Yes and no, and then again maybe

Some people want to have all the things – religion and science, belief and doubt, props for being thoughtful and admiration for being Deeply Spiritual.

Do you struggle with doubt & questions despite your best intentions? What does it mean about someone if he or she admits to both embracing “belief” and “doubt?” How does science impact your thoughts on this issue?  For this Lent we are asking people to go into potentially dangerous (but also liberating) territory, to ask the hard questions about their faith. After all, doesn’t this season of Lent ask us to identify with the struggles of Jesus, including his expressions of doubt in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross?

So during this Lent we are hosting a conversation on this topic with NPR’s Barbara Bradley Hagerty and psychiatrist/author Curt Thompson, M.D. They approach this topic from their common position of being accomplished science writers and Christians. We did not tell them what to say about faith, we only asked them to be honest. One of the biggest sources of challenge, doubt, and excitement in our faith comes from the world of science, so this particular perspective on doubt requires thinkers like Hagerty and Thompson. They will be signing copies of their respective books on faith and science too.

Challenge, doubt, and excitement – only, not real challenge, doubt, and excitement. Not real challenge and doubt that could actually lead somewhere, just the fashionable kind that lets you be both faithy and thoughty, at least in the eyes of people who like that kind of thing.

In other words they don’t mean it. They say it but they don’t mean it. They’re fans of faith, they’re apologists, so they’re not really doing challenge and doubt, they’re just deploying the words. I find that annoying.


Will he never arrive?

Via Ericmore of Julian’s interminable Heathen’s Progress. This one is about tone: not just the tone that “new atheists” use but the allegation that they (we) are tone deaf to religion. Religion is comparable to poetry and pop music. Some people don’t “get” poetry, or pop music, or both. They can’t say anything interesting about either one, because they don’t get them. They’re tone deaf to them. It’s the same with religion.

Right, except that it isn’t. Poetry doesn’t tell everyone what to do. Poetry doesn’t have a billion or more “members” or “believers” or other kinds of belongers. Poetry doesn’t have dogma. Poetry doesn’t have a single “sacred” book that many believers take as god-inspired or god-made, and authoritative, and not-to-be-disobeyed. Poetry doesn’t treat rules invented by a few pastoral men 3 thousand years ago as binding on all of humanity still and forever.

I could go on. I could go on, but you get the idea. It’s all very well, all this “yes but you’re missing the music” line of chat, but religion makes claims on us, huge claims, and that makes mollifying talk about its music 1) beside the point and 2) a dangerous side-track.

But anyway it’s bullshit. It’s like saying that religion is like everything good that humans do – art and sport and wonder and imagination – and that therefore atheists should just stop being atheist in public or else art and sport and wonder and imagination will disappear!!1!

…to say that an abrasive tone is not constructive is to say more than something about a person’s manner of speech. It’s not constructive because it is rooted in a one-dimensional understanding of the phenomenon under discussion. Atheistic tone-deafness misses many of the things I’ve talked about in this series, such as placing mystery at the heart of life, and living with the aid of beneficial rituals and practices. The abrasiveness is not some kind of independent, wilful rudeness that could be smoothed over while keeping the message intact. We talk about people who are rude as being ignorant and more often than not, when someone comes over as too hostile to religion, ignorance is at the root of it, not simply an absence of good manners.

What’s at the root of it when someone comes across as too friendly to religion? What’s at the root of Julian’s tortured back-and-forth yes-but friendliness to religion? I don’t know; I leave it to your artful speculation.

Spot the agenda

The letter to the Guardian cited a survey.

“Muslims deserve a better press than they have been given in the past decade.” And according to a recent ComRes poll, one in three people in Britain today believe that the media is responsible for “whipping up a climate of fear of Islam in the UK”.

The letter calls it a ComRes poll, but that’s just a brand name. What it really is is an Ahmadiyya Muslim Association survey, and to be exact, it’s an Ahmadiyya Muslim Association UK Islamophobia Survey. It’s not an impartial bit of research, it’s an agenda-driven poll.

The poll was commissioned by one of the UK’s oldest Muslim groups, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, in order to inform its plans to counter the tide of prejudice against Islam and highlight strategies to promote better community relations. [Read more…]

These crimes happen everywhere in the world

Speaking of “Islamophobia,” as we were, we can always count on the Guardian for lashings of Islamophilia. David Shariatmadari tells us the University of East Anglia is going to set everyone straight on women, Islam, and the media. I bet you can figure out what’s coming.

Women, Islam and the media are topics often found in close conjunction, and not always in the happiest of circumstances. So in a canny move, the University of East Anglia (UEA), which often gives better-known institutions a run for their money in terms of column inches, has developed a course entitled exactly that.

The 12-week module, which the university claims is the first of its kind in the UK, will cover the often inflammatory topics of veil wearing, arranged marriage and “honour” crimes – looking at how they are portrayed in contemporary film, TV and other media, and how this reflects cultural biases in both the east and west.

Ahhhh yes, those pesky cultural biases in “the west,” the ones that think systematic subordination of women is a bad thing. [Read more…]

You did ask

I was asked what I think of the quotes from the NO God Blog and Al Stefanelli quoted in Chris Stedman’s most recent Letter to the Atheists. Ok; what I think.

The first one is from a post titled “A Point was missed” on what appears to be a blog on the website of American Atheists. It’s not signed. It’s short. It’s dated April 29, 2010. It seems about as random, as an “example” of anything, as one could get. The bit quoted is very badly and stupidly worded; no disagreement there; but so what? I don’t even know who wrote it. I certainly don’t take it as representative of anything. It’s nearly two years old. What on earth is the point of dredging up an old obscure anonymous blog post as part of what is called a “sampling of comments from prominent atheists about Islam and Muslims”? Yes of course you can find people of any point of view or faction or party or any other category, saying stupid things, but what of it? [Read more…]

Heads we win, tails we win

Another vulture licks his filthy chops and suggests that Hitchens may be about to convert to Christianity.

Perhaps Hitchens’s admission that Nietzsche might have been wrong, even about  something small, will lead him to a healthy curiosity about Christianity. Up  until now, Hitchens has had nothing but bile for Christianity and all religion — including the religion of Marxism, which Hitchens, a former leftist, eventually  admitted could not survive “the onslaught of reality.” But Hitchens’s attacks on  religion were always propelled by the kind of fury that one usually finds in  zealots and former believers; it’s always the ex-Catholics (Maureen Dowd, etc.)  who are the hardest on the Church.

Not a bit of it. There are plenty of us never-Catholics who loathe and detest the church and say so loudly and often. Remember the no pope rally last year? Lashings of never-Catholics there. [Read more…]

Religion is about literal doctrines after all

So after weeks of heavy breathing, Julian’s Heathen’s Progress arrives at what we already knew – that believers actually do believe the tenets of their religion.

So what is the headline finding? It is that whatever some might say about religion being more about practice than belief, more praxis than dogma, more about the moral insight of mythos than the factual claims of logos, the vast majority of churchgoing Christians appear to believe orthodox doctrine at pretty much face value. They believe that Jesus is divine, not simply an exceptional human being; that his resurrection was a real, bodily one; that he performed miracles no human being ever could; that he needed to die on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven; and that Jesus is the only way to eternal life. On many of these issues, a significant minority are uncertain but in all cases it is only a small minority who actively disagree, or even just tend to disagree. As for the main reason they go to church, it is not for reflection, spiritual guidance or to be part of a community, but overwhelmingly in order to worship God.

Yes…just as the dread “new” atheists have said all along. Believers who don’t really believe are the minority, not the majority. [Read more…]

BioLogos snares an MIT physicist

Via Sigmund at WEIT, an MIT physicist offers part 1 of a series on “scientism.” Yes really, an MIT physicist. I know, I know.

He (Ian Hutchinson) gives the gist in the first para.

One of the most visible conflicts in current culture is between  “scientism” and religion. Because religious knowledge differs from scientific knowledge, scientism claims (or at least assumes) that it must therefore be inferior. However, there are many other important beliefs, secular as well as religious, which are justified and rational, but not scientific, and therefore marginalized by scientism. And if that is so, then scientism is a ghastly intellectual mistake. [Read more…]

Scraping the barrel

Some fella says Richard Dawkins is bad and stupid and cynical and anti-intellectual because he refuses to debate William Lane Craig.


Well not the bad and stupid part, no, that’s my paraphrase, but it’s not far off; and the rest of it, yes, really.

Richard Dawkins is not alone in his refusal to debate with William Lane Craig. The vice-president of the British Humanist Association (BHA), AC Grayling has also flatly refused to debate Craig, stating that he would rather debate “the existence of fairies and water-nymphs”.

Yes, and? Are they required (morally though not legally) to debate anyone who asks? Are they not allowed to choose?

Given that there isn’t much in the way of serious argumentation in the New Atheists’ dialectical arsenal, it should perhaps come as no surprise that Dawkins and Grayling aren’t exactly queuing up to enter a public forum with an intellectually rigorous theist like Craig to have their views dissected and the inadequacy of their arguments exposed.

Oh, I see; it’s  intellectually rigorous theists that they’re not allowed to refuse to debate. Well there might be something to that, but what makes Daniel Came (he is the fella in question, the one who wrote the Comment is Free Belief piece) think Craig is intellectually rigorous? From what I hear he’s not a bit; what he is is a practiced debater, not a rigorous intellectual.

In his latest undignified rant, Dawkins claims that it is because Craig is “an apologist for genocide” that he won’t share a platform with him. Dawkins is referring to Craig’s defence of God’s commandment in Deuteronomy 20: 15-17 to wipe out the Canannites.

I am disinclined to defend the God of the Old Testament’s infanticide policy. But as a matter of logic, Craig is probably right: if an infinite good is made possible by a finite evil, then it might reasonably be said that that evil has been offset. However, I doubt whether Craig would be guided by logic himself in this regard and conduct infanticide. I doubt, that is, that he would wish it to be adopted as a general moral principle that we should massacre children because they will receive immediate salvation.

No, but he would defend it in the case of “God,” thus defending what ought not to be defended. As for infinite good, since no one can possibly know anything about such a thing,  it’s not very useful as a reason to say “oh well ok then” to wiping out a tribe or a nation. Dawkins is right to be indignant and Daniel Came is wrong to palter in this way.

As a sceptic, I tend to agree with Dawkins’s conclusion regarding the falsehood of theism, but the tactics deployed by him and the other New Atheists, it seems to me, are fundamentally ignoble and potentially harmful to public intellectual life. For there is something cynical, ominously patronising, and anti-intellectualist in their modus operandi, with its implicit assumption that hurling insults is an effective way to influence people’s beliefs about religion. The presumption is that their largely non-academic readership doesn’t care about, or is incapable of, thinking things through; that passion prevails over reason.

That claim might make some sense if Dawkins refused to debate anyone, but of course he does no such thing. He refuses to debate Craig, largely, I believe, because Craig is a dogmatic apologist, not a rational inquirer. You don’t go to William Lane Craig if you’re after thinking things through.

H/t Eric.

Higher bullshitting

Andrew Sullivan thinks “militant atheists” have an excessively crude epistemology. (Via WEIT)

First he tells us how his works.

As to Coyne’s challenge to present a criterion of what is real in the Bible and what is true, I’d argue that empirical claims –   like, say, a census around the time of Christ’s birth, or the rule of Pontius Pilate in Palestine at the time – can be tested empirically. But the Gospels themselves have factually contradictory Nativity and Crucifixion stories…and so scream that these are ways to express something inexpressible – God’s entrance into human history as a human being. [Read more…]