Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Hugo Chávez shuts down Venezuela's oldest TV station

And why? For trying to 'undermine the government'. If that's not a straightforward admission of censorship then I don't know what is. It certainly puts the whole Hutton Inquiry furore into perspective.

Remember this is the man with whom Mayor Ken signed an oil deal only three months ago, proving that the phenomenon of human rights concerns going out the window when oil is at stake is not the sole preserve of right-wing politicians. Livingstone obviously thought he'd have a big socialist love-in with this dictator. But hey, I'm sure Radio Caracas TV was full of 'Nazis' like Oliver Finegold, right Ken?

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Fundamentalist atheism

In my last post I gave some general conditions for what I think constitutes fundamentalist behaviour. Here I would like to list some behaviour from atheists which I think fits the bill. NB Dawkins is not guilty of every one of these points, but every one of them has been committed by someone.

You may be a fundamentalist atheist if…

  • You claim that morality is entirely relative to culture and time, and therefore that there is no basis for trans-cultural or trans-temporal moral criticism – and yet your main complaint against Christianity is that in the past it has made people do things they shouldn’t do.
  • You regard theists as hopelessly irrational for believing in an undetectable entity (God), while you yourself can believe in an infinite number of undetectable entities (a multiverse) without batting an eyelid.
  • You call yourself a ‘freethinker’, yet you believe those very thoughts of yours to be identical with, or reducible to, electrical and chemical processes in the brain which are entirely determined by antecedent conditions and the ‘immutable’ laws of nature. Free?
  • Apparently, asserting the eternality of a transcendent mind is deeply explanatorily unsatisfactory – yet asserting the eternality of matter, energy and laws of nature is fine.
  • You actually think that dismissing the question of why anything exists at all will make it go away.
  • You can look at the systematic elimination of priests and obstinate believers in 1790s France, in Soviet Russia and during the Cultural Revolution in China and, with a straight face, claim that in no case did institutional atheism have anything to do with it. At the same time, the fight in Northern Ireland between those who want to be British and those who want to be Irish is entirely the fault of religion.
  • You talk about Richard Dawkins in the way Roman Catholics talk about the Pope.
  • You believe in the existence of ‘memes’. Bonus points if everyone’s ideas but your own are explicable as such.
  • When engaged in a debate with a theist, your time and energy is divided roughly as follows:
    - 70% telling your opponent how irrational he/she is
    - 25% telling your opponent how rational you are
    - 5% making rational arguments[1]
  • You think that the mere mention of some comedy entity like flying spaghetti or invisible unicorns is supposed to discredit belief in God. Bonus points if you’ve made your own one up for this purpose.
  • No amount of evidence would make you believe in the resurrection, and no evidence at all is needed for you to believe in abiogenesis. We’re talking about life from non-life in both cases.
  • You believe that the early church picked Matthew, Mark, Luke and John out of some impossibly large number of potential Gospels purely in order to tell a convincing enough story to gain power, and yet was too dumb to realise that these accounts hopelessly contradict each other (apparently).
  • You believe there are no such things as beliefs.[2]
  • You think the Bible is worse than Mein Kampf.[3]

I may or may not list more of these as they come to me.

[1] http://mattghg.blogspot.com/2007/02/craigwolpert-debate.html
[2] http://www.seop.leeds.ac.uk/entries/materialism-eliminative/
[3] http://www.evolutionnews.org/2007/05/iowa_state_promotes_atheist_pr.html


In his preface to the new paperback edition of The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins responds to a series of accusations he has faced since the original hardback edition was published (HT: Peter S. Williams). One of these is that he is as much a fundamentalist as anyone he attacks, to which he replies
No, please, do not mistake passion, which can change its mind, for fundamentalism, which never will. Passion for passion, an evangelical Christian and I may be evenly matched. But we are not equally fundamentalist. The true scientist, however passionately he may “believe”, in evolution for example, knows exactly what would change his mind: evidence! The fundamentalist knows that nothing will.
I believe it's actually an open question as to whether any evidence could possibly change Dawkins' mind, but I'll leave that issue aside for a moment. What I want to ask is, is his definition of fundamentalism sufficient? Is it even useful?

In the original sense of the word, there really aren't too many Fundamentalists around today (you have to believe in a young Earth and a 6-day creation, I think). But that's not the sense in which the term is used now, especially as its possible to talk not only about Fundamentalist Christians, but also fundamentalist Muslims, Jews... and atheists.

The way I observe things, in the pejorative and disapproving way the term is currently used, it is characterised by three phenomena:
  1. Extremism, in the sense of going way beyond what is commonly thought to be mandated by one's belief system.
  2. Open hostility to rival belief systems and, often, adherents of the same.
  3. Flagrant logical breakdown at some point, most often in hypocrisy, double standards or self-contradiction.

Dawkins obviously has point 3 in mind. However, I maintain that much atheist behaviour, including by him, meets some or all of these conditions. A list to follow shortly.

Friday, 25 May 2007

What, you don't belong to your club?

<- This is Kaká celebrating A.C. Milan's victory over Liverpool in the European Champions League final on Wednesday night. It more than made up for Liverpool's defeat (but then I don't support Liverpool, although, being the English team, I was supporting them in this match). To have possibly the best football player in the world at the moment so publicly expressing his very real faith can only be a good thing.

The photograph is from The Times

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

A modern Ship of Theseus

This morning on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 there was a discussion between presenter James Naughtie and philosophers AC Grayling and Janet Radcliffe Richards about whether the Cutty Sark would still be the Cutty Sark if the now-charred deck were to be replaced by a new one. The ship was set alight, possibly deliberately, early yesterday morning, leaving the hull intact and us with a practical Ship of Theseus conundrum.

I grew up in Bow, and remember being taken to see the Cutty Sark as a small child. Although the stronger maritime memory for me from that time is probably the Pirate Museum (also in Greenwich), I have a real sadness now over that vessel which then seemed so huge and proud and now rather wretched. If it was arson then it can only have been senseless vandalism or outright insanity as motive.