The disease of education

Lawrence Krauss says a necessary thing. He starts from a campaign argle-bargle by Rick Santorum saying that higher education is bad because it kills faith.

Mr. Santorum views this apparent facet of higher education as a danger, and his proposed solution is simple-less higher education and more faith.

As a faculty member at an institution of higher education, and as a scientist, however, I question the basic premise that loss of faith is a bad thing. If it is true that those who are more educated have a greater tendency to question their religious faith, shouldn’t we consider that this might be telling us more about religious faith than about how harmful getting a college degree can be?

Yes, we should. [Read more…]

More from Opinionista

Opinionista has a fantastic post, reminiscent of Greta Christina’s reasons atheists are angry: “Over It” – The rant of an angry, Agnostic, British, Indo-Pakistani woman of Muslim heritage.

I am over the complete ignorance by Muslims and non Muslims (particularly UK politicians and media) alike of the fact that “Muslim communities” contain non religious, spiritual people like me, as well as Atheist people and Agnostic people.

I am over UK politicians thinking that they will find out what I want by speaking to only bearded self appointed “community leaders”, headscarf donning women (defined only by their modesty or “Muslimness”) or the Sayeeda Warsis of the world who are homophobic, misogynistic and anti-equality. I am not defined by the faith I was born into, nor am I represented by demagogues who wish to win support for their incompetent party leader.

I am over being told that my views are Islamophobic, particularly when I come from a Muslim family, have  a Muslim name and am profiled at the airport every time I fly because of it, regardless of the fact that I’m Agnostic.

I am over being told that my views are offensive. I’m offended by my community’s homophobia, misogyny and racism. This doesn’t mean that I have the right to start burning effigies or chanting “death to ______” or blowing stuff up. Yet people like ME are the ones being called “militant” secularists. When’s the last time a secularist blew stuff up? Secularists do not stunt critique by bursting into Mosques and telling DIY Imams to “be quiet because you’re offending me”. Even if we desperately wish that they would stop spewing their hate.

Read the whole thing!

We mandate no belief

Behold – what Ronald Reagan was able to say in 1984.

We in the United States, above all, must remember that lesson [of the Holocaust], for we were founded as a nation of openness to people of all beliefs. And so we must remain. Our very unity has been strengthened by our pluralism. We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate. All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief.

He also says we’re all of God and the like, slightly undercutting himself, but all the same – good luck finding a Republican talking like that now.

H/t Roger.


What is belief

A stack of interesting comments on the thread about getting it; about whether or not it took; about the feeling of belief. It’s interesting that they all converge, those by people like me who as far as they can tell never got it, and those by people who did get it at some point but then dropped it or flung it away. They all converge on how elusive and rare it is. Of course this isn’t a random sample, to put it mildly, and people who currently get it would produce very different comments. But the idea that this thing is elusive is interesting all the same.

It’s caused me to think that we mostly (we current non-believers) don’t really “believe” things much at all, not in the active, feeling sense that “getting it” is about. That’s not what we do with…what to call it: the furniture in our heads. Data; information; items received. [Read more…]

You can’t win

Richard Dawkins has a very amusing piece about the journalistic take on his discussion with the archishop the other day. One stupid cliché after another, most of them derogatory. Dawkins is a charismatic preacher haw haw; bust-up; ardent atheist – and so on. There was no bust-up, so the audience was in despair – in the imagination of one of the reporters. Dawkins “confessed” to being an agnostic shock-horror; never mind that he said that in the book that triggered all these stupid witticisms.

It’s hard to resist a feeling of “You can’t win”. On the one hand we ‘horsemen’ and ‘new atheists’ are attacked, often aggressively and stridently, for being aggressive and strident. On the other hand, when journalists or religious apologists actually meet us and we turn out to be courteous and civilised, they accuse us of climbing down, “admitting” or “confessing” that we have changed, when actually we are behaving exactly as we always have. They seem to feel let down when they discover that the real people aren’t anything like the way they so relentlessly portray us; as if, since they’ve gone to the trouble of inventing extravagant caricatures of us, we should at least have the decency to live up to them in real life.

Quite. And what is the outrage that prompts all this caricaturing? Atheism. Not child-rape; not human trafficking; not “honour” killing; not selling tainted drugs; not skimping on equipment maintenance such that the Gulf of Mexico turns into an oil dump. Atheism. Not believing in a magic fella in the sky.

Natalie has a post on the same subject (but suggested by a different instantiation of it).

We were chatting in our top secret and amazingly awesome backchannel, full of such incredible wit and delightful banter that you shall never ever know, about how some folks over at an intelligent design website called Uncommon Descent decided to do a bit of a breakdown of the whole Loftus thing, propping it up (in act of unconcealed schadenfreude) as indicative of some kind of big rift or infighting amongst atheists.

Which is a bit tedious and uninformed in that it hasn’t exactly been much of a conflict or controversy at all. No battle lines actually got drawn, nobody was attacking anybody (except in Loftus’ imagination), and there was no grand battle.

Quite. I made a related point the other day when I posted about snide comments on Twitter about this supposed Big Rift. People were drawing big conclusions on the basis of pretty much nothing.

Greta Christina made a really interesting point, though, that got my brain pieces to start doing brain stuff. She pointed out how whenever there’s a disagreement within our community, no matter how minor, people will exploit it to make up stories about “rifts” and “infighting” and “drama”, how we’re a bunch of angry little kids who endlessly squabble amongst ourselves. And then when we do agree with one another, suddenly we’re a “hive mind”, an “echo chamber”, “preaching to the choir”, a “circle jerk”, “silencing dissent”. We’re mocked and attacked for disagreeing with each other, and mocked and attacked for agreeing with one another. A catch-22, no-win, damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation.

Sometimes in the space of one tweet.

It never took

Several of you replied to Julian’s claims about atheists’ deafness to religion by pointing out that most atheists were raised theist by theists so we’re not deaf at all, we’re familiar with the music. It’s a good point, but at the same time – I’m not sure it’s always true. I’m not sure that being raised theist is enough to make one not deaf to religion.

I was nominally raised as a theist, sort of, but it never took. I think I probably am deaf to religion in the sense that Julian had in mind – I think that’s what “it never took” means. I should add that I’m glad to be that kind of deaf, but still – I think Julian is probably right that people like me don’t “get” whatever it is that real believers do get.

I never really believed any of it. I can’t remember the faintest trace of feelings of love for or trust in “God.” Nothing. All sorts of tv cowboys and characters in novels were far more real to me than “God” ever was. This means that I don’t know what it’s like to really believe it. I probably can’t even properly imagine it, because the awareness that I don’t believe it gets in the way, like a filter.

If I’m right about that, though, it could be argued that what Julian is really talking about is credulity. I know, his point was that there’s more to religion than what-is-believed and that it’s the “more” that we’re deaf to – but I don’t think that works. I think if you don’t have the requisite credulity about god then the “more” doesn’t hook you in that way – that intense, felt way whose opposite is deafness.

That looks as if I’m paying myself a compliment for not having credulity, but I’m not, really. It may have been sheer shallowness that saved me. I just preferred the tv cowboys. I’m serious about that: my childhood was made up of pretending to be either tv heroes or characters from for instance The Secret Garden; fantasy all the way.

I did at least know it was fantasy though.

The majority has spoken

A historian named Timothy Messer-Kruse has been doing research on the Haymarket riot and trial of 1886 for the past ten years. He was prompted by a student question about the orthodox version of the trial, which was that the prosecution did not offer evidence connecting any of the defendants with the bombing.

 One of my students raised her hand: “If the trial went on for six weeks and no evidence was presented, what did they talk about all those days?” I’ve been working to answer her question ever since. [Read more…]

Oh they’re all like that

Mark Jones has an excellent post on Julian’s tone piece.

A snippet:

As often when it comes to this sort of accusation, no evidence is linked to support Baggini’s position. To be clear, I don’t doubt that the occasional atheist might make a tone-deaf pronouncement. I object that atheists are characterised as a group with this clumsy stereotype, and I object that the four horsemen, and gnus, are too.)

Yep. Atheists are this, the new atheists are that, the online atheists are the other. And as for the new online atheist bloggers – ! No stereotype can be too stale or too general or too wild for them. They must be destroyed.