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A Templeton Foundation fellow and journalist in the Guardian has discovered Conor Cunningham's book. I've written about Conor Cunningham a couple of times already. Anyway, he's decided that Cunningham's book shows that there are serious problems with "Ultra-Darwinism" and would like to explain them to you....

Ultra-Darwinists and the pious gene

Richard Dawkins won't like it, but he and creationists are singing from similar hymn sheets, according to a new book

Here are three questions of the kind evolutionary theorists love. First, why do most mammals walk on four legs? Second, how come some single-celled protists have genomes much larger than humans? Third, why have camera eyes evolved independently in vertebrates and octopuses? 
They're important questions as they challenge certain versions of Darwinism that are dominant today in popular discourse.

My comments on this, under this first cut... )Rest of Vernon's article under the cut... )

Also one more thing. I'm not aware of Nietzsche ever using the phrase "true lies". A google search comes up with either this article or references to the James Cameron movie. *shrugs*

cross-posted to [ profile] atheism 
philosoraptor42: (Default)
Let me make very clear why I am posting this.

Rape happens in situations where someone is in a position of power over someone else and feels like they can get away with expressing their power in this way. There are people who want to express their power in this disgusting way all over the place. The difference within some religious groups is that there is a feeling that criticism of prominent members undermines the divine authority behind that group's teachings. If a teacher in a state school was accused of rape, on the other hand, it is more often recognised as necessary to investigate. In this latter situation the concern is more that an unscrupulous figure might remain in the school than that their actions might cast doubt on the organisation as a whole. Also, parents don't feel themselves to be members of the school in the same way they might consider themselves members of a Church or of a religious community, so as outsiders they feel more able to judge.

Within a religious group people can feel that others know better than them and that they are not in a position to judge, especially if they are young. The religion makes claims to be able to change people for the better and the limits of the prison system are readily apparent, so they may find themselves thinking that their religious community is actually the best place for this person to remain. Believing that the rape took place might even be viewed by adults as undermining the claims of the religion, because its a clear sign that the people in the upper eschalons of that group are not significantly more moral people than those outside. There may be a view that getting the police involved will bring shame to the group and prevent others from coming to them to be "saved".

... In many ways, this doesn't sound so different from the mentality involved in domestic abuse cases. But I digress....

Marx noted that religion utilises social control, Freud noted that religion utilises psychological control, Nietzsche noted that religion involves unacknowledged and dodgy power drives, and I think all three of these issues can be found in the following article:

Woman: I was afraid to tell of rape

She was silenced in earlier case, she says


Article Under Cut (Trigger Warning)... )




Other related links
Ex-pastor says police failed in old NH rape case
Woman: Church Covered Up My Rape as Teen
Police: Girl raped, then relocated

(Via ONTD_P)

x-posted to Atheism
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In my last few posts about Pat Condell, I accused him of being racist, xenophobic and even sexist. However, while what Pat had to say was most certainly racist, xenophobic and sexist in sentiment, his latest video suggests that he's actually suffering from paranoid delusions. How can I hold a man responsible for his words and actions when he is so thoroughly detached from reality?

His latest video claims that priests are part of a totalitarian system whereby they use religion to increase their own power and to control the populace. He claims that priests are making huge amounts of money and demonstrates this by the fact that certain Archbishops, as well as the pope, live in palaces.

The problem is that this simply doesn't ring true to anyone who actually ever listened to a sermon in an actual church. The priests aren't in some special upper class within society. It's also difficult to claim that their modest collections are part of some kind of racket when Church buildings are falling into disrepair and the biggest source of money for the Anglican Church is land ownership, not contributions on Sundays.

Now I'm a big fan of Nietzsche and he has a few passages where he talks about the oppression by "the priest", but this is an ideological oppression which Nietzsche even recognises is somewhat masochistic in nature. I find it funny that even Mitchell and Webb provide a more realistic impression of the clergy than Pat Condell provides (which also puts pay to the idea that Condell's argument only seems ridiculous because he's exaggerating for comic effect):

It's certainly true that, having achieved the position of Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams lives in a palace. However, this is part of a long tradition passed down from a time when the Archbishop of Canterbury was a leading advisor to the King. Far from being a sign of modern corruption, it's a remnant of the medieval hierarchy. Even if it weren't the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Palace would still be in the same situation as today whereby it has regular guided tours, only it would probably be in posession of the National Trust rather than the Church of England.

Now for a great deal of the video Pat Condell makes some sensible points. The thing is, we've heard all this stuff before and last time it wasn't sandwiched by utter nonsense. So let's go through the true statements in the video that we've heard many time before, followed by summing up the more ridiculous claims of the video.


Read more... )
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In case anyone hasn't heard of "In Heaven" (The 'Lady In the Radiator' song from the David Lynch movie 'Eraserhead') you can see the original here, or you can see a rather disturbing combination of the Pixies cover with scenes from the movie here or you can listen to the Pixies cover in the fairly tame vid under the cut. Decisions decisions, eh?
Pixies vid under the cut.. )
So anyway, I saw the following vid of Glenn Beck on [ profile] cyranothe2nd 's blog (see original entry here) and unsurprisingly they haven't posted it on [ profile] atheism because it's the same typical BS we'd normally expect from the guy (though someone else has decided to put it there anyway, along with an explanation of where the children singing about Obama came from). After all this is guy who said that Obama has "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture" and then claimed it was an unfair attack on him to ask what he meant by 'white culture'. However, when I went through the various things that bothered me a particular line at the end reminded me why I object to the concept of a God so strongly.

Towards the end he says the following (at 3:55 in the video):

"Maybe we need to stop looking for more social justice and start looking at eternal justice."

Essentially this boils down to "let's stop worrying about making life better and instead focus on hell". And for Glenn Beck this also most likely means thinking about how much more comfortable he is than the poor while he's alive, followed by thinking about how much more comfortable he is than the damned once he's dead. As I said in the title, why bother when everything in heaven will be fine?

There's a classic section from Nietzsche where he explains this religious sentiment:
In my view, Dante was grossly in error when, with an ingenuity inspiring terror, he set that inscription over the gateway into his hell: “Eternal love also created me. Over the gateway into the Christian paradise and its “eternal blessedness” it would, in any event, be more fitting to let the inscription stand “Eternal hate also created me”—provided it’s all right to set a truth over the gateway to a lie! For what is the bliss of that paradise? . . . Perhaps we might have guessed that already, but it is better for it to be expressly described for us by an authority we cannot underestimate in such matters, Thomas Aquinas, the great teacher and saint:
And, to quote from Aquinas' own text as it is translated today rather than giving you Nietzsche's own translation:
Wherefore in order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned.
More of my typical rants about Nietzsche. )

Asides from Nietzsche's philosophy, which has a big influence on me, another thing which came to mind when hearing this phrase from Glenn Beck was the beat poem "Dope" by Amiri Baraka (you can find the words of the poem here, but it's important to hear how it is read). If you are not used to beat poems you may find the beginning a little weird, but give it a couple of minutes and I think you'll find you get the hang of it:

And another thing... If Glenn Beck is upset by the "battle hymn of the republic" tune being misused, he'll be especially upset by the first song I linked the tune with: "He jumped from 40,000 feet without a parachute." The version of the song I recognise has lines like "they scraped him off the runway like a lump of strawberry jam", but it looks like the following is possibly an earlier version.

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Once again Nietzsche is entirely misrepresented. No surprise there.

The latest article in The Guardian from Richard Chartres says:

One of the many virtues of the 19th century atheist Friedrich Nietzsche, the subject of Giles Fraser's PhD studies, was that he hated the Christian faith for what it was – a devotion to the ethics of compassion. He hated the Christian faith for what he saw as its enfeebling solicitude for the weak, the outcast and the infirm. Nietzsche knew that the disappearance of the Christian God would lead to a new set of values.

We have witnessed in the experiments of the political religions of the 20th century, Communism and National Socialism, attempts to explore just what those values might be in practice.

But the serious consequences of atheism are still largely hidden from our contemporaries and indeed we are all caught up in a society shaped by the sovereignty of human willing and choice untrammelled by any higher good.

I'm sure I cannot be the only person who finds this highly disingenuous. If it was a virtue of Nietzsche to hate "devotion to the ethics of compassion" then why does he go on to claim that it was responsible for the horrors of the Nazis and the Soviet Union. Needless to say, Hitler, Lenin and Stalin were not followers of Nietzschean philosophy even from their own perspective. What Chartres wishes to say is that an atheistic stance inevitably leads to bad consequences and that Nietzsche's virtue is honesty in this regard.

However, Nietzsche did not criticise the focus on compassion, but on pity. This is a very important difference. For Buddhists compassion is an indifferent sentiment generally wishing to help others, but not expressing any wants. The pity Nietzsche criticises is the exact opposite, where the most important thing is to focus on the suffering of others, sometimes to the detriment of their actual recovery. We can see this most shockingly in example of Mother Theresa, who glorified suffering to the point where she did not spend the money donated to her on clean needles and good conditions for her patients.

According to Chartres view of Nietzschean philosophy, Nietzsche should have been requesting his own death. For most of his life Nietzsche was "the infirm" himself relying on the cares of others. One of his major philosophical insights was the concept of "ressentiment". Resentment caused by lack of power. He gained this insight precisely from his own experience of personal weakness. He noted on the one hand that being unable to wield power while experiencing personal suffering can lead to resentment of those who have power over you.

He also noted that those who are lacking in power themselves may relish the small amount of power they have over those weaker than them and that this can sometimes take the form of excessive pity. If you feel powerless, one way to regain a sense of power is to seek out those in a position of weakness and assert yourself over them "for their own good".

A major concept in "Thus Spake Zarathustra" is "the 'bestowing' vitue". This is where you gain power by encouraging respect from those around you. Nietzsche believed in having powerful leaders who gather support through inspiring those below them.

On the other hand, Nietzsche was greatly critical of the idea of the weak banding together to overthrow the strong. This was actually his criticism of 'social Darwinism' that said that there was a natural development from weaker to stronger. On the contrary, he argued, there's more often a development of a large mob of the weak who can overcome the strong through sheer number. Nietzsche's criticism of the weak was their tendency to band together to bring the strong down to their level. - Take the anti-immigration sentiment for example. People with decent skills set out to make a better life for themselves and to thrive. They are provided with an opening and they take it. What's the reaction of those where they move? These immigrants are told they have too much power, that they are in the wrong place, that their culture is too self-assured. Their personal strength is seen as a threat and those petty racists around them seek to bring them down.


Nov. 1st, 2008 03:19 pm
philosoraptor42: (Default)
Okay, I've just randomly run into this article by Giles Fraser, a vicar who writes for The Guardian and he has just revealed something which I had suspected but hadn't been sure on until now.

Several months ago, I was working in a Register Office. There I discovered that there is a strict ban, not only within civil marriages but the building as a whole, on anything religious. The whole area is strictly secular. I found myself wondering what the point of this was, since surely the British Humanist Association hadn't campaigned for this and why would anyone want to limit the freedom of expression within non-religious marriages?

The actual rule is as follows:
"The law will not permit the use of any wording, readings or music which may have religious connotations at a civil marriage."

Read more... )
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John Humphys speaks out against 'new atheists' like Dawkins. It looked like it might just turn out to be interesting, but ended up resorting to the same kinds of pointless generalisations which he claims to be combatting. The article says some interesting things about Giles Fraser which are very interesting, but the bulk of the article is not much different to the list below. And it's kinda flawed:
But let me try to sum up the attitude of those militant atheists who seem to hold believers in contempt:

1. Believers are mostly naive or stupid. Or, at least, they’re not as clever as atheists.

2. The few clever ones are pathetic because they need a crutch to get them through life.

3.They are also pathetic because they can’t accept the finality of death.

4.They have been brainwashed into believing. There is no such thing as a “Christian child”, for instance – just a child whose parents have had her baptised.

5.They have been bullied into believing.

6. If we don’t wipe out religious belief by next Thursday week, civilisation as we know it is doomed.

7 Trust me: I’m an atheist. I make no apology if I have oversimplified their views with that little list: it’s what they do to believers all the time.

So let’s answer each of those points:

1. This is so clearly untrue it’s barely worth bothering with. Richard Dawkins, in his bestselling The God Delusion, was reduced to producing a “study” by Mensa that purported to show an inverse relationship between intelligence and belief. He also claimed that only a very few members of the Royal Society believe in a personal god. So what? Some believers are undoubtedly stupid (witness the creationists) but I’ve met one or two atheists I wouldn’t trust to change a lightbulb.

2. Don’t we all? Some use booze rather than the Bible. It doesn’t prove anything about either.

3. Maybe, but it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Count the number of atheists in the foxholes or the cancer wards.

4. True, and many children reject it when they get older. But many others stay with it.

5. This is also true in many cases but you can’t actually bully someone into believing – just into pretending to believe.

6. Of course the mad mullahs are dangerous and extreme Islamism is a threat to be taken seriously. But we’ve survived monotheist religion for 4,000 years or so, and I can think of one or two other things that are a greater threat to civilisation.

7. Why? For those of us who are neither believers nor atheists it can be very difficult. Doubters are left in the deeply unsatisfactory position of finding the existence of God unprovable and implausible, and the comfort of faith unachievable. But at the same time we find the reality of belief undeniable.


1. Well, I'm not going to defend Dawkins. I would certainly think it daft to suggest that religious believers are unintelligent. However, if I remember correctly the argument was that scientists didn't tend to believe in God very strongly. The idea was that knowledge in science undermines religious belief, and this often appears to be the case.

To quote the famous New Testament scholar Rudolf Bultmann:
"It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles."

Bultmann's famous essay 'Kerygma and Myth' can be found in two parts through the following link:

2. The idea of comparing religion with drugs is quite common. Marx, of course, claimed that religion was 'the opium of the people' and by opium he meant something similar to alcohol since opium was a legal drug at the time. George Bernard Shaw also made the comparison in the famous quote:

"The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality."

However, we must be wary that we don't think of this comparison as too close. Religious beliefs are part of an ideology; a drunken stupour is not. Ideologies can be quite dangerous, especially if they based on misleading premises. While alcohol has often been used to control people, it is not so easy to direct someone with alcohol. Religion, on the other hand, can be a very strong tool for control because it dictates all kinds of aspects of one's life. Another place where the analogy breaks down is that people are often encouraged not to drink alcohol too often and in too high a quantity, and the criticism is less often what brand of alcohol they decide to drink. In the case of religion however, people are not generally looked down upon for believing in religion 'too often' and 'too much', but rather for which brand of religious beliefs they pick.

3. The idea that there are fewer atheists in foxholes than anywhere else is a ridiculous myth. Atheists aren't that common in general and they are no more uncommon in foxholes than anywhere else. It's actually quite insulting to suggest that people stop being atheists when they are suffering from cancer. What is especially daft about the claim however, is the idea that someone who doesn't believe in God must also not believe in life after death. Surely it is the prospect of living on after death which is the comfort in these situations and that is not necessarily related to a belief in deities.

4. Children remember what they are taught when they are younger, and religious indoctrination can make a lot of religious ideas extremely hard to unlearn. I know of one poster on the Internet Infidels forum with the username 'Burning Flames' who cannot help but feel calmed by descriptions of Jesus as well as feeling absolute paralysing dread at descriptions of hell. These reactions aren't universal, so Burning Flames knows that they are related to his religious indoctrination as a child. However, he is nevertheless in the ironic position that despite no longer believing in God he is still terrified by hell and calmed by descriptions of Jesus. That is the power that indoctrination can have over a person's development, and that is why describing religious indoctrination as child abuse is not so daft as John Humphrys appears to think.

5. Can't bully someone into believing? Not true. All you have to do is have someone in a position where they aren't sure of themselves and you bully them into anything. I heard a story once which was supposed to be 'inspirational' about a prisoner's conversion to Christianity. They were approached by an evangelical group in a prison and they were giving prisoners a sense of belonging. One of the prisoners, however, was concerned because he wasn't sure if he believed. So, that night the prisoner prayed hard that God would reveal Himself to him, and when he woke up in the morning he was certain that Christianity was true.

Of course, what is happning in the story is that the prisoner is desperate for hope, and the source of the hope isn't God at all. It is the sense of belonging he gets from the Christian group which visits him. He is so desperate for this sense of belonging that he is prepared to believe anything they want in order to gain acceptance. The evangelical group probably doesn't even realise that they are bullying him. They just think of it as 'saving' him. But it is a clear example of being 'bullied into believing' and Humphys should be glad that he has never been subject to this.

6. The problem is that religion is getting desperate. Science and religion are now seen as being opposed and this is an issue which would have been unthinkable until the arrival of fundamentalist movements. We've only had fundamentalist religion for 2 centuries and it only gets more frightening as time goes on.

Point 7 is incomprehensible. Maybe if he'd come across Julia Sweeney and Friedrich Nietzsche, rather than Richard Dawkins and Jean-Paul Sartre he might have realised that for many atheists, atheism doesn't feel empty and tragic and doesn't involve a complete inability to understand what religious belief means for those who still hold to their religious traditions.
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A Guardian article decides to make a note of Atheistic Theology. Only problem is he think dropping a single name is enough to make a big point. Unfortunately he just ends up sounding a bit under-read.,,2146483,00.html

1. From what I can see (and I may well be looking in the wrong places) Ernst Bloch only wrote "only an atheist can be a good Christian". It was Jurgen Moltmann who added "but only a Christian can be a good atheist".

2. He also makes the mistake of assuming that Dawkins sees religion as 'nothing but' a delusion. Of course, Dawkins notes in his book that there were alternatives to the word Delusion, but he would have had to used odd technical terms. Unfortunately, I'm not sure Dawkins is theologically literate enough to express what he actually did mean. He is always confused on the way the philosophical and theological positions are laid out (unsurprisingly, as they are fraught with complex if not outright obscurantist terminology), so he tends to wish to just be blunt in the hope of cutting the gordian knot (much to the irritation of those of us who've been trying to carefully untie it).

In any case characterising Dawkins as someone who dismisses religion as nothing but a delusion, is a bad start....

3. "The resurrection of God presents a challenge to those such as Dawkins and Hitchens because they continue to perceive religion as an opiate which is handed out by states and their tame priests and mullahs in order to keep people quiet, rather than as a home-grown product consumed by people in order to dull the pain not only of global economic disadvantage but also of a deep, yet unidentifiable sense of loss."

False dichotomy. It is both. The preachers exist because they answer a demand on the part of the populace.

Surely it is not a problem for Dawkins to admit that religion is a cry of despair? The preachers become a problem because rather than healing that despair, they encourage it and rub salt into the wound. The religious groups thrive on this despair and that is what is most frightening about the whole system.

4. He ends up on a note not dissimilar to Thomas J.J. Altizer's 'Christian Atheism'. The idea that the problem with religion is that it seeks an 'eternal return' (not to be confused with Nietzsche's Eternal Recurrence). This 'eternal return' seeks to return us finally to some kind of 'primordial beginning' (the 'garden of Eden' so to speak). For Altizer the 'Death of God' and the 'Eternal Recurrence' are both Christian confessions of faith, where God sacrifices his transcendence in order to give absolute value to the 'here and now'.

I hope this doesn't sound too weird.

Anyway, I thought the writer had their hearts in the right place, but they need to read a bit more widely. Firstly, they could do with reading Dawkins' book, rather than just the title. Secondly, they could do with reading a few more Atheist Theologians rather than pretending that Ernst Bloch was the only guy to think of this kind of stuff....
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Radical Theology and Atheism


Introduction: The New Atheists


Recently some popularist atheist writers have been producing work which, to be honest, has an apologetic quality similar to writings of Christian evangelists. The main writers have been labelled ‘The New Atheists’, all having written similar works in a very short space of time. The three works are “End Of Faith”, “Breaking The Spell” and “The God Delusion” by Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, and Richard Dawkins respectively.

The main problem most people have with these works is that they are quite hostile towards religious belief. Surprisingly enough, the harshest words come not from Dawkins, but from Harris. Here is one example:

“Moderates do not want to kill anyone in the name of God, but they want us to keep using the word “God” as though we knew what we were talking about. And they do not want anything too critical said about people who really believe in the God of their fathers, because tolerance, perhaps above all else, is sacred. To speak plainly and truthfully about the state of our world – to say, for instance, that the Bible and the Koran both contain mountains of life-destroying gibberish – is antithetical to tolerance as moderates currently conceive it. But we can no longer afford the luxury of such political correctness. We must finally recognize the price we are paying to maintain the iconography of our ignorance.”

The problem I find with this is not that it is too harsh towards religion, but rather that a great deal of religion does not seem to be relevant to Harris’ criticism.

As well as the view that those who do not belong to a religion ought to take scripture as ‘gibberish’ (which is rather confusing to those of us fascinated by Greek myths and works such as Homer’s Illiad), Harris also presumes that those who take a literalist view of scripture must be the ones who ‘really believe’.

Read more... )




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