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Articles.

February 11, 2013 Leave a comment

It’s been a while between articles posts, let’s get straight into it:

Philosophy Bites – Links to the First 176 Episodes -Edmonds and Warburton.

LCA 2013: distributed democracy, speaking stacks, links -Sky Croeser.

Anti-Muslim hysteria in Australia -Russell Glasser.

We get email: Believers and their security blankets -Martin Wagner.

The Argument from “It Just Makes Sense to Me”

Atheist Arrested for Blasphemy, and How You Can Help

Mail bin: arguing with the FAQ

Good luck in Somalia– Ophelia Benson.

Egyptian atheist facing blasphemy sentence – Jacob Fortin.

Repairs under way -Ophelia Benson.

A fabulous “Manly Meal”-Ophelia Benson.

WL Craig on Morality and Meaning (Series Index) -John Danaher.

My Favourite Posts of 2012 -John Danaher.

Sexual Objectification: An Atheist Perspective -Richard Carrier.

Prototypical Sexist Atheist on Exhibit– Richard Carrier.

Atheism+ : The Name for What’s Happening-Richard Carrier.

Waldron on pornography -Russell Blackford.

Gay Bishop Comes Up With the Worst Argument to Support Same-Sex Marriage– Greta Christina.

My Letter to the Boy Scouts– Greta Christina.

Same-Sex Marriage Opponents Increasingly Desperate and Stupid – Greta Christina.

String of atheism signs vandalized, no real action taken by officials – Jacob Fortin.

Catholic Priest blames women for bringing violence on themselves – Jacob Fortin.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews harass sexually abused girl – Jacob Fortin.

Bill O’Reilly calls David Silverman a Fascist – Jacob Fortin.

Top 10 anti-Christian acts of 2012 -J.T Eberhard.

Most insulting fundraiser ever. – J.T Eberhard.

Don’t Say Gay legislator: being gay is like shooting heroin. -J.T Eberhard.

74 years of female slave labor in the 20th century, courtesy of the Catholic Church. – J.T Eberhard.

How often god’s moral decrees bear no resemblance to justice. -J.T Eberhard.

Gay friends? Me dear? How very dare you! You’re mistaking me for Muhammad – Barry Duke.

Investigation launched over nurse who allegedly told a family to put their trust in Allah – Barry Duke.

Only fools and Christians: ‘Born-again’ Tennessee man quits job over 666 tax code – Barry Duke.

Catholic meddling appears to have delayed Boy Scouts of America’s decision on gay inclusion – Barry Duke.

Danish police on the hunt for a gunman who tried to kill Islam critic Lars Hedegaard – Barry Duke.

Brazilian pastor is behind bars after telling his flock that his penis contained ‘holy milk’ – Barry Duke.

Another devastating week for the RC Church as more of its criminality is exposed – Barry Duke.

Craig’s Argument for God from Intentionality – Philosotroll.

Witch Hunts in Papua New Guinea – Leo Igwe.

Randal Rauser on William Lane Craig’s defense of the Canaanite genocide -Chris Hallquist.

More Powerpoint Slides from a Christian Pastor’s Anti-Gay Sermon – Hermant Mehta.

Woman Brutally Murdered in Papua New Guinea After Being Accused of Sorcery – Hermant Mehta.

Christians in Indiana Unite to Create a Prom That Gay Students Can’t Attend – Hermant Mehta.

Virginia Senate Approves Bill Allowing College Groups to Discriminate Based On Religious Beliefs -Hermant Mehta.

Who Still Thinks the Church Has Any Moral Credibility? -Hermant Mehta.

Christian Pastor: I’d Rather Experience Chinese Water Torture Than Listen to a Woman Argue With Me – Hermant Mehta.

Shells and switches -Deacon Duncan.

God and the PlayStation 3 -Deacon Duncan.

The Gypsy Curse -Deacon Duncan.

Religions will never be satisfied — they will always up the ante until they are in charge -Eric MacDonald.

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No Blogs Over Xmas Break.

December 15, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s the end of the year, and as such I will be celebrating by putting a hold on the publishing of blogs, I will be still writing, but as many people will not be at their computers working, I will belay the posting of the work I’m doing for the new year.

If I happen to write on something topical I will post that, but otherwise, this blog will be quiet from this friday the 16th until Monday the 9th of jan.

I hope you all have a great holiday, a Merry Xmas, a happy Kwanzaa, winter/summer solstice, Saturnalia, Bodhi day,  Hanukkah, day of the return of the Wandering Goddess, Id-Al-Adha, Soyal, Yule, Shabe-Yalda – whatever tradition you celebrate over this time of year.

Be safe,

Eat well,

And I’ll see you all in the new year!

Rob.

Categories: News

ABC gets it wrong again: Atheism and Humanism, forms of civil religion?

October 4, 2011 Leave a comment

A piece over at ABC’s Religion and Ethics page, yet again misses the point.

Luke Bretherton’s article “Humanism and Atheism as Civil Religions”  begins by discussing humanist programs to educate children on being happy, fulfilled people without a god or gods, but this is all preamble to ask the question:

What we see shaping up is a battle for the souls of children. But in the process we need to ask a question about what is happening to the “soul” of humanism and atheism? (Bretherton, Humanism and Atheism as Civil Religions, 2011)

Of course the real issue, is that atheists and humanists are attempting to get involved with morals, and education, this can not do of course, as we will see later. For now a glaring problem and it’s one we see often – the author forgets to define his terms. After all there are types of humanism that are consistent with religious ideals, as we see here:

Humanism in the Renaissance sense was quite consistent with religious belief, it being supposed that God had put us here precisely in order to further those things humanists found important. (Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, p. 171, 2008)

Similarly with atheism too – in which Buddhists are technically atheists.

I guess we are left to simply assume what Bretherton means – but that shouldn’t be our job, and if you’re making an argument about such touchy subjects, one might like to guide their readers by what they specifically mean. Allow me not to fall into the same trap:

Humanism: Most generally, any philosophy concerned to emphasize human welfare and dignity, and either optimistic about the powers of human reason, or at least insistent that we have no alternative to use it as best we can… Later the term tended to become appropriated for anti-religious social and political movements. (Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, p. 171, 2008)

And atheism:

Atheism: Either the lack of belief that there exists a god, or the belief that there exists none. (Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, p. 27, 2008)

As we see, the definition provided above of humanism does not preclude religious belief – instead one is left to wonder if what Bretherton is really discussing is secular humanism, which we can rely on its biggest proponent, Paul Kurtz to define for us:

The secular humanist paradigm has six characteristics: (1) it is a method of inquiry, (2) it provides a naturalistic cosmic outlook, (3) it is nontheistic, (4) it is committed to humanist ethics, (5) it offers a perspective that is democratic, and (6) it is planetary in scope. (Kurtz, What is Secular Humanism? Pp. 21-2, 2007)

But definitions and truth matter little to polemics, so Bretherton continues, erroneously stating:

What the new programmes for children mark is the turn from the critique of religion to the construction of humanism and atheism as forms of civil religion: an instrumentalised religion that provides the social and moral basis of the political order.

The paradox is that in the process they are becoming one more sectarian dogma. (Bretherton, Humanism and Atheism as Civil Religions, 2011)

It’s not entirely clear just what Bretherton defines religion as, he makes no attempt to – so it is hard for any real criticism to be made. My main concern with this kind of equivocation is: it is merely meant to insult his atheist/secular humanist audience by equating them with the very thing they don’t accept, which is petty – particularly so given the paucity of any real substance in the article (viz. his inability to even get his definitions right). One might be led to ask from the above statement, does not this re-imagining of the word ‘religion’ mean that anything becomes religion? And if that’s the case, what does that mean for his own belief in a god or gods? And the religion he presumably believes in and thinks is true?

No, this relativistic use of the word ‘religion’ to include 1 response (atheism) that rejects such and another that is ambiguously labelled (secular/humanism?) shoots the author in the foot.

Aside from the word game Bretherton is playing, we also see that he has misunderstood atheism and (secular?) humanism, he’s so tied up, one may surmise, in his religion providing a source of morality, that he deems anything that attempts to provide a prescriptive worldview (as in the case of secular humanism) as the same? It is also not clear how atheism or (secular?) humanism are becoming: “one more sectarian dogma”?

Perhaps we should continue, to see if Bretherton teases out what he really means:

But here we need to distinguish atheism and humanism. Arguably, humanism has always sought to provide an alternative to traditional religions through creating an anthropocentric civil religion. (Bretherton, Humanism and Atheism as Civil Religions, 2011)

And as we see from the above definitions, Bretherton has missed the point, how has humanism, in the non secular humanist sense, attempted to offer an alternative to traditional religions when it has often been compatible with religious belief? This is unclear at best, contradictory at worst.

No help there, Bretherton, returns to the issue of morals:

There is a long tradition of wrestling with the problem of how to provide a moral basis for political and economic relations without Christianity that spans Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza, Rousseau, John Toland and Comte.

However, unlike many contemporary humanists, these thinkers were aware of the pathos at the heart of this task: it involved replacing one religion with another. The task was necessarily one of setting up a compelling religious alternative to Christianity or de-christianising and remodelling Christianity so that it could serve as the basis of a civil religion. (Bretherton, Humanism and Atheism as Civil Religions, 2011)

There are plenty of contemporary philosophers of Christian (John Stuart Mill) and atheist persuasions (Michael Martin, J.L Mackie) who have spilled much ink over the search for a system of morality that is non religious. It would appear to be a contradiction in terms, as well as completely arbitrary to label specific attempts at non religious morality to be religious. It’s not clear just why Bretherton feels the need to label everything ‘religion’, but he’s working hard to do so, perhaps for fear his religion is losing it’s grasp on morality and ethics?

Now, Bretherton turns his eye toward atheism claiming that

Atheism had no such pretensions. Its aim was to rid us of the need for religion. Yet in its move to remodel itself as a civil religion it has become what it claims to reject. The disdain of a Marx or Freud for religion has given way to the shrill competitiveness of the “New Athiests.” (Bretherton, Humanism and Atheism as Civil Religions, 2011)

This is obvious, baseless assertion. It is clear Bretherton misunderstands the very definition of atheism from the get-go, but it is here his misunderstanding is realised – atheism had and indeed has no ‘aim’, it is a lack of belief in a god or gods, this is it, there is no agenda there, no politics and it is certainly no ‘religion’. How do we know this? It has no dogma, no tenets, no authoritarians, no holy texts, no worship practices, no supernatural beliefs – none of the hallmark characteristics of a religion. He continues:

The sense in which religion and by implication atheism was simply a passing stage on the way to a new rationalistic outlook freed from religious baggage seems to have dissipated. Instead, a new confessional atheism has emerged, one ready to hawk its wares in the religious marketplace and compete for the souls of children.

Rather than a critique of religion from which the religious can learn, we find a “wannabe civil religion” that depends for its appeal on the continuance of the very thing it claims to replace. It has become an alternative rather than a critique. (Bretherton, Humanism and Atheism as Civil Religions, 2011)

He talks of atheism as if it some worldview that prescribes a way of thought, rather than a response to a single claim! We might also ask what unbelievers are meant to do with their children? How they’re supposed to teach them about science, morals, history etc,  free from the effects of the religious? And how tyrannical it is of  Bretherton to criticize and straw man the efforts of unbelievers toward realising a world where they are on equal footing with believers, where their children can play, and grow, and think, without the tendrils of religion being forced upon them (think I’m over-exagerrating? See here, here, here, here, here, here).

Of course all children should be given the right to experience religion, any religion (not simply the Christian one), but they should also be given the right, and the knowledge of systems that are not religious – the choice – we leave up to them. This does not compute to Bretherton – what must it be he asks himself? Well it’s a false religion of course – atheism – with its false idols of science, and it’s clergy: “The Gnu Atheists” coming like the bogey man to take away all he cares about? Please – this is clear projection.

It’s not an atheists job to “critique religion so religions can learn” (though some do enjoy it, myself included), atheists, secular humanists, Buddhists, Muslims etc don’t want to have to drag your religion kicking in screaming into the 21st century, that should be up to you to manage. Bretherton concludes:

Rather than a prophetic witness, disabusing humans of our illusions and idolatries, atheism has become Pepsi to the Coke of religion. To paraphrase the New Testament: what does it profit atheism to gain the whole world and lose its own soul? (Bretherton, Humanism and Atheism as Civil Religions, 2011)

Bretherton’s stunning lack of understanding is almost laughable – in what world exactly does he mean to prescribe to atheists his sign off line here?  The religious language used is palpable, it’s not hard to see just why Bretherton deems every philosophy, worldview, or response to a claim as a religion – it is clearly all that’s on his mind.

Atheism, and this goes out to any atheists reading – is about a lack of belief in a god or gods – that’s it. Whatever you choose to positively believe (naturalism, materialism, secular humanism, hell Islam, Buddhism etc) is up to you. You decide what religion, or non religion you accept – or reject – and you do not need to be told what you follow and what you believe.

It’s been said it’s better to teach a child how to think as opposed to what to think – I personally believe in this statement – and will endeavor to do as such if I ever have children (which isn’t likely). I also understand I live in a country where you can be a loud and proud atheist, and suffer little to no consequences. People in other countries where it is downright dangerous to be an atheist need the kind of support criticized in this article,  hence my vitriol and tone.

References

Blackburn S. (2008).  The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (2nd Edition).  New York. Oxford University Press. P. 27, 171.

Bretherton L. (2011). Humanism and Atheism as Civil Religions. Retrieved October 4th, 2011, from http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2011/10/04/3331539.htm

Kurtz P. (2007). What is Secular Humanism? Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. Pp. 21-2.

Categories: Atheism, News

More on porn

September 6, 2011 3 comments

When the issue of pornography comes up, there are always going to be high blood pressures, it seems it’s easy to write people off as ‘leftists’, ‘conservatives’ and never shall the data be analysed.

Helen Pringle in her article “The Porn Report: A studied indifference to harm” (here is Alan McKee’s rebuttal) which is admittedly an opinion piece, takes the apparent moral, rather than evidenced based position that porn is harmful (and perhaps passively, that those who discover through research it actually isn’t harmful, are biased). The problem for me, is when it comes to this issue of porn, there is a wealth of information out there, much of it scientific and empirical, some of it done in the social sciences, which this article rightly recognises, but also dismisses as agenda driven, biased, and lacking in serious research:

A great deal of pro-pornography academic research in the social sciences is taken up with this task of masking the harms of pornography, in order to defend the lucrative global industry and guarantee a continued supply of cool pleasures to the hip consumer.

One such piece of research, The Porn Report by Alan McKee, Katherine Albury and Catharine Lumby (2008), was heralded as “the first piece of serious research” on the state of pornography in Australia. The book is widely cited in political and academic debates for its analysis of the production, distribution and consumption of pornography.

These are serious charges, and it seems to me, if you want to do unbiased, serious research, you would not commit ad hominem at the outset, without providing any actual evidence to support your claims.

As it is the author only offers one piece of evidence, and it is in fact a critique of a book that is apparently

heralded as “the first piece of serious research” on the state of pornography in Australia. The book is widely cited in political and academic debates for its analysis of the production, distribution and consumption of pornography.

The problem of course is, are we really basing our judgments on one book? This seems to be the thrust of her position:

My argument, however, is that The Porn Report is on an ideological mission to provide an apologia for the sex industry and, in particular, to shift the terms of public debate to a position consonant with that of the authors, one which supports the mainstream distribution and use of pornography.

Regardless of the book’s stature, we of course want multiple sources, from reputable journals to understand the issue of harm in the world of pornography (use, distribution, behaviours etc). The author may be right in her criticisms, what criticisms she actually offers of the book, but that reduces the entirety of porn studies to the pronouncements of one book, bring that down, and you solve the issue? In fact if her criticisms are successful it undermines her attempts, as it demonstrates the very need for multiple research efforts. I wish it were that simple.

This article contains little of actual substance, the author concludes with:

Like many academic defences of pornography, The Porn Report delights in its supposed unconventionality. In fact, its argument is tired and outdated, with little bearing on the brutal reality of popular pornography today.

The book evinces a studied indifference to the harm enacted in and by the sexual subordination and cruelty that defines modern pornography.

Again the author is discussing the pornography issue with assertions rather than an actual investigation. The reader is left to ask:”What is wrong wiuth the state of academia? Is porn brutal today? If it is, what was it before? What does ‘brutal’ mean? Where is she getting this information from? Does porn cause harm? In what sense does she mean, when she uses the word ‘harm’? Is consenting sex between willing adults ‘cruel’? Is sexual subordination intrinsic to the porn industry? If it is, how does she know this?” etc.

The author seems to assume a position (i.e.- porn is harmful) without ever making an actual case that this is so, the reader is taken through a criticism of a single piece of literature, which the author offers very few real criticisms of, with no presentation of any other researched positions (at least as far as we’d know, there are no references).

Again, as an opinion piece, we may be just left to sit with the authors opinions, and to wonder, just what is the current state of research into pornography, addiction and harm. I’ve done a prima facie investigation here, which I think, although parochial in its writing I’m sure, goes much further, and engages with the literature to an extent this author does not.

Reference

Pringle H. (2011). The Porn Report: A studied indifference to harm. ABC- religion and ethics- retrieved 6/09/2011. http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2011/09/06/3310775.htm

Categories: News

A ban on black magic in India- free speech vs religious intolerance

September 4, 2011 1 comment

An interesting story has popped up in India regarding the banning of cultish acts, particularly those that are running ‘cons’ on people:

“Chanting to cure snake bites, claiming to be a reincarnated spouse to obtain sex, and charging for miracles could soon be banned by an Indian state seeking to stop charlatans preying on the vulnerable”

Obviously to an American audience this brings up immediate free speech issues, and to us in Australia with less strictly defined laws on such, well, we are left to ask the question: “should we enforce laws that restrict the rights of the religious/supernaturalists to exercise their practices?” It’s a tricky one, I personally don’t like the idea that people are being preyed on by these spiritual ‘snake oil salesmen’, but I also respect the fact that freedom is fundamental, and that every time we impose a law, we remove just a little more freedom from the individual.

Of course the obvious old clichés have come out by the right-wing opponents of this law:

“… the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, called it “a draconian law targeting faith”, denounced its proponents as “atheists” and called for supporters to lobby assembly members to oppose it and demand amendments.”

Why exactly calling someone an atheist is an insult I do not know, but regardless, this is not addressing the issue, it is a misdirection, whether the people attempting to ban the law are atheists or not is irrelevant, and anyone opposing this law (which they may have good grounds to do so) would be well advised to target the issue, instead of issuing labels, which avoid the very issue they’re attempting to address, particularly when:

“Dabholkar rejects the charge that the bill is anti-religion.

“In the whole of the bill, there’s not a single word about God or religion. Nothing like that. The Indian constitution allows freedom of worship and nobody can take that away,” he said.

“This is about fraudulent and exploitative practices.”

For Edamaruku, whose organisation seeks to debunk superstition and promote scientific reasoning, a new India-wide law against charlatans is vital to build on the great strides made by the country in recent years.”

The problem for me, is this is a seemingly, unnecessary law. They have laws that police illegal activities, that, by this articles own admission, appear to work, for example,  police had already stopped

“an alleged attempt to abduct and kill a seven-year-old girl in a village near Nashik, northwest of Mumbai, as part of a ritual to find hidden treasure.”

And:

“a childless couple in a remote village some 675 kilometres (420 miles) east of Mumbai were arrested for allegedly killing five young boys because a religious mystic told them it would help the woman to conceive.”

They have laws, that already regulate, successfully it seems, illegal activities, when they cause harm, do they need to create new laws that target:

“Practices to be banned by the proposed law include beating a person to exorcise ghosts or making money by claiming to work miracles.

Treating a dog, snake or scorpion bite with chants instead of medicine, and seeking sexual favours by claiming to be an incarnation of a holy spirit or the client’s wife or husband in a past life would also be proscribed.”

As silly as these things are, as antithetical to reason, logic evidence and good epistemology, and as dangerous as they can be, are these good enough reasons to restrict people’s freedoms, when they have laws already that cover witchcraft, and that seem to protect people from serious harm? If people want to willfully expose themselves to these practices, do we have the right to take that away? I would vote for education over legislation, but, it’s not a simple issue for sure. Thoughts?

Reference

Indian state mulls ban on black magic, witchcraft. News.com, retrieved 04/09/2011-http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/indian-state-mulls-ban-on-black-magic/story-e6frfku0-1226129099576

Categories: News
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