Midgley Summons Plagues

In other news, philosopher Mary Midgley offers some thoughts on the proper way to respond to ID. The title: A Plague on Both Their Houses.

You can probably guess what’s coming, especially if you’re aware of Midgley’s history with Richard Dawkins (more on that later). If you’re expecting Midgley to decry equally people like Dawkins who liken evolution to atheism and religious fundamentalists who promote creationism and ID, then you would be right.

Which is already a bad sign. Even if you sincerely believe that evolution and religion are compatible and that people like Dawkins are guilty of bad philosophy in claiming otherwise, the fact remains that there is simply no comparison between Dawkins-ites and fundamentalists. Oversimplifying philosophical arguments in books and public presentations is hardly equivalent to subverting science education and enlisting politicians to promote your religious agenda. Equating the two is just more academic cluelessness on the subject of ID.

Midgley gets off to a reasonable start. She gives a decent, four-paragraph summary of what is wrong with ID.

But it quickly becomes clear that her main claim is the old “non-overlapping magisteria” argument brought to fame by Stephen Jay Gould. Real religion, you see, deals with claims of meaning and purpose, not with anything as mundane as how the world actually is:

Any apparent clashes between the two must therefore arise either from faulty religion or faulty science, or both. They don’t call for war, but for a better understanding. For instance, believers celebrating God as Creator need not be trying to smuggle an illicit set of dubious variables into the realm of scientific facts.

The notion of “faulty science” I understand. I can’t imagine what “faulty religion” could be.

But the real action comes later:

It should surely be obvious that there is nothing scientific about atheism. God’s existence is not a question for the tests of physical science; it belongs to metaphysics. What is wrong with fundamentalism is not its theism — theists do not need to take this line — but its sheer irrelevance. Fundamentalism is a perverse attempt to use a particular, bronze-age Hebrew vision of God to resolve factual questions in science and history. Opponents who answer fundamentalism on its own terms by arguing against this mixed project as a package-deal merely perpetuate its characteristic confusion between the realms of fact and meaning. (Emphasis in Original)

Good heavens! What the heck does that mean?

Fundamentalism is irrelevant? Irrelevant to what? When I look at the influence of creationism in its various forms across the American political landscape, which is what I thought Midgley was going to try to help me understand, I see fundamentalism at every turn. And speaking as someone who holds Dawkins and his confreres in rather high regard, let me observe that we don’t attack fundamentalism for its theism. We attack fundamentalism for precisely the reasons Midgley lays out here, for its rigid adherence to a completely falsified way of looking at the world.

It’s just that independently of that, we also attack theism on its own terms. Theism, especially monotheism, is an inherently bad thing in our view, and in its traditional Christian form it is genuinely menaced by evolution. Not proved false to a logical certainty, but made to seem very unlikely indeed. Midgley can blather all she wants about the wonders of more flexible conceptions of God, but any version that describes a loving, all-powerful God creating the Earth with humans in mind is made to seem dubious in the light of evolution.

And it is simply wrong to say there is nothing scientific about atheism. Atheism is a view of the world heavily informed by science in a way that most prominent forms of Christianity are not. The march of scientific progress has made atheism a more reasonable proposition today than it was a few hundred years ago. That can not simply be swept aside or dismissed as metaphysics.

What I really resent about Midgley’s argument is the implication that it is people like her who really understand religion. They’re the ones who see the sensible kind of religion, unlike us low-brow scribblers here on the ground who think fundamentalism and its offshoots are where the action lies. It is only dumb old Dawkins who deals with that fundamentalist caricature of Christianity. Real scholars deal with the ethereal, say nothing that might be contradicted by actual facts, version.

Folks, it just isn’t so. It is Midgley who is presenting a caricatured, and I would think somewhat offensive, version of Christianity. It is she who effectively concedes all of Dawkins’ points by suggesting that Christianity can be saved from science only by distancing itself from any claim of providing information about how the natural world actually is. It is she who is considering a version of Christianity practiced only by a small minority, and not by the majority of people describing themselves as Christian. It is she, in short, who does not know what she is talking about.

Okay. Enough of that. Let me close with one last quote:

Richard Dawkins and E.O. Wilson added a Thatcherite nuance by their rather strange choice of the term ‘selfish’ for the productivity of genes. Both writers, of course, claim that this was never more than an insignificant metaphor – yet both of them often use it quite naïvely in a literal sense (eg “we are born selfish”), and there is no doubt that this is how it is has reached the public.

Oh bruh-ther. Richard Dawkins a Thatcherite? The mind reels.

More to the point, the description of genes as selfish is not an insignificant metaphor. Rather, selfish has a precise technical meaning in Dawkins’ writing, and indeed in much evolutionary writing. Midgley really ought to be aware of this, since she had it explained to her in no uncertain terms almost thirty years ago.

In 1979 Midgley published a staggeringly ignorant review of Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene in the academic journal Philosophy. It was the sort of review where a knowledgeable reader could see inside of a few paragraphs that she hadn’t a clue what Dawkins was arguing.

Dawkins was subsequently allowed to reply. He writes:

I shall return to this misunderstanding of me, but for the moment let me concentrate on her more serious misunderstanding of the definitional conventions of the whole science of `sociobiology,’ a science of which she aspires to be a serious scholar. When biologists talk about `selfishness’ or `altruism’ we are emphatically not talking about emotional nature, whether of human beings, other animals, or genes. We do not even mean the words in a metaphorical sense. We define altruism and selfishness in purely behavioristic ways… (Emphasis in Original)

That really ought to have put to rest the idea that the description of genes as selfish was intended as a metaphor. Later, Dawkins provided this apt summary of Midgley’s point:

In effect I am saying: `Provided I define selfishness a particular way an oak tree, or a gene, may legitimately be described as `selfish.’ Now a philosopher could reasonably say, `I don’t like your definition, but given that you adopt it, I can see what you mean when you call a gene selfish.’ But no reasonable philosopher would say: `I don’t like your definition, therefore I shall interpret your statement as though you were using my definition of selfishness; by my definition your concept of the selfish gene is nonsense, therefore it is nonsense.’ This is, in effect, what Midgley has done: “Genes cannot be selfish or unselfish, any more than atoms can be jealous, elephants abstract, or biscuits teleological.” (p. 439) Why didn’t she add to this witty little list, for the benefit of quantum physicists, that fundamental particles cannot have charm?

Check and mate.

Comments

  1. #1 Tyler DiPietro
    December 3, 2007

    I suspect that Midgley and those like her suffer primarily from inexperience with those actually representative of religion, at least in the United States. When you live in the academic world it can easily skew your perspective. Living in coastal New England, I can also see how people can get misguided impressions from liberal and moderate churches being relatively more common. But I have also experienced the fundamentalist communities of rural New England where the primary concerns are the fags coming out of the bushes and their kids being taught that grandpa was a monkey. Polls consistently show that the latter is far more common, and very menacing indeed.

  2. #2 Don Henry
    December 3, 2007

    When I started reading your (and other related) blog a couple of months ago, I was sitting on the fence – an agnostic. To me, science was where the action was, just because it had so many more interesting and informed things to say. One could ignore religion and focus on science, not out of hostility but just because of vitality of science.

    But I’m not on the fence anymore. Your point above nicely sum things up – “a loving, all-powerful God creating the Earth with humans in mind is made to seem dubious in the light of evolution”. Science makes the notions of human specialness and of a personal, involved, caring god completely implausible. Without this notion, god and religion are irrelevant. Science leads to atheism and the hostility is inevitable.

  3. #3 roadrider
    December 3, 2007

    Well, don’t most folks attending those liberal and moderate churches believe in the following propositions: an afterlife, a non-material soul that survives death, reincarnation, virgin birth, transubstantiation, the efficacy of prayer for personal intervention by their deity, miracles, and on and on?

    They may not be fire-breathing gay bashers or potential abortion clinic bombers but they still have a presumption of validity for their delusional beliefs and probably buy into the worst atheist bashing stereotypes.

    Yeah, the fundies are scarier but the religious moderates and liberals are no less important to upholding the status quo in our society with respect to the immunity of religious beliefs from critical analysis.

  4. #4 Pseudonym
    December 3, 2007

    Tyler:

    When you live in the academic world it can easily skew your perspective.

    It’s also conversely true that living in the US “bible belt” can skew your perspective. And thank you for your acknowledgement of this with your “at least in the United States” qualification.

    roadrider:

    Well, don’t most folks attending those liberal and moderate churches believe in the following propositions: an afterlife, a non-material soul that survives death, reincarnation, virgin birth, transubstantiation, the efficacy of prayer for personal intervention by their deity, miracles, and on and on?

    I think it’d hard to find any liberal/moderate churchgoer that believed in all of those, and nigh impossible to find a liberal/moderate clergyperson who did, even if you remove reincarnation (which is not even a traditional Christian belief) and transubstantiation (which is peculiarly Roman Catholic) from the list.

  5. #5 Tyler DiPietro
    December 3, 2007

    “It’s also conversely true that living in the US “bible belt” can skew your perspective.”

    Which is exactly why I implied, but should have emphasized more strongly, that anecdotes should be avoided here. The are plenty of local trends that can skew one’s perspective on the global picture.

    You may have in mind places where religion is comparatively weak (i.e., the rest of the Anglosphere outside the U.S.) or maintains a largely vestigial presence (i.e., Western Europe and Scandinavia). But what about the rest of the world? Religion as commonly practiced in the United States, Latin America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa all pretty much conform to Dawkins’ descriptions. The metaphysical aberrations of liberal theology hold little sway, ancient superstitions are the rule and not the exception.

    It’s also worth mentioning that liberal religion tends to hold sway only where religion has had to accomodate increasing secularization anyway, so there is still probably a peripheral benefit to more people giving up religion.

  6. #6 roadrider
    December 4, 2007

    Pseudonym said:

    “I think it’d hard to find any liberal/moderate churchgoer that believed in all of those …”

    Funny, I seem to know a LOT of non-fundies who believe in most, if not all, of that stuff. Perhaps our definitions of liberal and moderate differ or you know a vastly different population of churchgoers.

    With repsect to my orignal post I should have said resurrection instead of reincarnation. Thank you for the correction.

  7. #7 Collin
    December 4, 2007

    Whatever flavor of religion you believe in, liberal to fundy, there is an assumption of something outside of the natural / material world. Whether it’s a warm fuzzy guy or a fire breathing homo hater that is not really what needs questioning. While I find fundamentalist thinking repulsive and liberal religions mainly nails on the chalk board annoying, both should be questioned just as vigorously. I think Dawkins made the point that there is no rational line that can be drawn where liberal religion stops and fundamentalist religion begins.

  8. #8 Rieux
    December 4, 2007

    Pseudonym (“if that is your real name“):

    Funny, I seem to know a LOT of non-fundies who believe in most, if not all, of that stuff.

    My upbringing was Protestant, so I didn’t meet very many people in that stage of my life who bought into transubstantiation. And the correction of resurrection for reincarnation is an important one.

    That said, the denomination I was brought up in was a liberal Protestant one, and yet I know a very large number of my former co-religionists who believe fervently in everything else (including a bodily resurrection) Pseudonym listed.

    Like so many liberal academics, Midgley’s notion of how religion manifests itself is concocted to serve her didactic purposes, rather than derived from facts on the ground. Like it or not, enormous numbers of ordinary religious believers violate NOMA (by accepting religious notions that make vast, unfounded contentions about the nature of the material universe) with impunity. These academics are in deep denial.

  9. #9 roadrider
    December 4, 2007

    Rieux,

    Roadrider here – I think you’re mixing up Pseudonym’s (why can’t I type that correctly in fewer than three tries?) arguments with mine. I think you and I are in agreement.

  10. #10 Blake Stacey
    December 4, 2007

    Didn’t we just hear about Catholics performing a fertility rite using bone and hair from a saint? On what planet is that consistent with NOMA?

  11. #11 Blake Stacey
    December 4, 2007

    Midgley said, as quoted by Dawkins,

    Genes cannot be selfish or unselfish, any more than atoms can be jealous, elephants abstract, or biscuits teleological.

    Whatever you do, don’t think of an abstract elephant!

  12. #12 ctw
    December 4, 2007

    OK, I think we’ve got a fool-proof litmus test. My previous exposure to biology was cutting up a frog in HS in the mid 50s, and I had no trouble at all understanding Dawkins’s use of “selfish” in TSG. Ergo, anyone who does has no more business pontificating publicly on the topic than I – which is obviously none.

    re the impossibility of abstract elephants, does that mean a “pink elephant” is real? And doesn’t a biscuit in fact have a teleology (generously defined. perhaps), namely to be eaten?

    – Charles

  13. #13 Rieux
    December 4, 2007

    Roadrider–

    You’re right! Dumb mistake on my part.

  14. #14 Pseudonym
    December 4, 2007

    roadrider:

    Funny, I seem to know a LOT of non-fundies who believe in most, if not all, of that stuff.

    Most of it, quite possibly. All of it, unlikely. And I think this is more important than some people think.

    Disclaimer: In what follows, bear in mind that I know nothing about Mary Midgley apart from a brief skim of her Wikipedia entry.

    I agree with everyone, including Richard Dawkins and Jason, who pointed out that Mary Midgley misunderstood what Dawkins wrote, and should correct herself and apologise.

    In her defence, she’s a moral philosopher who has probably had many bad professional experiences with people using the word “selfish”, and went off on an ill-considered rant. Also, she’s almost 90, which may or may not be relevant.

    Jason pointed out:

    It is she who effectively concedes all of Dawkins’ points by suggesting that Christianity can be saved from science only by distancing itself from any claim of providing information about how the natural world actually is.

    …and I’m not certain that Midgley would disagree with that. Again, she’s a moral philosopher, and so her area of professional concern is not how the natural world “actually is”, except tangentially.

    While our sense of morality is certainly a product of our evolutionary history, nobody worth listening to would seriously claim that good morals and good ethics are determined by that. Ask Science if you want to know what “is”, but ask Philosophy if you want to know what “should be”.

    While I’m here, the title of this post is, of course, hyperbole. Pat Robertson might really try to summon plagues (and conveniently ignore it when they don’t arrive). Mary Midgley is just making a literary allusion.

    Collin said:

    I think Dawkins made the point that there is no rational line that can be drawn where liberal religion stops and fundamentalist religion begins.

    My personal opinion is that Midgley’s “concession” is, in some sense, a good “rational line”. Perhaps it describes a religion only practised by liberal theologians and theist moral philosophers. And yes, there are certainly good arguments against it. But if every theist converted to that kind of religion tomorrow, Richard Dawkins would probably never have to write another book on the topic.

  15. #15 Pierce R. Butler
    December 4, 2007

    Jason Rosenhouse: I can’t imagine what ?faulty religion? could be.

    Worship of John Cleese sitcoms by a sloppy writer/speller.

  16. #16 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    December 5, 2007

    Midgley: Not surprisingly, this campaign provoked a response. Anti-scientific fundamentalism generated its mirror-image, the dogmatic �scientific atheism� of sages like John Draper and Andrew Dickson White.

    My, but Midgley is astonishly poorly informed. Andrew Dickson White was not an atheist of any kind; he considered himself to be a Christian. In the introduction to his lengthy work A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom he makes this very clear:

    My belief is that in the field left to them–their proper field–the clergy will more and more, as they cease to struggle against scientific methods and conclusions, do work even nobler and more beautiful than anything they have heretofore done. And this is saying much. My conviction is that Science, though it has evidently conquered Dogmatic Theology based on biblical texts and ancient modes of thought, will go hand in hand with Religion; and that, although theological control will continue to diminish, Religion, as seen in the recognition of “a Power in the universe, not ourselves, which makes for righteousness,” and in the love of God and of our neighbor, will steadily grow stronger and stronger, not only in the American institutions of learning but in the world at large. Thus may the declaration of Micah as to the requirements of Jehovah, the definition by St. James of “pure religion and undefiled,” and, above all, the precepts and ideals of the blessed Founder of Christianity himself, be brought to bear more and more effectively on mankind.

    I do hope that Philosophy Now is not a peer-reviewed outlet.(?)

  17. #17 roadrider
    December 5, 2007

    Pseudonym said:

    Most of it, quite possibly. All of it, unlikely. And I think this is more important than some people think.

    Sorry, but I fail to see the distinction between believing some scientifically untenable religious myths and believing all of them.

  18. #18 palamede
    December 6, 2007

    The interesting question is not the distinction, but by what means they decide which ones to believe.

  19. #19 Pseudonym
    December 6, 2007

    Sorry, but I fail to see the distinction between believing some scientifically untenable religious myths and believing all of them.

    One key distinction is that anyone who doesn’t swallow ancient mythology whole is teachable.

    But I disagree that all of the things that you mention are “scientificially untenable”. Some of them are unfalsifiable, and therefore non-scientific. Belief in an afterlife is a good example. IMO, that particular belief is harmless in most people. It’s not anti-scientific. It doesn’t hinder progress in any way.

    Yeah, yeah, I know. If you’re a complete idiot, belief in an afterlife makes you statistically-insignificantly-more-likely to fly a plane into a building. Similarly, if you’re an idiot, belief in evolution is statistically-insignificantly-more-likely to make you a eugenicist and belief in freedom is statistically-insignificantly-more-likely to make you invade other countries on flimsy pretexts. Stupid people will do stupid things irrespective of what they believe.

    palamede:

    The interesting question is not the distinction, but by what means they decide which ones to believe.

    Excellent point. I’m fairly respectful of someone who believes something that I find absurd if they believe it for the right reasons, at least if I judge the belief to be harmless. (That doesn’t mean you should. That’s up to you.)

  20. #20 roadrider
    December 6, 2007

    One key distinction is that anyone who doesn’t swallow ancient mythology whole is teachable.

    They’re only teachable if they’re willing to learn. A history of swallowing only portions of ancient mythology doesn’ strike me as a qualification for being motivated to undertake rational analysis and accept conclusions that contradict cherished, but irrational beliefs.

    But I disagree that all of the things that you mention are “scientificially untenable”. Some of them are unfalsifiable, and therefore non-scientific.

    Huh? Beliefs in Santa Claus or leprechauns are non-falsifiable. Are they not scientifically untenable? How, in substance are these nonsensical beliefs any different than religious beliefs?

    Belief in an afterlife is a good example. IMO, that particular belief is harmless in most people. It’s not anti-scientific. It doesn’t hinder progress in any way.

    Bullshit!!! This is NOT a harmless belief. For one thing it can be used as an excuse not to work to improve the human condition in one’s lifetime because the reward lies in this nebulous afterlife. Afterlife beliefs are also the basis for the “bring on the Armageddon” viewpoint of Christian extremists or the jihadist movement among Muslim extremists.

    It’s not just a matter of there being a “statistically-insignificant-more-than likely” probability of an idiot flying a plane into a building as you suggested. Those guys were NOT idiots – they were intelligent, well-educated fanatics, just like the neo-con crusaders who want to hasten the second coming by initiating a holy war in the Middle East. The latter are more dangerous since some of them hold positions of influence in government.

    Sorry, but I can’t give a pass to so-called religious “moderates” and “liberals” because they only buy into some ridiculous mythologies. I’ll give them credit for being more reasonable and easier to get along with than the fundies, but the fact remains that they still adhere to delusional mythologies that are harmful to political and intellectual discourse, do retard learning and intellectual progress and do contribute to social marginalization of non-believers.

  21. #21 Pseudonym
    December 6, 2007

    Beliefs in Santa Claus or leprechauns are non-falsifiable.

    Nonsense.

    Taking Santa Claus for a moment: Specific beliefs about Santa Claus (e.g. whether or not there’s a factory at the North Pole) are trivially falisfiable. Other beliefs about Santa Claus (e.g. that there’s a guy in a red suit at the shopping mall who asks you want you want for Christmas) are trivially true. Moreover, it’s possible to investigate how presents appear under your Christmas tree every year, and this investigation will help determine which theories are more likely to be true.

    You’d be on firmer ground by taking something like Russell’s Teapot or the IPU: Propositions which are specifically set up to be non-falsifiable. However, you have to be careful here to distinguish between beliefs and claims. Most people believe many things that are not associated with assertions of “truth”.

    For one thing it can be used as an excuse […]

    I think I’ve already covered the “can be used as an excuse” argument. As I already noted, belief in “freedom” and “democracy” “can be used an excuse” for bad things. That does not make belief in “freedom” or “democracy” dangerous.

    Those guys were NOT idiots – they were intelligent, well-educated fanatics […]

    Sorry, but measurable IQ and education does not make you a non-idiot. (Disclaimer: Early psychologists adopted a technical definition of “idiot” referring to people with IQs lower than 20. This is, obviously, not the intended meaning here.)

    Sorry, but I can’t give a pass to so-called religious “moderates” and “liberals” because they only buy into some ridiculous mythologies.

    No need to be sorry, and of course it’s entirely up to you. However, I find it hard to listen to this sort of guilt-by-association argument and not make comparisons with the IDiots who argue that evolution causes moral decay.

    I feel sorry for people in the US, especially the “Bible belt”, who have to put up with louder and more powerful fundie-ism than you find in the rest of the Anglosphere. I can see how your argument makes a bit more sense where you live.

  22. #22 roadrider
    December 6, 2007

    Yes, some aspects of the Santa Claus myth are trivially falsifiable as are most aspects of religious mythology. However, one can still adopt a Deist-type argument about a Santa Claus spirit that exists outside of nature and is thus not subject to rational analysis. This is the position that “moderate” and “liberal” believers retreat to and the weak defense you’re offering on their behalf.

    The argument is no different in substance than Russell’s teapot or Sagan’s invisible dragon (but perhaps more in keeping with the season) and you’ve not explained how, in substance, religious beliefs are different from any of these examples.

    How you’ve “covered” the “can be used as an excuse” argument is not readily apparent. I should also point out that belief in an afterlife has a clear impact on the abortion and stem cell research issues.

    Your assertion about the “idiocy” of the 9-11 hijackers is also faulty. There’s a big difference between idiocy and fanaticism. A failure to understand that otherwise smart folks can hold what would seem to be irrational positions displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the issues in this discussion.

    It’s a facile cop-out to claim that the consequences arising from irrational belief systems are only caused by a small proportion of folks that you dismiss as idiots. It’s the beliefs, and the systematic way they are ingrained in people during their impressionable phases of life and the tremendous social reinforcement that one receives for adhering to them that are the problem as much as the minority that takes them to extreme ends. Like it or not, religious believers and their apologists have to wear those extremists and their actions like Marley’s chain (to use a mythological example involving the afterlife). They don’t get to disavow them when convenient.

    This, in response to your calculated insult, is not a guilt by association argument and does not equate, in any way, shape or form to the specious arguments concerning the moral effects of accepting evolution made by intelligent design advocates. I resent this completely unwarranted slur. The same argument has been made (I admit more eloquently) by Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens so I’m not going to apologize for it. Why don’t you try your insults on them?

  23. #23 Pseudonym
    December 6, 2007

    However, one can still adopt a Deist-type argument about a Santa Claus spirit that exists outside of nature and is thus not subject to rational analysis.

    Even better, you can make the argument that Santa Claus is a representation of the abstract “Spirit of Christmas”, like all the goodwill and presents and stuff. And if that was the argument, I’d defend it.

    How you’ve “covered” the “can be used as an excuse” argument is not readily apparent.

    I won’t recap it, but I’ve said several times that belief in “freedom” and “democracy” “can be used as an excuse”.

    I guess that you could argue that freedom is a dangerous idea in some sense (in the same sense as “Darwin’s dangerous idea”), but I suspect it’s a different sense than you mean.

    Like it or not, religious believers and their apologists have to wear those extremists and their actions like Marley’s chain (to use a mythological example involving the afterlife). They don’t get to disavow them when convenient.

    They do not if they consistently disavow the extremists, instead of only when convenient.

    To say otherwise is like, as the “wedge document” would have you believe, claiming that evolutionary biology carries eugenics as a millstone, which we (I hope) agree is ridiculous.

    Incidentally, I briefly considered pre-apologising for the comparison to IDiots, which I did not mean as a personal slight, but I thought it’d be taken the wrong way. I see it wouldn’t have been, so I apologise. Nonetheless, the fact remains that guilt by association is a logical fallacy no matter who makes it. And it is a guilt by association argument. No amount of denying it will change that.

  24. #24 roadrider
    December 6, 2007

    They do not if they consistently disavow the extremists, instead of only when convenient.

    They have to wear them irrespective of whether they consistently disavow them or only do so when convenient. The extremists are an unavoidable consequence of religious belief and the unwarranted deference and immunity from critical analysis it has always been granted. Your attempts to divorce the extremists from the rest of the believers is like the argument that Abu Ghraib was the result of just a few bad apples instead of an institutional culture.

    I won’t recap it, but I’ve said several times that belief in “freedom” and “democracy” “can be used as an excuse”.

    Yes, I did read what you wrote. What I meant is that I don’t buy your argument. Freedom and democracy are ideas not based on belief in imaginary supernatural entities who revealed their thoughts to specially selected prophets who transcribed them into holy texts, the intrinsic truth of which cannot be questioned. I don’t think there’s any comparison here irrespective of whether freedom and democracy can be used (or, more correctly, misued) as excuses for wrong doing.

    To say otherwise is like, as the “wedge document” would have you believe, claiming that evolutionary biology carries eugenics as a millstone, which we (I hope) agree is ridiculous.

    Yes, we agree that the assertions in the infamous wedge document are ridiculous. What we do not agree on is that the specious ideologically-driven, evidence-free assertions in the wedge document can be equated with the observation that religious extremism is quite obviously connected to empirically verifiable facts concerning religion as practiced by the majority of believers.

    And it is a guilt by association argument. No amount of denying it will change that.

    That’s your opinion. I disagree and so do Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens (and I suspect many, many others)

    I overreacted to your comparison of my argument to the one made by the ID folks. I accept your apology and apologize to you for reacting impulsively.

    I’m signing off for the night and probably won’t be revisiting this thread as I don’t think we have any common ground and as no one else seems to be chiming in I think the discussion has been exhausted.

  25. #25 Pseudonym
    December 6, 2007

    Yup, I was planning to sign off this thread too. Thanks for an interesting discussion.

  26. #26 jill
    December 13, 2007

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