‘Atheism is the new fundamentalism’ by Debate – Intelligence Squared

A live debate is coming up at 6:45 GMT…I think that means in about half an hour. The topic is one that irritates me greatly: “Atheism is the New Fundamentalism”. Arguing for the motion is Richard Harries, former Bishop of Oxford, and Charles Moore. former editor of the Daily Telegraph and The Spectator. I know nothing about either of them. Against the motion, the godless have once again fielded their A team: Richard Dawkins and AC Grayling.

I forecast another rout in favor of the heathenish barbarians with prestigious academic appointments.

It will be streamed live at the intelligence2 site.

People are live-twittering the debate, too — look for the hashtag #iq2atheism.

The final vote in this debate was against the motion, “Atheism is the new fundamentalism,” by 1070 votes to 363. That’s just the audience in attendance; the online vote was even more lopsided, 877 to 35.

My overall opinion was that Grayling was humane, gentle, and thoughtful, and spoke well for humanism. Dawkins provided a good sharp edge with cogent criticisms of the ideas of the theists. He did not stoop to the kinds of ad hominem the theists engaged in in this debate.

On the theist side, Harries was dithering and only brought up tired old claims about atheism…he also got slapped down good when he claimed Dawkins never admitted to any doubt in any of his books, and Dawkins simply cited the title of chapter 4 of The God Delusion: “Why there almost certainly is no god.” Moore was awful, simply a rabid little shitstain. I think he lost the debate right right at the beginning when he made up that analogy of science being like a narrow beam spotlight in a prison camp, with Dawkins as the commandant ordering the prisoners to be shot. He was a genuinely despicable little freak.

The Discovery Institute hates science

There’s no getting around it. I often hear creationists protest “Oh, we love science!”, but then the weird process they describe after that looks nothing like science, and resembles something more like church with lab coats. At least Michael Egnor of the Discovery Institute doesn’t hide his loathing in a rant that has to be read to be believed. Prompted by the hacking of an email server that revealed that climate scientists tend to be rude and crude in their private communications (a fact that does not diminish the science of climate change at all), Egnor goes on a tear, cussing out climatologists and us wicked Darwinists, declaring “war”, demanding a purge, accusing all the various prestigious academies of science of committing fraud, suggesting that science be defunded, and comparing scientists to Mafia dons.

Don’t hold back, Michael. The crazy thoughts will make your cranium explode if you try to bottle them up.

You needed your dose of Sunday morning irony, didn’t you? The sight of a deranged shill for a right-wing propaganda organ complaining about institutionalized biases, and crying out against bad science while supporting creationism, ought to give you your full weekly dosage.

Porn causes tsunamis and earthquakes

Powerful stuff, that porn. The Indonesian Minister of Communication and Information (who must be very smart to have a title like that) has determined that recent natural disasters in his country are a consequence of the ubiquity of pornographic DVDs. His logic is something like this: 1) it is a fact that one can easily buy porn in local markets, and 2) it is a fact that the Padang earthquake killed over a thousand people and that the Aceh tsunami devastated an entire region, therefore 3) it is a fact that the two are causally related. Well, point 3 is a little shaky, but 1 and 2 are so strong it must make up for the absence of a causal relationship. Right? Right?

Anyway, you must all now unplug the internet and go through your magazines and DVDs and dispose of anything that might stir the wrath of gods. I’ll be sorry to see you all go, but it’s better this way than that you all end up drowned or crushed or blown to Oz or something. Unless, of course, you have slightly more rigorous expectations of evidence than the Indonesian Minister of Communication and Information…

(All the trolls should now scurry to hide in their basement while the regulars hang around.)

The University of Minnesota has failed to enshrine racism in its policies!

Katherine Kersten is Minnesota’s own version of Glenn Beck. She’s a ‘columnist’ (literally true, since she is given a regular column to fill with right-wing nonsense) for the Star Tribune, and is a regular embarrassment. She recently aimed her smear-gun at the University of Minnesota, in a deranged tirade that has been picked up by Wing Nut Daily and Hot Air (read the comments at that site for a glimpse of how insane the right wing has become).

What made her so angry? The UM has a program in the college of education called the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative, or TERI. It’s a reasonably routine effort; the college is reevaluating their program, trying to set up appropriate priorities for teacher education, and is churning out documents as various groups wrestle with decisions about what’s important in their programs. Like I say, it’s routine — I’ve had to read lots of this kind of thing as part of the general output of a university bureaucracy — and it’s also a good thing, that university divisions exhibit at least a little introspection and flexibility.

Kersten does not think this is a good thing. She has her own strange view of what the effort is all about.

In a report compiled last summer, the Race, Culture, Class and Gender Task Group at the U’s College of Education and Human Development recommended that aspiring teachers there must repudiate the notion of “the American Dream” in order to obtain the recommendation for licensure required by the Minnesota Board of Teaching. Instead, teacher candidates must embrace — and be prepared to teach our state’s kids — the task force’s own vision of America as an oppressive hellhole: racist, sexist and homophobic.

Except…the report says nothing of the kind. You can read it yourself, if you want, although you probably don’t — it’s written in lumbering, repetitive, earnest Academese, which is a dialect of Bureaucratese, and it isn’t pretty. I get this stuff in my mailbox and it makes me want to claw my eyes out, so it took some masochistic discipline to dig into it voluntarily, but Kersten misrepresents the thing from top to bottom.

There is a grain of truth to what she says: the report does say that we need more emphasis on recognizing and appreciating diversity, and that we need more equitable representation of American culture in the teacher workforce. It does not say that America is an “oppressive hellhole”; that’s her own weird interpretation. She should have looked deeper. Doesn’t the fact that we’re training teachers at all imply that America must be a pit of ignorance and stupidity that needs correcting?

She’s basically taking the blinkered and customary wingnut position that any discussion of how we can improve the country implies that we are currently in a less than sublime state of perfection, which makes any constructive suggestion an unpatriotic act of treason.

This has set the wingnuts on fire. They are complaining bitterly about the goals of the UM college of education.

In an October 28, 2009, proposal to the Minnesota-based Bush Foundation, the college promises that it will revise its curriculum toward the “development of cultural competence.” The college’s full articulation of this vague concept at present is just what the Race, Culture, Class, and Gender Task Group has determined it to be.

Not only that, however, the college in its proposal promises to start screening its applicants to make sure they have the proper “commitments” and “dispositions”:

Develop admission procedures to assess professional commitments.

We recognize that both academic preparation and particular dispositions or professional commitments are needed for effective teaching. [Emphasis in original.]

The college promises that it will begin using “predictive criteria” to make sure that future teachers will be able to develop an acceptable level of “cultural competence”-apparently, those who do not pass the political litmus test and seem too set in their beliefs will never get admitted. This is far worse than what Columbia Teachers College does with its own “dispositions” requirement, and far in excess of what the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) has ever mandated.

Never trust a kook to quote anything. When you see one line extracted from a document, and then spun out into a fable of planned oppression of a political point of view, you know there’s got to be something more that they’re leaving out. In fact, in this case you might be wondering what political views this ‘litmus test’ is intended to exclude…like, no Republicans will ever be allowed to teach again?

Nope. Here’s what they mean by ‘dispositions and commitments’.

Develop admission procedures to assess professional commitments.

We recognize that both academic preparation and particular dispositions or professional commitments are needed for effective teaching. Our school-based partners have told us that they would like to hire beginning teachers who demonstrate the commitment to focus relentlessly on student learning and take responsibility for the learning of all students without seeking excuses in the community, family, and culture of the students. They want teachers who can communicate and collaborate with each other and with the families and communities of their students. In response to our school partners, we will develop admission procedures that identify candidates with the potential to demonstrate these commitments as teachers.

Note the part I put in boldface. That’s what has Kersten incensed, and that is fueling the fear of right-wing reactionaries. They’re saying they want teachers who want to teach, and who do not sit around blaming the failure of students on their race or ethnicity. That’s it. It isn’t a political litmus test at all — it’s saying that bigots who won’t try to teach all of their students equally do not make good teachers.

That’s the sentiment that Kersten, Hot Air, and the Wing Nut Daily find horribly objectionable.

Fundamentally, it’s yet another admission that that (R) after politician’s name has become shorthand for (Racist). Conservative politics has become so tainted with lunatic anti-immigrant, anti-diversity, anti-human policies that a college can’t even say that tolerance and encouragement of the non-white portion of our populations is a good goal to work towards without being accused of being unpatriotic.

It’s not surprising. These are the same people who think Lou Dobbs would make a good president, and who dream of a Beck/Palin candidacy in 2012.

Hitler’s library

This is a fascinating article about Hitler’s library: he was an avid collector and reader, and part of his collection still exists, and you can even stroll down to the Library of Congress and ask to browse through the stockpile. The bulk of the books are about military strategy and tactics, and a subset are Hitler’s personal favorite light reading, cowboy stories. But there are also many religious texts that give insight into the way his mind worked.

Experts since then have been of two minds on the matter of Hitler’s spiritual beliefs. Ian Kershaw argues that Hitler consciously constructed an image of himself as a messianic figure, and eventually came to believe the very myth he had helped to fashion. “The more he succumbed to the allure of his own Führer cult and came to believe in his own myth, the more his judgment became impaired by faith in his own infallibility,” Kershaw writes in The Hitler Myth (1987). But believing in a messianic myth is not the same as believing in God. When I asked Kershaw in 2001 whether he thought Hitler actually believed in divine providence, he dismissed the notion. “I don’t think that he had any real belief in a deity of any sort, only in himself as a ‘man of destiny’ who would bring about Germany’s ‘salvation,'” he declared. Gerhard Weinberg, who helped sort through the Hitler Library back in the 1950s, likewise dismisses the notion of Hitler as a religious believer, insisting that he was driven by the twin passions of Blut und Boden–racial purity and territorial expansion. “He didn’t believe in anything but himself,” Weinberg told me last summer. Most historians tend to agree.

Some non-historians, however, have different views. In the 1960s Friedrich Heer, a prominent and controversial Viennese theologian, identified Hitler as a misguided “Austrian Catholic,” a man whose faith was disastrously misplaced but nevertheless sincere. In a dense, 750-page treatise Heer saw Hitler the Austrian Catholic at every turn: the nine-year-old choirboy catching his first glimpse of a swastika in the coat of arms at the Lambach Monastery; the beer-hall orator whose speeches resound with biblical allusions; the Führer of the Reich who re-created the splendor of the Catholic mass at the annual Nuremberg rally. Even his virulent hatred of Jewry found sustenance in those roots. Fritz Redlich, an eminent Yale psychiatrist, asserts in his book, Hitler: Diagnosis of a Destructive Prophet, that Hitler acted from a profound belief in God. Noting Hitler’s own words “Man kommt um den Gottesbegriff nicht um” (“You cannot get around the concept of God”), Redlich told me last summer that he was certain Hitler believed in a “divine creature.” He rejected suggestions that Hitler’s invocations of the divine were little more than cynical public posturing and insisted that we ought to take Hitler at his word: “In a way, Hitler was a terrible liar, but he was a tactical liar. In his essential line of thinking he was honest.”

I tend to favor the opinion that he was a lousy Catholic…but an even lousier atheist.

An Australian double standard

In March, there’s going to be a massive atheist conference in Melbourne, Australia. It’s going to be excellent, with speakers being brought in from around the world, and with mobs of delighted godless Aussies gathering to celebrate and discuss secularism (I know some of my readers here will be there!) Reasonably enough, the Atheist Organization of Australia has asked the government to chip in and help them do it right with a request for about a quarter million dollars. The government has been dragging its feet, though, punting the request about and making no promises.

Now you might say that times are tough, the economy is down, the government might just be strapped and is cutting corners. In that case, I’d say, OK, we atheists have to do some penny-pinching too, it’s only fair.

But then how to explain the fact that the Australian government just blithely handed over $2.5 million for a religious conference? And has flatly rejected the bid for funding from the atheists?

Government spokesman Luke Enright said: “The decision not to fund this event has nothing to do with religious ideology – the convention just doesn’t meet the criteria required to receive government funding”.

What’s the Australian word for “bullshit”, people?

Pile it higher, Australians!

Reverend Tim Costello, a patron of the world’s religions event, said it was important to support the forum, as “90 per cent of the world is deeply religious”.

“In a global context, most of the world is profoundly religious, and there literally can’t be peace without religious peace,” Mr Costello said.

Have you ever noticed that Christians like to count Communists as atheists when recounting the evils done in the name of that ideology, but whenever they make the argument from popularity, as Costello is doing here, they suddenly forget the Chinese? It’s very strange.

I also think he’s lying. A majority of the world is casually religious, not deeply or profoundly. I’d go further: most of the people in this world are stupidly religious, with ingrained beliefs that they did not acquire through thought or study, but through regular indoctrination from childhood on.

We also will not have peace through religion. Religion is arbitrary, false, and unverifiable; it is a body of ideas with no empirical restraint, that can be freely invented, and in the worst cases, inspire dangerous fanaticism. We will not have peace while religion is uncaged.

It does not matter, though. The fact that atheists are a minority does not argue that they deserve no consideration at all. I thought this was a well understood principle; the danger in a democracy is the tyranny of the majority, and safeguards have to be put in place to protect the rights of minorities. Since Costello is a “reverend”, unfortunately, that probably means he’s an ignorant ass who has never learned anything that matters.

A wicked twist

Michael Young was a nasty old Christian bigot who lived a long life and left his fortune to his relatives. Apparently,though, fundamentalist hate isn’t necessarily heritable, and one of those relatives, who I think is named Anthony Perry, established the Michael Young Fund, and is handing out the money to…well, follow the link. Let’s just say it’s a good thing there is no afterlife, or he’d be seething in even greater torment.

Just to forestall the usual whines, what if this happened to me, and I left money to my kids and one of them used the capital to hand out cash to organizations I disliked? I’d be dead, first of all, so I wouldn’t care; and I would leave what little money have to my kids to do with as they’d like, not as I’d like, so I wouldn’t have grounds to complain anyway.