence of an actual tooth fairy, and yet slyly indicative of the existence of an actual tooth fairy. We now have “supporting studies.”

    PZ’s characterization of the Courtier’s Reply is I think basically a re-statement of a prime principle in skepticism — and skepticism is a crucial aspect of science (or, science is a crucial aspect of skepticism, take your pick): Don’t do elaborate studies of a phenomenon (God) before you establish the phenomenon.

    You can study religion, of course, without believing in God. Gnu atheist critics like Hoffman seem to think gnu atheists don’t think you can. Or that we don’t think it’s valuable to do so. But theology is not supposed to be the study of theology: ultimately, it’s supposed to be the study of God. Tooth Fairy Science.

  40. says

    Compare someone dismissing Homeopathy based on their basic understanding of it. It dilutes concentrations down tot he point that there is not a single particle of the original concoction. End. Done. Finished. For them being told ‘but you don’t understand about the MEMORY of water’ or ‘you have to shake it really hard!’ doesn’t fucking matter because the point remains. I don’t HAVE to be educated in the fine points when it’s clear that a basic education enlightens one to the erroneous of the entire field.

    Rather than complain about not understanding how water memory works and how ignorant we are of the literature they have to show that it fucking works.

    It’s basically complaining to someone on how they failed to fix your car, engine still won’t turn over and them replying back “Hey whose the mechanic here?” It doesn’t matter if he allegedly knows more about cars because the car still fucking doesn’t run!

  41. janine says

    If I may humbly present one of the great things that came out of The University Of Chicago in recent decades: The Baffler.

    It was also the fine hospital that took care of , my brother when he had a tumor in his head.

    And back in the nineties, there was a fun queer community there. And it overlapped with DePaul. Though now I am too old to be hanging out with college students, I am sure it is still vibrant.

  42. says

    One thing I am appreciative for the brief flirtation I had with buddhism is introducing the idea of pushing any question back at least one step.

    What is god like->Is there a god
    What can we do about global warming-> is there global warming?
    what should we do about welfare fraud->is welfare fraud a problem?
    How do we deal with the national debt->do we need to deal with the national debt

  43. richarddawkins says

    The Courtier’s Reply is perfect. Why would one study Duns Scotus and Christian theology, any more than the fine details and niceties of Kikuyu theology, Zulu theology, !Kung San theology, Tasmanian aboriginal theology, Inuit theology, Samoan theology, Viking theology, Yanomamo theology?

    Eagleton’s criticism is truly fatuous: “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.”

    There is a huge difference between ignorance of theology and ignorance of biology. Biology is a subject: the study of real living creatures, their anatomy, physiology, cell biology, biochemistry, behaviour, ecology, evolution, geographical distribution, palaeontology, genetics, classification and so on and on. You could spend a lifetime studying the details of what is known about any one of those branches of biology and still come back for more. Theology is the study of literally nothing, at least until a theologian comes up with something. The onus is on theologians to show that theirs is a subject at all. I have never seen the smallest evidence in favour of the claim.

  44. davem says

    Yes, there is merit in Eagleton’s response to Dawkins. PZ doesn’t like it, perhaps because he has no response to Eagleton.

    Really? Then tell us what merit it has, please, because I don’t see any, and I rather think I’m not alone in that around here. I think the Courtier’s reply (and now the elephant’s toenails) are the perfect response. In the much grander question ‘does God exist?’ these philosophers are merely bloviating, already having assumed the very premise for which they argue. Simple logic dismisses all their arguments.

  45. says

    Particularly amusing is seeing Hoffman decry MacDonald’s knowledge of religion. ‘Cos it’s not like a priest of the literate sort knows anything about the theory and practice of religion.

  46. raven says

    As several commenters have pointed out, theology is a lot like a Star Trekkie convention.

    You spend endless hours discussing the details of what, at the end of the day, is a work of fiction.

  47. Happiestsadist says

    And at least the Trekkies only get into stupid feuds among each other and leave the non-believers out of it.

  48. bruceh says

    Here’s my comment on Hoffman’s blog. We’ll see if it emerges from moderation.

    Hoffman has rung the death knell of the New Atheism far too early. How easy it is to simply declare victory and walk away from the battlefield, and how foolish. Will he write this piece again next year when the players have so rudely refused to quit the stage?

    Coyne is right to pan the idea of “scientism.” Science is the process of rigorously evaluating evidence to arrive at natural truths: that the Earth revolves around the Sun, or that populations evolve over time so that one organism can be clearly seen to have been derived from a previous, similar organism. There’s no claim to a higher “truth” such as we see in esoteric ramblings about angels dancing on pins. Nor are there Faustian bargains or Pascalian wagers that sacrifice validity in the service of higher “truths”. There is only relentless examination of evidence and the pursuits thereof, regardless of personal feelings of where that evidence may lead.

    For all the tortured and convoluted subtleties of Hume’s and Aquinas’ vaunted theologies, they have failed to justify the basic premise: is it true? The New Atheists (An unfortunate term, as it is not all that new.) apply the scientific method to such claims, and in every case, find them wanting. Before one can pontificate on the nature of angels, one must first establish that angels (or gods) in fact exist. None have been able to do this conclusively and definitively, and it is this point the New Atheists emphasize.

  49. says

    Ing:

    Off Topic: Is it is seen as very annoying amongst other bisexuals to be rounded up to gay/straight based on current or long term partner? It bugs me

    Yes, it’s annoying. Very much so.

  50. richarddawkins says

    I don’t know who Hoffman is, but how CAN he describe Sam Harris as ‘singularly incoherent’? Whether you agree with Sam or not, I don’t see how you could deny that he is one of the most coherently clear and forceful writers around.

  51. anteprepro says

    It comes across as a way of saying “I don’t know anything about religion, but that is no problem.”…
    Yes, there is merit in Eagleton’s response to Dawkins. PZ doesn’t like it, perhaps because he has no response to Eagleton.

    Still awaiting that Sophisticated Theology that it is inexcusable for atheists to be ignorant of. It simply must exist, given how often atheists and theists alike assume that it exists. Where are these best cases for the existence of God? Where are these grand arguments that fully justify religion as it is popularly practiced? I want to see these super-secret philosophical gems so badly, yet all I ever got in response to matter is bluster or reference to arguments that would clearly be deemed Unsophisticated by anyone who looked into it for more than five minutes. So far, the only thing that seems to truly separate Sophisticated Theology from layman theology is wordiness. And as long as that remains the case, calling the appeal to Sophisticated Theology “The Courtier’s Reply” remains legitimate.

  52. anteprepro says

    FYI bruceh: Hume was a more atheistic philosopher, focusing on skepticism and empiricism. One of the things he is most popular for is showing that it is impossible to logically regard miracles as actual miracles, given that failure of the senses or someone lying about witnessing a miracle is always more probable than a violation of nature. He also argued against the design argument. He never (as far as I know) assumed that God existed or made an argument on behalf of the idea that God existed. He was no theologian.

  53. says

    As several commenters have pointed out, theology is a lot like a Star Trekkie convention.

    You spend endless hours discussing the details of what, at the end of the day, is a work of fiction.

    Not entirely true. Trekkies can actually point to what people said, what the WOG is on a subject and what the facts were to make an argument. If something conflicts it is a problem and up to the franchise holders to fix (like Gene saying ST5 was out of canon). You can’t just take one thing Spock says OOC and use it to insist that’s Spock’s whole character because people will call BS on it.

    Many Trekkies also bitch when the holy text breaks logic or continuity rather than insist the reader is wrong.

  54. says

    And back in the nineties, there was a fun queer community there.

    That reminded me:

    Christina exemplifies in her work the increasing influence of [sic] LGBTU (Only one vowel? Seems discriminatory) trend toward identifying atheism and humanism with victimization and social marginalization.

    In other words, “Damn these non-white non-heterosexual non-men horning in on a movement that was OURS! We’re the real humans!”

    She can be amusing, but needs to take on some serious issues, such as why radical feminism and lesbianism are often perceived to be anti science

    [Here in this condescending sentence he links to a silly-looking book about women’s studies programs whose authors are not gnu atheists to the best of my knowledge. I don’t know what if anything they say about lesbianism or what sense could be made of a claim that lesbianism is anti-science.] But no one needs to take on the alleged “issue” of why gender or race or sexual or class stratification has historically been cloaked in the mantle of science, or why atheists aren’t immune to a bias toward maintaining these ideologies and inequalities.

    when new atheism is purely devoted to

    Here he makes a claim about an entire movement, evidence be damned.

    an evolutionary model that, frankly, is not friendly to special pleading for biological exceptionalism based on sex.

    Why do I get the sense Hoffmann’s obliquely referring to his own ideological devotion here? (How on earth could lesbianism be defined as “biological exceptionalism based on sex”?)

    Didn’t understand that sentence? You need to.

    Oh, I understand plenty. You’re a sad, petty, spiteful, nasty, mean-spirited, muddleheaded, insecure man.

  55. raven says

    And at least the Trekkies only get into stupid feuds among each other and leave the non-believers out of it.

    So true.

    They have yet to launch a crusade and kill a few million people. Or even start a war with the Jedi knights.

  56. says

    Scientism is the belief that “science” is a supervening mode of knowing that can be imposed willy nilly on other disciplines whose methods have had a different organic evolution, yet methods normally just as true to their subject matter as biology, for example, has been to its own. Most of the concrete results in historical studies biblical studies, the history of religion, textual studies (paleography), linguistics and assorted disciplines have been based on methods specific to their objects.

    Yes – those would be scientific methods.

    Why would anyone take this pompous clown seriously?

  57. janine says

    Christina exemplifies in her work the increasing influence of [sic] LGBTU (Only one vowel? Seems discriminatory) trend toward identifying atheism and humanism with victimization and social marginalization.

    In other words, “Damn these non-white non-heterosexual non-men horning in on a movement that was OURS! We’re the real humans!”

    It is the fucking height of wit to imply that people who work for civil rights are not inclusive enough. That they are simply hypocrites and dismissed offhand.

  58. says

    She can be amusing, but needs to take on some serious issues, such as why radical feminism and lesbianism are often perceived to be anti science

    Addressing how people are bigoted and dismissive towards women and gays is what she’s doing isn’t it?

    Or does he mean that they are anti-science?

  59. dogfightwithdogma says

    Thank you PZ for introducing me to two more brilliant and articulate thinkers – MacDonald and Rosenhouse. I have added their blogs to my bookmarked list of favorite blogs. This list already includes you and the others mentioned in this post.

    Hoffman is an intellectual clown. I don’t read him much because so little of what he has to say merits any attention. But I am glad there are those of you who take the time to dismantle and demolish his intellectual buffoonery.

  60. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Wait – how can “lesbianism” be pro or anti anything? It’s just a description of a state. God, he’s so twisted up in this weird rage he can’t even write without making bizarre category errors.

  61. says

    Is 54 (and 47) really Richard Dawkins? I would think Richard would know who Hoffmann is, since Richard is familiar with the Center for Inquiry, and Hoffmann was its VP for a time.

  62. gravityisjustatheory says

    Actually to bring in an analogy using Trek

    Say a captain (like Janeway) allows a race to die out from an invasion by a genocidal alien threat. They seeing their enemy were alien made a desperate guess and sent out an SOS in hopes that other aliens might pick it up and help. Janeway chooses to under the prime directive refuse to help and lets them die.

    Now you can argue over the exact intricacies of the PD, digging up the old examples or the lawyers explaining the meaning of it all day and bring in philosophical and moral arguments to whether it was or wasn’t valid to break it…except the real problem is that the PD wasn’t in effect. The invaders were a warp capable race, removing them from the restriction, and the invadees specifically asked for help.

    Theology meanwhile is arguing over the PD when someone takes a dump on the bridge.

    Surely the best comparison to theology and the Courtier’s Reply would be someone saying that until you have studied this case and understood all the finer points of the Prime Directive, you are in no position to claim that Star Trek is just a story.

  63. says

    The real success story of the new atheism is that it was bought and sold after being intellectually panned by almost all the cognoscenti who weren’t atheist activists.

    Hard to believe there are people who use the word cognoscenti unironically.

    In fact, as the circle closed around a tightly knit cadre of God-opposers, opposing God became virtually the sole criterion for what, in their parochial view, counted for anthropology, archaeology, sociology and the study of religion–about which all of the four (check the footnotes) were blissfully ignorant.

    Hoffmann appears to be blissfully ignorant that these disciplines are, if practiced honestly, potentially more corrosive to religious belief than the natural sciences.

  64. says

    Anyway…I know Hoffmann slightly, from the 2 1/2 weeks I spent at CFI in 2007. He’s really not stupid (as some have said). The way he’s carrying on is stupid, but he’s not. On the contrary.

    But this recurring display of personal spite and malice is…bizarre. It’s not as if Paul Kurtz is going to stop funding his Jesus Project if he fails to produce one of these generalized indictments every week or two, so what does he do it for? Sheer pleasure? Well, maybe…but then he has to put up with Steph drooling on him again, and I know for a fact that he doesn’t take pleasure in that. Strange.

  65. Sastra says

    She can be amusing, but needs to take on some serious issues, such as why radical feminism and lesbianism are often perceived to be anti science

    Hoffman cannot have read much of Greta Christina: one of her common themes is her frustration that many ‘liberal’ groups are either filled with unscientific woo or hostile against atheism. IIRC, there was even a specific post on the LGBT community’s unfortunate tendency to adopt “spirituality” as one of their defining values.

  66. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    It is truly bizarre. Did anyone else notice that he lists a bunch of people as shitheads whom he used to like or thinks are worth listening to on some subjects (Ophelia, Jason Rosenhouse, etc.)? Why doesn’t it occur to him that if so very many people he might have once counted as colleagues are suddenly The Most Vile Things Ever that it might be him, not them, with a problem? Is this the way he treats actual colleagues in his professional life? His rancor is, frankly, shocking. No, I’m not making a tone argument, he just doesn’t have any facts to back up the libelous and untrue things he says about the people he dislikes. But the pure viciousness is breathtaking.

  67. says

    Hoffman cannot have read much of Greta Christina: one of her common themes is her frustration that many ‘liberal’ groups are either filled with unscientific woo or hostile against atheism.

    That’s true about her work, but read in context (including his link) that can’t be what Hoffmann’s getting at. His sentences and the book he links to (and its authors) aren’t saying anything about “liberal” groups – feminist, LGBT, or whatever – being antiscience in that sense.

  68. Sastra says

    Here is what Hoffman argues against:

    The paradigmatic shift from detente to full scale assault against religion as an undifferentiated mass of human error and superstitious thinking belongs to him: Why should we live with ideas that we find absurd and repugnant, or indulge people who fantasize the truth of their beliefs into norms that other people ought to follow? Gloves off, me hearties: Error should be resisted, countered, argued against, corrected, defeated–not coddled.

    Ok, fair enough. Now let me figure out what Hoffman thinks is the better course:

    “We should either live with ideas we find absurd and repugnant or figure out ways that they’re neither. We should indulge people who fantasize their beliefs into norms that other people ought to follow. Put the gloves on: error should not be resisted, countered, argued against, corrected, or defeated: coddle it.”

    Somehow, I don’t think Hoffman would really truly endorse this anti-new-atheism interpretation. He can’t really be in favor of refusing to correct error: he’s a scholar, and an atheist scholar, and associated with atheist organizations. But clearly there’s something about being so …. clear … that bothers the heck out of him. Too much panache perhaps. Too much focus on whether God exists. Let’s get into the heads of believers and try to sympathetically consider where they are coming from. Yes, they’re wrong, but…

    All Hoffman’s columns seem to be continuations of that “Yes, theists are wrong, BUT…”

    As if that first part is no longer an issue we need be passionate about.

  69. Sastra says

    SC #72 wrote:

    That’s true about her work, but read in context (including his link) that can’t be what Hoffmann’s getting at. His sentences and the book he links to (and its authors) aren’t saying anything about “liberal” groups – feminist, LGBT, or whatever – being antiscience in that sense.

    Yes, I failed to follow the link and should have. Some of the anti-science and bad science in “Women’s Studies” have been examined in skeptical magazines so I assume he’s castigating Greta for failing to address this issue directly. Why not simply suggest it? It’s a silly criticism, I think.

    Would he accept that Ophelia Benson (a gnu atheist) has talked adequately about some of the biological exceptionalism nonsense in Women’s Studies (i.e. “difference feminism?”) Or are the gnus all individually responsible for not being each other?

  70. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Ophelia Benson@69,
    It would seem to bring up the age-old question: Does Xtianity attract stupid people, or does it actively make you stupider?

    Your defense of Hoffman would seem to argue for the latter. Beliefs have consequences. Belief in absurdities has absurd consequences.

  71. ChasCPeterson says

    One wonders what (die passive voice die)

    That’s active voice. Vent your rage against the indefinite third-person pronoun instead.

  72. okstop says

    (long time reader, first time poster. hi!)

    Since everyone else is taking a whack at it, I might as well join in. carbonbasedlifeform, I’ll explain it to you the way I explain it to my classes:

    If all the arguments in domain (A) depend upon the truth of some premise (p1) (say, in this case, the existence of God as envisioned by the Christians), then if you have good reasons to reject (p), you can stop right there. You don’t need to know any of the other premises (p2…pn) of any of the arguments (A1…An), since they all require a premise you have already rejected (p1) to support whatever conclusions it is they reach.

    That’s it. That’s the Courtier’s Reply in a nutshell.

    The only time the Courtier’s Reply does not apply is to arguments for (p1) specifically. Those must be engaged directly. Arguments for any other conclusion, so long as they depend on (p1), can be dismissed out of hand until a convincing argument for (p1) is given.

    Part of the problem may be that Eagleton is in the business of hermeneutics not analysis. That is to say, he judges frameworks of explanation not by their predictive power, but by the degree to which they provide a satisfying account of the subject – in this case, the world entire. Eagleton urges deeper familiarity with the details of various theologians because he takes it that without seeing the whole picture, one cannot judge the value of the picture being painted, as it were. In this he is correct, but the point is irrelevant if one is looking for truth rather than a sort of aesthetically-pleasing coherence. Conspiracy theories are coherent, often more so than any honest recounting of the details of certain events, but they are rarely true. Eagleton is talking past people like PZ, in essence, because his epistemic desideratum is not truth at all (something he might or might not admit to – many in his tradition are open about their apathy regarding “truth,” as they like to call it). Needless to say, I’m with PZ on this one. There is value to having a coherent picture of the world in which we live, but it does not trump the value of truth.

  73. says

    Would he accept that Ophelia Benson (a gnu atheist) has talked adequately about some of the biological exceptionalism nonsense in Women’s Studies (i.e. “difference feminism?”)

    Even here, though, you’re giving him too much credit. First, because difference feminism does not characterize all of Women’s Studies. Second, because he’s implying that, because she’s a feminist, GC is a “radical feminist” or a “difference feminist.” Third, because he’s saying something about lesbianism – or at the very least, gay activism – as being anti-science in this same sense.

    What I think he’s up to is this: He’s bothered by gnu atheist voices that are explicitly coming from challenging gay, feminist, minority perspectives, while at the same time continuing to dislike the more “traditional” gnus although he has much in common with them. He can try to stir up arguments amongst gnus by raising disagreements over these subjects while at the same time implicitly supporting the idea that these challenging movements generally are contrary to science (not in the sense that they sometimes reject atheism or can be wooish, but in the sense that their challenges to the reigning ideology and social structure are inherently contrary to the natural order). If that weren’t the case, I don’t think he’d be talking about them opposing “an evolutionary model that, frankly, is not friendly to special pleading for biological exceptionalism based on sex.” The “evolutionary model” embraced by some gnus who oppose these movements is quite friendly to that.

    As I said, though, he’s quite muddleheaded. I’m just seeing the signs of conservatism in his confused phrasing.

  74. says

    I’ve never been happy about the Courtier’s Reply. It comes across as a way of saying “I don’t know anything about religion, but that is no problem.” We claim, quite correctly, that creationist ignorance of evolution is inexcusable in discussing evolution; but ignorance of theology is acceptable in discussing religion. You can’t have it both ways.

    you’re confused (at best). It’s not “having it both ways”, because the ToE stands on well-established, well-evidenced biological principles. It’s only because these basics are already shown to exist and work the way they do that we can move on to the more advanced stages of biology, i.e. evolutionary biology.

    The moment the theologians do the same for their underlying principles, most notably the existence of god, we can move on to discussing advanced theology. Not a moment sooner, though.

    Eagleton’s criticism is truly fatuous: “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.”

    the (unstated, of course; what’s a bit of handwaving, after all? )difference of course being that the birds described therein at least are well-evidenced to exist.

    In other words, “Damn these non-white non-heterosexual non-men horning in on a movement that was OURS! We’re the real humans!”

    QFT; sounds btw exactly the same as the whining about atheists “diminishing” the diversity of the skeptics movement by… including more diversity but all being atheists.

    She can be amusing, but needs to take on some serious issues, such as why radical feminism and lesbianism are often perceived to be anti science

    the fact that Greta is neither a radical feminist nor a lesbian aside, how the everglorious fuck can a sexual orientation be “anti-science”?!

    Hoffmann appears to be blissfully ignorant that these disciplines are, if practiced honestly, potentially more corrosive to religious belief than the natural sciences.

    QFT

  75. says

    If being a scholar of Christianity had any meaning, then Hoffmann would understand that the Christianity that the Gnus are fighting against is the stuff that real live Christians by the tens and hundreds of millions actually believe. His version of Christianity, the one based on “sophisticated theology” is studied by him and his few colleagues and believed in by even fewer people. We need pay no more attention to his strawman Christianity than we need to focus on every microcult or idol-worshiping tribe in darkest Bumfuck rain forest.

    And, as always, I’ll take these “sophisticated theology” clowns even slightly seriously at the very moment that they insist on 1/100th the scholarship from believers that they demand from nonbelievers. How can we take seriously people who think it is OK to believe outrageous claims on zero evidence, but that you have to get degrees in theology, philosophy, and history and read thousands of books before it is acceptable to even question those claims? Isn’t that exactly backwards?

  76. caveatimperator says

    Another thing I’ve seen among supporters of “sophisticated theology” is their utter refusal to present the arguments of the theologians instead of merely telling us to read certain books. In the sciences, ideas are independent of the people who first came up with them or support them, and I’ve observed that supporters of scientific inquiry are perfectly willing to sum up another person’s argument if it can be simplified. Since supporters of sophistimicated theology hardly ever seem to, I’m inclined to think they either just want to stall and obfuscate instead of actually exchanging ideas, or they don’t even understand the arguments themselves. (Long time lurker, first post. Don’t kill me :P )

  77. says

    caveatimperator, the point is not to actually share any information by suggesting The Reading List That Never Ends. It is to delegitimize critics, and it is a stalling tactic. It says “You didn’t bother to read this book, so why are you talking at all? Shut up and know your place!” And then if you bother to read the book, they’ve got you shut up for a couple of weeks… and when you’re done they’ll ignore your criticisms and tell you to read yet another book that will explain everything that you found wrong with the first book.

  78. GodotIsWaiting4U says

    “A moral nihilist who once destroyed a cracker.”

    Any time I ever show Pharyngula to anyone from now on, this is how I will describe you to them.

  79. imthegenieicandoanything says

    Again, I’ll get indignant enough to actually read this sad. little twerp once I have no need to answer one simple question:

    Who?

  80. zb24601 says

    It seems that R is saying that the new atheists haven’t even visited the tenth floor of the house of cards before complaining that the foundation of the house is unstable.

    I don’t care what is derived from their premises if their premises are not true. No matter how interesting or clever it might be, it is just fiction.

    Convince me of the truth of your claim (your god exist) then we can talk about the theology build on top of that claim. If you can’t convince me of the truth of you claim, I don’t need to hear about the theology built on top of it.

    Reading R’s post, I don’t think he can get the point of what he reads unless he already agrees with it.

  81. Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne says

    Improbable Joe wrote:

    And then if you bother to read the book, they’ve got you shut up for a couple of weeks… and when you’re done they’ll ignore your criticisms and tell you to read yet another book that will explain everything that you found wrong with the first book.

    Indeed. It’s like Zeno’s paradox of Achilles and the tortoise – by the time you finish reading the latest book of apologetics and point out its fatal flaws (get a step closer), another has been written that theologians and their Hoffmanesque faitheist bootlickers insist is the definitive work on the topic (tortoise has moved).

  82. Azkyroth says

    I’ve never been happy about the Courtier’s Reply. It comes across as a way of saying “I don’t know anything about religion, but that is no problem.” We claim, quite correctly, that creationist ignorance of evolution is inexcusable in discussing evolution; but ignorance of theology is acceptable in discussing religion. You can’t have it both ways.

    If there was no evidence that life even existed in the first place but a great deal of speculation about its nature and development, then theologians could be excused for disregarding the latter.

  83. capnxtreme says

    caveatimperator, Improbable Joe:

    Now that’s something to think about! It hadn’t actually occurred to me until I read this blog post, I never really understood the Courtier’s Reply. If I want to educate myself on what’s actually happening out there, I can turn to the abundance of peer reviewed publications in libraries or on the internet about evolution, cosmology, and what have you, regardless of who authored them. Now if I want to read about religion, I’m instructed to turn to ‘x‘ by this author or ‘y‘ by that author. It’s always a different book by some self-proclaimed expert in their (almost without exception, non-scientific) field. As long as I haven’t read every amateur rebuttal of Dawkins or all the halfassed pseudo-proofs of god’s existence, I’m unworthy to criticize.

    I’d be a lot more open to the idea of god’s existence if it were quantified, tested, and the results published in a peer review environment with plenty of quality control. You know, like all those scientific theories and hypotheses. All I see is a bunch of supposition and just-so explanations puffed up by apologists and yes-men. A shameless stalling tactic, indeed.

  84. frankb says

    who once destroyed a cracker

    PZ’s greatest claim to fame.

    Sophisticated theology is Hoffman’s livelihood. He is just trying to keep his poor orphaned kids fed.

    Improbable Joe has a good point about believers having a free pass to believe crap but critics have to pass a test to criticize same. The explanation is that believes are paying good money and critics are threatening to take it away.

  85. Azkyroth says

    FYI bruceh: Hume was a more atheistic philosopher, focusing on skepticism and empiricism. One of the things he is most popular for is showing that it is impossible to logically regard miracles as actual miracles, given that failure of the senses or someone lying about witnessing a miracle is always more probable than a violation of nature. He also argued against the design argument. He never (as far as I know) assumed that God existed or made an argument on behalf of the idea that God existed. He was no theologian.

    On the other hand, he came up with an idiotic and contrived argument for considering masturbation unethical from a secular perspective. I assume that’s why the religionists like him.

  86. Azkyroth says

    what’s “difference feminism”? is that like gender essentialism?

    My understanding is that “difference feminism” is essentially uncritically swallowing the patriarchal gender myths but neutralizing or reversing the value judgments – IE, “Well, yes, men ARE better at logic, but so what? Logic is a cold, heartless thing that’s done way more harm than good to the world – just look at pollution and nukular bombs!”

  87. says

    I’ve wondered why all these “Old Atheists” carp on and on about the “sophisticated theology” without ever presenting a single shred of it… and a reason just came to me.

    In science(from a non-scientist’s POV), your peer-reviewed papers start with an abstract. There’s your clear, concise description of what’s contained within the paper. “Here’s what we looked at, here’s how we looked at it, here’s what we found, here’s how we interpret it.” Then the paper goes into detail as to those issues. The clever bits, where they exist, are found in the experiments and the interpretation. Mostly not so very clever though… the soundness of the experiments and observations are what count.

    With theology, there’s no experiment or observation. What are you left with? Cleverness, of course. Often if not always clever restatements of old ideas. Look at William Lane Craig, most famous for restating a version of the cosmological argument that has been around for almost 1000 years, give or take a bit. But he twisted the wording around to hide some of the more obvious flaws, for which he’s become a famous theologian… that and being a gigantic clown. :) There’s no substance of any real merit, because he’s just juggling imaginary concepts around in slightly novel ways, but he’s awfully damned clever.

    This is why I think we can’t get a straight answer from theologians or theology-friendly philosophers: if you strip out the clever linguistic tricks, we’re left with the same tired nonsense. I’m guessing that if you bothered to read any of the stuff on The Reading List That Never Ends, you’d react to 95% of it with “oh, that’s just TAG mixed with Kalam, held together by Pascal’s Wager!” or something similar. They just hope you never read the books, or if you do you’re drowned in the big-word bullshit. They sure as hell don’t want to let us in on what’s actually in any of those books, because THEY know it isn’t convincing too. It is just clever.

  88. Azkyroth says

    For that matter, am I the only one who finds the suggestion that I might not be able to cope with a properly punctuated (including paragraph breaks) and coherent but “long”ish comment vaguely insulting?

  89. evodevo says

    I have read a few things by RJH in the past – useful for arguing history of theology with a believer, but I think raven said it best – in the end you are arguing the finer points of a work of fiction.

  90. says

    For that matter, am I the only one who finds the suggestion that I might not be able to cope with a properly punctuated (including paragraph breaks) and coherent but “long”ish comment vaguely insulting?

    Um,…

  91. Steersman says

    Dianne said (#3):

    It is rumored that the first successful chain reaction occurred underneath what is now the main library at U of C, though I’m inclined to think that that’s just confabulation.

    No, I think you were right the first time (#2), more or less as nuclear power isn’t always used unwisely or unnecessarily:

    Chicago Pile-1 (CP-1) was the world’s first human-made nuclear reactor. CP-1 was built on a racquets court, under the abandoned west stands of the original Alonzo Stagg Field stadium, at the University of Chicago. The first artificial, self-sustaining, nuclear chain reaction was initiated within CP-1, on December 2, 1942. The pile produced just 1/2 watts of power.

  92. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    It was a good essay, Improbable Joe. You said something interesting and gave evidence to support your thesis.

  93. Pan says

    Hitchens: The only true intellectual of the group.

    Sorry, none of us can win R.’s affection. He seems to like his atheists dead.

  94. Steersman says

    evodevo said (#106):

    … but I think raven said it best – in the end you are arguing the finer points of a work of fiction.

    Exactly. It certainly seems that RJH – who appears to be rather peeved at RD, EMD, JAC, JR, OB, GC, PZM, et al., and generally without cause – recognizes the differences between fiction and fantasy and reality – presumably he isn’t likely to be thinking that another of Twain’s works, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, is the latter. But it also seems that he really doesn’t recognize that a great many of the religious – particularly in America and, in case he hasn’t noticed, an increasing number of Muslims in that bastion of English culture, Britain – most certainly do not – and the consequences are anything but trivial, in spite of his apparent thoughts to the contrary.

    And if that weren’t the case then there would most likely be no necessity for various atheists and secular humanists – apparently in his view mostly benighted sots in the colonies – to be raising alarms and drawing lines in the sand. One might suggest that he needs to get out of his ivory tower more often.

  95. says

    in case he hasn’t noticed, an increasing number of Muslims in that bastion of English culture, Britain – most certainly do not

    He’s noticed! He wrote the foreword to Ibn Warraq’s Why I Am Not a Muslim.

  96. Steersman says

    Ophelia Benson said (#113):

    He’s noticed! He wrote the foreword to Ibn Warraq’s Why I Am Not a Muslim.

    Yes, and as you noted on Eric MacDonald’s site, “It makes no sense”. I’ll have to take a look for that book, but I get the impression of him “fiddling while Rome burns”, while some of the core principles of democracy and the Enlightenment are being threatened by the real prospects of Christian or Islamic theocracies.

  97. says

    Religion is not a monolithic topic; most concerns about religion’s role have nothing to do with the study of religion. Who the hell needs anything other than a functioning brain to think that it’s a concern that religions codify and propagate bigotry? Who the hell needs anything other than a functioning brain to see that religions metaphysical claims hold no more weight than Harry Potter’s? Who the hell needs anything other than a functioning brain to see the conflict between faith and the way faith is used to elevate individuals and manipulate others?

    Sounds more like an obfuscation than an elucidation!

  98. says

    A lot of these criticisms seem like complaining that critics are studying astronomy and astrophysics and psychology in order to dismiss astrology, while they could spend just a bit of time and effort and alleviate their own ignorance by delving head-first into the study of astrology. These “scientistic” people who think they can just dismiss astrology because science says that stars move irrespective to the whims of people, that people project patterns, and there’s no tangible link between our lives and the stars beyond such projection – they’re the ones giving non-astrologers a bad name.

    Could they even explain what Pluto moving into Capricorn means*? Thought not…

    *according to one astrologer I listened to, it meant the GFC

  99. says

    DAWKINS
    ‘Eagleton’s criticism is truly fatuous: “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.”’

    CARR
    This is the most blatant admission by Eagleton that the game is over.

    This is the most blatant admission by Eagleton there is no divinely inspired Book of British Birds, inspired by the being who designed Birds and wrote a manual on how people and birds should live their lives.

    This is the most blatant admission by Eagleton that the sophisticated theologians who claim that their Book of British Birds is compulsory for the survival of Western Civilisation are wrong, and that theologians who rely on the Book of British Birds for their subject matter are time-wasters.

    As for Hitchens being the only true intellectual of the group, of course he is.

    They guy is dead. The only good atheist is a dead atheist.

    As Hitchens has died, he has now joined the group of Old Atheists, who far outshone the New Atheists.

  100. bnerd says

    Ah yes, the “you haven’t read these people yet” argument. How original….. In all seriousness, I find it intriguing that people like Hoffman only seem to use that argument in relation to non-believers. How many times do you see a “scholar of Christianity” tell somebody who might be contemplating belief in Christianity (or any other religion) point them in the direction of some vast library of dusty old theological treatises? Never. Eagleton wouldn’t tell somebody like that to read Aquinas first. But apparently WE need to have read him in order to come to the conclusion that Christianity (or other religions) are a pile of horseshit? Please. It’s intellectual snobbery at its apex. 99/9% of believers have not and will not crack open a work by Augustine. Why? Because belief doesn’t work like that for most people. Simplicity wins the day for the masses; especially in matters of religion. What we attack is what most people believe about God and their religion of (non)choosing; not what a few academics with their heads up their asses think. Sophisticated theologians are the equivalent of a guy who uses duct tape to fix a leak and thinks it’ll hold forever. The problem is still there and needs to be looked at; you just put a small, unsustainable barrier up to keep it from warping the hardwood floors beneath the sink.

  101. says

    This is the most blatant admission by Eagleton that the game is over.

    This is the most blatant admission by Eagleton there is no divinely inspired Book of British Birds, inspired by the being who designed Birds and wrote a manual on how people and birds should live their lives.

    Yep. It’s either a really bad diversion tactic, or completely undermines the majority of belief out there. If it’s the former, it’s deceptive and should be condemned. If it’s the latter, then they should be standing side by side with the “new atheists” rallying against bad theology.

    When it comes down to the bible being the inspired or even inerrant word of God, what relevance does it make what anyone’s done with it? Are we talking about the inspired or even inerrant word of God? If not, then try singing it from the rooftops instead of going after the people who do.

  102. says

    I tried to post this at the New Oxonian but either comments are checked prior to publishing or the site is buggy. I thought I may as well make the point here.

    Well done for debunking that “Who made God?” argument…  Oh wait – you didn’t, did you?  Like all “sophisticated” commenters I have read, you just vaguely allude to the fact that you outgrew it or somehow put it away as childish.

    Postulating an omnipotent, intelligent being who requires no explanation in order to explain something for which we have no explanation is laughable.  It explains precisely nothing and is circular.  If nothing else, its lack of parsimony requires some very good supporting evidence.  Pointing this out is one of the strongest arguments against  religious claims.  If you have anything to refute this other than the fact that you have personally managed to ignore it, please enlighten us.

    Apple is definitely my favourite fruit pie filling.  It is alive and well in England!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/maryhenrysproperappl_67463

  103. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    R. Joey is quite peeved at the gnu atheists. We’re not giving him and the other Old Atheists™ the deference he thinks he and his lot deserve.

  104. jalyth says

    Azkyroth @105 — It’s not about you “coping”, it’s about the writer being humble enough to recognize that they may have taken up your time and/or screen space. I generally appreciate the acknowledgement that someone wrote quite a bit. Especially since I find (as a lurker, mostly) that the ones who don’t care are arrogant/trolling/insane/wrong/godding.

  105. says

    R. Joey is quite peeved at the gnu atheists. We’re not giving him and the other Old Atheists™ the deference he thinks he and his lot deserve.

    Next we’ll hear how those damn sceptics are cheapening the noble discipline of UFOlogy – and all it has provided the world – by reducing such a glorious and widely-practised pursuit to mere scientism by framing such questions purely in terms of physics and biology and psychology.

  106. says

    I’m not getting the Hume hate. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion seems about as essential reading as one can get on the validity of the god question.

  107. Naked Bunny with a Whip says

    You can’t really dismiss Time Cube until you’ve read everything Gene Ray has to say about it. As far as I know, nobody has won his $10,000 challenge to prove it wrong. Even MIT professors have not won the challenge. So who are you to dismiss Time Cube?