Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
This is a transcript of the speech Richard planned to give at the London Rally on 18th September. As it happened, although about 2000 people were expected, there were about 15,000. This delayed the speeches, so Richard cut his a bit. The speech he actually gave can be seen here and is excellent and powerful despite the cuts. The original one, transcribed below, is a masterpiece.
Miranda was abused by the Catholic church, by her priests and her parents. They indoctrinated her with hateful lies. She spent her childhood drowning in guilt and shame. Even today, having left Catholicism 15 years ago, she feels constant inappropriate guilt about things she no longer regards as sin and a frequent need for absolution. This is perhaps all the worse because of course she cannot now receive absolution. Nobody can tell her what penance to do and it would no longer work anyway. Her expectations have been so conditioned by her abusive upbringing that she cannot easily override these impulses. It upsets her and it upsets her that it upsets her.
In her own words:
Who can deny that this is a form of child abuse?
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Friday, September 17, 2010
It’s a poisonous little article. I actually had to do a mental double-take at the start because I read this:
At the bottom of the scale, the cost of the visit — an estimated 10 million pounds (about 15.4 million U.S. dollars) to British taxpayers — has generated repeated complaints, although such protests are never heard when other heads of state come to Britain.
and thought “you know, that’s a good point. Good on us. We each pick and choose which states we want to officially visit us. Very British. I thought the article had the same tone of congratulation. I thought it was gearing up to point out that we single out the pope in this way because he is the monstrous head of a monstrous organisation. But I gradually realised that Laughland was actually accusing us of hypocrisy.
More seriously, a controversy arose in April after the leak of a joke memo that a junior Foreign Office official had written suggesting that the Pope should bless a gay marriage and open an abortion clinic as part of his official program.
The government offered an apology to the Holy See, but the prank betrayed the sort of ignorant contempt that passes for cleverness in the corridors of power in Britain.
More seriously? In what way is this serious? A random civil servant joked about the pope’s idiotic and hateful views and somehow this is a serious international incident and an indication of British intolerance? Puh-lease. And check out the hyperbole “the corridors of power” indeed. “Ignorant contempt”. The contempt doesn’t seem ignorant to me. It seems informed and intelligent to me. And reasonably comical. And it’s one person. If the joke is not to your personal taste, you can hardly tar the entire civil service, the government or indeed the whole of the UK with the same brush. Which makes it all the more ridiculous that the government issued a simpering apology. Oh, and just for fun note that the article says that the government “offered” an apology, implying that it wasn’t – and presumably shouldn’t – be accepted by the Vatican. Rhetorical games of this kind are becoming quite familiar.
Well, alright, the article is retarded and hateful. It doesn’t seem to care much who it hates, although atheists and homosexuals are in the bullseye. Look at this, for example:
Soon after David Cameron was elected to power, the new “Conservative” prime minister hosted a garden party at 10 Downing Street for the nation’s most prominent homosexuals. This kind of demonstrative support for gays is something not even the progressive Dutch have ever done, and certainly not something a right-wing politician would normally deem necessary.
I don’t know about you, but I’m openly guffawing at the silliness. Are there such things as ‘prominent homosexuals’? Are they prominent and happen to be homosexual or are they more homosexual than anyone else? Can you imagine a garden party full of prominent homosexuals? It sounds awesome. Did this happen? I doubt it. Do I wish it had? Oh my yes.
NOT EVEN THE DUTCH – THE FUCKING *DUTCH* HAVE GARDEN PARTIES FOR GAYS.
I’m sorry. It’s a little childish, but I have to reproduce this:
John Laughland, a British citizen, is studies director at the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation in Paris.
Every part of this seems hilarious.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
One of the pope’s senior advisors, Cardinal Walter Kasper, has pulled out of the pope’s unwanted beano to the UK after saying "when you land at Heathrow you think at times you have landed in a Third World country".
According to ‘Vatican sources’, however, this was not intended as a sleight against Britain. Instead, it was just out and out racism, so obviously that’s perfectly alright:
[Vatican sources] said his "Third World" comment referred to the UK's multicultural society.
I’m not one to throw charges of racism around blithely, but I can see nothing but contempt for non-whites in this statement. It’s the statement of someone who isn’t even aware they are saying something deeply bigoted.
Kasper paused briefly to repeat the old lie that BA bans their employees from wearing religious symbols, as though it would say anything about Britain as a whole even if it weren’t completely made up.
Then he said that the UK is marked by "a new and aggressive atheism". He ha an odd sort of relationship with the truth, this Kasper, in that he wouldn’t recognise if it bit him on the arse.
I wish I didn’t have to keep repeating this, but there’s nothing new or aggressive about atheism. That the religious feel under attack is nothing more than a sign that they’re aware that they have something to defend. You can’t go around spouting silly beliefs and expect nobody to laugh at you. But that’s exactly what they do expect. That they can no longer get clean away with this trick is not a sign of more aggressive atheism, but one of increased information, scientific understanding and secularism. Churches don’t have as much influence these days over what we’re allowed to criticise and they are woefully and embarrassingly unprepared for it. It’s not the fault of atheism or of atheists. In a sense, increased atheism is a result of major religions’ hatch-battering. They didn’t expect that their influence would wane as people learned more and therefore became more free, so they pretended it wasn’t happening. They pretended that science wasn’t ripping their silly beliefs to pieces. They’re good at pretending, but not as good as they thought they were.
Anyway, it’s interesting that after offending everyone in an entire country, he claims it’s the atheists who are the aggressive ones. I’m not sure I understand what is pejorative about aggression in this context anyway. When you have something to defend, aggression can be an important and effective strategy. We atheists have something to defend. The churches are using their undue and unearned influence to try to force us to behave how they want us to. Aggression is an entirely appropriate response.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Has there ever been an episode of Star Trek where someone doesn’t say “velocity” when they mean “speed”?
They’re not the same things. Why does Star Trek think they are?
Do people have nothing better to do? Is eating meat offensive to vegetarians? Wearing meat?
I have a memory of an album cover from my youth featuring Cleo Rocos wrapped in bacon and cling film. It did not offend me.
It doesn’t ‘offend’ me that people believe silly things. It embarrasses me a bit sometimes, but doesn’t offend me. Why would it? What would that mean?
It doesn’t offend me that people eat dried fruit, even though it is perfectly clear that no human could possibly abide such a disgusting abomination.
I don’t quite understand why people get to pretend to be offended that meat exists without EVERYONE ELSE ON EARTH laughing in their faces.
Monday, September 13, 2010
The BBC’s Breakfast show has just done a reasonable job of stamping on homeopathic doctors who are peddling homeopathic ‘alternatives’ to vaccines. Their pet doctor wasn’t having any of it and there was a strong sense that she wanted to be harsher than she was. She said that people should never use homeopathy as an alternative to actual medicine, but if they want to use it in addition to medicine, well it’s their money. She said it shouldn’t be funded by the NHS. Decent stuff.
They had a homoeopathist on (we must have ‘balance’, mustn’t we? SHEESH) who made a big deal of the fact that she is a qualified doctor. Notice how the proper doctor doesn’t go around waving her medical degree in people’s faces: it is naturally assumed that since she’s sticking needles in people and what-not, she’s properly qualified. It’s the bare minimum requirement. And yet with homeopathy, it’s seen as an extra and something to brag about. She also claimed that there was evidence that homeopathy works (although she did say there was no evidence that it can be used to vaccinate anyone). When everyone else said “no there isn’t” she basically said “yes there is, so there.”
Anyway, it was nice to see the BBC actually taking a responsible stand on a vaccination story. I couldn’t quite let go of the feeling, though, that if homeopathy were being discussed in any other context (not vaccine-related) then they’d have given it a much easier time.
Friday, September 10, 2010
This guy Terry Jones in Florida wants to burn copies of the Koran on September 11th to show… to make the point that… to alert people to… OK, I don’t know. As far as I can tell, he hasn’t really explained his reasons other than he really dislikes Muslims and it was never clear what he planned to achieve. Well, perhaps what has been uncovered in recent days suggests that he just wants to be noticed. Apparently he’s tried this kind of thing before and predictably received media coverage before. His bizarre claims that he’d managed to get the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ moved also seem like a cry for attention or, perhaps, help.
But I don’t care very much. Perhaps that’s why I’m so late in forming an opinion about it. If the man wants to burn his own property then so be it. I couldn’t care less what that property symbolises to other people: they don’t get to tell us what we can do with our own stuff. I couldn’t care less if they are offended, because it’s their own choice. They could accept that – even if they believe that the book is somehow holy – it’s still just a fucking book. Nothing whatever can be harmed by (safe) burning of this or any book. What do believers think is going to happen? Their god will go up in smoke when the book does?
I don’t imagine that’s what they think, of course. I imagine they see it as an attack, an offense. Which it presumably is. But this is one way-off-the-deep-end pastor shaking his puny fists at a billion and a half Muslims. I doubt many of those Muslims would be concerned if Jones had said he didn’t like Islam. Well, some would no doubt complain a bit and there’d probably be the odd death threat, but it wouldn’t be an international incident. But mess with a holy symbol and everyone loses their mind.
Obama has been particularly spineless about the affair. Lots of people are saying that it will somehow cause violence against our troops in sundry spots of the globe. Others say it will foment conflict.
It’s just a fucking book.
That should be the response to anyone, believer or not, who overreacts to this stunt. If someone is lunatic enough to commit violence because someone burned a book or because a country didn’t prevent that book from being burned, then we need to treat that lunacy as exactly that. We shouldn’t temper our judgement because that person happened to believe the book was sacred. It’s just a book. If we react to these idiotic objections with undue reverence and sage nodding, all we can do is make things worse. If we treat them with the contempt they deserve, they’ll eventually become ineffectual.
I don’t like Jones or what he’s doing. He comes across as an ineffectual bully, desperate for attention, rather than someone trying to make a point. I don’t like bullies and I don’t like it when people set out to offend others for the sake of it. I’m bang on board if people happen to offend people while making a useful point, but if offense is their only goal, there’s probably a rabbit away.
PZ Myers, for example, offended a lot of people with the eye-rollingly named crackergate incident. He didn’t set out to offend anyone. He set out to protest that a student was being threatened and discriminated against because he failed to treat a communion wafer with the respect that some random people – without the slightest authority - demanded of him. PZ did this by desecrating a communion wafer in public. He wanted to draw everyone’s attention to the fact that it was just a wafer. Nobody was hurt. Be offended if you want, but then shrug it off and get back to the business of indoctrinating your kids. Don’t overreact by trying to get the student expelled or sending death threats to someone who threw a wafer in the bin.
Same goes for Terry Jones. Be offended by him or his actions if you insist. Personally, I think he’s an idiot. But don’t bother making elaborate threats or use it as an excuse to commit violence. If you’re not Muslim, don’t hysterically predict unspeakable reprisals. Let’s all just remember that it’s just a fucking book.
On a final note, some people have overreacted in a slightly different way. They say that books are automatically sacred and burning them is automatically wrong. This isn’t even intelligible. The banning of books by a government or other influential organisation is bad. It is always an attempt to control people. Burning of books by individuals is just stupid destruction of their own property.
Johann Hari gives an excellent summary of why Catholics should protest Ratzinger's visit to the UK.
It’s a nicely written article and it’s hard to complain about its ‘tone’ (although I don’t have the slightest doubt that someone will manage to). It reminds me of Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation because it is trying to engage a set of believers on their own terms. I welcome it.
In my more tolerant moods, I can understand that Catholics might be inclined to support their pope despite his horrific actions. I understand they’ve been brought up under threat of eternal torture to believe that this man is infallible or at least that he or the church as an organ are beyond criticism. So I understand why Catholics might be conflicted.
Their actions are another matter. I have no tolerance at all for any Catholic who defend the church over these matters. I have no tolerance for Catholic fence-sitters. Their actions will be taken as tacit or explicit approval of the church’s – and the pope’s – actions. They will be agreeing with the practice of systematically covering up child rape in a global conspiracy. They will be agreeing with the church’s condemnation of and discrimination against homosexuals and women. They will be endorsing the practice of lying about the efficacy of condoms in the prevention of AIDS and thereby be complicit in condemning thousands, perhaps millions, to suffering and death.
I understand why Catholics might feel conflicted, but their actions must show that they do not condone Ratzinger’s actions and those deplorable parts of the Catholic church. Protesting the pope’s visit seems a good start. Pushing for church reform locally and globally would be another. Forming groups to lobby the church at all levels to change its practices and encourage transparency and reform would be better still. But turning out to support Ratzinger seems worse than unhelpful; it carries the danger of showing solidarity for awful acts.
It’s more of a mystery why non-Catholics – and particularly non-believers – support Ratzinger’s visit. Believers of other stripes might feel a little of the internal conflict that Catholics do, but they don’t suffer from anything like the enormous pressure. What they feel at worst is a conviction that religion is generally a good thing and is somehow off-limits. This is not a viable position in any case, but we’re speaking of tacitly condoning child rape here. I rather think this horror trumps vaguely unsettling feelings. Nevertheless, there are plenty of non-Catholic believers who vocally support Ratzinger’s visit. And plenty of atheists too. We atheists have no excuse at all to support this man or the corrupt church he represents and any non-believer who feels we ought to lay off the pope and his minions should be deeply ashamed.
Tuesday, September 07, 2010
Until recently there was a crocodile sanctuary in Belize. It sounds as though it was great. It was powered entirely by sustainable means (wind and sun); it ran educational programs and had research students. It was a proponent of local eco-tourism in the best sense of the term. Oh, and they protected endangered crocodiles, of course.
It has ceased to be. We hear about this kind of thing from time to time. A government changes its priorities, funding dries up, everyone suffers. It’s a terrible thing. But that’s not what happened here. Instead, a local ‘psychic’ decided that two missing girls had been fed to crocodiles on the sanctuary and an insane mob destroyed the place. The buildings are gone and the staff – who have been threatened with death – are understandably too scared to rebuild. The mob shot some of the crocodiles and burned down the owner's house, which included a nursery for baby crocodiles.
There was no connection between the missing children and the sanctuary or it’s owners. The only ‘connection’ was the insane one made by the ‘psychic’, which ruined lives, careers and the survival prospects of some beautiful, fascinating reptiles, all for a few hours of attention.
As awful and culpable as the ‘psychic’ is, what is going on with this mob? What were their actions supposed to achieve? It sounds to me that they found a spurious ‘reason’ to commit some horrible, bestial acts and they went for it. Scum.
Monday, September 06, 2010
Friday, September 03, 2010
Sadly not a battle royale between Stephen Hawking with his augmentive robotics and a giant squid, but a poem by The Digital Cuttlefish which talks about some reactions not to Hawking’s book, which is not out yet, but to comments on various websites reporting inaccurately to a badly-written press release about the book.
I’ve witnessed a few of these myself. Many are claiming bad science by Hawking, presumably for no reason other than it doesn’t agree with what they wish to be true. Some are about as incoherent as you can get. For example, this comment appeared on the guardian site:
Hawking has been proven wrong on at least two of his major 'declarations' regarding physics. Chalk this one up as another.
And its quite amusing that people belief in Hawking's 'declarations' simply because its him stating them. Its a form of worship of self, of man, of British Man.
Given that Britain is part of the Anglo American world order which controls the world, which dictates to the world laws and right and wrong, its no surprise to me that there's a growing call for self worship.
As I said, Hawkings has been proven wrong about time travel, black holes, about dark matter. I see Hawking and I see a man who lacks the ability to care for himself, has been proven wrong on major theories, and who declares in his erroneous state there is no God, and I don't know whether to revile him or pity him.
And here British and Westerners who want to worship themselves, to render themselves gods without a God, will take his erroneous claims as DOGMA.
Justification for use of nuclear war can't be far behind.
The astonishing hyperbole at the end only seems to sweeten the deal. I’m not sure how we get from being wrong about time travel to justifying nuclear war, but here we are. I’m not surprised by the lies about Hawking or the misunderstanding of how science works and what it means to be wrong about things in science. I am surprised at the apparent sneering at him because of his condition, though. Why does the author need to either revile or pity Hawking? Can’t he just ignore him, disagree with him, argue with him or even just read what he actually has to say? Why rush to judgement? Why create a false dichotomy before even hearing Hawking’s argument? Because the author is an imbecile, and that’s why.
In my immediately previous post I wrote about Richard Dawkins’ webchat about the furore Hawking seems to have caused by saying what everyone knows anyway. Some of this webchat was about silly questions. Richard said that asking what is the purpose of the universe is a silly question on the grounds that there’s not the slightest reason to believe that it has a purpose. He mentioned a few other silly questions, such as “what is the purpose of a tsunami?” to illustrate that universes aren’t the kinds of thing you can necessarily insist have a purpose and to ask the question without a decent reason is plain silly.
It seems that quite a few people object to this, insisting instead that there’s no such thing as a silly question. I’m going to be lazy and cite only one example, which happens to be in the comments on Pharyngula, but I’ve seen others in the same vein (honest).
Posted by: kieran September 2, 2010 2:25 PM
Am I the only one who thinks there is no such thing as a "silly question" maybe it's from teaching first years when any form of comunication is amazing and should be encouraged at all costs. These would be first year college students.
Even "silly" questions can teach you alot; even if that is just the person asking it is silly. To paraphrase the NRA questions aren't silly people are!
So I'm against Richard on the "silly question" question.
This seems a decidedly silly point. It’s really easy to think up questions that are silly:
“Why do quarks taste purple?” is silly because quarks are not the kinds of thing that can have a taste and purple is not .a taste. The question doesn’t make sense and so is inherently silly. “Why does the universe smell of parsley?” is also silly because the vast majority of the universe – which is not parsley – does not smell of parsley. It’s silly to ask those questions because the answers can’t possibly be useful.
Or can they? There are some contexts in which they might be. For example, they might conceivably be useful in a discussion of what questions are silly or in a class about logic or debate. Context, as ever, is important. If you’re interviewing a politician about unemployment figures, then it would be silly to ask her whether she could prove that aliens invented toast. Firstly she has (hopefully) never claimed that they did and holds no beliefs that toast is of extra-terrestrial origin. Second, it wouldn’t contribute to the discussion of employment. It’s just silly.
I’m all for encouraging and enticing children to ask questions. I think it’s one of the most important things we can do and I despise parents and teachers who trivialise children’s questions or don’t give their full attention to trying to answer them. As I discussed with a friend a few days ago, one thing I really hate is when a parent answers a child’s question in a zoo or museum by reading out the explanation on the plaque and pretending they knew the answer all along. Why can’t they say “you know what, I don’t know why honey badgers are so awesome, let’s read this plaque that explains why.” Admitting that they don’t have all the answers but showing that we can find out a lot of answers by asking the right questions is every parent’s duty.
But to say that no question is silly is demonstrably wrong. There are a lot more silly questions than there are sensible ones. We should encourage children to ask questions, but I’d hope we’d also help them to recognise which questions are worth asking.
Let’s not condescend to children by telling them there’s no such thing as a silly question. Let’s encourage them to ask questions and if some of them happen to be silly, let’s react by guiding them to ask the better questions that are probably behind the silly ones. And then saying “I don’t know…..let’s find out together.”
Also: if there’s no such thing as a silly question, then is “‘is there such a thing as a silly question?” a silly question?
I think PZ picked the right question/answer to highlight and it’s worth repeating here. The three questions are part of a single question by Ruth Gledhill, apparently inspired by her interview with “David Wilkinson, principal of St John's Durham and astrophysicist”:
Q: One [question raised by Hawking’s statement] would be the the purpose of the universe. Although science might discover the mechanism, we are still left with the question of what is the purpose
A: Why on Earth should anyone assume that there IS a purpose?
Q: Second is where the laws of physics come from. Science subsumes the laws but we are still left with the question of where the laws come from.
A: Even if we are left with that question, it is not going to be answered by a God, who raises more questions than he answers
Q: Third is the intelligibility of the universe. It strikes me as interesting that Stephen Hawking can make it intelligible. Albert Einstein once said that the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible. For many of us who are struck by the intelligibility of the physical laws, the explanation is that the creator is the force of rationality both for the universe and for our minds.
A: What would an unintelligible universe even look like? Why SHOULDN't the universe be intelligible?
These are excellent answers to feeble questions. The first is eye-rollingly thoughtless. What degree of hubris is required to assume without question that the universe is here for a reason? Presumably Gledhill is after an answer that would explain her particular place in creation. Such arrogance! This is only a question if you decide to make it into one: the purpose of the universe only requires an explanation if you personally decide that there is purpose and there’s no reason to make that assumption.
The second is familiar god-of-the-gaps reasoning and Dawkins must have sighed when he read it. It’s not at all clear that science won’t answer where the laws come from. Indeed, I haven’t read Hawking’s book yet, but I suspect that’s more or less what the book is about: why are the laws of physics the way they are? Why aren’t they some other way? Isn’t it all a bit suspicious? The whole goldilocks business. This time, there probably is a question to answer, but there’s not the slightest reason to believe that science won’t eventually answer it. There is every reason to believe that religion won’t, because just saying that god did it doesn’t explain it at all for several reasons. First, because you still have to explain where god came from and second because there would still be questions of why and – more interestingly to my mind – how. I’m not sure why everyone is so interested in god’s motives. I’d prefer to know how he pulled it off rather than why he did it. If there’s a god, she has to be a geek. Her motive is going to be something like “because it's cool”.
While the first question is thoughtless and the second ignorant, the third is probably the most proactively stupid. I was planning to expand on Dawkins’ answer by talking about what comprehensibility might be and the fact that humans have evolved abilities to comprehend the universe even when it seems to defy common sense. But this just clouds the issue. Once again, it isn’t a question unless you consider that an incomprehensible universe (whatever that would mean) is vastly more probable than a comprehensible one. The anthropic principle pretty much de-fangs the question anyway: it seems doubtful that anything that could ask questions like this could evolve in a universe that it could not comprehend. I think the issue here is that ‘laws of the universe’ are considered in the abstract. What are we actually talking about here? The law of gravity? The laws of conservation? Boyle’s Law? Special and General Relativity? The laws of motion? Or chemistry? Or electromagnetism? Qantum laws? Fluid dynamics?
If any of these laws were incomprehensible, could there be anything about that could comprehend them, even in principle? This isn’t – as many people characterise it – an argument that the universe must have been designed, but rather the opposite: that there’s no need to believe someone might have designed it.
Anyway, my explanations muddy the water, Dawkins’ answers are concise and excellent. Sadly, Gledhill does not conduct herself so well. Here are some of her responses to his answers, which seem to show that she is largely incapable of thought. You can surely plug them into the proper places in the conversation, remembering that it’s a webchat and therefore somewhat out of sequence:
Good point, Richard, don't we need other modes of thought to answer these more existential questions? Or would you say there is no point in trying to answer the question "why?"
What would ‘other modes of thought’ be? If you’re going to propose such a thing, I think you have a responsibility to elaborate. No point in trying to answer “why?” No, I don’t think so, but it’s only a question in the first place if you assume there actually is a reason (a point Gledhill seems to have missed even when it was spelled out so beautifully by Dawkins) and as I argue above, why is a less interesting question than how to anyone who has much imagination.
Richard, one might as well ask, equally, why assume there is no purpose?
One might, if the goal is to ask stupid questions. You don’t need to assume there’s no purpose to something, it is the claim of purpose that needs defending. Gledhill seems to think she’s scoring a point here, but all she reveals is how little she understands about both logic and evidence. She has an exchange with Richard over this issue, which does not go well for her.
Anyway, my intention was not to bash Ruth Gledhill but to congratulate Richard Dawkins on his excellent answers. Ruth is to be congratulated on keeping the conversation going even though she seems incapable of making a worthwhile point.