Pharyngula

The Eagleton Delusion

The other day, I read this fawning review by Andrew O’Hehir of Terry Eagleton’s new book, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate, and was a little surprised. I’ve read a smattering of Eagleton before, and the words “brisk, funny and challenging” or “witty” never came to mind, and the review actually gave no evidence that these adjectives were applicable in this case. I felt like ripping into O’Hehir, but was held up by one awkward lack: I hadn’t read Eagleton’s book. Who knows? Maybe he had found some grain of sense and some literary imperative to write cleanly and plainly.

So I was in New York the other day, and was offered a copy of Eagleton’s book, and took the first step in my imminent doom by accepting it. Then I tried to fly home on Saturday, one of those flights that was plagued with mechanical errors that caused delays and long stretches locked in a tin can, and also flights that were packed tightly with travelers…so crammed with people that they actually took my computer and book bag away from me to pack in the cargo hold, and I had to quickly snatch something to read before the baggage handlers took it away. I grabbed the Eagleton book. Thus was my fate sealed.

I was trapped in a plane for 8 hours with nothing to read but Eagleton and the Sky Mall catalog.

This is an account of my day of misery.

There was a part of O’Hehir’s review that I could scarcely believe, and was even more astounded that O’Hehir thought it was clever: Eagleton invents an antagonist. He is specifically writing this book as a rebuttal to Dawkins and Hitchens and Dennett and all those other rowdy atheists, and while he does address some of their arguments directly (and poorly), he has also created this composite character he calls “Ditchkins”. Ditchkins is a straw man, a dummy he can flog without fear of reply, and without worry that someone might actually find that his description of Ditchkins views is a caricature, because Ditchkins doesn’t exist.

It’s a bit disconcerting. There is a fine literary tradition in having a Simplicio foil to bounce ideas off of in a rhetorical exercise, but this one goes off the rails quickly. We’ll have a section of the essay in which Eagleton is discussing some idea by Dawkins, for instance, and then suddenly he’s telling us that “Ditchkins thinks…” or “Ditchkins believes…” or “Ditchkins says…” — it’s rather creepy and more than a little cowardly. After all, Dawkins might be able to speak up and say that no, he doesn’t think that…but Ditchkins never will. Ditchkins exists only to absorb abuse.

Ditchkins is a central figure in this book, and seems to have about as much reality to Eagleton as Jesus — at least, he seems to be mentioned about as often. One of the most tedious aspects of the book is the way poor uncomplaining Ditchkins is constantly dragged out for a flogging, a torture that lacks even the visceral thrill of a little blood and suffering, since Ditchkins bears his torment without even a squeak. Apparently, we’re supposed to be impressed with the way Eagleton grunts with effort and sprays sweat around as he wields his whip. I wasn’t; he’s playing a futile game.

It ends sadly, too. Eagleton seems to lose himself in his metaphorical opponent.

Will Ditchkins read this book and experience an epiphany which puts the road to Damascus in the shade? To use no less than two theological terms by way of response: not a hope in hell.

I think it’s safe to say that no, Ditchkins will not read the book, Ditchkins will not experience an epiphany, and Ditchkins will not convert to Christianity. Well, unless Eagleton writes a sequel, and makes Ditchkins dance to whatever tune he wants to play. Heck, maybe someone will write some internet slash fiction with Ditchkins and Harry Potter, and Ditchkins will do all kinds of interesting things. Except, of course, that most of us will recognize that Ditchkins is not real.

You must understand that I was cooped up with Eagleton’s book for 8 hours. I read it twice. I began to hate the Ditchkins punching bag with an abiding passion, one that was exceeded only by my detestation for Eagleton’s persistent tics. There’s another that came up frequently: he’s trying to argue that Ditchkins’ image of religion is inaccurate and uninformed, and he frequently resorts to the incongruous analogy to back that assertion up, as in this example from the very first page of the preface.

When it comes to the New Testament, at least, what they usually write off is a worthless caricature of the real thing, rooted in a degree of ignorance and prejudice to match religion’s own. It is as though one were to dismiss feminism on the basis of Clint Eastwood’s opinions of it.

Ha ha, see? Feminism and Clint Eastwood, they’re so different! As different as the New Testament and Dawkins! But wait…I don’t actually know what Eastwood’s opinions of feminism are, and from what I know of his movies, they might be fairly complicated. I suddenly wanted to know what those opinions might be — maybe this analogy is accurate in a way Eagleton did not intend. (But I was trapped on a plane! With no laptop and no internet! Only Eagleton!)

One peculiarly ambiguous analogy we can forgive, but Eagleton does this repeatedly. Here’s a sampling. You too will begin to cringe at the repetition.

But Christianity was never meant to be an explanation of anything in the first place. It is rather like saying that thanks to electric toasters we can forget about Chekov.

Yet is is scarcely a novel point to claim for the most part Ditchkins holds forth on religion in a truly shocking ignorance of many of its tenets—a situation I have compared elsewhere to the arrogance of one who regards himself as competent to pronounce on arcane questions of biology on the strength of a passing acquaintance with the British Book of Birds.

With dreary predictability, Daniel C. Dennett defines religions at the beginning of his Breaking the Spell as “social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought,” which as far as Christianity goes is rather like beginning the history of the potato by defining it as a rare species of rattlesnake.

I happen to know as a fact, for example, that the moon deeply affects human behavior, since as a mild species of lunatic I am always aware of when the moon is full without even looking (though I draw the line at baying or sprouting hair on my cheeks). I doubt, however, that scientists who valued their corporate grants would fall over themselves to investigate this remarkably well-evidenced phenomenon. It would be rather like a literary critic publishing a three-volume study of Goosey Goosey Gander.

It did get tiresome. Eagleton also uses it as an excuse to not address the issue he’s brought up: in the Dennett quote, for instance, he seems to be offended that anyone has dared to find any point of commonality between his precious Irish Catholic potato and all the venomous vipers of those other religions, but he does not bother to tell us exactly why the comparison should be so odious…except, of course, by his constant praise of the special and unique character of Christianity.

That last quote is an amusing revelation of exactly how little Eagleton knows about science. His “fact” of a “well-evidenced” influence of the full moon on human behavior has been investigated — it’s the kind of claim about reality that’s relatively easy to check. Surprise: the evidence for it is extremely weak and anecdotal, and analysis of such things as police reports has found that the “fact” isn’t.

But let us not get bogged down in the trivial details like evidence — I’m sure Terry Eagleton would agree that that misses the grand point he is making, which is completely independent of facts or reason, and represents a Greater Truth unhampered by those footling requirements. His claim is that the atheists are criticizing a version of religion he finds disagreeable and not at all like his version of religion…Ditchkins has made the ghastly error of failing to write The Eagleton Delusion or Eagleton Is Not Great or Letter to an Eagleton Nation. His irritation at this omission is essentially the driving force behind this entire book.

So what, exactly, is Eagleton theology, that we may critique it as representative of religion as a whole? We have a little problem here. Throughout this rambling, incoherent collection of pages, we get no clarity, no clean explanation of what exactly religion is; he can chastise Dennett for offering a definition of religion with which he vehemently disagrees, but you will not then find Eagleton carrying through with his definition. This is probably because Eagleton has no need for clarity — his own contradictions are worn with pride as emblems of ineffable profundity instead of addlepated murkiness. Even his own defenders don’t have an answer: Stanley Fish, clearly a kindred spirit in the world of blathering pseudoscholarship, admits this:

Christianity may or may not be the faith he holds to (he doesn’t tell us), but he speaks, he says, “partly in defense of my own forbearers, against the charge that the creed to which they dedicated their lives is worthless and void.”

Well then. What are we to do? I dug into his book (remember, trapped on a plane for 8 hours with nothing better to do) trying to find the worthy kernel of faith we have been shamefully besmirching, and failed. And, as Eagleton says, this is my moral obligation.

Many reflective people these days will see good reason to reject religious belief. But even if the account I have given of it is not literally true, it may still serve as an allegory of our political and historical condition. Besides, critics of the most enduring form of popular culture in human history have a moral obligation to confront the case at its most persuasive, rather than grabbing themselves a victory on the cheap by savaging it as so much garbage and gobbledygook. The mainstream Christian theology I have outlined here may well be false; but anyone who holds it is in my view deserving of respect.

Hang on, there: if we critics have a “moral obligation to confront the case at its most persuasive”, shouldn’t the defenders similarly have a moral obligation to present their most persuasive case? Even here, he’s admitting that his version of religion may not be “literally true”, may in fact be false, and may only have value as an allegory — it may in fact be nothing but Goosey Goosey Gander — but somehow he expects the critics to have at their disposal a strong and persuasive case for religion with which they should grapple. This is somewhat inconsistent.

There is a hint in that quote, however. He claims to have given an account of religious belief already, and that quote is from page 33. Reductionist-materialist-naturalistic-scientific thinker that I am, I assumed that this meant that somewhere between pages 1 and 32, I would find an explanation of the belief that Ditchkins (and I; we are all Ditchkins) should focus upon. Alas. You can try, as I did, but you will not find it. You will find many pronouncements about God’s nature, however — he is a very Catholic creature, blurred by Eagleton’s own fuzzy thinking.

But here, decide for yourselves. This is a sampling from those 32 pages. He’s got a theology, all right.

God, in short, is every bit as gloriously pointless as Ditchkins tells us he is. He is a kind of perpetual critique of instrumental reason.

God for Christian theology is not a mega-manufacturer. He is rather what sustains all things in being by his love, and would still be this even if the world had no beginning.

Jesus is a sick joke of a savior.

For Christian teaching, God’s love and forgiveness are ruthlessly unforgiving powers which break violently into our protective, self-rationalizing little sphere, smashing our sentimental illusions and turning our world brutally upside down. In Jesus, the law is revealed to be the law of love and mercy, and God not some Blakean Nobodaddy but a helpless, vulnerable animal.

It is worth adding that Jesus’s attitude toward the family is one of implacable hostility. He has come to break up these cozy little conservative settlements, so beloved of American advertisers in the name of his mission, setting their members at each other’s throats; and he seems to have precious little time for his own family in particular.

My first thought is that, while this may be representative of some theologians, it’s awfully remote from the real world of religious belief. There are parts of this rambling mess that, if presented at the local Missouri Synod Lutheran church, would have gotten him lynched…or at the very least, left his listeners very confused about what the lunatic was doing in the pulpit. Eagletonism is not mainstream.

It’s also rather sectarian. Eagleton simply assumes that Jesus is the legitimate son of a god, and that the founding myths of Christianity are literally true. In his defense of True Religion against the atheist hordes, he ignores the fact that his particular god, even ignoring his peculiar interpretations of that deity, is worshipped by a minority on this planet. Nowhere does he bother to address this central issue, that most people find his religion silly and incredible…while most of them are believing in something else that Eagleton finds silly and incredible.

Most importantly, he is completely oblivious to the actual criticisms the atheists have made of religion. We all know that religion inspires great towering erections of byzantine logic, and all kinds of twisted rationalizations for just about anything, from the torture-murder of a Jewish rabble-rouser on a Roman cross to his manifestation in the brown marks on a piece of pita bread. We are also aware that all the ambiguities and contradictions in the stories do a wonderful job of spawning weird associations in the minds of literary theorists, sending them into raptures of babblement. But so what? We are addressing the premises. What is the evidence for the existence of any god? What is the source for your information about the nature of this god, as well as all the specifics about what he wants right now? Why have the prophets and priests of your god, who apparently have a communications line to an omniscient being, done such a poor job of describing the world and how it works? If god’s will is the fundamental arbiter of moral behavior, how do we determine god’s will? Why is it that when the defenders of this god-centric view sit down to write books that should answer these kinds of questions, they always, without fail, write such vapid tripe?

As I was marking up his little book with these questions, something routine happened: the plane hit some turbulence, bounced about for a bit, and I looked out the window and had the fleeting, morbid thought, “What if we crashed?” We’ve all had that thought, and I usually dismiss it with little concern, but this time I had a new worry: I was sitting there holding Reason, Faith, and Revolution. You know that grandmotherly admonition to always wear clean underwear because, what if you had an accident, and they’d know? I had a vision of my broken corpse on a slab, and the sneering pathologist pulling the book out of my dead clenched hand, and making some mocking comment in his notes. Eagleton would be the skidmark at my autopsy. I resolved that if the plane did go down, the first thing I was going to do was fling the book as far forward as I could, both removing it from association with my body and satisfying a primal urge that had been prodding me since I opened it to page 1.

I confess that my prior exposure to Eagleton was in small doses, little dribs and drabs of essays and interviews, and that while my opinion of him was uniformly negative, I had to admit that I’d never really plunged deeply into anything he had written. I was seriously baffled by all the praise for him that I saw, but OK, I must be missing something. But now that I’ve read this entire book (twice! Ack!), I was really baffled. What’s going on here? I thought the other side of campus, the one with all those arty lit-crit types, was where the good writing was done…but Reason, Faith, and Revolution is one of the most poorly written and poorly argued books I’ve ever read. Admittedly, it didn’t sink to the levels of incompetent mangling of the English language that I’ve seen in books like The Spiritual Brain (still my all-time champ for bad writing), but there’s nothing there: no organization, no sense, no argument. It’s taken from a series of lectures he gave at Yale, and the impression given is that he gulped down a couple of scholarly sherries, stepped up to the lectern, and started talking off-the-cuff about things he didn’t like — a kind of tweedy Andy Rooney with longer sentences and more complex vocabulary, and a lot more ego.

I tried, however, to find something charitable to say. I tried to pretend for a little while that I was a fellow traveler, that somewhere in this stewpot of words there was a message and a virtue beyond my prejudices about books being accurate and honest and forthright. I pretended that this was a holy book, a bible, and that I was convinced contained a great truth, that I would then tease out and engage in a little exegesis of my own — the message might be obscure, but there must be something there.

Well, maybe not. Here’s the closest thing to a germ of an idea that I could find.

The difference between Ditchkins and radicals like myself hinges on whether it is true that the ultimate signifier of the human condition is the tortured and murdered body of a political criminal, and what the implications of this are for living.

Radicals like Eagleton? An apologist for dogma? Wait, no, stop. I promised to try and see the world through his eyes for a moment.

It is true that the symbol of the crucified Christ is a powerful one, especially if you’ve had that image dunned into you constantly, from an early age. It appeals because we can identify with suffering — all of us have or will suffer, and we all face death at some point in our lives. It resonates. Christianity has also coupled this strong image of suffering with the idea of redemption; we can be free of our pain, and in addition, we have a potent champion in Jesus who sympathizes with us. And once we identify with the tortured Christ, and love the gift of a loving hand that he gives us, perhaps this will translate into greater social responsibility — we will see those around us who are weaker and hurting more than we are, and we will also make sacrifices for the greater good.

In that sense, it is a manifestation of a liberal ideal, an inspiration to do better for the commonality. I can see where Eagleton wants to promote the virtue of sacrifice, and I can even share that with him; I can also see where he views his religion as a constant reminder of that duty.

But throughout his book I am confronted with Eagleton’s limitations.

For one, he is incapable of recognizing that his signifier is not the only one possible for representing his ideals. He constantly portrays Ditchkins as a smug bourgeois stooge wallowing in his comfort in North Oxford (oh, Eagleton has nothing but contempt for North Oxford, which makes frequent appearances as a hellhole inhabited by uncaring atheists), and his ultimate gripe is really that the Ditchkins of the world are so illiberal. Why? Because they do not accept the message of Jesus. It doesn’t matter what they think, what they do, or what they write: that they do not bow down before the icon of a crucified Jesus, they must not accept all the other meanings with which Eagleton has imbued it.

For another, he doesn’t recognize that millions of people see that same image, and do not see it as a symbol of all the good that he proposes. For some, it is a badge of superiority — they are so much better than the infidel. For others, it is a signifier of something other than Eagleton’s liberation theology: the prosperity gospel, for instance, or the church militant. For most, it has been reduced by repetition and rote to meaninglessness. How else to explain that regular church attendance in America is correlated with a greater willingness to condone torture? How can people contemplate Christianity’s symbol and think it grants permission to cause suffering?

There is also a profound difference between what we want, and what is. Eagleton thinks the symbology is good because he wants it to be so, because he reifies aspiration and wants it to replace reality. That isn’t good enough for me. I look at the history of religion and Christianity, and I see the actions carried out in its name now, and I see that his wish has failed, and failed repeatedly.

We live in a culture where the contorted body of a tortured criminal is an important signifier of the human condition. Eagleton believes this is a good thing. My imaginary friend Ditchkins and I do not; it is an image that captures the imagination, for sure, but it has done us harm. It has short-circuited natural human thoughts and feelings into a dead-end chase after the transcendant rather than the immanent.

If we want a signifier for the human condition, imagine the culture we would live in now if, instead of a dead corpse on an instrument of torture, our signifier was a child staring in wonder at the stars. That’s representative of the state of humanity, too; it’s a symbol that touches us all as much as that of a representation of our final end, and we don’t have to daub it with the cheap glow-in-the-dark paint of supernatural fol-de-rol for it to have deeper meaning. We atheists, contra Eagleton, have aspirations, too; aspirations for humanity in all the meanings of that word. But we also expect that those aspirations will be built on reality.

That was my frustrating, horrible, awful day on a plane with Terry Eagleton, and that’s enough of my wallowing in that miserable and interminable experience, so I’ll stop there. I’m thinking I ought to turn it into a screenplay, though, but only if I get a guarantee that Samuel L. Jackson will play me.

Comments

  1. #1 professorchaos
    May 5, 2009

    PZ, how do you have time to blog so much every single day?

  2. #2 TechSkeptic
    May 5, 2009

    So I was in New York the other day…

    argh! Did you annouce that?!? Did I miss that? I would love to have bought you a beer!

  3. #3 Glen Davidson
    May 5, 2009

    Shorter, it’s a strawman attack.

    Why would anyone even attack “an atheist,” rather than come up with, you know, actual evidence for god. Oh, right…

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  4. #4 TechSkeptic
    May 5, 2009

    So I was in New York the other day…

    argh! Did you annouce that?!? Did I miss that? I would love to have bought you a beer!

  5. #5 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 5, 2009

    PZ, how do you have time to blog so much every single day?

    Simple, he sits down and types and queues up several posts and sets them to be released at various times. Looks like he spent all day at the computer, instead of several minutes.

  6. #6 Patricia, OM
    May 5, 2009

    Great grunting Moccus! I’ll NEVER buy that book, just reading your opinion of it has worn me out.

  7. #7 Mu
    May 5, 2009

    Could have been worse, you could have ended up with a copy of “The professor and the dominatrix”.
    So we’d probably heard about the flight on CNN in that case.

  8. #8 Barry
    May 5, 2009

    What a coincidence. Vox Day has a post on the Eagleton book as we speak.

  9. #9 Red John
    May 5, 2009

    Man, I read the Fish article the other day, but I didn’t think Eagleton’s book would be this bad.

  10. #10 Phyllis
    May 5, 2009

    yes! Samuel L Jackson! That’s exactly who I thought of when I saw your picture.

  11. #11 Red John
    May 5, 2009

    “What a coincidence. Vox Day has a post on the Eagleton book as we speak.”

    I don’t know if I could handle that right after reading Eagleton’s mess.

  12. #12 Jud
    May 5, 2009

    There is also a profound difference between what we want, and what is. Eagleton thinks the symbology is good because he wants it to be so, because he reifies aspiration and wants it to replace reality. That isn’t good enough for me. I look at the history of religion and Christianity, and I see the actions carried out in its name now, and I see that his wish has failed, and failed repeatedly.

    We live in a culture where the contorted body of a tortured criminal is an important signifier of the human condition. Eagleton believes this is a good thing. My imaginary friend Ditchkins and I do not; it is an image that captures the imagination, for sure, but it has done us harm. It has short-circuited natural human thoughts and feelings into a dead-end chase after the transcendent rather than the immanent.

    If there was a Deity who answered Eagleton’s prayers, you, Dawkins and Hitchens would not write so much better than he does. It is for this ultimate sin that Eagleton cannot bring himself to forgive you and “Ditchkins.”

  13. #13 doctor(logic)
    May 5, 2009

    Bravo, PZ!

    I haven’t read the book, but I did read Stanley Fish’s review. Apparently, Eagleton is one of those progress deniers. You know, the kind who think that the modern world is no better than the Dark Ages.

    Maybe we need a one-way time portal back to the Dark Ages. We could send Eagleton and his ilk back to an age they say they would prefer.

  14. #14 Emmet, OM
    May 5, 2009

    Flea is crap.

    News at 11.

  15. #15 inajeep
    May 5, 2009

    Great post although only you can decide whether that great post was worth those 8 hours that might be better spent asleep.

  16. #16 Phoenix Woman
    May 5, 2009

    The sad thing is that Eagleton used to be a very clear-headed thinker, two or three decades ago. His Literary Theory is taught in colleges worldwide and is pretty much the only book you need to read on the subject. The problem with him, however, is that he is trying to weld together Marxism and Christianity, to the great dismay of the extreme ideologues in both fields, and I suspect the resulting abuse he’s suffered over the decades has finally driven him mad, or at least turned him into an energy creature, seeking to keep his name in the public consciousness by any means fair or foul.

  17. #17 Ericb
    May 5, 2009

    Last time I encountered Eagleton’s writing was as an English grad student 15 years ago and back then he was a sarcastic Marxist. What the hell happened to him?

  18. #18 Red John
    May 5, 2009

    Man, the comments on the VD article are terrible. Here’s some examples of ‘progress’ given by one of them:

    “The progress from animism to polytheism to monotheism.
    The progress from a world without Israel to one with the Jewish state.”

    And then there’s this guy:

    “You know that Eagleton is a radical leftist, right? I’m an atheist, and I absolutely support his position on the new atheists.”

    Yeah, those damn ‘new atheists,’ always using logic and evidence to support their claims. Who do they think they are?

  19. #19 JHJEFFERY
    May 5, 2009

    Poor, poor PZ!

    Next time you get stuck with no stimulus for 8 hours except Eagleton, remember, suicide can somtimes be a rational alternative.

    But nice piece, PZ

    Cheers

    Jerry

  20. #20 Michelle
    May 5, 2009

    PZ, the next time someone whines that you’ve never bothered to understand “Christianity,” direct them to this paragraph:

    “It is true that the symbol of the crucified Christ is a powerful one … sacrifices for the greater good.”

    On second thought, never mind.

    Because generally, an attempt by an atheist to express a genuine understanding of a religious idea results in a religious opponent redefining said idea on the spot.

  21. #21 Aaron
    May 5, 2009

    His quotes sound like rejects from the Seth McFarlane playbook.

    I’m almost expecting the blog to cut-away and show Peter Griffin doing something zany, unpredictable, while simultaneously making references to things from the 1980s.

  22. #22 Patrick
    May 5, 2009

    Seems like you should have just read the Sky Mall instead…actually this sounds like something you would find in sky mall…just can’t get away that easy.

  23. #23 Cliff Hendroval
    May 5, 2009

    Thanks, PW, for explaining Eagleton’s claim to fame. I was wondering about his background and why he was treated by O’Hehir and Fish as someone worth paying attention to.

  24. #24 Isherwood
    May 5, 2009

    Simple, he sits down and types and queues up several posts and sets them to be released at various times. Looks like he spent all day at the computer, instead of several minutes.

    You seem to have missed the fact that he still has to spend the time writing. It doesn’t matter when, it still has to happen, and it takes much longer than several minutes. I’m impressed.

  25. #25 TheLady
    May 5, 2009

    Wow, that sounds like a truly dreadful book. And what a despicable rhetorical device that Ditchkins character is. Ugh.

    There’s something about trying to reconcile religion with science that brings out the bleurgh in people, I think. I read the first chapter of Wilson’s “The Creation” (oe was it just “Creation”?) the other day, and boy oh boy was it dreadful. And had a made up composite strawman correspondent – the “Southern Pastor” – too!

    Actually, part of the problem I have with the so called new atheists is what I see as theor attempts at proseletising at the other side. Screw the other side. Fight them in the courts, make sure they don’t take over your legislatures, keep your kids away from them, but don’t try to engage them in discussion; the rhetorical methods of reasoned argument and dogmatic preaching, scepticism and faith, are fundamentally irreconcilable.

  26. #26 Holbach
    May 5, 2009

    Good grief, how did you manage to save most of your brain after reading that insane crap? Memorizing the whole Sky Mall magazine would have been a more worthwhile task. I just can’t force myself to read what I already know will make me puke and fear for my sanity.

  27. #27 quedula
    May 5, 2009

    Very well done PZ.

  28. #28 daveau
    May 5, 2009

    You realize, of course, that O’Hehir and Eagleton are just going to rip your book when it comes out…

  29. #29 PZ Myers
    May 5, 2009

    You realize, of course, that O’Hehir and Eagleton are just going to rip your book when it comes out…

    As if, given what they’ve written so far, that would give me cause to tremble.

  30. #30 gman
    May 5, 2009

    Samuel L. Jackson (as P.Z. Myers): Enough is enough! I have had it with these m*****-f****** apologetics on this m*****_f****** plane!

  31. #31 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    May 5, 2009

    PZ do you have any ability to get the SB nerds to rethink their formatting choice?

    It’s really all over the place and doesn’t seem to render comment codes consistently, beyond being consistently sucky.

  32. #32 Cylux
    May 5, 2009

    So in summary the book basically states
    “God is not Great?!? Excuse me but the god that I imagine to be the creator is totally awesome, don’t you agree?”
    Theology – built on the back of figments

  33. #33 Hank Bones
    May 5, 2009

    It’s official: the ad hominem argument is the only thing left in the anti-atheist arsenal.

    I just finished reading “Atheism Remix” by R Albert Mohler, Jr, and the parallels are amazing. Mohler did take the time to attack each of the “Four Horsemen” one-by-one, but spent nearly as much time giving their personal backgrounds as he did addressing their actual arguments. He made a big show of how Dawkins was “lured back” to Oxford by the creation of his “well-funded” Simonyi chair position. Somehow we should distrust Dawkins simply because Oxford saw value in his teaching…

    I actually only picked the book up because the third chapter was titled “The new atheism and the defense of theism.” Since the relatively short book has only four chapters, I assumed this would be either a concise argument for Christianity, or at a guide for Christians as to which arguments are best used against us heathens. No such luck. The gist of the chapter was that Christians different (read: more liberal) from Mohler are Wrong and will be unable to defend their watered-down faith.

    This delivered the only interesting nugget of Mohler’s book. He seems to think that biblical literalism is the only defensible form of Christianity. Which I think–and most here would agree–is laughable and welcome.

    I wish I had taken some good notes before returning it to the library so I could give a better re-cap here. I would actually recommend it if you want to laugh at some really awful, twisted logic. (At one point, he attempts a philisophical proof on how naturalism and materialism are mutually exclusive and incompatible, therefore atheists are dummies.) Oh, and its also quite clear that he’s afraid of us. And he should be.

  34. #34 Desert Son
    May 5, 2009

    Sorry to hear about the ordeal, PZ. This is one of your best posts on the subject of apologetics. Outstanding work. Thanks for putting this one up.

    No kings,

    Robert

  35. #35 dwarf zebu
    May 5, 2009

    Thanks PZ, for reading trip so we don’t have to. Perhaps someone should suggest to Mr. Eagleton that he should amend his antagonist’s name to P.Z. Ditchkins. I think it would be a fitting tribute for reading the stupid book TWICE!

    On an OT note, this struck me as off:

    There are parts of this rambling mess that, if presented at the local Missouri Synod Lutheran church, would have gotten him lynched?

    I was LCMS member for nearly 35 years and in different states (CA, NE, and VA) and can’t honestly think of a true lynching offense short of an all-out physical attack. More likely, he’d be approached by one of the more ‘hot headed’ elders who would have suggested some counseling with the pastor over coffee and ‘a little lunch.’

  36. #36 rob
    May 5, 2009

    Besides, critics of the most enduring form of popular culture in human history…

    I wonder what he’s thinking here; Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism, and Judaism (off the top of my head, no doubt I’m missing something) are all older and still practiced, so therefore more “enduring”.

    Ah, probably thinking that he’s thinking is the problem.

  37. #37 Zar
    May 5, 2009

    Maybe his next book will feature a character named “PZitchkens”.

  38. #38 Warren
    May 5, 2009

    Eagleton would be the skidmark at my autopsy.

    Appropriate image, you know, comparing him to a little streak of shit.

    There are some cultures that don’t obsess on murdered political activists; those which have been affected most profoundly by Buddhism, for instance. But even those cultures can be astonishingly vicious (Japan) when they want to be.

    To my mind it’s not the signifier that really matters. It’s the justifications the believers use to ratify their own savagery. Patriotism may be the last refuge of scoundrels; I wonder if god isn’t the last refuge of cowards.

  39. #39 Pierce R. Butler
    May 5, 2009

    What would it take to set up a Fans of Ditchkins FaceBook group?

    Ditchkins for President! Ditchkins for Pope!

  40. #40 TGAP_Dad
    May 5, 2009

    I have no idea how you managed to summon the strength to read this drivel – TWICE. My endurance would have been limited by the number of barf bags in my seat pocket. I would rather read the tags of my own clothing than this horrible tome.

    And what was with the “Ditchkins” character? Did he really think he was writing at Plato’s level?

  41. #41 Joseph Shipley
    May 5, 2009

    Thanks for the summation. I’m sorry you had to suffer through it. Every since that infuriating, praising review on salon I was hoping somebody would take a look at the book. The review seemed to sum up the attitude perfectly; It’s one I’ve encountered many times with the ‘refined’ religious folk.

    The basic attitude is that, whatever they are, any atheist’s ideas about religion are misinformed and of course reprehensibly simplistic. But they don’t offer any alternative, really, other than just saying it’s ‘much more complex’ and that nobody ‘really believes’ the insane facts that comprise most religions entirely. O’Hehir’s tone in the whole review made it seem like he was outrageously happy to see a book defaming atheists for a change; Finally, something to reinforce his version of personal insanity versus the onslaught of reason in these recent years…

  42. #42 aratina cage
    May 5, 2009

    I laughed, I cried… That was a fine post.

  43. #43 paradoctor
    May 5, 2009

    PZ, you write:
    < <
    How can people contemplate Christianity's symbol and think it grants permission to cause suffering?
    >>

    The explanation is simple: monkey see, monkey do.

  44. #44 Equisetum
    May 5, 2009

    There are parts of this rambling mess that, if presented at the local Missouri Synod Lutheran church, would have gotten him lynched

    I actually got kicked out of LCMS. Officially ex-communicated. I had thought only catholics did that.

  45. #45 BJ
    May 5, 2009

    This reminds me of the Net acronym I recently came across: TOFTT, “Taking One For The Team”. Thanks for throwing yourself on that particular grenade.

  46. #46 Sastra
    May 5, 2009

    It sounds like an extended version of the Courtier’s Reply. The crude atheists are charged with completely missing the point, and attacking clumsy, simplistic versions of religion, while ignoring the refined, sophisticated, nuanced religious understanding which stands up to the most robust criticism — and yet this stronger, better, clearer version of religion is never really pinned down. It’s all very vague and metaphorical, like art or beauty, and its ‘literal’ truth is really beside the point, because it speaks to us blah blah blah deeper understanding and so forth…

    I actually like that you read it, not once, but twice. That sort of attention to detail is often missing in the criticisms of atheist books. I often wonder if the critics have read the books at all — especially when they seem to grant that God probably doesn’t exist, but think that is not the real issue here. As Dennett says, “belief in belief.”

    So now I wonder when the Ditchkins doll will be coming out? Stuffed with straw, of course. I’d buy one.

  47. #47 gillt
    May 5, 2009

    Amen, brother!

  48. #48 Prince of Dorkness
    May 5, 2009

    I’m thinking I ought to turn it into a screenplay, though, but only if I get a guarantee that Samuel L. Jackson will play me.

    Including the part where you jumped up and shouted, “I’ve had it with this m!@#$%^ book on this m(*^^%^%% plane”?

  49. #49 James
    May 5, 2009

    That was positively scathing, sir. Nicely done!

  50. #50 Ray S.
    May 5, 2009

    Eagleton:

    But Christianity was never meant to be an explanation of anything in the first place

    So then let’s all agree that it does not explain much of anything and maybe we can find something that does. I’ve got a candidate in mind.

    It chafes a bit that every self professed Christian seems to consider their own beliefs ‘mainstream’ and differing opinions are everything from misguided to extremism. It’s part of what makes engaging the issues sort of like trying to nail Jello to the wall. But if all Christians would agree that Christianity doesn’t really explain anything and that the Christian bible is not a life guide, then we should be able to move on.

  51. #51 H.H.
    May 5, 2009

    Yeah, can we at least now destroy once and for all this notion that it’s the atheists who only argue against strawmen caricatures? It’s the apologist’s number one charge and it’s almost never true. Yet whenever we read a “response” to the new atheists, it never addresses the actual criticisms made. Projecting head cases, the lot of them.

  52. #52 Darren S. A. George
    May 5, 2009

    I enjoyed the review much more than you enjoyed the book- it’s a shame it’s a bit long to post on Amazon.

  53. #53 Sean Wills
    May 5, 2009

    “but there’s nothing there: no organization, no sense, no argument.”

    Yes! I’m one of those art-lit types, I’ve read some of Eagleton’s other work, and I can’t agree with enough vehemence. You’d expect people who make a living by teaching and writing to have some sort of clarity to their arguments, but most of Eagleton’s fellow luminaries seem to enjoy a style of argument that actually emphasizes confusion and obtuseness. When did they forget everything they learned in their first year as undergraduates?

  54. #54 The Tim Channel
    May 5, 2009

    Yep. Like I said in an earlier comment.

    Shorter Eagleton: Blah, blah, blah-blibbitty blah. Ditchkins.

    Enjoy.

  55. #55 Morsky
    May 5, 2009

    I was hoping you’d rip into this when I saw Fish’s fawning and infuriatingly shoddy review. Eagleton’s bizarre mongrel of Marxism and Christianity was bound to end in stuff like this. It breaks my poor little lefty heart to see a bright person debase himself so.

    As for Eagleton’s view on “progress”, that was most infuriating. First of all, there’s a difference between progress and Progress – the latter being the myth of society marching forward in a straight path towards some imagined state of perfection, leaving a trail of slaughtered savages and ravaged nature, and the former being the tangible improvements in the condition of humanity brought about largely by science. Besides, where does he think the idea of a grand purpose of the movement of history, independent of humans, leading inexorably to a final goal originated? >.< He’s also apparently convinced that his interpretation of Christianity as some sort of liberation theology for pomo professeurs is the only, and indeed, the dominant interpretation. As PZ says, most people don’t really think “tortured political criminal” when gazing up at the crucifix.

    By all accounts it looks to be a stupid, stupid book.

  56. #56 delphi_ote
    May 5, 2009

    “… like beginning the history of the potato by defining it as a rare species of rattlesnake.”

    PZ, please tell me that you quoted Sam Jackson in the margin notes next to this passage. PLEASE! Nobody has ever had a better opportunity to quote that movie. Ever.

  57. #57 Lee Picton
    May 5, 2009

    I will never feel guilty now for never reading anything by Eagleton. Even root canal sounds preferable.

  58. #58 Tom
    May 5, 2009

    Imagine the culture we would live in now if, instead of a dead corpse on an instrument of torture, our signifier was a child staring in wonder at the stars.
    My new signature!

  59. #59 2bookworm
    May 5, 2009

    Someone needs to start writing that Ditchkins/HP slash ASAP.

  60. #60 'Tis Himself
    May 5, 2009

    Quoting PZ quoting Eagleton:

    Besides, critics of the most enduring form of popular culture in human history have a moral obligation to confront the case at its most persuasive, rather than grabbing themselves a victory on the cheap by savaging it as so much garbage and gobbledygook.

    There are so many different flavors of religion in general and Christianity in particular, which many of these faiths, churches, sects and cults disagreeing with each other over the most fundamental issues, that it’s hard to know what the most persuasive case is.

  61. #61 Kate
    May 5, 2009

    After seeing all the positive reviews, I got this book out of my university library with high hopes for an engaging and interesting read. I got about ten pages in before my neurons started killing themselves in self-defence.

    PZ, I’m really impressed that you made it all the way though not once, but twice! Reading this book is like Fear Factor for Atheists.

  62. #62 YouGottaShowMe
    May 5, 2009

    Eagleton would be the skidmark at my autopsy.
    Oh, that was *priceless*! That quote just made my day. :D

  63. #63 Ditchkins
    May 5, 2009
  64. #64 Feshy
    May 5, 2009

    Eagleton’s main complaint is that atheists are addressing a simplified straw man of religion, and his method of combating that is to create a straw man named Ditchkins.

    PZ, you biologists need to hurry up and secure funding for identifying the irony gene and for finding a cure for those who lack one.

  65. #65 Chris
    May 5, 2009

    It’s a shame the book seems to be poorly written and crammed with apologist nonsense, because I honestly have often felt that some atheist writers, notably Hitchens, really do tend to misrepresent religion quite often, and certainly I’ve heard the same misrepresentation countless times from anonymous internet atheists.

    I think for me the real problem is that faith is not actually a simple concept. It’s personal and runs the gamut between purely performative (i.e., I don’t actually believe God is real in the same way chairs are real, but it’s important to me to behave as if he is in the same way that it’s important to wear pants even if it is a warm day outside, and pants are not physically required) and real belief in a supernatural God (who may or may not give me magic powers to fight homosexuals in the last days). And often individuals will vacillate between one and the other, or hold one for certain parts of faith and the other for different parts.

    Faith is complex and personal because thought is complex and personal. I really hope someday we will be able to dispense with religion in its entirety, because I think either concept of religion is still predicated on bad faith to some extent, but I also find it to be dishonest to engage believers as if religion is a fixed concept one way or another, when in fact it is easy to observe otherwise.

    I get shouted down a lot for making this claim, which seems outrageously out of favour with many atheists, but I think if we are going to lay claim to having more reasonable beliefs, it behooves us to actually use reason, to engage matters of individual faith as what they are rather than as what we would like them to be for argument’s sake.

    I’m not suggesting that performative religious beliefs are ‘more robust’ or ‘immune to criticism.’ In fact, I think they are (and should be) open to criticism, but you cannot criticize them as something they aren’t. Suggesting to someone whose belief in God is purely a cultural notion that God is not actually a real thing makes about as much sense, to extend the previous analogy, as barging in and demanding they take their pants off.

    On the other hand, however, the notion that religion is one big joke that everyone is in on could not be further from the truth, and this is something obviously we are all familiar with. It’s a shame that the only response to the failings of mainstream criticism of religion has been to reinforce another falsehood. Much of this criticism has been apt and to the point. It also has its failings which should be addressed. Why do we need to reduce this to a dichotomy between ‘we only make valid accusations’ or ‘we only make invalid accusations.’

    What is wrong with just actually being honest, and actually investing some time and effort into real understanding?

  66. #66 Lord Zero
    May 5, 2009

    Pz, you made my day…
    “As I was marking up his little book with these questions, something routine happened: the plane hit some turbulence, bounced about for a bit, and I looked out the window and had the fleeting, morbid thought, “What if we crashed?” We’ve all had that thought, and I usually dismiss it with little concern, but this time I had a new worry: I was sitting there holding Reason, Faith, and Revolution. You know that grandmotherly admonition to always wear clean underwear because, what if you had an accident, and they’d know? I had a vision of my broken corpse on a slab, and the sneering pathologist pulling the book out of my dead clenched hand, and making some mocking comment in his notes. Eagleton would be the skidmark at my autopsy. I resolved that if the plane did go down, the first thing I was going to do was fling the book as far forward as I could, both removing it from association with my body and satisfying a primal urge that had been prodding me since I opened it to page 1.”

    One of the funnier bits which i had on weeks.

  67. #67 tweetytweet386sx
    May 5, 2009

    Ditchkins for President! Ditchkins for Pope!

    Starring Samuel L. Jackson as Ditchkins, and Samuel L. Jackson as P.Z. Myers. (With a special cameo appearance by Samuel L. Jackson.)

  68. #68 Andy
    May 5, 2009

    That was so entertaining, I didn’t want it to end.

  69. #69 Mark A.I.
    May 5, 2009

    This confirms my suspicion that where religion and postmodernism meet is their denial of the existence of philosophy.

  70. #70 JJR
    May 5, 2009

    It’s very sad to see good Marxists go bad and start cuddling up and playing nice with religion. Postmodernism can really f*ck with your head that way. I remain a mainly unreconstructed plain-jane Marxist in my worldview and that includes being vehemently anti-clerical, anti-religion.

    Some try to argue Marx wasn’t as hard on religion as later Marxists have claimed, but if that’s the case, f*ck him, he should’ve been.

    It was the audacity of Communism’s forthright Godlessness that shocked so many back in the day, why “In God We Trust” ended up on the U.S. currency, etc, and less so the whole wealth distribution angle, which some Christians could actually agree with.

    While I don’t agree with the official persecution of religion it was pursued by the late Soviet state and its satellites (only feed the god-botters’ martyrdom complex), I cannot but treat religion with contempt and a mainly retrograde force that mostly holds back all social progress and betterment.

  71. #71 Lana
    May 5, 2009

    This is great. A friend with whom I have friendly debates (she’s a cultural Catholic) had sent me the Fish review. This will be a much response than mine was:

    “Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I guess you need a degree in Greek mythology to say you don’t believe in Zeus.”

  72. #72 Sam C
    May 5, 2009

    Erich at#17:

    Last time I encountered Eagleton’s writing was as an English grad student 15 years ago and back then he was a sarcastic Marxist. What the hell happened to him?

    While I have some sympathy with the Marxist analysis of capitalism, those social scientists or philosophers who label themselves “Marxists” have always seemed to me to be wankers of the first water. And their Marxowankerism sometimes seems to be a religion: everything must be seen through their pseudo-Marxian filter.

    OK, that’s a gross generalisation, but I state is as an opinion, not as a fact.

    Eagleton’s descent into shittery is one further instance confirming my views that (a) Marxism is quasi-religious (in that reality must be perverted to fit its analysis), and (b) adherents of one irrational religion often find it easier to migrate to another irrational religion than to discover rationalism.

    Eagleton, Fish, O’Hehir, wanky, wankier, wankiest. (You can argue about the order.)

    I wonder what’s in their heads when they write this drivel – do they not see what a load of faeces it is? Can they not analyse their verbiage as a reader would, are they that self-unaware?

    Eagleton’s argument in two words: blaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh, waaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh.

  73. #73 RMM Barrie
    May 5, 2009

    I wonder what’s in their heads when they write this drivel – do they not see what a load of faeces it is?

    $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ clean up a lot of shit

  74. #74 E.V.
    May 5, 2009

    “great towering erections of byzantine logic…”

    That’s the most loaded and evocative phrase ever! WIN!

  75. #75 Mattb242
    May 5, 2009

    Eagleton’s weird turnaround is deeply troubling. As Phoenix Woman said in post 16, he used to be a piercing, rigorous literary critic and a great communicator – ‘Introducing Literary Theory’ is a masterpiece and possibly unique in trying to do for his field what ‘A Brief History of Time’ tried (less successfully, I think) to do for Physics.

    I say troubling because he had a pretty devout catholic background. You’ve got to wonder if they laid the dogma down so it sat there all these years, waiting for natural attrition to lower the brain cell count sufficiently…

  76. #76 windy
    May 5, 2009

    I think for me the real problem is that faith is not actually a simple concept. It’s personal and runs the gamut between purely performative (i.e., I don’t actually believe God is real in the same way chairs are real, but it’s important to me to behave as if he is in the same way that it’s important to wear pants even if it is a warm day outside, and pants are not physically required)

    The whole concept of performative belief seems to be a muddle. Wearing pants is not a “belief”, it’s a tradition or custom which may be motivated by different beliefs (it’s immoral not to wear pants; people will laugh at me if I don’t; etc.) Dawkins singing Christmas carols does not mean that he has a “performative belief” in Christianity.

    I get shouted down a lot for making this claim, which seems outrageously out of favour with many atheists, but I think if we are going to lay claim to having more reasonable beliefs, it behooves us to actually use reason, to engage matters of individual faith as what they are rather than as what we would like them to be for argument’s sake.

    Maybe that’s because you have constructed a strawman. Who insists that all faith is the same?

  77. #77 Michelle
    May 5, 2009

    [i]“Heck, maybe someone will write some internet slash fiction with Ditchkins and Harry Potter, and Ditchkins will do all kinds of interesting things. Except, of course, that most of us will recognize that Ditchkins is not real.”[/i]

    I almost choked on my tea laughing at that one.

    And then I pondered… how does PZ know about Harry Potter slash fanfiction? Of course, the answer is simple: PZ knows of all relevant things, and slash is relevant because it pisses off the religious right.

    I enjoyed the Potter books, and have occasionally been given the lecture by some desperate Christian that “those books are evil devil-worship, and they teach kids witchcraft!” Naturally, I ask if they’ve ever bothered to read the books. “Of course not,” they always say, and then tell me I need to put away the Potter books and read the Bible.

    That’s when I tell them, “At least I know my book is fiction.”

    The results are always amusing, often including sputtering, puffing up, red-faced glares, and indignant snorts.

    That’s when I taunt the really obnoxious ones with mentions of Harry Potter gay erotica fanfiction.

    But… what are your thoughts on yaoi?

  78. #78 Cody Cobb
    May 5, 2009

    what if you had an accident, and they’d know?

    Well, depending on the kind of accident, they won’t.

  79. #79 Jeff C.
    May 5, 2009

    Best
    Post
    Ever.

  80. #80 Dania
    May 5, 2009

    This was one of the most entertaining posts I have ever read, PZ. Both funny and profound. It was long, but I didn’t want it to end. Thanks for brightening my day :)

    And I don’t know why but there’s something inherently funny about the word “Ditchkins”. It made me laugh out loud the first time I read it, and I couldn’t stop laughing every time it showed up. It still gives me giggles now when I think of it…

  81. #81 Watchman
    May 5, 2009

    Good one, PZ. This is one for the “A Taste Of” list.

  82. #82 MyaR
    May 5, 2009

    How do you actually get excommunicated from the LCMS? I know it’s possible (hey, my family are LCMS going back generations — my brother’s a pastor) but I don’t know what the actual requirements would be. It’s pretty easy to get taken off the membership list (I’m pretty sure I have been at this point), but actual excommunication is harder. I’m impressed.

  83. #83 Sastra
    May 5, 2009

    Chris #65 wrote:

    I get shouted down a lot for making this claim, which seems outrageously out of favour with many atheists, but I think if we are going to lay claim to having more reasonable beliefs, it behooves us to actually use reason, to engage matters of individual faith as what they are rather than as what we would like them to be for argument’s sake.

    But how can we honestly engage with ideas which are “not fixed” – vague, diverse, and with adherents who jump around and vacillate between different views and meanings? One of PZ’s complaints about Eagleton’s book is that the writer never seems to explain exactly what he means by God: it’s apparently all about what God means to people, and for people.

    It’s a bit like New Agers complaining that physicists dismiss “psychic energy” and don’t incorporate it into their theories — and yet, despite all their talk about “vibrations” and “resonance” and “fields,” they never get around to saying anything that makes sense to an actual physicist who deals seriously with the concept of energy. They keep using the word, but I do not think it means what they think it means.

    Perhaps the problem is that theists tend to use the word “Truth,” when they really want the word “truthiness.” We’re trying to take the ideas seriously, and the believers just want us to take them seriously.

  84. #84 MyaR
    May 5, 2009

    Oh, and what I actually meant to post before I got distracted by the LCMS — my husband and I read the O’Hehir review last week and decided that it sounded like a book-length Coutier’s Reply. It seems to not even be that coherent.

  85. #85 Chris
    May 5, 2009

    “Maybe that’s because you have constructed a strawman. Who insists that all faith is the same?”

    Have you actually not encountered the phenomenon? Religious violence in primarily Muslim countries accompanied by cries of how terrible “the Muslim” is, as if this is the only possible notion of Islam?

    Of course, here I am not saying that you cannot level criticism at moderates when they cover for extremism; I am not suggesting that moderate religion is in any way beyond reproach. Rather, I am suggesting that it is important to approach these concepts with honesty and understanding. People are very quick to leap to one side or another, to form a politic which only serves to obfuscate the issue at hand. We need to try to deal with things by understanding and responding to what they really are, not by sticking to a simplified version which represents more what we would like to see than what actually is.

    “The whole concept of performative belief seems to be a muddle. Wearing pants is not a “belief”, it’s a tradition or custom which may be motivated by different beliefs (it’s immoral not to wear pants; people will laugh at me if I don’t; etc.) Dawkins singing Christmas carols does not mean that he has a “performative belief” in Christianity.”

    Of course performative belief is a muddle. I already said belief is complicated, and often difficult to capture. This doesn’t vindicate anyone from approaching the issue as if it were not. “It’s too hard to understand” is not an excuse for failing to educate oneself or failing to behave honestly.

    Obviously the pants-wearing thing is an analogy. In some sense it has to fail to describe the phenomenon in question, since otherwise it would just be the phenomenon itself. However, I think there’s a similarity here when you say that we may find it “immoral not to wear pants.” We have made an arbitrary decision on parts of the body which should be covered, and this forms a relatively important part of our society (just try not wearing pants to work, say). This is far from universal among human cultures. At the same time, most of us understand that it is a relatively arbitrary decision. Few of us insist that it is a core part of some human teleology that we cover certain specific parts of our bodies. It is simply what we do as a culture.

    The similarity here to cultural religious beliefs should be obvious, I think. Once again, I’m not saying this is *identical*, but at least this aspect of it captures the idea. If you can’t see it as merely an illustrative analogy, I think you’re being willfully obtuse.

    Also, I don’t appreciate being accused of setting up a straw man, when I talk about the phenomenon of deliberately misunderstanding the nature of religious belief as a kind of politics. This is a real thing. I never accused everyone of doing it all the time, but I find it to be something at least some people do sometimes. The allegation of a logical fallacy here seems very out of place.

  86. #86 MosesZD
    May 5, 2009

    A rather impressive tour-de-force, PZ.

  87. #87 Chris
    May 5, 2009

    “But how can we honestly engage with ideas which are “not fixed” – vague, diverse, and with adherents who jump around and vacillate between different views and meanings? One of PZ’s complaints about Eagleton’s book is that the writer never seems to explain exactly what he means by God: it’s apparently all about what God means to people, and for people.”

    With difficulty, I think, but what worries me about this is the idea that one could reject the notion wholesale if it turned out to make argument or debate surrounding the concepts difficult or ambiguous.

    Since when is ease of use a criterion for truth? Eagleton seems pretty bad at explaining the concept (a real shame, as everyone mentions he used to be a fantastic writer). In fact, the best we seem to be able to come up with right now is that something is happening and we don’t necessarily have a good idea of what it is.

    Maybe we really do have a problem with the debate system–with the idea that you can just get two people together in a room for an hour equivocating and the truth will somehow ‘come out of that.’ It seems bizarre to think that we should learn any more about a concept by putting two intransigent people with strong beliefs together to bicker. Why not educate ourselves? Why not really try to understand the concepts?

    I think to an extent, as atheists, we are putting pressure on religious people to educate us on their beliefs. So the Eagleton book is badly written–does this invalidate the concept? That itself is fallacious. It is almost like we are insisting that we will hold beliefs until proven wrong by someone else, instead of investigating them ourselves in a critical fashion.

  88. #88 Gra
    May 5, 2009

    I heard a podcast of one his talk to Yale, where he introduced “Ditchkins”, and I though he was a complete wanker. Now that has truly been cemented. It reminds me of that episode of Fawlty Towers when the spoon salesman was being verbose and Basil (John Cleese) said, “Why don’t you talk properly?”

  89. #89 MosesZD
    May 5, 2009

    Posted by: Phoenix Woman | May 5, 2009 2:53 PM

    The sad thing is that Eagleton used to be a very clear-headed thinker, two or three decades ago. His Literary Theory is taught in colleges worldwide and is pretty much the only book you need to read on the subject. The problem with him, however, is that he is trying to weld together Marxism and Christianity, to the great dismay of the extreme ideologues in both fields, and I suspect the resulting abuse he’s suffered over the decades has finally driven him mad, or at least turned him into an energy creature, seeking to keep his name in the public consciousness by any means fair or foul.

    I don’t see why. Just looking at the documented influences on Marx and the writings from which he got many of his egalitarian and humanitarian beliefs you can the tie. I’m not even sure that Christianity-as-a-source (though some intermediaries) is even disputed by anyone anymore.

    Really, the Essenes, from whom Jesus is supposed to have originated, based on certain practices not held by the other sects but practiced by early Christians/Essenes (including Jesus) were communists/socialists. They’d abolished private property and even the clothes they wore were communal. They were expected to work to their ability and receive to their need. Core principles we find in non-corrupted communism. Even some Christian (non-cult!) sects, to this day, hold these particular beliefs.

    Now, I’m not comparing the Soviets to apostolic Christians. There is a whole lot of other crap going on with both sides.

    But some of the core tenants of Marxism came, via a third-party philosopher, to Marx and originated in Christianity. At least from the perspective of most Wester Europeans of the time.

  90. #90 Walton
    May 5, 2009

    He constantly portrays Ditchkins as a smug bourgeois stooge wallowing in his comfort in North Oxford (oh, Eagleton has nothing but contempt for North Oxford, which makes frequent appearances as a hellhole inhabited by uncaring atheists)

    Oh, I don’t know… Summertown and Jericho aren’t so bad. (I almost ended up living there next year.) I can’t say I’ve ever attempted to start a conversation about religion with any of the local denizens, however (and I wouldn’t advise doing so on a Friday night at pub closing time).

    It’s East Oxford (Cowley and so on) where you need to watch your back, in my experience.

  91. #91 Dan L.
    May 5, 2009

    I haven’t read any Dawkins, and for Hitchens I’ve only scoured youtube and read most of God Is Not Great, but my impression is that they do not typically make the same arguments against theism.

    Hitchens seems to attack religion for failing to enforce its own moral codes and acting as a justification for other immoral acts. He particularly seems to relish gutting Christianity and Islam for incorporating totalitarian principles into their respective theologies.

    Dawkins, on the other hand, (and again, I haven’t read any of his books) seems to focus on the fact that the emperor has no clothes — that religion has retreated from ever so many domains over which it once claimed absolute authority, and that as time goes on it only retreats further. His arguments seem to tend more towards the fact that science is a better teacher than faith ever could be, and that even the vaunted moral authority of religion is being shredded by scientific investigations of human and animal psychology and moral behavior.

    It seems to me that lumping these two very different types of argument into one imaginary character simply demonstrates that Eagleton either doesn’t know what he’s arguing against or that he’s deliberately misrepresenting the arguments he is supposedly rebutting.

    Possibly the most counterproductive literary trope in the history of this debate. I’m sure Eagleton thought it was cute and endearing, and I’m sure he thought it would demonstrate just the correct mount of pious disdain. But it tells me that Eagleton is either a liar or an incompetent.

    Then again, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Taken together they might actually be a start towards a definition of postmodernism.

  92. #92 Ryan Egesdahl
    May 5, 2009

    It is rather like saying that thanks to electric toasters we can forget about Chekov.

    While we’re talking about it: purple monkey dishwasher.

    Frog blast the vent core?

  93. #93 Watchman
    May 5, 2009

    We can forget about Chekov because of the Cylons?

    That’s right up there with “No soap – radio!”

  94. #94 Sastra
    May 5, 2009

    Chris #87 wrote:

    It is almost like we are insisting that we will hold beliefs until proven wrong by someone else, instead of investigating them ourselves in a critical fashion.

    Or the other way around. I think that is the complaint the atheists are making about the religious in general, and Eagleton in particular. He can’t be proven wrong, if he can’t even be wrong.

  95. #95 BeccaTheCyborg
    May 5, 2009

    I’m feeling the odd urge to write Ditchkins fanfic.

    Impressive and entertaining review, you definitely took one for the team.

  96. #96 arachnophilia
    May 5, 2009

    …and may only have value as an allegory…

    isn’t that enough? can’t we appreciate literature and interesting stories from the past?

  97. #97 Watchman
    May 5, 2009

    When I see the word “Ditchkins” I can’t help but think of something like a blend between Garbage Pail Kids and Webkinz.

    Yes, parenting has rotted my mind.

  98. #98 Chris
    May 5, 2009

    “Then again, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Taken together they might actually be a start towards a definition of postmodernism.”

    You do realize you’re following a critique of Eagleton for lumping Hitchens and Dawkins into the same category with an assertion that lumps a large number of wildly different writers and philosophers into the same category?

    Postmodernism encompasses reactions to modernism. It isn’t one enormous, monolithic philosophy.

  99. #99 Tom Morris
    May 5, 2009

    “I thought the other side of campus, the one with all those arty lit-crit types, was where the good writing was done”

    Oh no. Maybe it was when it was Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch types running the show (author of many novels, but also of this spectacular demolition of jargon). Now lit-crit types write like Derrida clones. The difference being that Derrida did it for giggles, while they do it in earnest.

    I have to concur with previous comments: such a sad loss to see the author of ‘Literary Theory’ droop to these silly and self-absorbed lows. ‘Ditchkins’ indeed! What would be most amusing would be for Professor Dawkins and Mr. Hitchens to prepare a response under the name of Mr. Ditchkins. A tag-team of awesome to deliver a stunning blow to this tawdry rubbish.

  100. #100 Kel
    May 5, 2009

    From what I can gather from the Salon review, it seems that Dawkins and Hitchens are being chastised for going to the masses attacking religion that is relevant to the masses as opposed to the educated view of religion. Jerry Coyne made this point on TNR, that what the theologians hold to be Christianity is simply alien to how Christianity is practised. So again, this seems like nothing more than an attack on Dawkins for not being a sophisticated scholar when writing for the masses… or expecting him to write a sophisticated book that completely ignores how religion is practised by a large majority of people.

    Again, it’s a way to criticise the “New Atheists” under the illusion that the individual who is writing the critique had their arguments for religion unchallenged. Yet when there are 45,000 sects of Christianity and that is just one of many living or dead religions, how can anyone expect a critique that touches their particular view of God?

  101. #101 Dan L.
    May 5, 2009

    Postmodernism encompasses reactions to modernism. It isn’t one enormous, monolithic philosophy.

    Fair enough.

    There’s a particularly malodorous strain of postmodernism that denies (or seems to deny) the existence of any objective truth. That horrid cesspool of “thought” seems to have spawned these particular arguments: that the faith of intellectual elites is just too nuanced and difficult for those nasty atheists to simply dismiss with their logic and evidence — since in their domain logic and evidence do not privilege a viewpoint one iota. The arguments for faith must be addressed on their own terms and not in terms of, you know, anything in the real world.

    That is the form of postmodernism I am knocking. Better?

  102. #102 Blake Stacey
    May 5, 2009

    Heck, maybe someone will write some internet slash fiction with Ditchkins and Harry Potter, and Ditchkins will do all kinds of interesting things.

    “Harry tumbled to the ground, and the cobblestones of the North Oxford alleyway pushed into his back, squeezing and bunching the fabric of his jacket as his body writhed under the weight of Samchard Ditchkins. A pair of hands were undoing the buttons which held the thin coat tight over his straining torso. One of the hands might have been his own.

    “Ditchkins’ lips moved across Harry’s cheek to his ear. ‘So,’ said Samchard, ‘I hear you know how to handle a wand.’”

  103. #103 Naked Bunny with a Whip
    May 5, 2009

    Suggesting to someone whose belief in God is purely a cultural notion that God is not actually a real thing makes about as much sense, to extend the previous analogy, as barging in and demanding they take their pants off.

    Hrrm, well, I’m certainly not the sort to demand that you stop believing in your concept of God, anymore than I’m the sort who will demand that you remove your pants. But I certainly think that believing in God and wearing pants when it’s warm are both silly things to do and don’t add anything useful to life. Well, okay, pockets.

    Your use of “barging in” is telling, BTW. I wonder how often atheists “barge in” to the lives of believers and make demands of them, compared to the reverse.

  104. #104 Margaret's Cat
    May 5, 2009

    It is as though one were to dismiss feminism on the basis of Clint Eastwood’s opinions of it.

    A quick google found

    …in Elle magazine, where Clint Eastwood, of all people, professed himself to have always been pro-feminist and to be pro-choice.

    Eagleton’s weird analogy says more about his stereotypes than about atheism.

    And surely admitting that religion is ignorant and prejudiced is an own goal:

    a degree of ignorance and prejudice to match religion’s own

  105. #105 windy
    May 5, 2009

    Have you actually not encountered the phenomenon? Religious violence in primarily Muslim countries accompanied by cries of how terrible “the Muslim” is, as if this is the only possible notion of Islam?

    That would be bigotry, but it’s different from the claim that some religion may have a *statistical* association with increased violence. If the latter, then it’s debatable whether a religion can cause or exacerbate violence or whether some other factors are behind the association. But it’s a valid question, as long as we don’t assume the answer.

    Of course performative belief is a muddle. I already said belief is complicated, and often difficult to capture.

    I said that the concept is muddled. Just because the phenomenon is fuzzy does not mean that we should use misleading concepts to describe it.

    The similarity here to cultural religious beliefs should be obvious, I think.

    No, pants-wearing is similar to cultural religious PRACTICES.

    Also, I don’t appreciate being accused of setting up a straw man, when I talk about the phenomenon of deliberately misunderstanding the nature of religious belief as a kind of politics. This is a real thing. I never accused everyone of doing it all the time, but I find it to be something at least some people do sometimes. The allegation of a logical fallacy here seems very out of place.

    I meant that you speak as if no “New Atheist” realizes or admits that there’s individual variation in belief. Of course there is, but that doesn’t prevent scientists and naturalists from looking for causes and explanations for a phenomenon.

  106. #106 melior
    May 5, 2009

    Jesus and Mo’s barmaid channels Ditchkins:

    Barmaid: “You have to admit that humans have invented a lot of gods, and you don’t feel obliged to take any of them seriously. Like Thor, who smote his enemies with lightning bolts.”

    Jesus: “Thor doesn’t strike me as plausible.”

    Mo: “Ha ha! Good one, Jesus.”

    Barmaid: “Or that Egyptian god, who created lesser gods by spitting out his own semen.

    Mo: “That is hard to swallow.”

    Jesus: “Ha ha ha!”

    Barmaid: “Or that one who deliberately created beings which he knew would piss him off.”

    Jesus: “Praise be to heavenly father.”

    Mo: “La ilaha illa allah.”

  107. #107 TrekkinBob
    May 5, 2009

    “If we want a signifier for the human condition, imagine the culture we would live in now if, instead of a dead corpse on an instrument of torture, our signifier was a child staring in wonder at the stars.”…………..I would love to see such an emblem displayed on the back window of rationalists’ cars and trucks. Instead of the girl/boy kneeling before a white cross – change it a bit and make ‘the cross’ into a telescope with a little girl looking thru it while the boy studies star maps. I’d buy it from Cafe Express in a heartbeat. Where are you artists? This a gig worth looking into for our cause.

  108. #108 pauly
    May 5, 2009

    This is a superb example of why Eagleton has such (proper) contempt for secular liberals.

  109. #109 Blondin
    May 5, 2009

    I had a vision of my broken corpse on a slab, and the sneering pathologist pulling the book out of my dead clenched hand, and making some mocking comment in his notes. Eagleton would be the skidmark at my autopsy.

    This has to be the funniest thing I’ve read in ages. I laughed ’til the tears ran down my leg…

  110. #110 Andrew @ EC
    May 5, 2009

    Talk about your coincidences. PZ, whatever you do, don’t head over to my blog today!

  111. #111 Carlie
    May 5, 2009

    Also, I don’t appreciate being accused of setting up a straw man, when I talk about the phenomenon of deliberately misunderstanding the nature of religious belief as a kind of politics. This is a real thing.

    What, exactly, is being misunderstood about the nature of religious belief? I keep hearing that being tossed at atheists, but it’s never backed up. Which part of religion is being misunderstood, how do they misunderstand it, and what is the correct interpretation? Funny thing is that people like Dan Barker say the same things, yet no one throws that at them because they know it won’t stick, him being a former pastor and all. Interesting how when he says it, it’s ok, but when Dawkins or Hitchens says it, suddenly it’s a matter of them misinterpreting religion.

  112. #112 AJ Milne
    May 5, 2009

    I had a vision of my broken corpse on a slab, and the sneering pathologist pulling the book out of my dead clenched hand…

    Yeah. I have a copy of Darwin’s Black Box somewhere ’round here. Y’know… if you’re gonna mock it, mock it with quotations. But now and then, I have this nightmare. The house burns down. We get out, no injuries. But somehow the only book that survives is that one. A bright firefighter with an undergrad in bio finds it…

    (/Note to self: from henceforth, store Behe next to small pile of extremely dry kindling…)

  113. #113 Naked Bunny with a Whip
    May 5, 2009

    @pauly #108: You may be right. If I were Eagleton, I would also be jealous of those darned secular liberals and their ability to both think and communicate clearly, skills I would be lacking.

  114. #114 CJO
    May 5, 2009

    This is a superb example of why Eagleton has such (proper) contempt for secular liberals.

    Why, how vague, how strangely content free. Why do I have the feeling that li’l “pauly” won’t be sharing with us what s/he means by “this,” or elucidating the justification for “(proper) contempt,” or doing a single damn thing to support his or her vacuous assertion?

  115. #115 Blondin
    May 5, 2009

    Maybe we really do have a problem with the debate system–with the idea that you can just get two people together in a room for an hour equivocating and the truth will somehow ‘come out of that.’ It seems bizarre to think that we should learn any more about a concept by putting two intransigent people with strong beliefs together to bicker. Why not educate ourselves? Why not really try to understand the concepts?

    Maybe we do understand the concepts. Maybe we arrived at out understanding by educating ourselves. Maybe the problem is that one party is pointing to nothing and saying, “This is something,” and the other party is calling their bluff (ala The Emperor’s New Clothes).

  116. #116 bastion of sass
    May 5, 2009

    PZ,

    My sympathies on both the eight hours on the plane and the reading material available.

    I don’t know what’s worse, being stuck in a plane with only a mind numbingly dreadful book or having no book at all. Either circumstance is excruciatingly painful.

    I can only assume that you were able to read Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate a second time was because your first slog through it had stunned your brain cells into a state of stupefaction.

    Many of us would only be capable of writing gibberish after such a horrid experience. You’re one tough guy–a true survivor!

  117. #117 Smidgy
    May 5, 2009

    Chris #65:

    It’s a shame the book seems to be poorly written and crammed with apologist nonsense, because I honestly have often felt that some atheist writers, notably Hitchens, really do tend to misrepresent religion quite often, and certainly I’ve heard the same misrepresentation countless times from anonymous internet atheists.

    It sounds like you’re meaning religion is ‘misrepresented’ in a particular way. What way, exactly?

    I think for me the real problem is that faith is not actually a simple concept. It’s personal and runs the gamut between purely performative (i.e., I don’t actually believe God is real in the same way chairs are real, but it’s important to me to behave as if he is in the same way that it’s important to wear pants even if it is a warm day outside, and pants are not physically required) and real belief in a supernatural God (who may or may not give me magic powers to fight homosexuals in the last days). And often individuals will vacillate between one and the other, or hold one for certain parts of faith and the other for different parts.

    What you call ‘performative faith’, I call, ‘not faith’. In my experience, somebody only really behaves as if there is a God even if they don’t believe there is a God because they simply want to fit in with their society, or simply habit. ‘Faith’, per se, requires you to hold something to be the case despite a lack of evidence that it is. Here, the person doesn’t hold that God exists, so they don’t ‘have faith’.

    Faith is complex and personal because thought is complex and personal. I really hope someday we will be able to dispense with religion in its entirety, because I think either concept of religion is still predicated on bad faith to some extent, but I also find it to be dishonest to engage believers as if religion is a fixed concept one way or another, when in fact it is easy to observe otherwise.

    No, sorry, you’re conflating ‘faith’ with the precise details of what people believe due to them having ‘faith’. ‘Faith’ is very simple – it’s the simple act of believing something to be true, regardless of any evidence. The exact details of what, and why, are the parts that are complex. However, most Christians would agree that if you don’t really believe God exists, you’re not really a Christian. If you continue to behave as if you do, you’re simply going through the motions.

    I get shouted down a lot for making this claim, which seems outrageously out of favour with many atheists, but I think if we are going to lay claim to having more reasonable beliefs, it behooves us to actually use reason, to engage matters of individual faith as what they are rather than as what we would like them to be for argument’s sake.

    Well, firstly, it seems to be that you are advocating that atheists should have individual arguments for each and every religious person, rather than arguing against the central tenets of religions (such as the position that God exists, for example).

    Secondly, you seem to miss that many atheists DO use reason – they simply ask for solid, objective evidence of the existence of God. So far, I haven’t seen any offered.

    Thirdly, you also miss that many religious folk seem very capable of changing their ‘religious beliefs’ on the fly – so you address what they have actually said they believe, then they say, ‘sorry, that’s not what I believe – this is’, then accuse you of attacking a strawman.

    I’m not suggesting that performative religious beliefs are ‘more robust’ or ‘immune to criticism.’ In fact, I think they are (and should be) open to criticism, but you cannot criticize them as something they aren’t. Suggesting to someone whose belief in God is purely a cultural notion that God is not actually a real thing makes about as much sense, to extend the previous analogy, as barging in and demanding they take their pants off.

    No, sorry, your analogy there is incorrect. A closer one would be suggesting to someone that, just because they’ve always worn pants, doesn’t mean they always have to, and shorts might be a bit cooler, seeing as it’s 100 degrees in the shade.

    On the other hand, however, the notion that religion is one big joke that everyone is in on could not be further from the truth, and this is something obviously we are all familiar with. It’s a shame that the only response to the failings of mainstream criticism of religion has been to reinforce another falsehood. Much of this criticism has been apt and to the point. It also has its failings which should be addressed. Why do we need to reduce this to a dichotomy between ‘we only make valid accusations’ or ‘we only make invalid accusations.’

    I agree with this. Atheists do, on occasion, make invalid accusations. One example is that, in response to the claim by creationists of ‘Hitler was inspired by Darwin’, some atheists like to claim that Hitler was a Christian. He wasn’t, really. He called himself a Christian, but the version of ‘Christianity’ he followed was very unique to him and the Nazis. The Nazis thought that the modern form Christianity was a corrupted and ‘Judaized’ form of ‘true Christianity’, that Nazi Germany needed to return to.

    What is wrong with just actually being honest, and actually investing some time and effort into real understanding?

    Sorry, I do understand. I’ve seen religion from the inside.

  118. #118 Form&Function
    May 5, 2009

    Harry tumbled to the ground, and the cobblestones of the North Oxford alleyway pushed into his back, squeezing and bunching the fabric of his jacket as his body writhed under the weight of Samchard Ditchkins.

    *ded*

    One thing about this blog–it makes the various parts of my world collide in such new and exquisitely entertaining ways. Atheism and Harry Potter slash? Sure! D&D and amputation? You got it!

    And PZ, this was a really delightful essay. A shame you had to suffer so much for our enjoyment.

  119. #119 Proof_Reader
    May 5, 2009

    “that they do not bow down before the icon of a crucified Jesus, they must not….”

    Replace the word ‘that’ with ‘if’

    Aside from that, this piece really confirms Richard Dawkins’ statement that we have the best writers on our side.

  120. #120 Kel
    May 5, 2009

    Looking at the spread of Christianity shows to me the problem of speaking out against religion. It’s a religion of faith, of personal empowerment. William Lane Craig even admits that personal testimony from the holy spirit should trump all evidence to the contrary… what this does is allows the individual to feel like their personal view is Christianity – that the way they see religion must be the way it is meant to be because they are taking personal witness from God himself!

    That would go a long way to explaining why there are now 45,000 sects of Christianity, why the views on the bible range from everything from as literal account written by God to abstract symbolism whereby it is an allegory to understand nature and our role in it. There are those who believe in a young earth, those who believe in an old earth, that God guides evolution, that God created the laws of physics that would work unguided to create us, that the laws of physics aren’t created by God rather that God transcends physics and happens to be a force in the universe. Hell, there are even those who believe that Jesus travelled to America after the resurrection.

    How is anyone meant to form a criticism of the religion that is able to encompass the diverse range of views presented? It may feel like a straw-man that Dawkins or Hitchens attack the most extreme forms, but is that really a problem? Is it a problem to speak out on extremists, especially when it is more than a fringe movement. Liberal scholars can point time and time again to modern theologians who subscribe that science and religion are fully compatible, but for the reality of many this is not the case. Creationism is still rampant, and of those believers who also accept evolution – seldom is there one who actually accepts that evolution is an unguided process.

    As I see it (and I am probably very wrong on this,) the personalisation of the religion prohibits dissent because you can never properly make an argument that can apply to ~2,000,000,000 individuals. To me, it seems up to the modern liberal theologians to show that their views are relevant, and to do this it is a matter of showing that it is relevant in the population. Not that it suddenly becomes true if more people believe it, rather that it becomes worth attacking. If this were a world that believed in witchcraft despite a few non-believers saying otherwise, if the population believes in witches the criticism will focus on that matter; not the believers in witchcraft who rationalise their argument in almost an agnostic fashion and then demand that their voices are being heard. When young women are being burnt at the stake, there is just no point in focusing the effort attacking the liberal believers who think that is wrong but “it’s an extreme that only a few believe in anyway”

    And that brings me back to the criticism of the new atheists. The criticism of Dawkins is not that he didn’t engage the arguments of prominent muslim theologians, not that he didn’t engage the arguments of prominent hindurs or buddhists. Or even that he didn’t engage the mormon apologists. The arguments against him are that he didn’t engage the particular theology of whoever is writing the review – thus completely missing the crux of the argument. To me, Dawkins took one step back and took on the entire endeavour of faith itself, that gods make no sense in the first place and the Modern Anglican Theologian is no better than the Mormon Theologian, the Sunni Scholar, or the islanders who are part of cargo cults.

    How is modern theology anything more than putting lipstick on a pig? You only need to be trained in recognising pigs, would the criticism be that Dawkins is not a trained beautician?

  121. #121 Sven DiMilo
    May 5, 2009

    I dug into his book (remember, trapped on a plane for 8 hours with nothing better to do)

    Dude, you said you had the Skymall!

    re the post:
    *clenched-tentacle salute*

    re Blake Stacey’s slash: LOL

  122. #122 Sven DiMilo
    May 5, 2009

    p.s. We Are All Ditchkins Now

  123. #123 David Marjanovi?, OM
    May 5, 2009

    If we want a signifier for the human condition, imagine the culture we would live in now if, instead of a dead corpse on an instrument of torture, our signifier was a child staring in wonder at the stars.

    Dora the Explorer!!!

    <rolling on the floor, cackling with madness>

    How easy it is to utterly pervert an utterly great idea.

    =====================

    Comment 72 is on to something.

    And so is Sastra… as always…

  124. #124 Blake Stacey
    May 5, 2009

    Actually, “Ditchkins” is starting to sound like a particularly unappetizing kind of cookie — like a “chocolate digestive” inflicted by grandparents on particularly ungrateful grandchildren.

    Ditchkins. Say it enough times, and you feel it lose its meaning.

    Ditchkins. Ditchkins. . . perhaps a “ditchkin” is a gyptian slang word for the clay-baking clans in His Dark Materials, in an Oxford at right angles to our reality. . .

    Ditchkins. . . Ditchkins. . .

    Perhaps it never had a meaning in the first place. . . .

  125. #125 Bacopa
    May 5, 2009

    BTW, Ditchkins was Defense Against the dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts after Snape’s death. He is in fact the father of Ginny Weasly and Hermione’s oldest children. The seduction scenes are all in my new fanfic. Part II includes how Ron and Harry enlist Crabb and Goyle to take revenge against Ditchkins in the most brutal non-con gay SM scene Potter slash has ever known.

  126. #126 khan
    May 5, 2009

    Christianity may or may not be the faith he holds to (he doesn’t tell us), but he speaks, he says, “partly in defense of my own forbearers, against the charge that the creed to which they dedicated their lives is worthless and void.”

    Isn’t this just ancestor worship?

  127. #127 bonze
    May 5, 2009

    Smidgy #117

    One example is that, in response to the claim by creationists of ‘Hitler was inspired by Darwin’, some atheists like to claim that Hitler was a Christian.

    Hitler was not a fan of Christianity (though he only expressed his hostility in private). However, in “Hitler’s Table Talks” (p. 6) he’s quoted as saying: “We don’t want to educate anyone in atheism.”

  128. #128 Menyambal
    May 5, 2009

    Thank you, PZ, for suffering for us all. And for writing such a great article.

    As others have said, Eagleton is pushing something like the Courtier’s Reply. He says that his opponents aren’t arguing against his pseudo-intellectual flavor of Christianity, but against some simplistic version. I have news for him: If it wasn’t for the millions of simple folks following a hillbilly caricature of religion, there wouldn’t be any profit in any religion. Arguing against the lowest-common-denominator of religion is arguing against the most prevalent version of religion.

  129. #129 Kseniya
    May 5, 2009

    What, exactly, is being misunderstood about the nature of religious belief?

    The part that would cause atheists to become True Believers, if only they understood it. You know. That part.

    I’ve been around similarly-shaped blocks with some of the more intransigently arrogant boys I met in college. They were so convinced that they were right, the only possible explanation for my disagreement, in their minds, was that I didn’t understand them.

    How is this any different?

    It’s not.

  130. #130 Pierce R. Butler
    May 5, 2009

    Smidgy @ # 117: Hitler… called himself a Christian, but the version of ‘Christianity’ he followed was very unique to him and the Nazis.

    As was the heresy known as Mormonism, as was the heresy known as Lutheranism, as were the heresies known as Catharism, Pelagianism, Arianism, etc, etc.

    Just because Hitler’s sect failed to endure (with, we can hope, inconsequential exceptions) doesn’t mean it wasn’t as much rooted in and a part of Christianism as any of those others.

  131. #131 Ted H.
    May 5, 2009

    I pictured PZ doing the Colbert fist shake: “Eagleton!”

    the British Book of Birds

    Is that the one without the gannet?

  132. #132 wet_bread
    May 5, 2009

    I’m sure I would have preferred Skymall.

  133. #133 Eric
    May 5, 2009

    “Ditchkins is a straw man, a dummy he can flog without fear of reply, and without worry that someone might actually find that his description of Ditchkins views is a caricature, because Ditchkins doesn’t exist.”

    Ditchkins doesn’t exist?!

    Now it’s just this degree of perspicacity that keeps me coming back to Pharyngula!

    Here’s the tricky question: is Ditchkins a strawman?

    Eagleton says on page two that Ditchkins refers to Dawkins and Hitchens. So, to show that Ditchkins is a strawman, you’d have to show at least on example of a position attributed to Ditchkins that cannot also be attributed to both Dawkins and Hitchens. Here’s an example of how this works: Myers and Dennett are both atheists. I’ll henceforth refer to them as ‘Dennyers.’ Oh, and Dennyers is an atheist. I don’t see a strawman there.

    “His claim is that the atheists are criticizing a version of religion he finds disagreeable and not at all like his version of religion?Ditchkins has made the ghastly error of failing to write The Eagleton Delusion or Eagleton Is Not Great or Letter to an Eagleton Nation.”

    Are you sure you’ve read this book twice? I’m not sure you’ve read it at all. The first two sentences of chapter two, for example, refute the claim you’ve made above: “The account of Christian faith I have just outlined is one which I take to be thoroughly *orthodox, scriptural and traditional*. There is nothing fashionable and newfangled about it; *indeed, much of it goes back to Aquinas and beyond*.” He’s not upset that they’ve failed to criticize *his* conception of Christianity; he’s upset that they’ve failed to understand the orthodox conception.

    “My first thought is that, while this may be representative of some theologians, it’s awfully remote from the real world of religious belief.”

    Ugh. And Eagleton deals quite adequately with this very criticism on pages 58 – 60.

    Are you sure you actually read the book?

    I don’t see any reason to continue countering your horrible analysis of ‘Reason, Faith and Revolution.’ Perhaps you dislike Eagleton so much because you know (as this post evinces) that you lack the reading comprehension skills required to pass one of his Lit Crit classes.

  134. #134 John Scanlon FCD
    May 5, 2009

    Chris #65 reminded me of this:

    ?The Dark Arts,” said Snape, “are many, varied, ever-changing, and eternal. Fighting them is like fighting a many-headed monster, which, each time a neck is severed, sprouts a head even fiercer and cleverer than before. You are fighting that which is unfixed, mutating, indestructible.”

    Except the apologists don’t really get “fiercer and cleverer”, but “lamer and stoopider”.

  135. #135 PZ Myers
    May 5, 2009

    And the purpose of inventing “Dennyers” is…? And why invent “Ditchkins” if he can simply refer to Dawkins and Hitchens appropriately? You are making no sense.

    No, a declaration that his version of Christian faith is orthodox, scriptural, and traditional is not a refutation. It’s an assertion. It’s not even a credible assertion, given that there are thousands of Christian sects that each declare themselves the one true Christian faith.

  136. #136 Joe Harkness
    May 5, 2009

    One of the difficulties involved in reading critics of atheism is that it is almost impossible to find out what exactly they are defending. I have read numerous articles by people who can’t stand Prof. Dawkins etc. and the common thread is a whining, petulant irritation combined with a complete lack of intelligent argument. I suspect their “faith” is a sentimental attatchment to an imagined charmed past( like restoring an old Austin A40). Eagleton’s comment about his forbears admits as much. So much for being a cutting edge radical.

  137. #137 Wyomingite
    May 5, 2009

    “I thought the other side of campus, the one with all those arty lit-crit types, was where the good writing was done?but Reason, Faith, and Revolution is one of the most poorly written and poorly argued books I’ve ever read.”

    A little secret form an English Major: Modern ‘literature’ sucks big, hairy donkey nuts. If an author seems “deep” then there is no need to be logical or even a mediocre writer.

  138. #138 H.H.
    May 5, 2009

    Chris #87 wrote:

    Eagleton seems pretty bad at explaining the concept (a real shame, as everyone mentions he used to be a fantastic writer).

    Or maybe he’s just really good at not explaining the concept. You make the mistake of assuming that he wants to be clear. In my experience, apologists like Eagleton actually wish to be as vague and unclear as possible, since so long as they never spell out exactly what it is they believe, it can’t be critically examined. It’s a long exercise in pretending to say something while actually saying nothing. They want to sound profound, but the second they get specific the illusion is shattered. The reason they never offer nothing substantive is because they have nothing substantive to offer. Their entire shtick a bluff.

    It’s like Sastra said in #83:

    We’re trying to take the ideas seriously, and the believers just want us to take them seriously.

  139. #139 John Phillips, FCD
    May 5, 2009

    PZ said

    Imagine the culture we would live in now if, instead of a dead corpse on an instrument of torture, our signifier was a child staring in wonder at the stars.

    That brought a tear to the eye. Imagine indeed.

    Thank you for taking one for the team PZ as I didn’t want to suffer him again. For I have read other anti-new atheist screeds by Eagleton and, at best, it was laboured pretentious gibberish with only the atheist strawmen noticeable.

  140. #140 hithesh
    May 5, 2009

    “our signifier was a child staring in wonder at the stars. That’s representative of the state of humanity, too; it’s a symbol that touches us all as much.”

    This is one of most repulsively ignorant comments that I have ever heard. ANd cleary shows how naive you are in you reflection on human nature.

    Speak for yourself PZ. It’s only those well off dweebs who feel touched by staring at lifeless stars. For most of the world, for those who suffer, whose lives are not as privileged as yours, the stars are no more touching than stamp collecting.

    Only in your delusional fantasy world, do you believe that individuals such as myself, share in your awe for the petty, and trivial bemusement of middle class liberal rationalist. Try telling a mother I know whose son was brutally murdered, to look at the stars for comfort.

    The symbolic image of a crucified innocent, the epitome of despair, and the transcendent image of hope even in misery, is far harder to ignore for the rest of us, though not for an idiotic and privileged you of course, who will forever miss it.

  141. #141 HappyKiwi
    May 5, 2009

    I’m an English Lit prof and I agree with Wyomingite. Over the last two or three decades the study of English Lit, and the credibility of our discipline, has been all-but destroyed by a clique of professional obscurantists (Eagleton not the worst among them) who have perfected the art of seeming to say everything while saying nothing. I think of it as the ever-decreasing circle school of criticism (i.e now most of them just refer to each other). From your review PZ–which sounds on the money given my knowledge of Eagleton’s other writings–both his christianity and his view of the bible hold equivalent status with the texts he critiques, namely, they are vehicles for his public pronouncements, but their concrete status in society and culture is completely irrelevant. Eagleton’s bible is allegorical, metaphorical, esoteric and mythical (much like his faith as far as we can tell what it is)–he can’t relate the text he reads to actual outcomes like the submission of women, persecution of gays, beating of children, murdering of doctors providing abortions, or disparagement of science. To do so would be to concede that literature does shape culture, that human susceptibility to the mythical can have actual, immediate and sometimes terrible consequences. That would be a hard thought to bear for a man whose career has been spent feeding on the corpses of the literary cannon. Since we’re coining names, let’s be more precise and call him “Buzzardton”.

  142. #142 Blake Stacey
    May 5, 2009

    Try telling a mother I know whose son was brutally murdered, to look at the stars for comfort.

    Try telling a mother whose son was beaten to a pulp and left to die because “God Hates Fags” that she should seek solace in the Lord. Because, you know, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

  143. #143 Dwelloffweeb
    May 5, 2009

    “Try telling a mother I know whose son was brutally murdered, to look at the stars for comfort. ”

    At least the stars are real hithesh. Fairytales about the torture and death of some ignorant Nazarene carpenter with delusions of grandeur are a sad way to offer comfort.

  144. #144 windy
    May 5, 2009

    Speak for yourself PZ. It’s only those well off dweebs who feel touched by staring at lifeless stars.

    Yeah, damn those overprivileged assholes in their ivory towers limestone caves!

  145. #145 Blake Stacey
    May 5, 2009

    Fairytales about the torture and death of some ignorant Nazarene carpenter with delusions of grandeur are a sad way to offer comfort.

    Hey, come on now! Jesus died had a bad weekend for your sins.

  146. #146 Kel
    May 5, 2009

    Speak for yourself PZ. It’s only those well off dweebs who feel touched by staring at lifeless stars.

    Back when I was at university, I was extremely depressed and stressed out. I found comfort in looking to the stars, I would go and sit outside in the freezing cold and just stare up at the night sky. It made my problems feel so insignificant. Even now when I feel stressed that is one of my main coping mechanisms, I look at the stars and feel a lot better.

  147. #147 Kseniya
    May 5, 2009

    This is one of most repulsively ignorant comments that I have ever heard. ANd cleary shows how naive you are in you reflection on human nature.

    Wow. That qualifies as “one of the most repulsively ignorant comments” you’ve ever heard?! How… dramatic of you. I think you need to get out more.

    Has it not occurred to you that the trappings of Christianity have no inherent comfort value; the value is assessed by people who were indoctrinated into that particular religion long before they had the intellectual capacity to think critically about what they were being taught? Well, WHAT IF those trappings didn’t exist, WHAT IF the signifier wasn’t about suffering and death, but about hope and wonder?

    I’m certainly sorry for your friend who lost her son, but you playing the tragedy card here is a cheap, low blow. Anyway, it’s a wash. How about this: Try telling a teenage girl whose mother succumbed to cancer, whose most sincere and desperate prayers went unacknowledged and unanswered by an uncaring, non-existent God, to seek solace in the Lord, or to look to a dead guy nailed to a tree for comfort.

    I mean, really. How fucking stupid ARE you? I find YOUR comments repulsive and ignorant. You’re one of those sick fucks who gets off on other peoples’ misery, aren’t you? A person who thinks it’s mankind’s fate – no, DUTY – to suffer. Well, you can go to hell, as far as I’m concerned.

    Have a nice life. Now go. Shoo. Get out of my sight.

  148. #148 Brian
    May 5, 2009

    After reading PZ’s post and the review he linked to, one thing in all of it irked me the most for some strange reason: the 1,000,000,001st time Dawkins and other atheists are accused of “elitism”. This one’s been beaten to death before, but:

    1) What’s wrong with elitism in the first place in this, what some consider the most important questions possible. And,

    2) What’s so hard to understand about Dawkins, Hitchens, and I’m broadening the scope a bit here, Harris? I, and most of us here, have read some or all of these people. They’re pretty accessible. You don’t *need* to know arcana about history, religion, science or much of anything else. What could be more insulting to the masses Eagleton’s supposedly writing for than saying Dawkins is over your head?

    Brian

  149. #149 Katkinkate
    May 5, 2009

    I have this vision of PZ hunched over the book on his little fold-down table, muttering under his breath and scribbling comments with ever increasing violence in the margins and all the other passengers seated around him shooting quick glances his way and slowly edging away.

  150. #150 Anonymous
    May 5, 2009

    “A little secret form an English Major: Modern ‘literature’ sucks big, hairy donkey nuts. If an author seems “deep” then there is no need to be logical or even a mediocre writer.”

    Heh. I only minored in English. It seemed like when people talked about a story being so “20th century” or “Post Modern”, whatever the fuck that means in a literary or any other perspective, it basically meant that the author didn’t have a story for shit to tell, and tried to make up for it by playing all sorts of games with how to tell a story to make up for the fact that there wasn’t one.

    Brian

  151. #151 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 5, 2009

    I found comfort in looking to the stars, I would go and sit outside in the freezing cold and just stare up at the night sky.

    Brings back memories of shoveling snow in dah YooPee. With clear skies, and smog hundreds of miles away (like where I live now), the stars seemed up close and personal. And if I was lucky, a different kind of light show of shimmering colored curtains across the sky.

  152. #152 windy
    May 5, 2009

    I mean, really. How fucking stupid ARE you? I find YOUR comments repulsive and ignorant.

    Not to mention how hithesh misrepresented “a child staring in wonder at the stars” as if it were only about stars.

  153. #153 Kseniya
    May 5, 2009

    Not to mention how hithesh misrepresented “a child staring in wonder at the stars” as if it were only about stars.

    For hithesh, it IS only about stars.

    Well, ok, it’s also about missing the point, and about telling PZ to “speak for yourself” while presuming to speak for all of humanity (with a little bit of anti-intellectualism thrown in along the way for a more populist flavor).

  154. #154 John Phillips, FCD
    May 6, 2009

    Brian #148, too true. What is even more ironic, is that those who often accuse us of elitism will often acknowledge that they themselves don’t really believe but the hoi polloi need it because of their bleak lives and it helps control them, i.e. the opiate of the people gambit. We ‘elitists’ on the other hand, rather than condescending, challenge them to look rationally at their beliefs and educate themselves on what can be. As you said, Dawkins and the Horsemen’s books are approachable and more than understandable by anyone who has had a basic education. The same often can’t be said of the various fleas like Eagleton. Who is being elitist?

  155. #155 Rey Fox
    May 6, 2009

    “Only in your delusional fantasy world, do you believe that individuals such as myself, share in your awe for the petty, and trivial bemusement of middle class liberal rationalist.”

    And only in your patronizingly insulting world does nobody who lives in poverty or deprivement have curiosity toward the world around them.

    Oh, and what Kseniya said.

  156. #156 SteveL
    May 6, 2009

    It takes 8 hours to get from NYC to Minnesota ??

  157. #157 ElitistB
    May 6, 2009

    “The symbolic image of a crucified innocent, the epitome of despair, and the transcendent image of hope even in misery, is far harder to ignore for the rest of us, though not for an idiotic and privileged you of course, who will forever miss it.”
    At least the stars are real…

    The symbolic image of a crucified innocent is indeed a powerful image … but we all know the biblical story behind Jesus Christ as according to the Christian religion, which alters the impact of the image to nothing other than a symbol of blind foolishness.

    A man who was his own father who had himself killed as a sacrifice to himself to get himself to forgive people he purposely made flawed and set up to fail to live up to a set of standards he himself created, and if you don’t kowtow to him then he will send you to eternal torment (rather than just leave you to your own devices).

    But he loves you.

    And he needs money.

  158. #158 yoyo
    May 6, 2009

    Wow PZ that was even better than your piece on the coynes debate!

    and this This is a superb example of why Eagleton has such (proper) contempt for secular liberals. is a perfect example of why the apologist side is so bad. Either it’s content free eg theist or it’s straight bigotry and lies. What’s so hard to get? When apologists do the Courtiers response they and cant understand that A) their god is NOT the obvious god and B) their theology is not the norm even amongst their own flavour.

  159. #159 uncle frogy
    May 6, 2009

    @83
    “Perhaps the problem is that theists tend to use the word “Truth,” when they really want the word “truthiness.” We’re trying to take the ideas seriously, and the believers just want us to take them seriously.”

    That is exactly the problem it has very little to do with the belief and all to do with the believer it is completely subjective by definition. There is no way without picking on a belief to discern which belief is better or true. It is completely impossible to use reason against such a “thinking”.

    Belief is such a trap. It is an illusion the ghost in the machine. It is real in the same sense that any feeling is real but no more so. The belief is not a fact it is a feeling.
    How can you argue facts and reality with dreams when the dreamer will not look under the dream and see the dreamer but instead wants you to accept that it is real when it changes like any dream from moment to moment, barfff!

    Well being locked on a plane without anything else to do but read a pretentious book twice is indeed something I have not had to experience. at least you found the stimulation out of it for something positive.

  160. #160 Menyambal
    May 6, 2009

    Yay for looking at the stars! I spent a long couple of years in the city of Seattle, with finances short and various troubles, then took a road trip through a high desert. I walked out into the clear, dark night, away from the highway, and looked up. And cried. And felt much better.

    I like how anti-elitists seem to always find some goofball to follow around and to worship.

  161. #161 Badger3k
    May 6, 2009

    Back in SWA during the first gulf war, looking up at the magnificent sky was a great relief, and later, when going through hard times, I’d get out as far as I could from the lights, sit, look at the stars, and think. Seeing the majesty of the stars, billions of years old, made my problems seem pale in comparison, and thus able to be reached and overcome. The tortured body of this mythic god-man is a horrible symbol, a defiance of life and promotion of suffering and torture as good things (both the martyr complex and the finding that the religious tend to support torture and more harsh punishments – via Reasonable Doubts podcast – lend credence to this idea).

    Sorry, a masochistic petty god, a remnant of bronze (or iron) age tribalism is not a good thing to look up to.

  162. #162 JeffS
    May 6, 2009

    PZ needs to write a book. He is a joy to read on any subject.

  163. #163 Miranda Hale
    May 6, 2009

    Oh, goodness, Eagleton is SUCH a bullshit artist. Plus, he’s crabby and bitchy and whiny and a postmodernist who won’t admit to being one.

  164. #164 barfy
    May 6, 2009

    I am not an English major or lit-crit type, but did think of post-modernism and Marxism while reading PZ’s post of Eagleton.

    It seems clear to me, though not evidence based, that Eagleton suffers from Critical Theory Syndrome. Critical Theory being the Marxist based, post modern clap that sounds in literature, social sciences and Cornel West’s tangled prose.

    Critical Theory is neither critical or predictive. It is an ecstatic bloviation of sound and fury signifying nothing – but the need to re-read every sentence, and if well done, every chapter, thinking to yourself, “what the fuck was that even about?” Finally deducing, as PZ did, that it wasn’t about anything at all.
    It is obvious that Eagleton’s work is a Critical Theory masterpiece.

  165. #165 RamblinDude
    May 6, 2009

    The symbolic image of a crucified innocent, the epitome of despair, and the transcendent image of hope even in misery, is far harder to ignore for the rest of us, though not for an idiotic and privileged you of course, who will forever miss it.

    I wonder if Charlemagne and all the other Christian oppressors who subjugated their populations for centuries and instituted Christianity through reigns of fear had any idea that they would be so successful at cowering people that centuries later millions the hithesh-es in the world would still be fervidly defending their strangled imaginations and subservience to a senseless creed. Could they have known? I sometimes wonder about that.

    Hithesh (assuming you?re not a college kid doing some creative POE-ing), you have no clue how bizarre your comment was. Are you really that brainwashed? Really?

    Oh, and what Kseniya said.

  166. #166 efrique
    May 6, 2009

    Ditchkins for Atheist Pope!

  167. #167 TheVirginian
    May 6, 2009

    My first encounter with Eagleton was in reading a book review he wrote in the May 10, 2004, The Nation. It provoked my first letter to that magazine (not published) because he declared: “Hitler believed in neither God nor humanity.?

    Of course, Hitler was a theist to the end, and a Christian for all or at least most of his life, with Christian beliefs and theology explaining much of what he did. For example, his statement that his Third Reich would last a thousand years was based on Christian apocalyptic beliefs, going back at least to Joachim of Fiore, about how a great emperor at the end of the Second Age of humanity would arise to defeat the penultimate Antichrist and cleanse Christianity, starting the Third Age, a thousand-year paradise but with a slow moral decline, at the end of which Satan and the final Antichrist would arise, but Jesus would beat them, a la “Revelation.” It’s obvious what Hitler believed his role in life was, and who the Jews were in theological terms (There was even a Christian tradition that the Antichrist was from the Jewish tribe of Dan). There are a lot more Christian links to Nazism and Hitler, but the point is, Eagleton was engaging in standard, lying, anti-atheist, Christian apologetics here.

    He wasn’t even right about Hitler being anti-humanity. Hitler believed in humanity, as long it was an “Aryan” human. Everyone else was subhuman and not worth anything. I’m not saying Hitler was a nice guy or misunderstood, just that Eagleton distorts history (or is grossly ignorant of it) to attack atheists. Hitler hated atheists/atheism too. If I used Eagletonian logic, I could equate him with Hitler!

    Finally, long applause for Professor Myers’ review. Between his comments and Stanley Fish’s (in a backward way), it’s obvious Eagleton’s book is garbage. I won’t waste time on it.

  168. #168 Mathew Wilder
    May 6, 2009

    How very loving and Jesus-like of you, hithesh. Fuck you!

    PZ, the child looking up at the stars is a beautiful image, but you’re not the first to think of it:

    “There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
    -Tolkien, The Return of the King, Book IV, “The Land of Shadow”

  169. #169 TheVirginian
    May 6, 2009

    A follow-up point; According to Fish’s review, Eagleton said of liberalism that it failed, it was not progress because it did not stop ?the misery wreaked by racism and sexism, the sordid history of colonialism and imperialism, the generation of poverty and famine.?

    Anyone who digs into the history of this stuff knows that Christianity, not liberalism, is the source of or a major factor of racism, sexism, colonialism and imperialism in the West. If not for Christianity, no one would have decided that dark-skinned pagans were automatically inferior to light-complexedion European Christians.

    Furthermore, racism is intrinsically creationist, while evolution denies racism. The implicit assumption of racism is that everything is created with fixed features/nature. So one can believe that Europeans, Africans, Asians and Indians all were made separately and with fixed, intrinsic aspects of character, with various groups created superior or inferior to others. Evolution, by contrast, says we’re all cousins and that the differences among us are minor variations that adapt to local conditions.

    Read defenses of slavery (before the Civil War) and post-war segregation, and they mostly rely on the Bible and a creationist or literalist view, with stories about Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel or Noah and his sons being literal truth that explains where Africans, etc. come from. It’s no surprise that American segregationists overwhelmingly are conservative Christians, that the Klan burns crosses to symbolize the light of Jesus.

    Ditto for sexism, which is strictly Bible based in the West, as far as I can tell. Also for homophobia. Eagleton is either a liar or so delusional he cannot acknowledge historical facts.

    A final note: Would anyone really want to live in the world 500 years ago, 1,000 years ago? I’ll bet even Eagleton would balk, as he might be burned at the stake as a heretic, if he survived the Plague, smallpox, a lack of hygiene, no surgery, etc. And if he were a woman, he’d be little better than a slave. In fact, he might be a slave, as slavery was very much a Christian institution. (“Slave” comes from Slav, because Christian crusaders in the Middle Ages took so many pagan Slavs prisoner and sold them for labor.) If Eagleton sees no progress since 1009 C.E., he’s an idiot.

  170. #170 Happy Tentacles
    May 6, 2009

    I majored in Eng. Lit. several years ago, and I emerged with a deep contempt for the drivel of Critical Theory that reduced ‘Books’ (those things people might read, love and find exhilarating, inspiring and beautiful)to ‘Texts’ (lifeless things existing only to be dissected and micro-analysed by Theorists who were so totally up their own backsides that their smeary handprints ruined every novel and poem they touched). Eagleton IS the Skidmark of Literature, in more sense than one. He and his ilk have killed too many books for those of us obliged to study in their wake.

    Most comtemporary Literary Fiction is self-obssessed and unreadable, and is written mainly to impress Booker Proze judges. Nobody reads it for pleasure.

    Eagleton’s subject and dogma might have changed, but HE certainly hasn’t.

    Congratulations, PZ, on surviving eight hours of that tripe and retaining brain-function!

  171. #171 Happy Tentacles
    May 6, 2009

    Sorry – got carried away by my own bile. Two typos – ‘contemporary’ and ‘Booker Prize’

  172. #172 apnea
    May 6, 2009

    Why is it that when engaging literary theorists like Eagleton (which I’m no fan of, especially not in this case) on any ground online, the famous “Postmodernism” (sometimes “Post-modernism” or “Po-mo” or “PoMo”) meme will inevitably be trotted out, in order to not only explain away a particular author, but seemingly whole fields of inquiry (“Postmodern studies”, I suppose?) outside the hard sciences?

    Here’s the usual set-up as I?ve witnessed it:

    -Someone will associate the author under question with the “Postmodernism” meme or call him a “Postmodernist”, making use of the opportunity to alert his fellows to the author’s use of “jargon” or “obscurantist” language.

    -Someone else will call the others out to the diluting effect of “Postmodernism”‘s (uncited) “denial of objective truth”.

    -Derrida will probably be name-dropped at some point.

    -Some will then almost inevitably raise the minor one-time one-place editorial mishaps dubbed “Sokal Affair”, which, I gather, seems to be standing in for an actual vindication of “anti-Postmodernism” (opposed to “Postmodernism”, wouldn’t you know) in the online English-speaking world. *

    *We have been spared this last point here until now, gratefully.

    Now I have seen many, many iterations of this particular ritual on forum and comment threads all over, and having recently graduated in some studies not too far removed from the subjects routinely amalgamated to the “PoMo” meme (you know, Human Sciences stuff), I find myself asking: What exactly is this Postmodernism you speak of?

    I say this because from what people are describing it to be, the meme is intended to refer to some overwhelming status quo in academia promoting unreadable jargon, over-indulgent wordplays, unrelenting relativism, denial of validity to the scientific process, etc. All quite unreasonable, and of course difficult to imagine being put forward with any seriousness by contemporary authors in any academic field.

    Now, I know some end-of-twentieth literary movement has called itself “Postmodern”, and some scholars have taken the term to mean variously: a political condition, a time period, an aesthetic posture, an historical state of mind, etc. For all my efforts, I don’t seem to find the real-world equivalent of the Postmodernist madrassas of relativism and nihilism populating online discussion.

    Of course, to determine to which extent my willing passage through institutions of learning in the hope of bettering my understanding of the tenets of non-Hard, Human sciences has made me incapable of seeing the forest of the madrassas for the trees of our universities, I leave as an exercise to the reader.

  173. #173 apnea
    May 6, 2009

    Why the stylistic weaknesses and uninteresting content of Eagleton’s apologetics should should be extrapolated to the wider fields of “Postmodernism” or “litcrit” remains unexplained. Are these fields epistemologically linked to – or in any way invested in – Christian apologetics? Or are they so monolithic as to fall as one when some literary theorist or other writes substandard stuff?

    Just asking.

  174. #174 Ian
    May 6, 2009

    It is true that the symbol of the crucified Christ is a powerful one…

    That paragraph was not something I expected to see from PZ. That’s not just a genuine attempt to understand the other side. It gives a sense of why Christians find Christianity attractive in a way that’s more forceful than most Christians could express.

    If we want a signifier for the human condition, imagine the culture we would live in now if, instead of a dead corpse on an instrument of torture, our signifier was a child staring in wonder at the stars.

    Well, if you want to break somebody out of Christianity, that’s the way to do it — argue that the Bible is bad poetry, that there are more meaningful stories we could be telling instead. It’s much easier to walk out of a religion if you’re walking towards something better.

    PZ’s post is a thing of beauty. Best-of-the-web. Thanks very much.

  175. #175 MikeN
    May 6, 2009

    Being an ex-commie myself, I’d guess that Eagleton’s arguments against “Ditchkin’s” simplistic theology have their origins in old battles defending Marxism.

    When someone would point out, as a counter-argument, Stalin and the Great Purge and the forced collectivisation and murder of the kulaks ,or the Berlin Wall or the crushing of the Hungarian uprising or the Prague Spring or Mao and the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution or Vietnam and the Boat People or Pol Pot and the Killing Fields or the paradise that is North Korea, you’d simply dismiss all that as “vulgar Marxism”; real Marxism was what three guys at the Sorbonne were arguing with two guys at Frankfurt about.

    So Eagleton dismisses arguments against Christianity by appealing to vague theological arguments that 99.9% of believers would reject out of hand.

  176. #176 Stephen Wells
    May 6, 2009

    The ancestor-worship is interesting: Eagleton wants to defend the beliefs of his ancestors because he can’t stand the thought that they were wrong. That’s curious because as a scientist I _know_ that both my personal forebears, and the great scientists through history that I admire, were wrong about an awful lot of things; as are we; this does not diminish my respect for them one iota. Eagleton wants Truth to be static, God-given, adhered to through the generations, where any change is a loss. We know that knowledge is gained only be great effort and diligent enquiry. Galileo and Kepler knew nothing of quantum physics; Darwin was ignorant of molecular genetics; do we respect them less for their inevitable errors and ignorance, or do we admire them for the great steps forward in human knowledge that they achieved?

    There’s a lovely poem by Sydney Carter, based on the story of Lot’s wife. From memory:

    She was a pillar of integrity
    She would not budge an inch
    She held the truth so tightly to her heart
    That it could not grow up and wander off.
    What she held once
    She will hold for ever.

    What she loved
    Is beautiful
    But dead.

  177. #177 Tassie Devil
    May 6, 2009

    The wallpaper on my desktop is the Hubble deep field image. it is the strongest argument against god that I have ever found.

    apnea – I find your reaoning bizarre. It takes very little effort to find reams of incomprehensible jargon emanating from certain sections of the humanities – LitCrit being one of the more obvious examples. The wilful obfuscation and intellectual arrogance of writing prose that is incomprehensible to the intelligent reader has reached breathtaking heights. That people can submit meaningless text to these journals and have it published is confirmation that subsets of the humanities have their heads so far up their own arses they could do an auto-appendicetomy.

  178. #178 Dwight
    May 6, 2009

    I don’t think the pointis that every single theologian ought to be addressed by atheist critics of religion. It’s that liberal theology (protestant or catholic) represents not just an academic here or there but a significant minority of the church. The Episcopal Church and United Church of Christ whose work on gay and lesbian inclusion is well ahead of the general society. The largest protestant church in Canada who include evolution in their basic creedal statement.

    But fundamentalism, as defined by the religious right and certain protestants define religion for all. Seeing Hitchens correct Harold Kushner on how Judaism must believe it is the one true religion was a bit sad. The idea is practically non existent in Judaism. But the template on how right wing intolerant religion works was placed on it anyways.

    I think mistakes like that can be avoided if one at least acknowledged that liberal religious thought and practices exist. I think it is in a way but then dismissed as an academic here or there and so we have unitarian churches that can get targeted by the rational response squad with videos on how Jesus never existed. That’ll show em.

    But the type of Christianity or religion spoken of by most atheist sites I’ve never experienced in any church I’ve been a member of. In the Twin Cities there is United Theological Seminary there is a think tank relating progressive faith and the churches and society. So again, examples like this abound in all major cities and most communities in the country. One doesn’t have to pour over arcane theology. Just stop by a local Episcopal church and chat up the priest sometime.

  179. #179 Craig B
    May 6, 2009

    I have not yet had time to read all of the comments, so my apologies if someone has already pointed out what I am about to say.

    Eagleton and Fish are both lit crit types who were among the dominant figures of the post-structuralist nonsense (rightly termed anti-intellectual by Massimo Pigliucci) of the ’80s and ’90s. As a Ph.D. in literature who did his grad work in those times, I can tell you that the anti-intellectual nature of their work, like that of Derrida and many others, made life hell for a rationalist literature grad student like me. I remember having conversations with fellow grad students and professors about what bunk all this stuff was, and, yes, how anti-science (very few of my peers had any kind of background in science) it all was – even a putative Marxist like Eagleton.

    In a nutshell, what the lit theory of the time did was (rightly) remove god-like adoration of the AUTHOR from evaluation of literature, but meanwhile encouraged the god-like adoration of the critic. That sort of egomania was rampant. Further, most of them wrote with such obscurity and jargon (which relates to some of PZ’s critique) that no one understood what they were talking about. It was an emperor’s new clothes thing: few, especially among grad students, were smart or brave enough to see through the crap and speak out. Most professors either spewed the stuff (the drank the kool-aid) or were afraid to argue against it for fear of being called dinosaurs. (There were some exceptions, particularly among “new historicist” critics.)

    The bottom line is that the “cultural construction of reality” delusion (it applies in many areas, but not with science) led people to say many nonsensical things, and some are still doing it. Fish is one of the worst. He has recreated himself many times, but all with common themes including the fact that as best I can tell nothing actually matters to him.

  180. #180 ElitistB
    May 6, 2009

    “Seeing Hitchens correct Harold Kushner on how Judaism must believe it is the one true religion was a bit sad. The idea is practically non existent in Judaism.”

    That is part of the point for a lot of Atheists, though. Why even follow a religion when you only choose the parts you think are convenient? Obviously they are getting outside information, so why not just totally rely on that instead?

    The holy book repeatedly states that it IS the one true religion. If someone ignores parts of the book that they don’t like, can they really be said to be following that religion?

  181. #181 MattB242
    May 6, 2009

    Re: Apnea. If we?re being pedantic about it, I guess ?Postmodernism? was an architectural movement that kicked off in the 1970s as a reaction to the brutalist utopian ?living experiments? of people like Le Corbusier, the idea being that you adapted your built spaces to the needs and pleasures of the locals (?vernacular? architecture) rather than trying to impose some sort of utopian ?design for living? based on abstruse theories.

    Hence the resistance of postmodernism as a wider movement to ?totalising? philosophies ? they don?t (or at least the sensible ones don?t) deny that ?objective truth? exists at all, they just make the entirely more reasonable claim that we should be suspicious when certain groups (white middle class people, say) claim that they know what it is.

    Atheists should take Derrida and his ilk a lot more seriously than they do ? from my understanding, he is trying to create a sort of ?godless metaphysics?, which acknowledges the ineffability of conscious experience without falling into the religious trap of claiming that the source of said ineffability can be defined or delimited (hence the verbal gymnastics ? he?s operating at the limits of the defineable). His efforts actually go some way to countering Eagleton?s central point ? the idea that religion is the only way we can give human experience the ?transcendent value? that justifies preserving and defending it at all costs.

    However there seems to be an insistence in certain communities that atheism must be coupled with a sort of dourly aggressive scientism that dismisses any human endeavour other than the development of empirically verifiable theories about physical reality as basically worthless. This makes me grumpy, as I believe it actually harms the rationalist cause.

  182. #182 hithesh
    May 6, 2009

    Mathew Wilder:

    “there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” JRR Tolkien

    Well, if PZ was speaking of the stars like religious individuals like Tolkiens were, like the wise men seeing the star that led them to the messiah, than we’d really have some problems.

    This is how we know how silly and deluded some of our atheist are. They believe that in a Godless world, a world with no inherent meaning and purpose star gazing is a source of universal hope, spoke like champs who have no need for hope at all. You’re peddling a myth, more sillier when we remember the what sort of worldview you hold.

    “At least the stars are real hithesh. Fairytales about the torture and death of some ignorant Nazarene carpenter.”

    Well, let’s see facts: stars are real, (historical facts) Jesus was tortured and crucified, his early followers were able to look upon the humiliating death, and despair of Jesus, and still hope, and not with a diminishing sense of it, but a sense of it that was as real to them as touching wounded flesh.

    My claim was the reality of this hope in despair is a powerful one, even when I didn’t believe, I could see the endearing power of it, in the countless lives people living on the verge of misery.

    Idiots like PZ, who live in their glass houses, and fairly void of any really suffering, fairly clueless to the woes of much of the world, who could give in to caricatures, could only be naive enough to claim the godless stars as an equal source of awe and hope.

    The silliness does not lie in that he is inspired by it, but in his superstitious belief that all of humanity inherently feels the same way, that some how the suffering individual who is in awe of this portion of the gospel narrative, of the suffering community and person of Jesus Christ, who were able to hope even amongst overwhelming despair, could look to the coldness of stars for comfort.

    “Are you really that brainwashed? Really?”

    Judging that you are the one defending a dimwitted comment by PZ, I wouldn’t be quick to pull out the “brainwashed” card. I understand the villiage atheist thinks that whoever comes in support of theistic beliefs, does so because he was brainwashed by a church, or pastor, or parents. Judging that all these individuals and people have failed miserably to indoctrinate me, or to form me as a Christian, as I was an unbeliever for most of my adulthood, a disbelief that came easy, and without much of a struggle from all that was told to me in my youth.

    None of you could dare claim that I’ve been brainwashed.

    If some of you silly folk would like to have a real debate on the subject at hand, you can pick a forum of your choice, and I’ll meet you there.

  183. #183 Anonymous
    May 6, 2009

    windy: “Not to mention how hithesh misrepresented “a child staring in wonder at the stars” as if it were only about stars.”

    No, I’m pretty sure I know exactly what it was about, and the power and hope one affords them is highly superstitious. But amuse me windy. Since PZ is not here to do it for me, tell us what it’s about? What’s beyond the stars here windy? What’s staring at the stars all about? What sort of hope and awe are you trying to peddle me? And how you defend it against my allegation that I find it cheap?

  184. #184 Dwight
    May 6, 2009

    ElitistB
    I don’t think one can find throughout Jewish history ever a sense that they are the one true religion. Even in the Hebrew Scriptures it is apparent that Yawheh is their God, not that no other Gods are. But the thing about tradition is it is possible to love or at least wish to relate to significant features of it in community with others without agreeing to everything that was said in the past. Traditions, religious or otherwise, are never simply stuck in the past but are being added to, taken up in new ways, etc. So yes let’s get info from outside the tradition as well as relate to what is significant within it. Why close off sources of insight?

  185. #185 Stephen Wells
    May 6, 2009

    hithesh, you’re obsessing about the stars when you should be thinking about the sense of wonder. It is the habit of inquiry, not the object of it, that matters.

  186. #186 Anonymous
    May 6, 2009

    Stephen Wells:

    “The ancestor-worship is interesting: Eagleton wants to defend the beliefs of his ancestors because he can’t stand the thought that they were wrong. That’s curious because as a scientist I _know_ that both my personal forebears, and the great scientists through history that I admire, were wrong.”

    lol, Eagleton freely admitted that his beliefs could be wrong, he even claims that people can reasonably reject it. So this view of yours totally misses the point.

    I get offended when people make strawmen, or naive assumptions about atheism. For me I desire to know atheism at it’s most persuasive not the cheap sort of Atheism that Dawkins, PZ, and Hitchens try and peddle (but sadly you won’t find it on typical sites and forums such as this). And this probably has much to do with my adulthood disbelief, which was the product of being deeply reflective on these things, that cheap atheism peddled by some theist (and even by many atheist) tends to repulse me.

    This is what Eagleton is getting it, it’s not a defense of Christianity as the truth, but that if you are going to be a real critic of it, to argue it at it’s best, not at the Pat Roberston level, but the Dostoevsky level.

  187. #187 Jud
    May 6, 2009

    They believe that in a Godless world, a world with no inherent meaning and purpose star gazing is a source of universal hope, spoke like champs who have no need for hope at all.

    * * *

    The silliness does not lie in that he is inspired by it, but in his superstitious belief that all of humanity inherently feels the same way, that some how the suffering individual who is in awe of this portion of the gospel narrative, of the suffering community and person of Jesus Christ, who were able to hope even amongst overwhelming despair, could look to the coldness of stars for comfort.

    Hmm, so an atheist world is one devoid of meaning, and believing humans generally feel the same way about certain things is “superstitious,” eh?

    Tell me, how do you feel about fathers tying up their children, cutting their throats, and burning their bodies, unless by chance an animal conveniently comes wandering along that Daddy can kill instead?

    Do you think most folks would feel this is wrong, or is it mere “superstition” to think most people would feel deep moral repugnance at this?

    Does our moral repugnance come only if we believe in God? Or is it in fact the other way around, that we would ordinarily feel deep repugnance but are inculcated at an early age with respect and admiration for Abraham’s behavior toward Isaac?

  188. #188 Steve Jeffers
    May 6, 2009

    Eagleton, like Alister McGrath, was brought up Christian, rejected it for Marxism, then reality rejected Marxism and basically invalidated their entire adult intellectual life, so in their autumn years, they’ve sprung back to a slightly more high church version of Christianity.

    The thing is, what Eaglegrath (see what I did there?) is now saying is exactly what that John Cleese character does in Life of Brian ‘he is the true messiah – and I should know, I’ve worshipped a lot of messiahs’.

    Eaglegrath basically wants us to buy into the idea that because the only thing consistent about what he’s believed over the years is that it’s a series of things that demonstrably don’t work, throughout their lives, they’re therefore right.

    And it’s the same old nonsense – ‘science is dogma, religion allows you to ask the truly important questions’. No, Mr Eaglegrath, you’re the one with a dogmatic position. Having had to abandon your previous dogmatic position. Again.

  189. #189 hithesh
    May 6, 2009

    Stephen Wells: “hithesh, you’re obsessing about the stars when you should be thinking about the sense of wonder.”

    What sense of wonder? Imagine if the “stars” here were replaced with “stamp collecting” then you might better understand the absurdity of what’s being claimed.

    “It is the habit of inquiry, not the object of it, that matters.”

    I tend to be a highly reflective individual, with a keen sense of self-awareness, but this habit is not a source of awe, and wonder for me, sometimes it can even be dreadful. In a Godless world there’s no golden carrot at the end of one’s inquiry, the answer to a person most endearing questions may not be a light unto his life. It may just be a murdered Emmet Teal, or a humiliated and murdered innocent. A roll of a dice, and a good hand of cards may find for some comforting answers, often on the cheap, star gazing can soothe their soul, but for others a flip of coin can leave them restless, cold, and on the edge of despair.

    The Dawkins, PZ Meyer like believe that a sense of scientific inquiry is to be awe inducing, a source of hope for all of us, but even for me it’s a trivial, and hobbyist sort of inquiry rather than something as deep and profound as they would make it out to be. Devoting my life to contemplating the composition of plants, doesn’t do it for me, anymore so than devoting myself to stamp collecting would be.

    What’s this sort of reflection to tell a girl whose been raped twice before she was eight? Or the mother whose looking at that barely recognizable corpse of her murdered son? What do these prosperous scientist know about these questions, anymore than children do? Are these images or murdered illusions of hope, of no returning back to life? Does PZ still have some cheap hope to peddle them, about the beauty of stars, and microscopes?

  190. #190 Aaron Baker
    May 6, 2009

    Hmm: Samuel L. Jackson as P.Z.: “I’m sick of this fuckin’ Eagleton bullshit on my fuckin’ plane!” just before he blows a hole in the cabin to send it into the ether.

    Well, Myers, I’ve now had to visualize you as an action-movie star. You’re the creative writer here; most humanities folk wish they could endite half that well.

  191. #191 Aaron Baker
    May 6, 2009

    Hmm: Samuel L. Jackson as P.Z.: “I’m sick of this fuckin’ Eagleton bullshit on my fuckin’ plane!” just before he blows a hole in the cabin to send it into the ether.

    Well, Myers, I’ve now had to visualize you as an action-movie star. You’re the creative writer here; most humanities folk wish they could endite half that well.

  192. #192 Stephen Wells
    May 6, 2009

    Hithesh, believe your comforting lies if that makes you happy and you can tolerate your own hypocrisy, but you’re missing out on _reality_ because you’re scared it won’t validate your sense of self-worth. You’ve just dismissed _the investigation of reality_ as a trivial hobby; have fun in the Dark Ages.

  193. #193 Tulse
    May 6, 2009

    This is what Eagleton is getting it, it’s not a defense of Christianity as the truth, but that if you are going to be a real critic of it, to argue it at it’s best, not at the Pat Roberston level, but the Dostoevsky level.

    The problem is that it is the Robertson level that exerts political power and social influence. The rise of “New Atheism” tracks very closely with the rise of Christian fundamentalism as a political force in the US, and with the rise of religious fundamentalism in general in the world. Frankly, if all Christianity were the watered-down Anglicanism practiced by those in Britain, atheists wouldn’t really care. Eagleton surely knows that the objection is not to some sort of metaphorical, touchy-feely, God-is-Love Christianity, but to the militant intolerant version that is so prevalent today. He is being disingenuous, and appears to offer a variety of Christianity that most American Christians would not recognize or accept.

  194. #194 Steve Jeffers
    May 6, 2009

    ‘However there seems to be an insistence in certain communities that atheism must be coupled with a sort of dourly aggressive scientism’

    I’m a postmodernist and an atheist.

    Postmodernism rejects an imposed ‘one size fits all’ truth, and that does means it clashes with science to some extent, because, y’know, there are such things as electrons and DNA and the Moon and stuff, and the strictest postmodernists aren’t comfortable with even that level of certainty.

    At its worst, postmodernism does allow all sorts of wishy-washy New Age bullshit through the gate. I like the Dawkins line about how ‘scientists’ think the Moon is a ball of rock in space, there’s an African tribe who think it’s a gourd hovering about a hundred feet in the air, but scientists built a rocket and went to the ball of rock, so they win. I see the value in the gourd story – it’s a proverb about how some things are always out of reach. But the Moon *is* a big ball of rock in space.

    The way to look at postmodernism is that it’s all about living on a multicultural planet, one where just about everything is more complex and problematic and playful than you’d think. I think it’s very useful talking about ‘the human world’ – race, gender, fiction, society, psychology, relationships and so on. Almost entirely shit at talking about ‘science’ in the sense of engineering and biology and mechanics. But where it is useful for science is that the whole point is to question everything, to see everything as a problem, to question dogma, look for cultural biases and search wide for other solutions.

    At the risk of spouting New Age bullshit, science is demonstrating that there *are* random and emergent aspects to reality, like postmodernism says. Postmodernists like their liberal arts version of quantum physics, for example. We are now getting to things like string theory that science sort of (currently, at least) needs postmodern structures to describe.

    Christian fundamentalism is basically the opposite – they are the ones that impose the simple solutions, want a monoculture, want to crush dissent and difference. One of the great debates in postmodern circles is which came first, the fundamentalists or the postmodernists – they appeared at about the same time, concerned about the same things. And, if you’re a scientist, it’s the postmodernists who are you friends.

  195. #195 Stephen Wells
    May 6, 2009

    Science does _not_ need any “postmodernist structures” to describe _anything_, let along string theory. Prove me wrong.

    Anyway, read Francis Bacon’s Aphorisms and his Advancement of Learning, you’ll find that he’d already, _400 years ago_, pointed out the necessity of questioning our dogmas- look for the Idols of the tribe, the marketplace, the theatre and the cave; “postmodernism” hasn’t contributed anything.

  196. #196 Dwight
    May 6, 2009

    Tulse
    The rise of folks like the religious right animates my work in trying to present an alternative religious vision, something I’ve done with campus ministry. As an example, our campus ministry celebrated Darwin Sunday and had a professor of paleontology give a talk. The fact that I do that work within a given religious tradition shouldn’t make me or my ilk the enemy for the new atheists. As a gay man I understand the dangers of the religious right. Some folks respond in any number of ways. For me, it’s been a retrieval and a recasting of the Christian tradition in a way that undercuts the religious right and provides resources for a more humane vision of the world.

  197. #197 Kaelik
    May 6, 2009

    Hithesh, you are confused. No one is claiming that looking at the stars is something that all people would find awesome without some amount of indoctrination. But we don’t need it to be for everyone. PZ’s comment is specifically how much better would it be if the thing we spent all our societal energy on was glorification of inquiry rather then suffering.

    The point would be that by having the vast majority of the United States glorifying inquiry and the wonder of the stars instead of a suffering death, we might be in a position where the statement, “fairly void of any really suffering” could be applied to a wider swath of people then in a world that glorifies that suffering.

    As for your repeated claims about how you find rational inquiry into the world not very interesting, that says more about you then it ever will about rational inquiry.

    Aristotle to me, millennium of people have found inquiry into the world to be meaningful, many of them religious. That you find it cheap speaks only to your own cheapness.

  198. #198 Stephen Wells
    May 6, 2009

    @196: if your “religious vision” is about metaphor, community activity, a humane vision of the world etc. then you’ll find PZ is not your enemy. It’s if you start _claiming to know of the existence of magic sky wizards_ that there may be problems :)

  199. #199 Matt Heath
    May 6, 2009

    The thing about the symbol of the crucified Jesus is that it is very powerful if it’s a man tortured to death by the powerful but kind of shit if it’s an all powerful god making a big emo show of suffering.

    If Christians saw the power of the crucifixion how Woody Guthrie tells it, if Jesus stood for all brave people murdered by the bosses – for the followers or Spartacus whose crosses lined the Appian Way, for the medieval midwives burned as witches, for the victims totalitarian regimes and tribal patriarchs and over-zealous riot police – then the symbol would resonate for me. If I’m meant to believe he’s God, and he planned it all because he couldn’t just forgive us without some violent theatre, and that, because he got himself nailed to a plank of wood, we better do what he wants, then the whole thing is nasty, tacky emotional blackmail.

    Christianity spoils the Crucifixion for everyone!

  200. #200 Steve Jeffers
    May 6, 2009

    ‘Prove me wrong.’

    Gladly.

    http://www.slate.com/id/2131014/
    http://www.wsws.org/articles/1999/may1999/sci-m18.shtml\
    http://worldlyliving.wordpress.com/2007/02/28/string-theory-postmodernism-market-efficiency/

    Now, I’ve read Not Even Wrong, but I’m happy to admit I’m a liberal arts major who accepts and supports science, rather than a scientist.

    Which is a roundabout way of saying that I have no idea whether string theory is the right answer or not. All I’m saying is that there are scientists, on both sides of the debate, who are using postmodernist ideas as a way of discussing string theory.

    That’s the only thing I’m saying – I’m not saying it validates things, certainly not saying that postmodernism represents some transcendent truth, just that it currently seems to work as a useful metaphor. Postmodernism has some tools and language that’s useful for stretching/challenging empiricism. If physicists aren’t at the limits of observation and strict empiricism yet, it’s not hard to see they might soon be. Postmodernism, at its best, is another way to approach that problem. At its worst, it’s lazy half-assed bullshit. This is true of many things in life, though.

    I’m very well aware that a lot of postmodernism sounds like homeopathy and moonbeams … but so does a lot of even quite basic science to a lot of people. I appreciate that’s the ‘they laughed at Columbus’ argument, but postmodernism is a work in progress and it’s painfully aware of that.

  201. #201 hithesh
    May 6, 2009

    Jed: “Hmm, so an atheist world is one devoid of meaning, ”

    No, that’s not what I said. I’m sure PZ, as well as you find your life meaningful. I never claimed that finding your life meaningful is superstitious, I claimed that a life has an inherent sense of meaning is superstitious (inherent being the key word.)

    “Returning to PZ: “our signifier was a child staring in wonder at the stars…it’s a symbol that touches us all as much”

    The problem here is not that PZ finds this image meaningful, but that he believes it touches us all the same (not even some of us, but all of us). He believes this image is inherently meaningful, and that what’s superstitious, affording this image much more than science would ever claim of it.

    And this belief of his is easy to reject, for me, and for much of the world, who would find no meaning in this image at all. But in his religious fervor of all things science, he fails miserably to get this, and it speaks volumes of naivety in his contemplation of human nature.

    “Does our moral repugnance come only if we believe in God?”

    Well, I’m not sure where morality came into picture here, since I’ve never once referred to it. But to answer your question regardless: No, our moral repugnance does not come from believing in God, nor does it come from not believing in God.

    [quote]Or is it in fact the other way around, that we would ordinarily feel deep repugnance but are inculcated at an early age [/quote]
    :)

    Well, if you were a bit more learned about the science of morality, you’d understand how little moral teachings, and moral reasoning, actually affect our moral behavior. Moral reasoning, has little effect on our inherent repulsions. I know the humanist creed may attempt to argue otherwise, but science has a different picture in store.

    [quote]with respect and admiration for Abraham’s behavior toward Isaac?[/quote]

    Well, I know of no theist who claims respect and admiration for Abraham’s behavior towards Isaac, they may have respect and admiration towards his loyalty to God, and Isaac only becomes a prop for that, a peripheral character in this admiration.

    The tale becomes for them, a question if they would be willing to sacrifice their well being, even of their loved ones for a principle, something they dearly believed in. Would you as German father, sacrifice the well being of yourself, and even of your families, for love of even the jews, to save their lives? The tale of Abraham is no less repulsive to the theist than the tale of Rev. King who was willing to give his life, as well as the well being of his family, and even the well being, of many in his beloved community, for a principe, for what he felt was a greater good.

    For theist, admiring the tale, Isaac is only a prop in the picture, not a point of reflection, but a peripheral, and therefore not a point of repulsion. The act itself, is not their for them to reflect on in that sense, only the meaning behind it.

  202. #202 minimalist
    May 6, 2009

    hisheth:

    I tend to be a highly reflective individual, with a keen sense of self-awareness,

    And ‘umble. Don’t forget ‘umble. Very, very ‘umble indeed.

    Maybe it’s a personal failing, but usually I tend to associate reflection and self-awareness with a more questioning tone: being aware of the self’s potential to be wrong, and being able to reflect on opposing viewpoints and give due consideration. Not, say, bumbling into a thread full of insults, fulminations, and flat declarations that “my dad/god/sense-of-wonder is better than your dad/god/sense-of-wonder.”

    But then I remember, it’s a common failing of the common internet loudmouth to confuse fatuous self-regard for “reflection and self-awareness”; for, on proper reflection, how could there possibly be anything wrong with me?

  203. #203 Tulse
    May 6, 2009

    Dwight, good for you, but I’m afraid the genie is out of the bottle. If all religions were soft and squishy and private, atheists could for the most part ignore them, but that time has past, and if the watered-down versions get caught as collateral damage in the fight against fundamentalism, that’s too bad but not unexpected.

  204. #204 hithesh
    May 6, 2009

    Jed: “Hmm, so an atheist world is one devoid of meaning, ”

    No, that’s not what I said. I’m sure PZ, as well as you find your life meaningful. I never claimed that finding your life meaningful is superstitious, I claimed that a life has an inherent sense of meaning is superstitious (inherent being the key word.)

    “Returning to PZ: “our signifier was a child staring in wonder at the stars…it’s a symbol that touches us all as much”

    The problem here is not that PZ finds this image meaningful, but that he believes it touches us all the same (not even some of us, but all of us). He believes this image is inherently meaningful, and that what’s superstitious, affording this image much more than science would ever claim of it.

    And this belief of his is easy to reject, for me, and for much of the world, who would find no meaning in this image at all. But in his religious fervor of all things science, he fails miserably to get this, and it speaks volumes of naivety in his contemplation of human nature.

    “Does our moral repugnance come only if we believe in God?”

    Well, I’m not sure where morality came into picture here, since I’ve never once referred to it. But to answer your question regardless: No, our moral repugnance does not come from believing in God, nor does it come from not believing in God.

    [quote]Or is it in fact the other way around, that we would ordinarily feel deep repugnance but are inculcated at an early age [/quote]
    :)

    Well, if you were a bit more learned about the science of morality, you’d understand how little moral teachings, and moral reasoning, actually affect our moral behavior. Moral reasoning, has little effect on our inherent repulsions. I know the humanist creed may attempt to argue otherwise, but science has a different picture in store.

    [quote]with respect and admiration for Abraham’s behavior toward Isaac?[/quote]

    Well, I know of no theist who claims respect and admiration for Abraham’s behavior towards Isaac, they may have respect and admiration towards his loyalty to God, and Isaac only becomes a prop for that, a peripheral character in this admiration.

    The tale becomes for them, a question if they would be willing to sacrifice their well being, even of their loved ones for a principle, something they dearly believed in. Would you as German father, sacrifice the well being of yourself, and even of your families, for love of even the jews, to save their lives? The tale of Abraham is no less repulsive to the theist than the tale of Rev. King who was willing to give his life, as well as the well being of his family, and even the well being, of many in his beloved community, for a principe, for what he felt was a greater good.

    For theist, admiring the tale, Isaac is only a prop in the picture, not a point of reflection, but a peripheral, and therefore not a point of repulsion. The act itself, is not their for them to reflect on in that sense, only the meaning behind it.

  205. #205 Dwight
    May 6, 2009

    Tulse
    One can imagine why some of us are not keen on being collateral damage and so speak on occasions like this

  206. #206 Stephen Wells
    May 6, 2009

    @hithesh; the fact that you’re admiring Abraham for his wonderful devotion to god and _his actual living son has become a prop_ is exactly the problem. For sane people, the question “would you murder your son to please a god” should receive the answer “no”.

    @200: Did you notice that the things you quote are all commentators pointing at an academic spat and saying “Ah! That’s like postmodernism!”? My point stands unless you can find an actual example _in science_ where we need any kind of postmodernist idea to understand anything.

    I really do recommend reading Bacon, by the way, very clear thinker.

  207. #207 Interrobang
    May 6, 2009

    If your signifier for the human condition is a mutilated corpse on a Roman instrument of torture, there is something very, very wrong with how you perceive the signified. From a semiotic perspective, the linking of signifier and signified often tells us more about the speaker than they might like us to know.

    I might make the argument that to signify the universal human experience with torture and death is to focus entirely on the negative, but then, I’ve always considered Christianity as being a set of instructions not for living, but for dying appropriately, and I’m also one of these people who thinks that if you’re spending your life preparing to die (as opposed to merely approaching death), you’re wasting your life. (This is also why I have more respect for Judaism than Christianity — as bizarre and illogical and, at times, dumb Judaism’s rules are, at least they’re about living instead of dying.)

    As soon as someone allowed me to put two and two together (and, in this case, get “carrot”), I thought, “Oh. That Eagleton.” But I never did much like literary theory; most of it I’ve read is dead wrong, self-centred, has been falsified by neuroscience and cognitive science, or just plain incomprehensible. Then again, I never did very well in grad school for this stuff because I don’t confuse coining asinine neologisms for being “deep.”

  208. #208 Knockgoats
    May 6, 2009

    “The silliness does not lie in that he is inspired by it, but in his superstitious belief that all of humanity inherently feels the same way, that some how the suffering individual who is in awe of this portion of the gospel narrative, of the suffering community and person of Jesus Christ, who were able to hope even amongst overwhelming despair, could look to the coldness of stars for comfort.” – hithesh

    Actually, hithesh, the stars are hot. Almost as hot as you are self-important.

  209. #209 AJ Milne
    May 6, 2009

    If I were to try in earnest to write on why looking at the stars is what it is for me, I could go anywhere and everywhere. There’s so much up there, so much with an intersection up there, so much we know, so much to learn, so much of our history, and quite probably so much of our future. You could go to Galileo and Urban VIII and Kepler and Giordano Bruno and the reactions of orthodoxy and of human minds confronted with a challenge of that nature. You could go to what various ancient cultures saw there–what the constellations they name may say about them. You could go to the pressure waves that form collapsing nebulae in the spiral galaxies and patterns of supernovae, the long cycles of the birth of stars driven by those in our own and similar galaxies, the supernova in particular that gave birth to our solar system, seeded the heavy elements that make up such a critical part of our natural world. You could go to galactic deep time, wonder what the heavy element distributions prior to five billion years ago might have meant for the probabilities of the development of life like our or any life elsewhere. You could try to imagine the titanic forces that create the bizarre and genuinely otherworldly telltale reverse spectra that synchrotron radiation emitted from supernovae etches into our detectors. You could just say it’s all so terribly pretty, because it is–from the dramatic end of a star Messier marked as first in his catalogue or the region of birth he called M42–or go a sort step beyond and ruminate on what it is about remoteness and beauty, and draw long, loose metaphors on unattainable and Platonic loves. You could muse on optics and what a wonder is silicon dioxide when we use it in such a fashion as to make shaped lenses, muse on Galileo’s entrepeneurship in seizing upon and refining another’s ideas, and cementing his place in history. You could wonder where now lies the remnant–if any such cinder remains–where was formed the iron in the hemoglobin that carries oxygen through your veins. You could think of the possibilities for life elsewhere, how different it might be from here, whether even the same essential elements might be found playing the same roles in such systems, muse on probabilities for the exoplanets we will find beyond the near to 350 we now know of, muse on when our techniques and instruments will close in upon terrestrial-sized bodies in 1 AU orbits around G type stars at a given distance, when we will be able to tease out spectra and composition of remote atmospheres, and what we will find, how we will react, how certain it will make us of anything and how soon. You could do much of this and more with a grade school education or less, much of this and more with a PhD in any number of related and unrelated fields–I hardly see it as a vice restricted to the privileged, however relatively privileged I know myself to be. And you can find a paradoxical peace up there in knowing how remote from all of our day to day concerns they are, how irrelevant to the luminosity of a given blue giant were yesterday’s stock prices, tomorrow’s sub-Saharan wars, and whatever might be the more current and personal and particular tempests in your own life. And you can ask yourself: if we find a thousand blue dots in the next decade and life everywhere, and not a sign that a single one of them sends so much as a single deliberately organized EM signal in any direction at any wavelength we can detect, does it change anything? Or does it change everything? Do we have a greater responsibility to try to survive and explore and learn all the same, even against such daunting odds? Or is it still the same high bar it always was: live, live well, live the best you can, do what you can with what you’ve got?

    So what one regrettably incurious and unthoughtful mind (or even a few hundred million of the same) might think of my going such places and what might come of my wandering there might mean, you may expect I’ll keep this in perspective, too: it’s not much we didn’t already know about ourselves, after all. And the stars are still out there, all the same.

  210. #210 minimalist
    May 6, 2009

    hithesh,

    Well, if you were a bit more learned about the science of morality, you’d understand how little moral teachings, and moral reasoning, actually affect our moral behavior. Moral reasoning, has little effect on our inherent repulsions. I know the humanist creed may attempt to argue otherwise, but science has a different picture in store.

    For theist, admiring the tale, Isaac is only a prop in the picture, not a point of reflection, but a peripheral, and therefore not a point of repulsion. The act itself, is not their for them to reflect on in that sense, only the meaning behind it.

    Good grief. Can’t you see that you’re just validating Jud’s point? Here you show precisely how Christian doctrine divorces the parable from the reality of the act, thereby distancing the believer from a sense of repugnance at the act itself.

    Your mithering about “the science of morality” in the first paragraph there is irrelevant because for all you know Jud agrees with you that it does not alter one’s underlying repugnance at the act, if one were to divorce it from the cheap religious justifications.

    And of course this all gets back to PZ’s original point about how the religious imagery (of, say, torture) can be turned around to justify any repugnant behavior (like, say, torture), so well done there.

  211. #211 hithesh
    May 6, 2009

    “You’ve just dismissed _the investigation of reality_ as a trivial hobby”

    haha, that’s not what I said there little buddy, and I suggest you go back and read what I wrote. Just because we don’t find something awe inducing, doesn’t mean that we find it trivial. Many of us may work jobs that we find far from awe inducing, but doesn’t mean we don’t understand the necessity of keeping them, or find keeping our jobs to be trivial.

    It’s the religious belief by some atheist that inquiry yields a carrot at the end of stick, that it holds hope, and promise, awe and wonder in the answers, this is what I claim is cheap, when in fact it can hold the opposite as well, the answer may just be one that deprives us of hope, rather than renders us hope, leave us in despair, rather than awe.

    I never claimed that inquiry was trivial, but beliefs that afford it universal awe and wonder, hope and promise, are cheap, particularly when they comes from disbelievers.

  212. #212 MattB242
    May 6, 2009

    I?m also a ?postmodernist? (to the extent that means anything) and an atheist ? and I?d go a little further than Steven Jeffers in claiming the benefits of the former outlook as a support to atheism. It?s not about rejecting dogmas so much as acknowledging that empirical truth is only one of many kinds of value. It?s an important one as it ?grounds? all the others ? I?m satisfied that when I take pleasure in looking at a painting, for example, that I?m talking about in-principle measurable chemical events in the neurons inside my skull.

    But I?m also at the same time talking about something else, something rather nebulous that has to do with personal experience. Unless I have a unique kind of inner life and the rest of you are androids (which is philosophically possible, if doubtful), I?m going to claim outright that every able-minded individual posting on this board knows exactly what I mean. Postmodernism, at its best, provides an intellectual framework for valuing that ?something else? without claiming that it comes from some supernatural source ? or even (and this is why some of Derrida?s language gets a bit knotty) that it?s ?real? at all.

  213. #213 Knockgoats
    May 6, 2009

    Steve Jeffers@200,

    Of your 3 links, the second does not work, and the third is semi-literate. I don’t see that either that or the first provide any evidence whatever that postmodernism has any contribution at all to make to science.

    John Horgan was blethering about “postmodern science”, and fundamental physics having gone beyond empirical test in the mid-90s – shortly before the discovery of accelerating cosmic expansion. Oops.

  214. #214 TS
    May 6, 2009

    Quick comment from the artsy side of the campus:
    “It is rather like saying that thanks to electric toasters we can forget about Chekov”
    Here he is saying that the (strawman) atheist is deaf the truth about the human experience offered by great literature and replaces this truth with adherence to (capitalist/bourgeois) means-end rationality and a belief in “progress”.
    Eagleton seems to conflate here Chekov (the stand in for “art”) with religion. In another passage, he makes a parallel point about the atheist being like someone who thinks ballet is like running to catch a bus.
    The fact is, and Eagleton unwittingly demonstrates this over and over again with his choice of examples, that art and literature (and philosophy) offer the kinds of experience that proponents of religion often claim for their faiths: “transcendent” or aesthetic experience, deeper truths about human existence, awe/wonder, beauty, experiences that stretch our logic/rationality etc.
    These are important aspects of being alive. “Ditchkins” doesn’t acknowledge any of them because they are “irrational”. (too bad Hitchens is a brilliant literary critic and Dawkins constantly writes about his “transcendent” experiences in nature, for example).
    Even granting his point that religion offers these experiences in addition to art and literature, he ignores their major difference.
    Art doesn’t demand or require “faith” in supernatural deities. I would go so far as to claim that its deepest insights are secular and human (even when its subject matter is ostensibly religious). Art requires openness and an unceasing questioning. You cannot be a Christian without accepting that Jesus Christ is the son of God.
    You can be deeply in touch with all the things that Eagleton proclaims that athetics ignore without accepting that a god created the universe and will judge you when you die.
    All you have to do is read a book or go to a gallery.

  215. #215 Naked Bunny with a Whip
    May 6, 2009

    some of us are not keen on being collateral damage and so speak on occasions like this

    Good. Everyone should have their voice heard.

  216. #216 Trevor S
    May 6, 2009

    Quick comment from the artsy side of the campus:
    “It is rather like saying that thanks to electric toasters we can forget about Chekov”
    Here he is saying that the (strawman) atheist is deaf the truth about the human experience offered by great literature and replaces this truth with adherence to (capitalist/bourgeois) means-end rationality and a belief in “progress”.
    Eagleton seems to conflate here Chekov (the stand in for “art”) with religion. In another passage, he makes a parallel point about the atheist being like someone who thinks ballet is like running to catch a bus.
    The fact is, and Eagleton unwittingly demonstrates this over and over again with his choice of examples, that art and literature (and philosophy) offer the kinds of experience that proponents of religion often claim for their faiths: “transcendent” or aesthetic experience, deeper truths about human existence, awe/wonder, beauty, experiences that stretch our logic/rationality etc.
    These are important aspects of being alive. “Ditchkins” doesn’t acknowledge any of them because they are “irrational”. (too bad Hitchens is a brilliant literary critic and Dawkins constantly writes about his “transcendent” experiences in nature, for example).
    Even granting his point that religion offers these experiences in addition to art and literature, he ignores their major difference.
    Art doesn’t demand or require “faith” in supernatural deities. I would go so far as to claim that its deepest insights are secular and human (even when its subject matter is ostensibly religious). Art requires openness and an unceasing questioning. You cannot be a Christian without accepting that Jesus Christ is the son of God.
    You can be deeply in touch with all the things that Eagleton proclaims that athetics ignore without accepting that a god created the universe and will judge you when you die.
    All you have to do is read a book or go to a gallery.

  217. #217 AJ Milne
    May 6, 2009

    It’s the religious belief by some atheist that inquiry yields a carrot at the end of stick, that it holds hope, and promise, awe and wonder in the answers, this is what I claim is cheap, when in fact it can hold the opposite as well, the answer may just be one that deprives us of hope, rather than renders us hope, leave us in despair, rather than awe.

    While I might express some sympathy there, I might suggest you wildly misunderstand what the real beliefs of those you caricature generally are, there. And would recommend you consider the following as well:

    Frequently, inquiry yields all of those. At once. Awe, wonder, hope, and despair are in no absolute fashion mutually exclusive.

    And therein lies the prescription that is the foundation of secular ethics: learn what is, as best you can. Whether or not you particularly expect to like it much.

  218. #218 Steve Jeffers
    May 6, 2009

    Of your 3 links, the second does not work.

    http://www.wsws.org/articles/1999/may1999/sci-m18.shtml works for me. It’s a link to Horgan, though.

  219. #219 Blake Stacey
    May 6, 2009

    Now, I’ve read Not Even Wrong,

    I’m sorry.

    I picked up that book in the local Barnes-and-Borders-A-Million because I’d heard it had a chapter on the Bogdanov Affair (an incident in which two French TV personalities scammed their way into PhDs by, essentially, bypassing the de facto peer-review process). Woit’s treatment of the affair wasn’t just shoddy scholarship; it didn’t even rise to the level of good propaganda.

    John Horgan was blethering about “postmodern science”, and fundamental physics having gone beyond empirical test in the mid-90s – shortly before the discovery of accelerating cosmic expansion. Oops.

    Oops indeed. To this we could add, in no particular order, the confirmation of dark matter in the Bullet Cluster, the discovery of hundreds of extrasolar planets, the sequencing of an ever-larger number of genomes, the large-scale mapping of metabolic networks, the discovery of the top quark and the consequent validation of the Standard Model, the application of gauge/gravity duality born of string theory to quark-gluon plasma. . . .

  220. #220 Blake Stacey
    May 6, 2009

    Grrr. I hit “post” instead of “preview”. Feel free to swap

    the discovery of hundreds of extrasolar planets, the sequencing of an ever-larger number of genomes, the large-scale mapping of metabolic networks

    with

    the discovery of neutrino oscillation, the persistent culling of the places where the Higgs boson could be hiding, the exploration of quantum entanglement. . . .

    Or any of the many other choices available.

  221. #221 RamblinDude
    May 6, 2009

    Hithesh,

    PZ said: :

    ?If we want a signifier for the human condition, imagine the culture we would live in now if, instead of a dead corpse on an instrument of torture, our signifier was a child staring in wonder at the stars. That’s representative of the state of humanity, too; it’s a symbol that touches us all as much as that of a representation of our final end, and we don’t have to daub it with the cheap glow-in-the-dark paint of supernatural fol-de-rol for it to have deeper meaning.

    And you stormed in here and ranted:

    This is one of most repulsively ignorant comments that I have ever heard. ANd cleary shows how naive you are in you reflection on human nature.

    Undoubtedly, ?repulsively ignorant? is a bit over-the-top, and you were merely being confrontational, but having reflected upon this (and living in Florida), I think you might have a point. Free thinkers?those of us who are not immured in the ghoulish dogma of the Christian death cult, not incessantly preoccupied with death and blood-spilled and making sacrifices to gods?may be such a small demographic of the population that implying that the larger measure of humanity has not had its imagination and sense of wonder crushed under the heel of religion may, indeed, be overly na´ve. In fact, asserting that most humans extant today are even capable of looking up at the stars in genuine wonder, without using the occasion?and every other aspect of the human experience?as an excuse to be preoccupied with a man in his underwear being tortured (or some other sordid icon) may have been presumptuous on PZ?s part.

    Yes, you may have a point. (Or maybe you’re just a douchebag. As I say, I live in Florida at the moment, and it?s hard to get a sense of perspective down here.)

  222. #222 Steve Jeffers
    May 6, 2009

    I’m very plainly saying that postmodernism *shouldn’t* be some all-encompassing ideology that’s applied to all branches of science all the time. I think – and said – that postmodernism is far more useful for analyzing Star Wars movies than actual stars.

    But there are experimental areas of physics – string theory, quantum theory – that are challenging, often more like philosophy or logic puzzles than empirical, testable science. At the moment, at least.

    That’s very probably a weakness of string theory, to be honest. But postmodernism has a lot to say about decentering the individual and building meta languages.

    *In some cases* scientists *have* used this as a tool because it helps them model stuff.

    I’m definitely not pushing this as a belief system, it’s more like a method of helping with lateral thinking.

  223. #223 Knockgoats
    May 6, 2009

    Steve Jeffers@218,
    Thanks – that link worked, and it’s by far the most interesting of your three. Seems to me the review takes Horgan (who, let us note, is a science journalist, not a scientist) apart pretty comprehensively – though it could have been considerably improved by removing the Marxoid jargon. Horgan evidently found little support for his postmodernist view of “ironic” science from scientists. Although Weinberg (and Chomsky if we count theoretical linguists as scientists) agreed that the “end of science” might be approaching, this was for completely different reasons from Horgan’s: Weinberg thought (wrongly) that a physicist’s “Theory of Everything” would mean the end of science, Chomsky thought (wrongly) that our evolved cognitive capabilities limit what we can understand.

  224. #224 Blake Stacey
    May 6, 2009

    But there are experimental areas of physics – string theory, quantum theory – that are challenging, often more like philosophy or logic puzzles than empirical, testable science. At the moment, at least.

    Of the two examples in bold, the second is thoroughly wrong, and the former is increasingly so.

  225. #225 Knockgoats
    May 6, 2009

    “But postmodernism has a lot to say about decentering the individual and building meta languages.

    *In some cases* scientists *have* used this as a tool because it helps them model stuff.”

    In the first place, “metalanguage” is a term with a precise meaning in logic, but AFAIK, none in postmodernism (does anything have a precise meaning in postmodernism? In the second, I don’t think you’ve yet given us an actual example of scientists using postmodernism as a tool to “model stuff”. How about one?

  226. #226 apnea
    May 6, 2009

    Well, I still haven’t figured out what you guys on either side of the PoMo meme define as PoMo.

    To those pointing me to the muddled prose of many modern academic writer, I ask :
    – Shouldn’t expert literature in a field not your own sometimes be difficult to parse, irrespective of its eventual intellectual merit?
    – Are these difficult, unnamed writers really part of some overarching movement that can be said to predetermine the complexity of their prose?
    – Are these writers even pretending to inform Hard-Science practices all the way across from their own fields, or are these fictional, heuristic confrontations?
    – In the event that such a thing as Postmodernism exists (in sociology, literary criticism, anthropology, philosophy, what?), can it be said to be usefully defined as a whole with the usual (tiring) internet clichÚs of: obscurantism, emperor-has-no-clothes, relativism, etc.

    No one can be bothered to define the terms of the debate, which make for shoddy discussions of poorly-understood notions framed by ambient prejudices. Nothing worth more than a raised eyebrow or two.

  227. #227 Pierce R. Butler
    May 6, 2009

    Craig B @ # 179: … what the lit theory of the time did was (rightly) remove god-like adoration of the AUTHOR from evaluation of literature, but meanwhile encouraged the god-like adoration of the critic.

    Excellently put! Are you sure you were a modern-lit student? ;-)

    Anonymous @ # 186: … cheap atheism peddled by some theist …

    This I gotta see. Examples, please?

  228. #228 dahduh
    May 6, 2009

    Heh. I love these long essays, I get to add at least one, and sometimes two, stinging adjectives to my lexicon.

    PZ, maybe it’s time to write more than a screenplay. Timed for oh, let’s say summer of 2012, I’m sure it would outsell even Ditchkins.

  229. #229 windy
    May 6, 2009

    “Not to mention how hithesh misrepresented “a child staring in wonder at the stars” as if it were only about stars.”

    No, I’m pretty sure I know exactly what it was about, and the power and hope one affords them is highly superstitious. But amuse me windy. Since PZ is not here to do it for me, tell us what it’s about? What’s beyond the stars here windy? What’s staring at the stars all about? What sort of hope and awe are you trying to peddle me? And how you defend it against my allegation that I find it cheap?

    OK, very slowly: PZ did not say that our symbol should be a star, but a CHILD looking at the stars. It’s very telling that you think the image affords power and hope to the stars.

    What have you got against celebrating a child’s sense of wonder at the world? Didn’t Jebus himself reputedly say something about becoming childlike? Or did he mean “be easily frightened and gullible”?

  230. #230 Eamon Knight
    May 6, 2009

    One of the best things PZ has written in a long time. This whole paragraph in particular:
    It is true that the symbol of the crucified Christ is a powerful one…...

    Yes, that summarizes a lot of what I got from Christianity for about 25 years. Those images, that myth, is powerful, and needs to be acknowledged as such.

  231. #231 Dan L.
    May 6, 2009

    @hithesh:

    I don’t think anyone really cares how you feel about the image of a young child staring at the skies. PZ’s hypothetical question was, and I’m paraphrasing what I think he meant for the sake of clarity:

    How would western civilization be different if the literary image at the heart of its culture were a small child staring at the stars rather than a man suffering on a cross?

    I don’t think he’s claiming it’s universally resonant — I don’t find your tortured God-man image very resonant at all.
    The child looking at the stars resonates with me not necessarily because it suggests any kind of virtue in scientific inquiry per se, but because I know what it means to be a child looking at the stars. The child would be silently asking a thousand questions (like any child) which may or may not have anything to do with the stars. For me, at least, the impact of the image is to glorify humble, earnest, and unprejudiced inquiry, the sort of indefatigable stream of questions that young children so often generate.

    The image emphasizes the importance of questioning, whether one is questioning authority or nature itself. And it emphasizes the importance of children, and the importance of teaching one’s children to ask and answer their own questions, and to think for themselves.

    I tend to agree with PZ: if those values were at the heart of western civilization rather than the “values” that we are all wretched sinners who can only be redeemed through the death and torture of an innocent, then we would most likely be living in a better world today.

    Re: postmodernism

    OK, apparently no one can agree on what it is. Instead of bashing what the word “means,” I’ll just bash the word itself for not meaning anything in the first place.

  232. #232 hithesh
    May 6, 2009

    Minimalist: “Good grief. Can’t you see that you’re just validating Jud’s point? Here you show precisely how Christian doctrine divorces the parable from the reality of the act, thereby distancing the believer from a sense of repugnance at the act itself.”

    lol, it’s not Christian doctrine at all, but how we understand and what we take away from the story. Imagine an over sensitive parent scolding my 2nd grade teacher for telling us the story of the three little pig, because of the repugnance of peddling to children that they’ll get killed and devoured for being imprudent. You sound no different than her to me.

    “Your mithering about “the science of morality” in the first paragraph there is irrelevant because for all you know Jud agrees with you that it does not alter one’s underlying repugnance at the act, if one were to divorce it from the cheap religious justifications.”
    Perception is rule here. If the theist perceived the tale as you do, than most of them would be equally repulsed. When you read the tale this is what you draw from it, as it’s meaning: “That if you here a voice, that you believe is God, telling you to kill your child, you should do it”, similar to how in my first example the sensitive mother drew from the tale of the 3 pigs: “children will get killed and devoured for being imprudent.” If this is what i took away from both stories, I would be no less repulsed than you.

    The dilemma for you, is that for the rest of my second grade class, everyone outside of you, and the over sensitive mother is these portions of the story were peripheral, not at the forefront of what’s being read. Sermons based on the Abraham and Isaac story are not about if God asks that you kill your child you should do it, but the willingness to sacrifice for the greater good.

    Something that very few us object to, or are repulsed by.

    Theist, and non-theist are no less repulsed by news stories of mentally ill mothers who have murdered their kids because of voices in their head, even if they claimed they were the voice of God. And when they read the Abraham and Isaac, and the countless interpretations of the story we can find by theist, you’ll notice that this has never been what they take away from the story.

    The theist reads it as story no different than the willingness of countless individuals like Rev. King, and etc who were willing to sacrifice their lives, and the lives of those they dearly loved, for the sake of what they perceived to be a greater good.

    You can claim all you want the story is a repulse way of saying this, even if you agree with the sentiment, as much as you can say the tale of 3 little pigs is a repulsive way of teaching children the value of prudence, it’s just that my teachers, the rest of our mothers, and my second grade class weren’t repulsed by it, for whom the gruesome demise of the pigs were peripheral portion of the story, not a portion to reflect on.

    The village atheist, and the over sensitive mother may read the story differently, but it’s neither historically accurate exegesis for a Hebrew society that abhorred human sacrifices, nor an accurate reading of what other individuals read the story as.

    “And of course this all gets back to PZ’s original point about how the religious imagery (of, say, torture) can be turned around to justify any repugnant behavior (like, say, torture), so well done there.”

    When the heck has the image of Christ crucified been used to justify torture? I hope you’re not referring to the recent survey that found protestant and evangelicals support the use of torture more so than other christian denominations, and the irreligious?
    I’ve heard countless arguments from fundie buddies on why they support the use of torture, never once have I heard them result to religious justification for it, or the weird claim of yours that they supported torture because Jesus was tortured. What sort of theist have you run into who claims that they support torturing terrorist because Jesus was tortured?

    Secondly, most individuals who support torture, don’t support it as a punishment for criminals, but as a means to extract information from them that can save American lives. I’m sorry to tell you but most of these people are not repulsed by the notion of water boarding, and don’t find it to be an inhumane interrogation technique. And I’m sure for many individuals, even those who claim to be repulsed by this technique now, would think rather differently if they could perceive the lives of their children and loved ones at stake.

  233. #233 Dan L.
    May 6, 2009

    @apnea:

    My impression of postmodernism could probably safely be called solipsistic relativism. The image that keeps popping to mind is a scene in the Simpsons in which one character quotes Shakespeare: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” To which Bart replies: “Not if you called it a stench blossom.”

    Bart in this case is the postmodernist. The Shakespeare line can be parsed very easily into a scientific statement about the compounds released by the rose and the human physiological response thereto. Bart on the other hand emphasizes the subjective experience of smelling the rose, and seems to claim that this is somehow impacted by the name by which the rose is called.

    Bart might not even be wrong here. But it seems like he’s insisting that his subjective inquiry into the nature of the rose is as valid in terms of truth as the more scientific observation. I don’t think one can actually make any case for this unless one leaves the term “truth” poorly enough defined that subjective judgments or opinions can merit the term “truth.” To me, this notion is antithetical to what “truth” is supposed to mean in the first place.

    Defenders of postmodernism here seem to be making the case that postmodernism can help science by forcing science to examine itself and the nature of its claims, which I think might be true. But I thought we already had a field for that. Epistemology?

  234. #234 Steve Jeffers
    May 6, 2009

    “In the event that such a thing as Postmodernism exists”

    We label periods with broad labels like ‘Victorian’ or ‘Pre-Raphaelite’. The label most common used for where we are at the moment (and have been since the early sixties) is ‘postmodernist’, because the period before that was the ‘modernist’ period.

    That’s a slightly too-long summary here:

    http://www.colorado.edu/English/courses/ENGL2012Klages/pomo.html

    To sum it up really quickly: art now tends to be playful, intertextual, self aware and ironic. It tends to mix high and low culture. It tends to challenge authority and traditional power structures (like the family).

    You know how movies these days are full of references to other movies, and they often draw attention to the fact they’re movies, and they often throw in some big philosophical or scientific or political concept among the mayhem, and the narratives are often fragmented and need you to piece things together and make connections and they often mix genres, so it’s not a straightforward comedy, or it’s only sort-of science fiction?

    And how most movies in the fifties didn’t do any of that?

    That’s postmodernism at work, existing, right there. It’s a function of technology and access to information, as much as anything else.

  235. #235 Steve Jeffers
    May 6, 2009

    The thing is: postmodern culture and ‘geek’ culture have sort have become synonymous. I know I’m generalizing wildly, but the sort of movies and TV and stuff scientists seem to like is Python and Douglas Adams and Star Wars and Star Trek and The Simpsons and Doctor Who and Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. And those are the absolute posterboys for postmodernism.

    The way in which they can mush a bit of history, a bit of hard science, a joke, a clever use of language or a reference to something else together – that’s the sort of freewheeling, associative, imaginative, magpie stuff that the best scientific and technological innovators seem to have these days.

    So it’s that mode of thought, rather than ‘I will go to the library and consult a paper by someone older than me, then I will copy it out’ that characterized ‘scientists’ in the nineteenth century. And that’s a postmodern way of thinking.

  236. #236 Steve Jeffers
    May 6, 2009

    … and by quoting The Simpsons, you’re helping to prove my point. If you’d done the equivalent of that a hundred years ago in a seminar, your professor would have tut-tutted and decided you weren’t high-minded. These days, your professor is more likely to go ‘or crapweeds’.

    As for practical applications you can point to – http://hagar.up.ac.za/catts/learner/smorgan/postmodernism.html – there’s a lot of postmodernist work in information technology and organization.

    I absolutely understand the anxiety – postmodernism isn’t the same as an anything goes too-tolerant relativism, although the word’s been used to justify any amount of alternative medicine bullshit and apologism for creationism and stuff.

  237. #237 hithesh
    May 6, 2009

    “I tend to agree with PZ: if those values were at the heart of western civilization…. then we would most likely be living in a better world today.”

    And I seen these repeated a number of times by atheist, and if they knew a bit more about life, they’d see how superstitious this belief is.

    “The image emphasizes the importance of questioning, whether one is questioning authority or nature itself. And it emphasizes the importance of children, and the importance of teaching one’s children to ask and answer their own questions, and to think for themselves.”

    The atheist belief that the end of inquiry holds with it for human beings a necessity to cure the world, is a delusion. We can just as easily question morality itself, why not settle for our indifference, why I should care for the poor and less fortunate in far off nations of the world, who have no conceivable benefit for me and the rest of my family?
    I have numerous friends who given in to their indifference, who have little regard for lives outside of their immediate kin, and family, who are repulsed by bums that litter the street, and handouts given to them, who enjoy the company of boos and chicks, and are content to see the rest of their lives as a pursuit of hedonism. This was a result of their inquiry, their questioning of liberal values, asking: “why the fuck should I give a shit?”

    Our typical liberal preaches from a pulpit of a very cozy life, who has never faces the conditions that harden most of us. And they develop all sorts of myths about where this hard heart comes from, blaming religion, or capitalism, of not following the Denmark model, rather than understanding the culprit is human nature itself. In a godless world the end of inquiry is not an answer to love humanity, in all it’s shame and cruelty, it can just as well be the inarguable conclusion of not giving a fuck at all.

    The Apostle Paul, reflecting on his condition, on our dichotomy of self-aware, and instinctual creatures, finds him knowing to do good, and yet inclined to do bad. We can reflect all we want, but how do we move? We can reflect and write all sorts of principles for what moral living should be defined by, but what convicts us to be moved by them?

    What power does secular humanism offer in turning indifference to compassion? They tend to discover in the face of indifference their illusions in the power of reason seems to fade, so they pursue scape-goats to divert attention from their failures.

    “I tend to agree with PZ: if those values were at the heart of western civilization rather than the “values” that we are all wretched sinners who can only be redeemed through the death and torture of an innocent, then we would most likely be living in a better world today.”

    This belief hinges on a mythical belief in the power of reason. European rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust weren’t motivated by rational thinking. The correlation between moral reasoning, and pro-active moral behavior is null. Moral progression is not created by us continually asking questions, but rather by facing conviction, guilt, by finding ourselves imperfect, and frail in living up to love.

    We are all sinners to me is a far more powerful image of conviction than the child staring at the stars; it’s admittance of our frailty and an execration of our dignity. It’s the awareness of my own nature, that I can be repulsed and indifferent to the dirty, drugged up bum on the corner, and yet find myself endeared to him, to help him, to feed him.

    The epitome of my indifference, and cruelty is symbolically represented by the cross, that it’s hard to reflect on the man, and not see Christ’s own suffering in him, and his call to love, even at the foot despair. There’s the anchor of my conviction, now find it’s equivalent far me in the stars.

  238. #238 Stephen Wells
    May 6, 2009

    Dear hithesh: you have mistaken us for people who care about your opinions. Now go away and sacrifice something.

  239. #239 Knockgoats
    May 6, 2009

    OK, hithesh, you and your friends may be selfish scumbags, but your generalisation to the rest of us is invalid. You might care to notice that some of the most secular countries, notably in Scandinavia, have the most generous systems for reducing poverty, and high levels of international aid. But of course, you don’t give a shit about evidence, do you?

  240. #240 Knockgoats
    May 6, 2009

    “When the heck has the image of Christ crucified been used to justify torture?” hithesh

    Whenever and wherever Christians have had the power to impose their beliefs on everyone else – or each other.

  241. #241 CJO
    May 6, 2009

    Christ on a cracker. How many times do you have to be told, it’s not “in the stars.” The image being proposed is a child (innocence, curiosity, uncorrupted by worldly cynicism and indifference) looking at the stars (infinitude, mystery, promise, discovery). It’s a forward-looking image. Your mythical crucifixion is, first, mythical, just as mythical as Abraham’s psych-out, and, more-importantly, it’s backward-looking. It puts the whole of the human struggle for compassion, goodness, engaged living (not-indifference) onto this one mythical event of pain, suffering, and death. The theology constructed around us strives to downplay this life, to parlay suffering in this world into a better life in the next. Whether that eschatology is apocalyptic (as with the End Times crowd) or ethical (as you seem to espouse) it is nevertheless eschatological, that is, world-denying. It holds out the empty promise of a radical break with history and our own, imperfect, embodied nature. We can’t find its equivalent in a reality-based, forward-looking ethos, because the two are antithetical.

  242. #242 Anonymous
    May 6, 2009

    Stephen Wells: “Dear hithesh: you have mistaken us for people who care about your opinions. Now go away and sacrifice something.”

    And the point of this is?

    I’ll post my responses regardless of what you have to say, and if people feel they should be ignored than they are more than welcome to do so, but apparently that’s not the case.

  243. #243 Knockgoats
    May 6, 2009

    “To sum it up really quickly: art now tends to be playful, intertextual, self aware and ironic. It tends to mix high and low culture. It tends to challenge authority and traditional power structures (like the family).” – Steve Jeffers

    Oh, like Tristram Shandy you mean?

  244. #244 RamblinDude
    May 6, 2009

    Hithesh writes:

    The dilemma for you, is that for the rest of my second grade class, everyone outside of you, and the over sensitive mother is these portions of the story were peripheral, not at the forefront of what’s being read. Sermons based on the Abraham and Isaac story are not about if God asks that you kill your child you should do it, but the willingness to sacrifice for the greater good.

    Bullshit.

    Many of us here are very familiar with this crap, and what you wrote is bullshit. The story about Abraham and Isaac is about one thing: obeying. Will you obey the Lord God Jehovah no matter what he tells you to do? There is no deeper meaning. It is not an allegory about self sacrifice for the greater good. It is about subservience, period.

    Your apologetics is, typically, badly skewed and imprecise?like most of your comments here,

  245. #245 Anonymous
    May 6, 2009

    @Knockgoats: “OK, hithesh, you and your friends may be selfish scumbags, but your generalisation to the rest of us is invalid. ”

    Ah, yes thats a good way to divide the world, middle class liberal rationalist living in glass houses, and scum bags. I apologize if we all don’t live cozy suburban lives like that of PZ and Dawkins, I apologize if our circumstances yield with it situations that harden us, that we sometimes exposed to the cruel, and the dark, and don’t resemble your perpetual walk in disney land.

    I’m guessing you don’t get out much.

    “But of course, you don’t give a shit about evidence, do you?”

    Please, pray tell me, evidence for what? Scandinavian countries give you evidence for what sort of belief? Do you believe it’s evidence that the typical white Scandinavian is more moral than the average american? What am i suppose to see the evidence as in support of?

  246. #246 Watchman
    May 6, 2009

    Hithes:

    What’s this sort of reflection to tell a girl whose been raped twice before she was eight?

    Good question. Do you happen to know one? I do. I’ll ask her. While we wait for her answer, tell me something: What sort of “reflection” do you think would be ideal in this case? Something about “God’s will” perhaps? Judgement after death? Or some other unsupportable fairy tale?

    What do these prosperous scientist know about these questions, anymore than children do?

    Hey, little buddy. Has anyone ever pointed out that you’re an arrogant, condescending prick? You talk a good game, but your world-view is extremely narrow. You draw easy conclusions from false premises. I realize how good this makes you feel about yourself. Good on you, little buddy.

    Are these images or murdered illusions of hope, of no returning back to life? Does PZ still have some cheap hope to peddle them, about the beauty of stars, and microscopes?

    There’s plenty of cheap hope to go around, little buddy. Just drop in to your local church. What’s cheaper than a well-worn pack of second-hand fabrications?

    You persist in missing the real point of the “stars” thing. I’ve decided to waste my time trying to explain it to you. You won’t hear it.

  247. #247 Knockgoats
    May 6, 2009

    Steve Jeffers@236,
    Here’s the concluding sentence of the article you link to:
    “This paper has been a theoretical overview of some of the pertinent literature currently available on postmodernism and simulations, with no attempt made at evaluation or synthesis of the two sections. Extensive research is needed on simulation design and use, and a follow up study will attempt an application of postmodernist principles to this task, and to a more meaningful definition of computer based instructional simulations.”
    In other words, it provides fuck-all evidence that postmodernism has contributed anything whatever to the development and assessment of computer based instructional simulations. The first half, incidentally, is quite typical of the little pomo work I’ve read: it’s just a parade of “Lyotard argues” and “Baudrillard says”, without the slightest attempt to assess whether their arguments or sayings were right or useful.

    I’m still waiting for an actual example of scientists using postmodernist ideas to help them “model stuff”.

  248. #248 Dan L.
    May 6, 2009

    @hithesh:

    Tempted to give you the old TLDR, but whatever:

    And I seen these repeated a number of times by atheist, and if they knew a bit more about life, they’d see how superstitious this belief is.

    An opinion is not in and of itself superstitious. I think raising a child according to certain values will shape the future values of the child, even into adulthood and old age. I don’t think that this belief is superstitious in the least. And I have an opinion on what the correct values to teach the children are. My opinion could certainly be wrong, but that doesn’t mean it’s superstition. Or maybe by “superstition” you mean something else entirely?

    Besides that, the notion that you “know more about life” than I do is extremely supercilious of you. You don’t know me from Adam, and you don’t know why I hold the opinions I do. Way to be a pompous gasbag, though.

    The atheist belief that the end of inquiry holds with it for human beings a necessity to cure the world, is a delusion.

    I’m not sure what you’re saying here. How does the end of inquiry hold a necessity? This is word salad. TO the extent that I can parse any meaning out of it, it’s wrong. I don’t even believe there is such a thing as the “end of inquiry,” or that it’s necessary to “cure the world.” I don’t think the world is sick in the first place. You’re beating up a straw man.

    This belief hinges on a mythical belief in the power of reason. European rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust weren’t motivated by rational thinking. The correlation between moral reasoning, and pro-active moral behavior is null. Moral progression is not created by us continually asking questions, but rather by facing conviction, guilt, by finding ourselves imperfect, and frail in living up to love.

    And Christianity has done more to block this so-called “moral progression” (which I think is actually a myth that you’re making up) than secular liberalism ever has. Let’s not forget that the ancestors of those very European rescuers of the Jews spent the centuries preceding the enlightenment (in which traditional values were questioned and held up to the standards of rational inquiry) committing pogroms against the ancestors of those Jews.

    The end of slavery and women becoming human beings instead of property are two moral ends that were accomplished by questioning Christian doctrine rather than observing it, by the way.

  249. #249 Steve Jeffers
    May 6, 2009

    ‘Oh, like Tristram Shandy you mean?’

    Yes.

    Most art now is like one of the most peculiar books of the eighteenth century. Thanks for supporting me on that.

    I never said these things were invented in the nineteen-sixties – or that all art now is postmodern. But there are fashions and trends and movements in art, and the fashion at the moment is for art as I described.

  250. #250 Watchman
    May 6, 2009

    I’ve decided not to waste my time trying to explain it to you.

    Fixed.

  251. #251 CJO
    May 6, 2009

    I apologize if we all don’t live cozy suburban lives like that of PZ and Dawkins, I apologize if our circumstances yield with it situations that harden us, that we sometimes exposed to the cruel, and the dark, and don’t resemble your perpetual walk in disney land.

    I’m guessing you don’t get out much.

    What are you trying to accomplish with these absurd generalizations? Plenty of those (the majority in North America) in cozy, suburban conditions are nominally Christian, yes? And most of those who live in the Third World are much more directly and irremediably “exposed to the cruel, and the dark” than you, and yet, mostly are not Christian, and find no resonance or hope in your savior’s mythical triumph over death.

  252. #252 Anonymous
    May 6, 2009

    Rambline dude writes: “The story about Abraham and Isaac is about one thing: obeying. Will you obey the Lord God Jehovah no matter what he tells you to do? There is no deeper meaning. It is not an allegory about self sacrifice for the greater good. It is about subservience, period.”

    Let’s see if you can comprehend this much. Christians and Jews believe in a God of ultimate purpose and meaning. God’s purpose and meaning is the greater good. God’s the definer of the greater good, for believers at least. So any sacrifice one makes for the sake of God’s will, is a sacrifice for the greater good.

    This is both subservience and obedience to that greater good.

    All obedience and subservience of God as perceived as obedience and subservience to the greater good. This is not apologetics, this is basic understanding of theistic conception of God from the beginning of the Hebrew tradition till know, for all theist, liberal to fundie.

    The perception of the tale along these lines, is the psychological reason why many theist don’t find the tale repulsive. If you think you have a better grasp at the psychology of this perception you let me know, because I’d love to hear it.

  253. #253 windy
    May 6, 2009

    Christ on a cracker. How many times do you have to be told, it’s not “in the stars.” The image being proposed is a child (innocence, curiosity, uncorrupted by worldly cynicism and indifference) looking at the stars (infinitude, mystery, promise, discovery). It’s a forward-looking image.

    But look at the bright side. Next time someone starts going on about how God is like a baby’s smile, maybe we can sic hithesh on them to berate them for elitism.

    Personally, I think the symbol should be a dog staring in wonder at a gramophone. Or is that already taken?

  254. #254 Your Name's Not Bruce?
    May 6, 2009

    Hithesh said:

    The theist reads it as story no different than the willingness of countless individuals like Rev. King, and etc who were willing to sacrifice their lives, and the lives of those they dearly loved, for the sake of what they perceived to be a greater good.

    Did Dr. King offer to “sacrifice” his family without their knowledge and consent? I can see, understand and agree with the greater good, in which King was engaged, the fight against social injustice and racial prejudice. But what was the “greater good” that Abraham was serving through his willingness to kill his son? Obedience to authority? Trust in an apparently bloodthirsty god (and certainly the whole “flood incident” would have left nobody with any illusions about the readiness of this god to kill and destroy to make a point)?

    I think Abraham would have been more praiseworthy if he had offered himself for sacrifice rather than going along with the command to kill his son. Same with Lot; I always thought he should have lost his golden ticket out of the destruction of Sodom and when he offered his daughters rather than himself to the lustful townsfolk.

  255. #255 Steve Jeffers
    May 6, 2009

    ‘The first half, incidentally, is quite typical of the little pomo work I’ve read’

    When you say that, I hear Sarah Palin incredulously complaining about fruit fly research. Saying something like ‘if postmodernism exists’ really is the equivalent of arts-side creationism.

    I’ve posted a bunch of links now, if you don’t like them, fair enough: google ‘postmodern science’ or ‘postmodern physics’ until you find something you do.

    I am not making grand claims, or asking you to welcome postmodernism as your personal savior. Postmodernism deals, in places, with things like information management and subjectivity in ways that have proved useful to scientists.

  256. #256 Watchman
    May 6, 2009

    I apologize if we all don’t live cozy suburban lives like that of PZ and Dawkins, I apologize if our circumstances yield with it situations that harden us, that we sometimes exposed to the cruel, and the dark, and don’t resemble your perpetual walk in disney land.

    You’ve cornered the market on hardship, suffering, and the wisdom that comes with it, eh, Hithesh? Congratulations.

    What a self-important, blithering fool you are. As I said, you talk a good game, but it all boils down to this:

    “Unlike all you ivory-tower liberals, I’ve seen the dark underbelly of life. My opinions are thereby informed, and therefore valid, while yours are not.”

    Yawn. Get over yourself, little buddy.

  257. #257 RamblinDude
    May 6, 2009

    God’s the definer of the greater good, for believers at least.

    And yet the concept of ?greater good? is remarkably flexible, isn?t it? It?s fairly simple to find historical examples where entire populations were beguiled into committing atrocities for ?the greater good.? Interpreting the phrase seems to be the province of whoever happens to be in power. Once people are inculcated into subservience, they are easy to manipulate. All you have to do is convince them that God wants it.

    We imagine a world where people are not so gullible.

  258. #258 MattB242
    May 6, 2009

    Why should Postmodernism be easy to define? ‘Modernism’ encompassed, say, Ezra Pound, Paul Klee and Arnold Schoenberg. Could you sum up what all of them were trying to do in a couple of sentences? Does the fact that you can’t make modernism a useless concept?

    @interrobang in 207 – please provide – with references – instances where literary theory has been ‘falsified’ by neuroscience.

    Bear in mind that the fact that somebody might make an incorrect statement about science in the course of an argument about something else doesn’t necessarily falsify it, and certainly doesn’t (as Sokal and Bricmont seemed to think) falsify everything that that person and all their friends and anyone who sounds a bit like them have ever said. Lacan spouting cobblers about topology and imaginary numbers was regarded with exactly the same respectful but exasperated tolerance as Roger Penrose tends to be when he starts mithering on about quantum consciousness.

    Not that it matters because, horrifying as it may seem to you, empirical verifiability is not the only measure of whether or not something is worth expressing.

  259. #259 AJ Milne
    May 6, 2009

    What are you trying to accomplish with these absurd generalizations?

    See ‘offense as best defense’, I’d suspect.

    Keep in mind that the principal message this gentleman seeks to impugn is a criticism of his own. So where it calls his obscurantism and unreason a demonstrated threat, he responds that this is irrational ‘faith’ (we would not, of course, say ‘warranted, reserved, qualified, and far from absolute confidence, tho’ this would actually be honest) in reason itself. Better this than having actually to defend the cowardly indulgence that is his own unreason, naturally.

    And it’s a mischaracterization in so many ways beyond, too, of course. It is not that atheists expect rationalism must save the world–only that such believers as these own self-absorbed unreason are far, far more likely to damn it with such a careless wallowing in deliberate, studied idiocy.

    The notion that the critics that spot the lurking horror in what he is and does somehow must lead sheltered lives than his, of course, is similiarly dishonest, and likewise just a feint. But how else to seize the high ground. So he and his fellow believers, they’re practical, see. They’re real, see. That those critics might also live complex lives of heartbreak, and might well live their hard-won principles through pain and difficulty and suffering that dwarfs any he has ever knokwn in his blinkered existence, this will neither weigh upon his conscience nor enter his consideration…

    See, it simply isn’t strategically useful.

    Yes, it will strike you as bizarre. Yes, it will strike you as transparently dishonest. Indeed, it may even strike you that it doth reek of the very smugness he accuses his enemies of harboring.

    But bear in mind: you can now read the record of this thread and easily determine: his screed wasn’t about honest criticism, and never was.

    It was about winning–or at least appearing to do so. By whatever means he can still manage to do so.

  260. #260 Knockgoats
    May 6, 2009

    “Postmodernism deals, in places, with things like information management and subjectivity in ways that have proved useful to scientists.” – Steve Jeffers

    But that’s exactly what you’ve completely failed to show. I could waste my time googling “Mormon science” or “astrological physics”, but why would I?

  261. #261 Owlmirror
    May 6, 2009

    Let’s see if you can comprehend this much. Christians and Jews believe in a God of ultimate purpose and meaning. God’s purpose and meaning is the greater good. God’s the definer of the greater good, for believers at least. So any sacrifice one makes for the sake of God’s will, is a sacrifice for the greater good.

    Ah, so you choose the “divine command” horn of the Euthyphro dilemma.

    Is that your response to the raped eight-year-old and the mother of the murdered son? That they suffered and/or died “for the greater good”?

    The problem with this is that unless the actual “greater good” is made known, any action, no matter how horrible, can be claimed as being for the so-called greater good.

    The end result is moral hypocrisy: When (other) people — the wrong people — actually do perform killings and rapes and tortures, claiming that it is “God’s will” or for “the greater good”, they are condemned. Yet when the killing or rape or torture is indeed perceived as being done by your own side; by those you agree with or identify with, it is excused, and sometimes even praised.

    Feh.

    All obedience and subservience of God as perceived as obedience and subservience to the greater good. This is not apologetics, this is basic understanding of theistic conception of God from the beginning of the Hebrew tradition till know, for all theist, liberal to fundie.

    Obviously not, since there have always been those who reject that sort of submissionist thinking. Case in point: The author of the book of Job (the first part, at least — and arguably, the ending as well).

  262. #262 CJO
    May 6, 2009

    …certainly doesn’t (as Sokal and Bricmont seemed to think) falsify everything that that person and all their friends and anyone who sounds a bit like them have ever said.

    I don’t think Sokal seemed to think that at all. I think he showed that the standards of profundity in postmodern discourse are so low that not even the practitioners can tell anymore. It’s like brand loyalty at this point. Sokal’s prank was a blind taste-test.

  263. #263 Kel
    May 6, 2009

    So any sacrifice one makes for the sake of God’s will, is a sacrifice for the greater good.

    Yep, the crusades, inquisition and witchcraft were all for the greater good…

  264. #264 Owlmirror
    May 6, 2009

    Personally, I think the symbol should be a dog staring in wonder at a gramophone.

    Some might say that this smacks of Cynicism.

    Heh.

  265. #265 MattB242
    May 6, 2009

    CJO: Please explain what ‘standards of profundity’ are and why you believe academic disciplines need to have them to pass muster.

    Also, if Sokal provided a ‘blind taste test’ he did so by going to a wine tasting (an amateur wine tasting at that – Social Text was hardly the ‘Nature’ of the lit crit world) and pronouncing not only them, but every wine taster who ever lived, a failure because they couldn’t identify the provenance of the Brie he’d bought with him.

    Cultural Theorists are not scientists and are for the most part not interested in science. The editors viewed Sokal’s submission as an interesting, if wacky, piece of experimental text – which was exactly the sort of thing they tended to publish. They were neither qualified, nor interested, in assessing its scientific accuracy

  266. #266 Watchman
    May 6, 2009

    We imagine a world where people are not so gullible.

    Oh, but where’s the hope in that, Dude?

  267. #267 Dan L.
    May 6, 2009

    Why should Postmodernism be easy to define? ‘Modernism’ encompassed, say, Ezra Pound, Paul Klee and Arnold Schoenberg. Could you sum up what all of them were trying to do in a couple of sentences? Does the fact that you can’t make modernism a useless concept?

    I’m not saying it should be easy to define. But if it’s so darned complicated, then I think the defenders of postmodernism could give us initiated some leeway when we have gotten the wrong impression one way or the other.

    The fact that I’ve heard more arguments about what “postmodernism” means than arguments from the perspective of postmodernism might also be relevant to the question of how useless postmodernism is as a concept.

  268. #268 RamblinDude
    May 6, 2009

    Oh, but where’s the hope in that, Dude?

    I, for one, would like the world to be populated with deeper-thinking people so that I could have intelligent conversations more often. It’s a small thing, perhaps, but nevertheless, I hope for it.

  269. #269 CJO
    May 6, 2009

    Please explain what ‘standards of profundity’ are and why you believe academic disciplines need to have them to pass muster.

    Pretty simple English phrase, innit? Some objective criteria by which the quality of the output can be assessed.

    Lacking objective criteria by which the standards of output can be assessed, an academic discipline devolves into solipsism, cultural irrelevance and jargon-mongering.

    They were neither qualified, nor interested, in assessing its scientific accuracy

    And that strikes you as not a bit problematic? But forget “scientific accuracy,” the thing didn’t even make sense. It was deliberately obfuscatory, and the editors couldn’t tell. If some have drawn over-broad conclusions from that, I agree, that’s not fair to an entire discipline. But I believe the indictment should be a spur to reining in the more outlandish wing of the movement, or at the very least, to re-labeling “experimental” strings of referent-free jargon to “pseudo-intellectual studies.”

  270. #270 apnea
    May 6, 2009

    I don’t seem to make myself clear. I already mentioned the occasional use of the “Postmodernism” term in reference to aesthetic and historical chronology; this is not the point. I don’t need these pointed out to me.

    What people here are arguing for is Postmodernism as an academic label useful for dismissing whole academic field (“litcrit” for instance) and capable of subsuming the whole work of specific authors (“Eagleton is a Postmodernist, even when he’s being a Christian apologist”). This is the maximalist usage that I put in question.

    I know the word exists, seriously. I was taking offense with the facile dismissal of broad fields of inquiry as “Postmodernism. Any discussion around this meme often devolves in this way, so it’s no big deal.

    But it’s still highly instructive to witness to utter lack of cohesive delimitation of what exactly is this dreaded Postmodernism: is it the culture, the movies, the academia, some part of the academia, a writing style, authors who self-describe as Postmodernists, authors attacked by Sokal?
    etc. etc.

    I’m sorry to say, but many here seem to decry not a strawman, but the barely glimpsed shadow of one.

  271. #271 MattB242
    May 6, 2009

    Dan: fair point, actually, people do tend to be a bit vague about it. I’ll give you my moderately well-read amateur’s take.

    So, you’ve got Modernism which, very broadly, has the underlying belief that if you try really, really hard you can express some sort of ‘absolute truth’ about human nature and consciousness through art. The surrealists, for example, thought that they could get there via the subconscious world of dreams. Pound threw everything he could find from all over the world into a big pot and tried to make a sort of ‘ultimate poem’ out of it.

    Postmodernism says that this is an impossible endeavour, because every conscious viewpoint is ‘always already’ (you see this phrase a lot) grounded in a cultural context (actually many different and sometimes contradictory cultural contexts) it can’t escape.

    The best you can do is examine the contexts carefully, map the internal contradictions and look at any interesting shapes they might make when you try to mix and match them with other contexts. There’s no ‘right answer’ to get to, just an endless interplay of different viewpoints.

    The high/low culture mashups that Steven Jeffers describes are one expression of this, as, for example is ‘Postcolonial Theory’ where people like Edward Said and Homi Bhabha explore in some detail the catastrophic consequences when one mental landscape imposes itself on another at gunpoint.

    That’s how I understand it, anyway

  272. #272 Mattb242
    May 6, 2009

    CJO: For better or worse the practice of criticism shades, these days, into the practice of art itself ‘pure’ art being impossible in the postmodern view. Social Text is the sort of thing that operates quite deliberately on the border between the two – it can be thought of as a sort of rarified poetry magazine as much as an academic text.

    I’m fine with such things existing. More than fine, I’m glad they do. It’s the sign of a healthy culture that we can support people playing in its margins. I’m not sure why you feel it needs to be ‘reined in’.

  273. #273 TS
    May 6, 2009

    This discussion of postmodernism is frustrating. As a doctoral student in art history, I engage with a lot of critical theory, philosophy, art, literature, history, aesthetic discourse (etc etc.) in which “postmodernism” has been a buzzword. I personally find it of little worth as a historical, artistic or philosophical category. I would like to address, however, a few points about the science/humanities divide through a brief discussion of “postmodernism”.
    “Postmodernism” is a concept (really, a large number of concepts grouped under the heading) that emerged from the humanities. It is not a scientific concept, it is not empirically verifiable, and does not try to be. The term also represented a critical battleground between theorists of very different stripes. It has been vigorously debated, with some thinkers accepting that it functions as a description of our cultural moment and critiquing it; others accepting that it exists and celebrating it; and still others arguing that it has no worth as a concept. In fact, I would say that the latter category describes, at this point, a near majority of serious thinkers about culture.
    This happens often in the humanities, and is healthy. That there is no agreement over the definitive definition of a controversial concept is just a fact in our academic disciplines: witness “modernism”, “impressionism”, “realism”, “expressionism”, “feminism”, “Marxism”, “structuralism”, to say nothing of “Culture,” “History,” “Literature,” and “Art”.
    One of the strongest definitions of postmodernism came from Marxist critic Fredric Jameson who described it as the “cultural logic of late capitalism” characterized by decentralization, free flows of information, the increasingly image-based fabric of culture, globalization, and a general ahistorical attitude. In architecture, for example, he saw the postmodern in the predominance of pastiche, a sort of anything-goes sampling of historical styles without any necessary formal or historical logic in their juxtaposition. He was deeply critical of this development.

    There seems to be a tendency among those who don’t know what they’re talking about to call any sort of contemporary critical theory or (non-analytic) philosophy since approx. 1960 “postmodernism”.
    FYI: Very few people in the humanities today would call themselves “postmodernists”. If they did, they would be laughed at (at least in the circles I run with).

    On a more general note: the humanities generally ask and try to answer questions that cannot be answered by science and that very often cannot be settled “empirically”. This is not a weakness, but just a fact. This does not stop myself and many (I would go so far as to say the vast majority) of those in the humanities from being hugely interested in, and fascinated, provoked, awed, and greatly benefited by science. It’s just not what we do.
    Here are some questions off the top of my head that science cannot (and does not try to) answer that the humanities grapple with: What is art? What is the relationship between art and literature in the 20th century? How can cultural production be political? What effect has global capitalism had on subjectivity? What is a subject? What is a political subject? How does gender impact subjectivity? Is it more accurate to understand identity as stable or constantly fluctuating? How has photography, and now digital imaging, affected the production of meaning? How is meaning produced? What is the relationship between thought and writing? Is realism possible in literature? Is it desirable? Has poetry changed after the Holocaust? What is the meaning of abstraction in art? Does the speed of information in the 21st century affect the social bond? ETC ETC ETC ETC ETC.

    Here’s to more open dialogue and mutual respect!

  274. #274 BlueIndependent
    May 6, 2009

    “…The atheist belief that the end of inquiry holds with it for human beings a necessity to cure the world, is a delusion. We can just as easily question morality itself, why not settle for our indifference, why I should care for the poor and less fortunate in far off nations of the world, who have no conceivable benefit for me and the rest of my family?

    I have numerous friends who given in to their indifference, who have little regard for lives outside of their immediate kin, and family, who are repulsed by bums that litter the street, and handouts given to them, who enjoy the company of boos and chicks, and are content to see the rest of their lives as a pursuit of hedonism. This was a result of their inquiry, their questioning of liberal values, asking: ‘why the fuck should I give a shit?’…”

    Bullshit. You haven’t read one iota of the prominent atheists on this subject. Why would a god make anyone more likely to do so? Because said unprovable being supposedly divined a book out of very fallible followers thousands of years ago? A book of which there is no definitive translation, is very incomplete, had no standards set at the beginning for its conception and design, and that contradicts itself? Yet we continue to hear from theists that their books, barely improved upon or changed for millenia, and based on events, phenomena, and characters nobody can prove the truest existence or nature of, is better for us? Are you seriously going to keep peddling that garbage here? What of your religion “forces” you to do anything? How does it make you a better person?

    People can feel empathy without a god. It’s quite easy. I do it every day. You likewise don’t need a god to know murder is evil, theft is wrong, and violence unacceptable in civil society. Are you going to keep denying what pretty much every civilization across human history has figured out, regardless of religion? Science is what is saving millions around the world, whether religious groups help spread good will or not. The fact is, science has improved farming and saved millions of lives in ways religion couldn’t even begin to help solve. The same with computers, medical technology, etc. Religion has done exactly nothing in those regards, and if any of those advances were to go away, no amount of praying, tithing, and kneeling would change the fact that large swathes of people would die anyways.

    As for your friends who have “given in to their indifference”, what you describe sounds more to me like the typical modern day republican free market crusader. They are the ones spitting on bums in the street and funneling money away from the middle class so they can have 200 million dollar yachts while they get your childrens’ tax money from the government. This has absolutely nothing to do with the false image of liberalism conservatism has built into a very large strawman. I must remind you that “greed is good”, “crass commercialism”, ” rugged individualism”, “boostraps”, and all that other rhetorical crap are functions of the last 40 years of (largely) conservatism. I could list other indicators, but the fact is your complaints have a veiled political angle, and you’re frankly wrong.

    In the modern context, religion is losing its relevance because people are figuring out that religion, with all its commandments, prognostications, admonitions about heaven and hell, and non-progressivism, can’t stop anybody from doing anything. It only works on people who are so taught to believe that something horrible will happen to them if they have a few drinks and a good night out with friends. Some even think iced freakin’ tea will bring about their undoing. Explain to me how that’s good life policy.

    How people are raised is what makes the difference, and while there are without question specific good values that come from religious upbringing (I am one such example), we see on a pretty regular basis now that religions are more into promoting their own survival than good society, what with the incessant attacks on evolution instruction, medical technology advancements, and a variety of other shameful stances all in the name of appeasing a god not a single follower can identify consistently or whose “will” is completely and irrefutably quantified so as to produce good outcomes. I have empathy for people I’ve never met. I need no god to do so. When my final Bush bribe check came in the mail last year, I gave it to the soldiers, not to my bank account. My agnostic wife and I just made two trips to Goodwill last week because we know we don’t need some stuff, but others might. And we’re not even taking the tax breaks for it.

    I and others here have said it before and will continue to shout it from the roof tops: We don’t need your god to do good in the world. We can do so regardless. Why can’t you?

  275. #275 Watchman
    May 6, 2009

    Ramblin Dude

    I, for one, would like the world to be populated with deeper-thinking people so that I could have intelligent conversations more often. It’s a small thing, perhaps, but nevertheless, I hope for it.

    Me too, Dude. I was being mildly facetious. Let’s also throw in our hope for a world in which the people were:

    - Less prone to superstition and mindless bigotry.
    - Less prone to swallowing snake oil and promoting unhealthy and corrupt wooful memes.
    - Less prone to slaughtering each other over imaginary issues promoted by opportunistic power seekers.

    …and so on.

    The list is long, but must remain woefully incomplete. G2G.

  276. #276 CJO
    May 6, 2009

    I’m not sure why you feel it needs to be ‘reined in’.

    Because it’s solipsistic pseudo-intellectualism, and a lot of 24 year-old graduate students see the kind of BS their professors get paid to pad these “rarified poetry magazines” with and think there’s a meaningful academic career waiting for them doing the same thing. It’s sort of a lark or inside joke that has thouroughly infected the humanities and social sciences, to the point where any good faith attempt to actually assess the value or cultural relevance of the work immediately puts you in league with the Patriarchy, or The Dominant Paradigm, or The Cultural Hegemony or other such bogeyman. Debate is impossible in such a house of mirrors, where no perspective can ever, ever be privileged, except for the postmodern supposed non-perspective. I was an English major in the 90′s, man. I know somewhat of what I speak. It’s institutionalized dorm-room bull sessions, which isn’t inherently horrible, but, in my view, is a waste of an education, in that it actively stifles critical thinking and offers no skills applicable outside a very narrow slice of leftist academia –a slice that, obviously, doesn’t have jobs for every MA it’s allowed to award.

  277. #277 Anonymous
    May 6, 2009

    Kel:
    “Yep, the crusades, inquisition and witchcraft were all for the greater good…”

    Sure, proponents of the crusades, inquisition, civil rights, the abolition movement, Nazism, European rescuers of Jews. the indian independence movement, all felt they where sacrificing their life and limb as well as their families and loved ones for a perceived greater good.

    The Nazi may have found the Eurpean rescuers greater good, to be repulsive but that doesn’t change the fact about how the European percieved their act.

    You may find a particular theist notion of the greater good, and his willingness to sacrifice himself, and his families in subservience to this greater good but that changes nothing.

    Just like me finding PZ Myers endorsing the stealing of Eucharist bread for the sake of him defying it, amidst death threats to other individuals who did so, putting his life, and his families life, not to mention the individual who stole it’s life in danger, to be repulsive, but apparently he believed the act to be a greater good, well worth these sacrifice (initially at least).

    The reason why some atheist are repulsed by meaning of the tale of Abraham and Isaac, and some theist aren’t is for the same reason I’m repulsed by PZ Myers endorsement here, and others aren’t.

  278. #278 bonze
    May 6, 2009

    I followed the links from the O’Hehir review responses and found Eagleton’s review of The God Delusion at The London Review of Books: Terry Eagleton: Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching, if you care to get a taste of his style.

    Apparently according to Eagleton’s rarefied theology–which “huge numbers of believers… hold something like”–God doesn’t even have to exist in order to promote love, love, love, even though “the traumatic truth of human history is a tortured body” and civilization stands guilty of “the horrors that science and technology have wreaked on humanity”. (History is not his strong suit, OK?)

    Truly wretched stuff. PZ does not share with us how many times he reached for the barf bag on his flight; you should be prepared if you opt to read this “review”.

  279. #279 windy
    May 6, 2009

    Oh look, Steve Fuller is trolling the Crooked Timber thread dedicated to the Fish article.

  280. #280 Owlmirror
    May 6, 2009

    Just like me finding PZ Myers endorsing the stealing of Eucharist bread for the sake of him defying it, amidst death threats to other individuals who did so, putting his life, and his families life, not to mention the individual who stole it’s life in danger, to be repulsive, but apparently he believed the act to be a greater good, well worth these sacrifice (initially at least).

    Of course, these “death threats” of which you speak did not come from out of nowhere, but rather, they came directly from those devout theists who believe that killing unbelievers serves “the greater good”.

    See what I mean about moral hypocrisy?

  281. #281 apnea
    May 6, 2009

    @TS

    “There seems to be a tendency among those who don’t know what they’re talking about to call any sort of contemporary critical theory or (non-analytic) philosophy since approx. 1960 “postmodernism”.
    FYI: Very few people in the humanities today would call themselves “postmodernists”. If they did, they would be laughed at (at least in the circles I run with).”

    A perfect mirror of my own experience within the humanities. This Postmodernism meme needs to die.

  282. #282 Kagato
    May 6, 2009
  283. #283 Anonymous
    May 6, 2009

    “Bullshit. You haven’t read one iota of the prominent atheists on this subject. ”

    I’ve read plenty, if you feel there is some really compelling case out there somewhere, you let me know the author and the book, and perhaps I’ll pick it up as well.

    “Why would a god make anyone more likely to do so? Because said unprovable being supposedly divined a book out of very fallible followers thousands of years ago? ”

    I’ve always despised this sort of asking a question to me, than answering it yourself. When did I claim a god makes us more likely to do anything? Or even a divine book? I’d even say that even if the bible were a divine book, or if we all witnessed God himself deliver a stone magically glowing tablet with moral laws to live by, none of us would be any more moral than we are now as a result, at least no more moral than a slave owner who relinquishes his slaves only because he could no longer afford to maintain them, freed them for moral reasons.
    “Are you seriously going to keep peddling that garbage here? ”
    Are you going to continually create your own garbage, and than claim it’s mine?

    “People can feel empathy without a god. It’s quite easy. I do it every day. ”

    I’m sure you do. I don’t doubt your empathy. Just don’t delude yourself into thinking you developed a secular language, and conviction to get others who are not so inclined to be as empathetic to be as empathetic as you.

    I’m sure Ted Turner, is good old empathetic rich dude, but I’d love to see him tell members of a violent street gang: “guys you gotta stop killing each other, you need to love each other more”, and not have himself slapped and robbed.

    When atheist develop a language of moral conviction, the ability to speak of a moral compass, an obligation for men to live by the supremacy of love, can confront human depravity you let me know. When humanist gatherings (that I’ve attended numerous times) became more than pat yourself, cozy morality, and start to resemble the righteous indignation of the social prophets that can confront the immorality of their own people you let me know.

    Only in a religious sort of view of the world can one afford to love a sense of power and endearment, to claim that we should all live for love, even if it means we’d eventually die for it. Only in a religious sort of view of the world can love be claimed as redemptive.

    Now a number of atheist may believe in this superstition themselves, and just be too blind to realize that such beliefs are no less silly than a belief that life has an intelligent design to it.

    The frailty of this myth is more on display when atheist attempt to expound on it, to express it as the will for others, and often times they find themselves mute, incapable of language, or a shore to anchor their beliefs on.

    When you found a compelling way to speak of conviction you let me know, I’d love to here it.

    [quote]You likewise don’t need a god to know murder is evil, theft is wrong, and violence unacceptable in civil society. [/quote]

    As I said previously, the science is out, the correlation between moral reasoning, and pro-active moral behavior is null. I’m sure a number of murders, and thieves believe they were doing wrong, they just weren’t convicted enough not to do it.

    Plenty of people would answer that the right thing to do if someone found a $300 ipod, is to turn it in to the lost and found, but if you lost your ipod don’t expect to find it there. It’s far more difficult to resist the lucrative urge of keeping it when faced with the actual dilemma, than just imagining it. Many people can say to extend love even to our enemies is good principle to live by, just that very few people have the conviction to love their terrorist.

    You may in fact have a sense of empathy that rarely ever faced conditions that tend to make our hearts cold, and hardened. The liberal white tourist visiting bombay for the first time, might find his heart strings moved by the poverty of the children there, that he empties out his pockets to buy them treats, and food, and than travels back home and feels good about himself, may just be you. I don’t doubt that one bit.

    What he might find to be a utter mystery is why it was so easy for him to feel such empathy for these impoverished children, why those doing-well brown skinned folks over there, who live surrounded by impoverished children walk around them immune, and indifferent to their plight; why their cry of hunger goes by as if unheard by the man who just walked by them.

    The best an atheist here on this forum cared to muster in response to such individuals who dominate our world, is that they’re scum bags, but no one yet has produced a response, a cure for this condition.
    “Science is what is saving millions around the world, whether religious groups help spread good will or not. The fact is, science has improved farming and saved millions of lives in ways religion couldn’t even begin to help solve. The same with computers, medical technology, etc. ”

    Another sort of superstituation peddled by atheist, science doesn’t have a will, or arms and hands to do anything. Nor is science like a seat belt, there for the sole purpose of saving lives. People have used scientific advances to save lives, and Hitler has used scientific advances to destroy them. People have used science to feed the hungry, and people have used science to drop the bomb on Hiroshima. People using science have made prettier flowers, and weapons of mass destruction. People have used the internet to donate to charities, Al Queda has used it to recruit, and others have used it to traffic child pornography.

    “As for your friends who have “given in to their indifference”, what you describe sounds more to me like the typical modern day republican free market crusader. ”

    Well, I’ve lived for quite a number of years among both parts of the country, both blue and red. Indifference abounds regardless of what color group one belongs too. My liberal buddies and coworkers in san francisco had no desire to vote, to participate in a war protest, to feed or care for the bums outside of our store doors. They got up in the morning, went to work, partied on the weekends, talked about clothes, and shoes, and TV shows, made fun of what people wore, and the antics of drunk bus people. They have never donated a dime to a charity, volunteered their time to help the less fortunate, nor have they have ever really cared to do so. They lived their lives like a part of the slogan of the Atheist bus campaign goes: “stop worrying about it, and enjoy your life.”

    A friend of mine who was watching a documentary on the holocaust, was shocked to realize that so few people cared, that such a once civilized nation, the epitome of modernism, with world class scientist, by in large could stand in support of Hitler reign of terror. That the spirit of European rescuers of the Jews, was a rarity.

    And as the haunting claim of holocaust survivors goes, “the world watched in silence”.

    “I and others here have said it before and will continue to shout it from the roof tops: We don’t need your god to do good in the world. We can do so regardless. Why can’t you?”

    Well, my friend you can shout this all you want. I don’t doubt for a minute that you’re good without god. Just don’t peddle me your delusions that we’d all be good without god, or by the power of reason and inquiry, by star gazing, we’d all be good.

    “In the modern context, religion is losing its relevance because people are figuring out that religion, with all its commandments, prognostications, admonitions about heaven and hell, and non-progressivism, can’t stop anybody from doing anything.”

    Well it’s time you figure out that atheistic views fail as well, secular humanism is no less of a failure than religion.

  284. #284 Steve Jeffers
    May 6, 2009

    ‘Because it’s solipsistic pseudo-in…lowed to award.’

    … and if you go onto FSTDT, you’ll find a whole bunch of creationists saying exactly the same thing about ‘the scientific community’. And they’re wrong, too.

    ‘Postmodernism’ is the description of something we’re in the middle of right at the moment, and as such we can point at characteristics of it but it’s a work in progress. There are better, more workable, lessy buggy definitions of ‘postmodern’ than there are of, for example, ‘consciousness’ or ‘intelligence’ or even ‘life’.

    It is, definitely, better at describing art than most science. The best definition of postmodern is probably ‘like The Simpsons’. Self aware, intertextual, surprisingly smart, playful.

  285. #285 hithesh
    May 6, 2009

    Owlmirror | May 6, 2009
    “Of course, these “death threats” of which you speak did not come from out of nowhere, but rather, they came directly from those devout theists who believe that killing unbelievers serves “the greater good”.
    See what I mean about moral hypocrisy?”

    Well, I doubt those individuals making death threats, perceived that if their actions as serving a greater good or doing God’s will, anymore so than me claiming you’re a fucking idiot is, or me slapping you because you offended my mother, would be.

    The eucharist is a symbol in remembrance of the life and death of a beloved religious figure, the reason why people are offended and disgusted by someone who would steal the bread or wine used in the ceremony for the purpose of desecration, is no different that if every year of my mother’s death we brought flowers to her tomb, in dedication to her memory, and someone had stole them for the purpose of flushing them down the toilet, to desecrate her remembrance. If you did that to me (the desecration of the flowers), you’d just be begging to get your teeth punched in, and I have no need to rationalize this as a pursuit of a greater good, my offended nature would care little if your busted teeth were for a greater good or not.

    I’d punch you, for the same reason if you slapped a bear he’d claw you to death.

  286. #286 Kagato
    May 6, 2009

    When did I claim a god makes us more likely to do anything? Or even a divine book? I’d even say that even if the bible were a divine book, or if we all witnessed God himself deliver a stone magically glowing tablet with moral laws to live by, none of us would be any more moral than we are now as a result

    So you don’t think religion makes people more moral.
    And then you say

    When atheist develop a language of moral conviction, the ability to speak of a moral compass, an obligation for men to live by the supremacy of love, can confront human depravity you let me know. [...] Only in a religious sort of view of the world can one afford to love a sense of power and endearment, to claim that we should all live for love, even if it means we’d eventually die for it. Only in a religious sort of view of the world can love be claimed as redemptive.

    So you think only religion makes people more moral?
    Come on man, make a point and stick to it!

    I’m sure a number of murders, and thieves believe they were doing wrong, they just weren’t convicted enough not to do it.

    And are you expecting a higher percentage of atheist criminals than criminals with faith? I think you’ll find the stats are either on par with the general population, or even skewed more toward the religious. Again, what’s your long-winded point?

    I don’t doubt for a minute that you’re good without god. Just don’t peddle me your delusions that we’d all be good without god, or by the power of reason and inquiry, by star gazing, we’d all be good.

    Wrong idea. Someone can be good without god, but of course that doesn’t mean they will be.

    But the other side of the issue is important: believing in god doesn’t automatically make someone good either, and it’s dangerous to think that it does.

    If religion was false, but reliably made otherwise amoral or immoral people behave morally, it would at least be serving a useful purpose to society. But it doesn’t even do that.

  287. #287 minimalist
    May 6, 2009

    I apologize if we all don’t live cozy suburban lives like that of PZ and Dawkins, I apologize if our circumstances yield with it situations that harden us, that we sometimes exposed to the cruel, and the dark, and don’t resemble your perpetual walk in disney land.

    Hahahah! I love it when fatheads on the internet (let me emphasize: on the internet) pull the ‘my life is darkity dark dark pain and darkness and suffering, u kan’t possibly understand’. Makes me want to send them to bed without dinner and Myspace access.

    Kid, it’s not the end of the world just because girls won’t sleep with you. I promise.

  288. #288 Dan L.
    May 6, 2009

    MattB242, TS:

    Thank you, your posts were very helpful. Inasmuch as postmodernism is an ongoing critique of social theories and the humanities, I have no problem with it. It’s almost just an obvious fact of social sciences in a way, like Goedel applied to the meanings of words.

    But I think there is a risk of losing sight of the fact that the sciences are studying something that is independent of the subjectivity of language. Although science must be performed within a cultural context, the object of study is not a part of that cultural context. (Similar principles apply in mathematics, but then again, mathematics has Goedel.) Because of this, I think the sciences do actually have a special relationship to truth claims, and in that light they constitute truly privileged viewpoints.

    The case of history is somewhat more complicated, but I agree with Orwell that historical relativism, as much as it is inevitable to a certain extent, is something to be fought with a passion.

    Though TS, I’m not sure that those are questions that the sciences cannot ask or answer. Have you read Consilience by E.O. Wilson?

  289. #289 Owlmirror
    May 6, 2009

    Only in a religious sort of view of the world can one afford to love a sense of power and endearment, to claim that we should all live for love, even if it means we’d eventually die for it. Only in a religious sort of view of the world can love be claimed as redemptive.

    Because in the real world, it isn’t.

    Part of the problem is that Jesus did not just say “love love love”. He said lots of things, including the bit about hating your family and your own life, and bringing the sword. The Christians religions have not emphasized “love love love”; they claim that they know the truth, and others don’t, and the ones that don’t are hated by God and will burn forever in hell.

    Another sort of superstituation peddled by atheist, science doesn’t have a will, or arms and hands to do anything. Nor is science like a seat belt, there for the sole purpose of saving lives. People have used scientific advances to save lives, and Hitler has used scientific advances to destroy them. People have used science to feed the hungry, and people have used science to drop the bomb on Hiroshima. People using science have made prettier flowers, and weapons of mass destruction. People have used the internet to donate to charities, Al Queda has used it to recruit, and others have used it to traffic child pornography.

    And each cruelty and evil has been claimed to have been done in the service of “the greater good”. Nazi Germany was Christian. Al Qaeda are devout believers. Science was the method, but hatred was the motivation.

    Well, I doubt those individuals making death threats, perceived that if their actions as serving a greater good or doing God’s will, anymore so than me claiming you’re a fucking idiot is, or me slapping you because you offended my mother, would be.

    If it’s not in the service of a greater good, or is not God’s will, then why do it at all? Spite? Pure malevolence? Do you have a sadistic streak?

    The eucharist is a symbol in remembrance of the life and death of a beloved religious figure, the reason why people are offended and disgusted by someone who would steal the bread or wine used in the ceremony for the purpose of desecration, is no different that if every year of my mother’s death we brought flowers to her tomb, in dedication to her memory, and someone had stole them for the purpose of flushing them down the toilet, to desecrate her remembrance.

    Your analogy fails. The eucharist is not something bought and placed somewhere significant; it’s something almost entirely worthless that is given away and is destroyed anyway by being eaten.

    And Jesus isn’t like your mother. You have never met Jesus. You have never spoken to Jesus. Jesus has never spoken to you. Jesus is completely imaginary.

    If you did that to me (the desecration of the flowers), you’d just be begging to get your teeth punched in, and I have no need to rationalize this as a pursuit of a greater good, my offended nature would care little if your busted teeth were for a greater good or not.

    I’d punch you, for the same reason if you slapped a bear he’d claw you to death.

    So the Christian religion makes you no different from an animal acting on impulse. Got it. Yeah, that’s a real advanced, love-based ideology you have there.

  290. #290 PZ Myers
    May 6, 2009

    cozy suburban lives like that of PZ

    Ah, those simplistic generalizations. Yes, I’m comfortably lower middle class right now. But I grew up in poverty: family of six kids, father with only a high school education who made a living pumping gas or doing janitorial work or reading gas meters, and who had his first heart attack when I was just out of high school. It was a good life because it was a happy family, but it was also one where I had to earn scholarships and work my way through college, or I would have been set up as a refrigerator repairman, at best.

    So please don’t just lump me in with your imaginary set of unchallenged suburbanites who don’t know what it’s like to have to struggle. And also don’t assume that all suburbanites are as shallow as you are. There are good people of every class, and the sneering at the middle class is inappropriate and ugly.

  291. #291 minimalist
    May 6, 2009

    Owlmirror:

    So the Christian religion makes you no different from an animal acting on impulse. Got it. Yeah, that’s a real advanced, love-based ideology you have there.

    What do you expect from a guy who justifies the Abraham/Isaac story with, essentially, “might makes right”?

    The guy’s already ceded any ability to make informed moral judgments for himself — bloodthirsty god demands sacrifice for no reason, therefore it must be good — and sees any attempt to question the real-world utility of that ‘sacrifice’ as being evidence of our stunted inability to see the eternal beauty and truth of unquestioningly following the nonseniscal commands of a bronze age mountain-god.

  292. #292 Patricia, OM
    May 6, 2009

    Thanks for posting that PZ! It makes us poor farmers feel better.

  293. #293 RamblinDude
    May 6, 2009

    Hithesh,
    Man, you are all over the place. And your comments drip with self-pity. You come across like an old drunk curmudgeon who?s fucked up his life and is not honest enough to admit it. Looking around for someone to blame, you can?t decide whether to escape whole-hog into religion or not, and it?s plain you?re looking for an excuse to pick a fight and bust someone?s teeth out. Really, that?s how you come across and it?s faintly disgusting. I tell you this as one human being to another. Do what you want with it.

  294. #294 Anonymous
    May 7, 2009

    PZ Myers: “So please don’t just lump me in with your imaginary set of unchallenged suburbanites who don’t know what it’s like to have to struggle. And also don’t assume that all suburbanites are as shallow as you are.”

    I lump you by the shallow basis of your words and ideas alone. You sure may know a lot about biology, but you seem clueless when it comes to reflecting on the human condition, particularly when you claimed as an aspiring image: “a child staring in wonder at the stars.” That’s a glass house sort of reflection if I have ever heard one.

    I have no doubt that you’re moved by this image, as a stamp collector is moved by the site of a very rare stamp, but don’t peddle the delusion that we’re all touched by this image the same, or believe that star gazing says much about the human condition at all. Not all of us have the privilege to look under a microscope and feel hopeful.

    As I have said often before, that even if I was a disbeliever, it would be a cross haunted world, that the signifier of the human condition would be a godless roman cross, the murder of hopes and ambitions, and the driver of despair and indifference.

    I grew up watching a woman in a miserable situations, that peered from outside was utterly hopeless, and meaningless. She had a loving community, family, social organizations willing to help her, but they all knew they were empty handed when it came to solutions. It was easy to gaze upon her life and disbelieve, as it would have been for those early followers of Jesus gazing at his mutilated corpse. It’s been the source of my disbelief from an early age well into adulthood. Her only source of hope was her identification with the narrative of the Gospels, the image of Christ crucified and risen.

    I knew this in my years of disbelief, as I know it now as a believer, that her hope was an empowering influence on her life. It allowed her to get up in morning not suffocated by her sorrows, but with joy. That those who loved her were in far more agony of her condition than she ever was. She greeted the day with a belief in an impossible promise. She believed in a God of purpose and meaning, that she wept her heart to at night. It was her moment of reflection.

    And the silence that greeted those prayers led me to disbelief.

    What I didn’t realize than, that I realize now, is that she always had her answer, as she woke up from those nights with joy, as she made her children breakfast, and sat us down for family prayer, and greeted us with love. She smiled those morning in a way, that I didn’t understand than, but I understood now–”weeping may endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning”.

    The reason why the image of christ crucified is a signifier for people in conditions not much different than hers or mine, is that it resonates with us deeply, as being profoundly relatable. And that great mystery of what happened a few mornings afterwords, that didn’t allow despair to triumph as it should have, by that vivid experience of hope, as real as touching wounded flesh, is how she also greets the day with joy. If they could look upon the face of a tortured innocent and hope, so could she.

    If you feel that a more aspiring signifier for her would be little Paul staring at the stars, I don’t know what else to call you, but shallow.

  295. #295 hithesh
    May 7, 2009

    PZ Myers: “So please don’t just lump me in with your imaginary set of unchallenged suburbanites who don’t know what it’s like to have to struggle. And also don’t assume that all suburbanites are as shallow as you are.”

    I lump you by the shallow basis of your words and ideas alone. You sure may know a lot about biology, but you seem clueless when it comes to reflecting on the human condition, particularly when you claimed as an aspiring image: “a child staring in wonder at the stars.” That’s a glass house sort of reflection if I have ever heard one.

    I have no doubt that you’re moved by this image, as a stamp collector is moved by the site of a very rare stamp, but don’t peddle the delusion that we’re all touched by this image the same, or believe that star gazing says much about the human condition at all. Not all of us have the privilege to look under a microscope and feel hopeful.

    As I have said often before, that even if I was a disbeliever, it would be a cross haunted world, that the signifier of the human condition would be a godless roman cross, the murder of hopes and ambitions, and the driver of despair and indifference.

    I grew up watching a woman in a miserable situations, that peered from outside was utterly hopeless, and meaningless. She had a loving community, family, social organizations willing to help her, but they all knew they were empty handed when it came to solutions. It was easy to gaze upon her life and disbelieve, as it would have been for those early followers of Jesus gazing at his mutilated corpse. It’s been the source of my disbelief from an early age well into adulthood. Her only source of hope was her identification with the narrative of the Gospels, the image of Christ crucified and risen.

    I knew this in my years of disbelief, as I know it now as a believer, that her hope was an empowering influence on her life. It allowed her to get up in morning not suffocated by her sorrows, but with joy. That those who loved her were in far more agony of her condition than she ever was. She greeted the day with a belief in an impossible promise. She believed in a God of purpose and meaning, that she wept her heart to at night. It was her moment of reflection.

    And the silence that greeted those prayers led me to disbelief.

    What I didn’t realize than, that I realize now, is that she always had her answer, as she woke up from those nights with joy, as she made her children breakfast, and sat us down for family prayer, and greeted us with love. She smiled those morning in a way, that I didn’t understand than, but I understood now–”weeping may endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning”.

    The reason why the image of christ crucified is a signifier for people in conditions not much different than hers or mine, is that it resonates with us deeply, as being profoundly relatable. And that great mystery of what happened a few mornings afterwords, that didn’t allow despair to triumph as it should have, by that vivid experience of hope, as real as touching wounded flesh, is how she also greets the day with joy. If they could look upon the face of a tortured innocent and hope, so could she.

    If you feel that a more aspiring signifier for her would be little Paul staring at the stars, I don’t know what else to call you, but shallow.

  296. #296 hithesh
    May 7, 2009

    “Your analogy fails. The eucharist is not something bought and placed somewhere significant; it’s something almost entirely worthless that is given away and is destroyed anyway by being eaten.”

    Yes, imagine the defense of the guy who desecrated the flowers for my mother’s tomb. “They’re just flowers, you can buy 12 of them for a few bucks, or just grow them in your garden for free. Flowers are entirely worthless, they just decompose and fade away with ease.”

    I don’t get why it’s so hard to understand that the “worth” of these flowers, as well as the “worth” of the bread and wine of the eucharist, is not in the objects themselves, but rather in the symbollism associated with them. You can throw bread you buy at the grocery store away, for all shits and giggles, and no one is going to care, taking the bread used in symbollic ceremony for the sake of defiling it, is entirely different.

    Many people won’t take much offense if you decided to burn a flag, as a form of self-expression, now if the flag was from a ceremony dedicated to the remembering of deceased soldiers, it shouldn’t be all that surprising why you’d draw the ire of many.

    “And Jesus isn’t like your mother. You have never met Jesus. You have never spoken to Jesus. Jesus has never spoken to you. Jesus is completely imaginary.”

    Jesus is no less imaginary, than those countless dead soldiers, firefighters, who lives and death moves many of us, even though we’ve never personally met them. He is the central figure of the Christian faith, and the cherished icon of many.

    “So the Christian religion makes you no different from an animal acting on impulse. Got it. Yeah, that’s a real advanced, love-based ideology you have there.”

    Apparently you and you buddies miss the point, the individual I was responding to claimed that some individuals sent out death threats over the eucharist wafer incident, because they percieved killing the individual to be for a greater good.

    My claim is that the reason for his reaction has nothing to do at all with a reflection on doing the greater good, but rather no different than the reason a bear would claw you for slapping him. He is acting as an animal does, on impulse. Just like a father would if I spit on his kids, he’d punch me in the nose without even thinking about it, on impulsive, rather than thinking about if that was the best way to go about it or not.

  297. #297 CJO
    May 7, 2009

    and if you go onto FSTDT, you’ll find a whole bunch of creationists saying exactly the same thing about ‘the scientific community’. And they’re wrong, too.

    That’s pathetically dishonest. Make that argument in detail, referring to what I wrote, and defend the case that the ‘scientific community’ is equally guilty of the charges I made (which no creationist would anyway), like “solipsistic” and relying on “referent-free jargon.”

    ‘Postmodernism’ is the description of something we’re in the middle of right at the moment, and as such we can point at characteristics of it but it’s a work in progress. There are better, more workable, lessy buggy definitions of ‘postmodern’ than there are of, for example, ‘consciousness’ or ‘intelligence’ or even ‘life’.

    Well, no shit. Those exist, in all their natural complexity, and they would without a cadre of academics inventing jargon to sustain an industry of “less buggy” definition-generating. The definitions of those terms can’t just be made up, they have to be able to describe real things.

    It is, definitely, better at describing art than most science. The best definition of postmodern is probably ‘like The Simpsons’. Self aware, intertextual, surprisingly smart, playful.

    To use an old saw, The Simpsons needs postmodern academics just as much as birds need ornithologists.

    I could justifiably apply all those descriptors to The Tempest or Henry V. Their preponderance in contemporary pop culture (and the blending of boundaries between ‘pop’ and ‘high’ culture, for that matter), is a function of an accelerated culture. The arts have always fed upon what had gone before. Contemporary Western society has created such a demand for novel cultural products and a profusion of media vehicles by which to distribute them that the producers have had no choice but to more extensively and inventively mine their predecessors and contemporaries for material. “Self aware” and “intertextual” are just the products of acceleration. “Playful” and “surprisingly smart” have never been out of style.

    So if “accelerated culture” is an adequate characterization of what you mean by “postmodern,” then we have no real dispute, and you can lay off trying to tar me with the denialist brush. But if you think that the culture at large needs a clique of academics to “deconstruct” it in self-referential and unapologetically obfuscatory language in order to function, that’s another thing again.

  298. #298 Pteryxx
    May 7, 2009

    “I don’t doubt for a minute that you’re good without god. Just don’t peddle me your delusions that we’d all be good without god, or by the power of reason and inquiry, by star gazing, we’d all be good.”

    Humans are never going to all be good no matter what happens. We have amazing powers to delude ourselves and others that whatever we’re doing is the right thing, or at least that we’re justified in doing the wrong thing. But any religion that claims to know the absolute truth is already invested in justification rather than self-examination. Inquiry may be flawed, but it’s at least more self-correcting than dogmatism.

  299. #299 Owlmirror
    May 7, 2009

    you seem clueless when it comes to reflecting on the human condition, particularly when you claimed as an aspiring image: “a child staring in wonder at the stars.” That’s a glass house sort of reflection if I have ever heard one.

    Says the guy oozing narcissistic bathos and passive-aggressive anger over Christ crucified because his mommy’s religious obsession made her life so much better.

    I grew up watching a woman in a miserable situations, that peered from outside was utterly hopeless, and meaningless. She had a loving community, family, social organizations willing to help her, but they all knew they were empty handed when it came to solutions.

    Because…? You can’t really expect people to feel any pity for her — or rather, for you, since self-pity and the maudlin desire to be pitied is what I see in your words and ideas — without knowing the specifics of her situation.

    Her only source of hope was her identification with the narrative of the Gospels, the image of Christ crucified and risen.

    Must have been tough, knowing that not even her children brought her any hope; seeing that all of her time and energy was focused on obsessive religion. It might make a growing child feel left out — especially if said child was prone to self-pity anyway.

    She greeted the day with a belief in an impossible promise. She believed in a God of purpose and meaning, that she wept her heart to at night. It was her moment of reflection.

    Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people.

    The reason why the image of christ crucified is a signifier for people in conditions not much different than hers or mine, is that it resonates with us deeply, as being profoundly relatable. And that great mystery of what happened a few mornings afterwords, that didn’t allow despair to triumph as it should have, by that vivid experience of hope, as real as touching wounded flesh, is how she also greets the day with joy. If they could look upon the face of a tortured innocent and hope, so could she.

    Because that was the particular religion that she was indoctrinated in. If she had obsessed instead over Hera or Thor or Isis, then the words and symbols and ikons of those particular cults would have been what gave her hope.

    If you feel that a more aspiring signifier for her would be little Paul staring at the stars, I don’t know what else to call you, but shallow.

    I realize that you’re an obsessive narcissist with a latent Oedipal complex, but not everyone is as self-absorbed as you are.

    When those who are parents speak of children, they usually have in mind their own children, not themselves as children.

    And someone who would think otherwise is indeed shallow, and projecting that shallowness on others. In this case, it is obvious that you are thinking of your own childhood and its attendant miseries.

    I don’t get why it’s so hard to understand that the “worth” of these flowers, as well as the “worth” of the bread and wine of the eucharist, is not in the objects themselves, but rather in the symbollism associated with them.

    And I don’t get why it’s so hard to understand that a symbol is not worth killing over; not worth committing assault over; not worth threatening to kill or commit assault over.

    Especially when the “symbol” was not grabbed in a big ceremony-disrupting event, but was quietly taken away.

    And it wasn’t a soldier’s flag or a mourner’s flowers. It was a fracking cracker, which was to be destroyed anyway.

    Jesus is no less imaginary, than those countless dead soldiers, firefighters, who lives and death moves many of us, even though we’ve never personally met them.

    The difference being that the dead soldiers and firefighters and police were real human beings, who lived and had families, and then died and stayed dead.

    The Jesus prayed to by his worshipers is a figment of their imaginations.

    He is the central figure of the Christian faith, and the cherished icon of many.

    Which just goes to show that people worship imaginary friends. Whoop-tee-doo.

    My claim is that the reason for his reaction has nothing to do at all with a reflection on doing the greater good, but rather no different than the reason a bear would claw you for slapping him. He is acting as an animal does, on impulse.

    Because Christianity causes people to act like animals.

    Just like a father would if I spit on his kids, he’d punch me in the nose without even thinking about it, on impulsive, rather than thinking about if that was the best way to go about it or not.

    Except that that analogy fails as well. There was no spitting anywhere near kids. There were no kids.

  300. #300 Kagato
    May 7, 2009

    taking the bread used in symbollic ceremony for the sake of defiling it, is entirely different.

    Many people won’t take much offense if you decided to burn a flag, as a form of self-expression, now if the flag was from a ceremony dedicated to the remembering of deceased soldiers, it shouldn’t be all that surprising why you’d draw the ire of many.

    You see flag-burning as a valid form of self-expression, and you don’t see where your argument fails?

    All national flags are symbolic of the nation they represent.

    The issue isn’t comparable to burning a specific ceremonial flag with its own attached meaning, just as the student from the Crackergate saga didn’t steal some special ceremonial bread loaf from the alter of a church. He was given one of millions of wafers offered daily, intended for immediate destruction (eating it), and failed to destroy it on the spot.

    If you want a mangled flag analogy to that situation, it would be something like this:

    * Flag-burning, while not exactly polite, is acceptable expression.

    * All national flags in the country are essentially identical. They pass through one of two warehouses during distribution.

    * Flags from Warehouse A are treated like any other product, loaded in crates, thrown about, and sold to the public. You can fly them from poles, hang them on walls, wear them like capes or yes, even burn them.

    * Flags from Warehouse B are considered sacrosanct and must be taken as folded directly to the nearest flagpole and flown full mast immediately. Any other activity is met with righteous outrage.

    * If you’ve got a flag in your hands, it is impossible to tell which warehouse it came from.

    * A student knowingly takes a freely-offered B flag, and keeps it in its packaging over the weekend.

    * Student receives demands for expulsion and death threats.

  301. #301 jo5ef
    May 7, 2009

    Well it looks like Hitesh has well and truly hijacked this thread (wow, what an asshole! still I guess life must be hard when you have no friends except for imaginary ones) but I thought I’d add that I thought this was a really great post, I laughed, I cried etc. I agree with those who said PZ should write a book, although i suspect such a prolific blogger probably has something in the pipeline already. On the pomo stuff, I thought TS at #273 summed it up well. I must say i’m very suspicious of pomo writing – trying to understand it is like trying to nail jello to the wall, I don’t bother anymore -life’s too short. But I think or hope we have moved on since Snow’s Two Cultures and many of us can enjoy discuss both art and science articulately without resorting to the kind of purposely vague language which appears designed to conceal the users lack of intellectual depth (not naming names, you know who you are).
    As I stated on the Dawkins thread, I wonder if it would be possible to get a yes or no answer out of Eagleton to this simple question: “do you really believe that your consciousness will survive death?”

  302. #302 Knockgoats
    May 7, 2009

    “It [Sokal/Bricmont in Social Text] was deliberately obfuscatory, and the editors couldn’t tell.” – CJO@269

    Now there I think you’re being unfair: I’m sure they could tell, and it was the high quality of deliberate obfuscation that led them to publish ;-)

  303. #303 Knockgoats
    May 7, 2009

    apnea@270,
    This is just bilge. “Conservatism” and “liberalism” no more have precise, agreed definitions than “postmodernism”, yet in all three cases, there are quite clear, central examples of the phenomenon. In the case of postmodernism, these are the effusions of such as Baudrillard, Lyotard, Lacan and Irigary.

    I have not seen anyone dismiss whole fields of enquiry such as literary criticism – if anyone has, I disagree with them strongly.

  304. #304 Knockgoats
    May 7, 2009

    “The best an atheist here on this forum cared to muster in response to such individuals who dominate our world, is that they’re scum bags, but no one yet has produced a response, a cure for this condition.” – hithesh the unbelievably smug

    Actually I called you and your friends scumbags, based on your own account of what you take to be human nature – I assumed you were unwisely generalising from those you are most familiar with. The “cure” is a combination of science and collective political action – not sitting around burbling about redemption by a supposed “loving God” who supposedly created the human beings who you consider so selfish and callous; and who does fuck-all to reduce oppression and suffering.

  305. #305 TS
    May 7, 2009

    @CJO: Seems to me that the comparison of the way that “anti-postmodernists” (cringe) and creationists argue was simply that both imagine that broad fields of knowledge which they know little about (“the scientific community” and “the humanities”) are dominated by a cabal of insiders spouting meaningless nonsense that is incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t drank the kool-aid, who maintain a strict consensus of opinion and “expell” those who think differently. Sorry, not true in the humanities, not true in science.

    “Postmodernism” just simply does not exist in the way that some here imagine it does. Just like “Darwinism” does not exist in the way that “expelled” imagines (actually, to a much greater degree).
    @Knockgoats: For example, the thinkers you claim as examples of postmodern bilge are very far apart from each other. Baudrillard (to my knowledge) has never used the word postmodern, but is the one who could most accurately be described as “postmodern”. He started out as a critic of advanced capitalism then became increasingly fascinated by the meaning/experience of living in a media/image dominated culture.
    Lyotard, I know little about, but he actually wrote a text on the “postmodern”. It simply argues that all “grand narratives” of Progress that promised an inexorable march toward a utopia, such as Marxism, (not small p technical/scientific progress or certain forms of social progress, but the Idea of Progress) were no longer tenable. A view many would agree with.
    Lacan is simply a Freudian psychoanalyst who started in the 1930s, who has nothing to do with “postmodernism”. His major project is to analyze the unconscious as a language, inspired by Saussure’s structural linguistics. Think what you will of him, but he’s not postmodern except in the most general terms (after the “modern” Freud).
    Irigaray is a feminist who thinks that western philosophy is founded on an exclusion of the feminine. Think what you will, not postmodern.
    All these thinkers are alternately debated, ignored, despised, analyzed, critiqued, or respected. There is no consensus between them or about them. There is actually very little in common between them other than their nationality (French) and the fact that they are 20th century philosophers.

    Now if you want a clear discussion of what “postmodernism” actually is, then SIMPLY PICK UP A BOOK ABOUT IT. There is no shortage, some are of a higher quality than others. I mentioned Fredric Jameson in a previous post. His texts on postmodernism give many concrete examples and lucid discussions. No one is demanding that you agree with anything, but simply refusing to learn about it and shaking your head at the “effusions” is ignorant.

  306. #306 Watchman
    May 7, 2009

    Only in a religious sort of view of the world can one afford to love a sense of power and endearment, to claim that we should all live for love, even if it means we’d eventually die for it. Only in a religious sort of view of the world can love be claimed as redemptive.

    What a lovely bowlful of hot, steaming tripe that is!

  307. #307 hithesh
    May 7, 2009

    “The “cure” is a combination of science and collective political action”

    Really? Is this the faith you’re peddling? that the cure for human indifference is science and collective political action? The nazis used science and collective political action for the sake of the “disease” not the “cure”.

    And secondly, what you meant to say is the cure is “collective political action that uses scientific advances “. But this really doesn’t say anything at all. What sort of political action? what sort of science is to be used? How would these things convince individuals to be more empathetic, to turn away from their indifference?

    You gave me an empty response, vaguer than Tom Cruise claiming scientology is the cure.

  308. #308 Anonymous
    May 7, 2009

    Yawn, hithesh is a boring idiot. He’s just being a troll for the need to troll.

  309. #309 AJ Milne
    May 7, 2009

    I think, Hithesh, again, not that you have utterly no clue about those you criticize again, but more that you wish not to.

    Nontheless, for emphasis: to live in hope in the face of apparent hopelessness is no unique badge of the Christian specifically nor of the believer in general. How one mother understands or understood suffering and difficulty and her own weary determination to go on despite it, and to love life as best as she could despite it–even because of it–however noble that determination might may have been does not change this.

    Indeed, the unbeliever will go on knowing they must die, and they must rot, and it will make this life only that much more precious. And they will see tragedy and they will see death, and they will know agony, and they will know despair. With no imaginary friend’s hand to hold through it, they may find real ones. Failing this, many will manage to go on nonetheless.

    And when they choose despite this to face it in whatever hope they can muster, to choose despite this even to look to the stars, and whatever else they may do, still hold to that credo: know what is… whether or not you expect to find it especially comforting…

    That would have a certain nobility, too, Hithesh.

    And one, I have to say, you clearly lack the strength to match.

    As to your ongoing whines that no one has given you a clear answer as to what to do, how to make things better, I regret I can say only this: welcome to the real world. There are few simple creeds here, few simple answers, no mythical saviours to pin your hopes upon, very little that is terribly clear or easy or obvious, despite your tedious attempts to equate criticism of your own unreason with unreasoned faith. What you have been told is simply: stop fooling yourself, stop peddling this lie. Work it out yourself, live in this world, you might have a shot. That’s the best anyone’s going to offer you.

    I know. It may not seem like much after ‘I come to forgive you your sins’, nor after vague and glowing offers of beatific and transcendent comfort and eternal life, no…

    But it does have the advantage of actually being decent advice. Which may just get you somewhere. If you’re lukcy. And if you take it.

  310. #310 apnea
    May 7, 2009

    Knockgoats:

    You tell me Postmodernism has some clear examples, and then proceed in listing unrelated theorists in many fields pursuing different, sometimes contradictory thesis.

    My point stands: the ACADEMIC LABEL (as in, a label for categorizing academics) of “Postmodernism” is utterly meaningless and almost exclusively used in a pejorative fashion by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

  311. #311 TS
    May 7, 2009

    I have to add that it’s odd for me to find myself in a position of “defending” postmodernism, a concept that I am very critical of. I’m just annoyed at the lumping together of work by various writers of varying quality who have little in common writing over the course of decades and decades, and then the blind insistence that there is some sort of uniform and unthinking regurgitation of all or some of them in my quarters of the academy with no interest in or responsibility to reality.
    If anyone (and it sounds like this might be the case with some) has experienced a university humanities course with a bad teacher who did simply uncritically regurgitate trendy “theory”, then I am sorry because that is hugely unfortunate. It is also not in any way representative of the important work done by many on the “artsy” side of the campus.

  312. #312 TS
    May 7, 2009

    @Dan L.: Thanks for your comment!
    “Although science must be performed within a cultural context, the object of study is not a part of that cultural context… Because of this, I think the sciences do actually have a special relationship to truth claims, and in that light they constitute truly privileged viewpoints.”
    I wholeheartedly agree.
    And I am very open to the possibility that science may have something to say on some of the questions I listed! I would very much welcome it.
    I have not read Consilience, but after a quick search, it looks interesting and I will check it out. Thanks!
    @apnea, MattB242: Well put all around! At the risk of excessive back-patting, I think that the very fact that we are posting on this forum stands against intellectual chauvinism. Here’s hoping (though most likely in vain) that some people here may be provoked to do a little open-minded empirical research (ie, reading) before rejecting vast (and unrelated) fields of knowledge.

  313. #313 A.J. Lanfranc
    May 7, 2009

    Dr Myers, is any defence of religious belief, of any kind, on any level, ‘blathering pseudoscholarship’ to you? If so, surely you wouldn’t mind people in the humanities referring to anti-theism as a ‘batshit insane grudgewank agenda’? ‘Consciousness-raising’ is not a present that you or Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris or anyone else can give to people by insulting them.

  314. #314 A.J. Lanfranc
    May 7, 2009

    Dr Myers, is any defence of religious belief, of any kind, on any level, ‘blathering pseudoscholarship’ to you? If so, surely you wouldn’t mind people in the humanities referring to anti-theism as a ‘batshit insane grudgewank agenda’? ‘Consciousness-raising’ is not a present that you or Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris or anyone else can give to people by insulting them.

  315. #315 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 7, 2009

    A.J. Lanfranc, since your alleged god is omnipresent and omnipotent, he doesn’t need you to defend him, as he could take care of the problem himself if he wanted to. Maybe the fact that nothing happens to PZ should be taken as a sign god doesn’t exist, or he doesn’t care. Which means you shouldn’t care.

  316. #316 Knockgoats
    May 7, 2009

    TS, apnea,
    I refer you to The American Journal of Psychoanalysis 55:3
    “Postmodernism?feminism and the deconstruction of the feminine: Kristeva and Irigaray”, and to

    “Lyotard and Lacan answering the question: what does Postmodernism want?”
    Tony Myers
    Paragraph Volume 24, Page 84-98 DOI 10.3366/jsp.2001.24.1.84, e-ISSN 0264-8334, Available Online March 2001.

    Google points to many, many other sources categorising both Irigaray and Lacan as postmodernists. IOW, you’re full of it.

  317. #317 Knockgoats
    May 7, 2009

    “The “cure” is a combination of science and collective political action”

    Really? Is this the faith you’re peddling? that the cure for human indifference is science and collective political action? The nazis used science and collective political action for the sake of the “disease” not the “cure”. – hithesh

    No, faith is what you are peddling – belief without or in the teeth of the evidence. Since both science and collective political action have demonstrably brought about immense improvements in the human condition, my belief that they can do so is not faith. Of course, they can be used to bad ends as well as good. I should have added: loving, non-violent, anti-authoritarian child-rearing, which produces adults who are not dominated by hate and fear as you so clearly are. Such adults will use science and collective political action for good ends.

  318. #318 Knockgoats
    May 7, 2009

    BTW, TS, I studied English literature and history (along with maths) at “A-level” (UK equivalent of US High School graduation level), and my BA in developmental psychology included large slices of humanities: literary criticism, cultural studies, history, linguistics and philosophy. I do not reject or denigrate any of these fields; I do reject and despise the deliberate obscurantism and pseudo-intellectual wankery shown by the postmodernists I cited.

  319. #319 James Sweet
    May 7, 2009

    You know, this whole “Ditchkins” portmanteau is growing on me. Sometimes I want to refer to “the New Atheist movement”, but first of all it’s long to say, and second of all some of the most prominent members don’t like the term. Sometimes I just say “Dawkins and Hitchens and all o’ them”, but that’s ridiculously verbose. “Ditchkins” is great!

    OMFG, I just had an awesome idea… we all cringe at this whole “Brights” crap, right? But I still ike the idea of a word that we can “take back” and make our own, and wear as a badge of pride… well there it is right there! I am a proud member of the Ditchkins movement. I consider myself a “Ditchkin”. Or “Ditchkinite”? heh, nah, don’t like the -ite, it implies worship.

    heh… anybody else like this idea?

  320. #320 Kagato
    May 7, 2009

    Maybe we are all ditch-kin, brothers in the trenches, the proverbial atheists in foxholes that aren’t supposed to exist. We Should Not Be.

    Or, you know, whatever.

  321. #321 Britomart
    May 7, 2009

    I thought hithesh promised us a good debate. So far all we have is whinging, ad hominems, and vague hints at dark tragedy.

    Wheres the debate ?

  322. #322 Ciaphas
    May 7, 2009

    The one interesting thing about hithesh is that, despite all his protestations to being the downtrodden, he uses the arguments of the powerful; It doesn’t matter if any of religion is true, it gives those people hope and it keeps them in line.

    That’s what’s so great about the internet. Want to go from a socially akward suburban teen to a streewise kid struggling to survive? Just log in.

  323. #323 Kseniya
    May 7, 2009

    “We are all of us ditch-kin, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

  324. #324 Owlmirror
    May 7, 2009

    O, ??????. You’re so wilde at heart.

  325. #325 ??????
    May 8, 2009

    ??! ? ?????????? ?????.

  326. #326 Sven DiMilo
    May 8, 2009
  327. #327 Kseniya
    May 8, 2009
  328. #328 Sven DiMilo
    May 8, 2009

    uh…

    *Two enthusiastic thumbs way, way up!!!!*

  329. #329 Kagato
    May 8, 2009

  330. #330 Kseniya
    May 8, 2009

    Posted by: Kagato | May 8, 2009 12:44 AM

    LOL! I am filled with hope, awe, and joy!

  331. #331 Knockgoats
    May 8, 2009

    “You know, this whole “Ditchkins” portmanteau is growing on me…
    anyone else like the idea?” – James Sweet

    No, I’m not willing to be associated with that drink-sodden warmonger and neocon stooge Hitchens to that extent.

  332. #332 Rorschach
    May 8, 2009

    No, I’m not willing to be associated with that drink-sodden warmonger and neocon stooge Hitchens to that extent.

    Ad hominem !!!!!
    SF,come here and learn something !!

    Knockgoats,that wasnt your finest argueing moment…..What you call his “warmongering” seems hardly relevant in a thread about Eagleton talking about his (and Dawkins’)atheism.And the drinking certainly isnt relevant to the quality/credibility of his arguments,nor to anybody else’s.

  333. #333 Anonymous
    May 8, 2009

    Kseniya: “but you playing the tragedy card here is a cheap, low blow. Anyway, it’s a wash. How about this: Try telling a teenage girl whose mother succumbed to cancer, whose most sincere and desperate prayers went unacknowledged and unanswered by an uncaring, non-existent God, to seek solace in the Lord, or to look to a dead guy nailed to a tree for comfort.”

    Let’s see the difference between PZ Meyers and myself, I don’t claim that Jesus Christ, like the image of the boy staring at the stars, is a touching image for you, for all, I claim it is for me. I don’t tell the girl whose suffered a lot in life, to look up to the clouds for comfort, or give her some cheap sort of hallmark card slogan, I don’t tell her that her suffering is for a purpose and reason, or that it’s not anything to despair over, even if I still have hope in mine.

    When they look to me and ask me why would God allow this to happen to them? I say nothing at all, because it’s not my question to answer. Many people, look at my mother and find encouragement and hope while facing their own trails, not because she tells them words of comfort, but they are moved by her own life, and joy. And when she sees someone suffers she shows her love, and willingness to carry some of the burden for them.

    The Gospel narrative, the despair driven death of Christ, and the community that was still able to hope, to not confess a life of meaningless, but a life bathed in love, and empowered by it, is relatable to my mother and countless other, not because of detached words of comfort, but by the empowerment of their experience. What’s moving to them is to able to look upon the cross and hope, not an image of little Paul staring at the stars.

  334. #334 Rorschach
    May 8, 2009

    “Anonymous” @ 333,

    please delurk or get the fuck out,this is really starting to piss me off.

    When they look to me and ask me why would God allow this to happen to them? I say nothing at all, because it’s not my question to answer

    You’d have a rather hard and uncomfortable time trying to answer it too,I reckon.
    How useful you can chicken out by declaring it’s not your business.Anonymous.

  335. #335 Kel
    May 8, 2009

    The Gospel narrative, the despair driven death of Christ, and the community that was still able to hope, to not confess a life of meaningless, but a life bathed in love, and empowered by it

    You can have a meaningful life based in love without the gospels

  336. #336 Knockgoats
    May 8, 2009

    “Let’s see the difference between PZ Meyers and myself” – hithesh

    Who is this PZ Meyers of whom you speak, moron?

  337. #337 Knockgoats
    May 8, 2009

    Rorshach@332,
    You’re missing the point; I was not dismissing any argument of Hitchens’, hence, no ad hominem could possibly be involved). Simply, if I’m going to adopt part of someone’s name as a label, it’s going to be someone I respect – not a drink-sodden warmonger and neocon stooge, however sound his arguments on religion.

  338. #338 Rorschach
    May 8, 2009

    Nick,
    you’re doing it again!!

    His drinking or his opinion on the Iraq war should have no bearing whatsoever on his views (or perceived views) on atheism.

  339. #339 Knockgoats
    May 8, 2009

    Rorschach,
    How many times do I need to repeat this blindingly obvious point? I’m not saying anything about his views on atheism. I am saying I am not willing to adopt part of his name as a label – which was the proposal made – because he’s a drink-sodden warmonger and neocon stooge. That’s it.

  340. #340 windy
    May 8, 2009

    No, I’m not willing to be associated with that drink-sodden warmonger and neocon stooge Hitchens to that extent.

    I’d rather be a Dennekins than a Hitchris.

  341. #341 James Sweet
    May 8, 2009

    @Knockgoats: heh, fair point. Actually, in a way I am kind of glad that Hitchens views are goddamn insane on pretty much everything *except* religion. It helps me, at least, to avoid falling into the “cult of personality” trap. Since I know at least some of what Hitchens says is politically extremist claptrap, it reminds me to think critically about the other stuff he says, even the stuff I want to hear.

  342. #342 Matt Heath
    May 8, 2009

    I’d rather be a Dennekins than a Hitchris.
    Win! For me this is exactly how the “4 Horsemen” split. Two distinguished old profs speaking softly and seriously about free inquiry and non-dogmatism, and two belligerent blowhards, treating rationalism and Enlightenment as their current “team to cheer for” (after Troskyism and new-ageyness didn’t work out for them).

  343. #343 Watchman
    May 8, 2009

    pseudo-anonymous hithesh insists:

    What’s moving to them is to able to look upon the cross and hope, not an image of little Paul staring at the stars.

    Hithesh insists that he speaks only for himself, and then proceeds to put words in every else’s mouth. He persists in willfully misunderstanding virtually everything everyone says and in misrepresenting not only the intent of PZ’s stargazing image, but the actual words. Hithesh is a dishonest troll who excels at sophistry.

    Hithesh, please point out where PZ said that the stargazing image was inspiring to “all”. What did PZ actually say? Do you even know? Can you bring yourself to admit that you’ve intentionally misrepresented the intent of his words from your very first drama-queen-worthy comment? Why not try addressing what he actually wrote, instead of the strawman version you’ve been hacking away at for several days now?

    Question to long-term Pharyngulites: Who was the guy who constantly obsessed about “Little Paul”? Was is the banned troll known as Jason aka Jinx?

    I say nothing at all

    If only that were true. Dearest God in Heaven, please make it so.

  344. #344 Drosera
    May 8, 2009

    There is a very simple reason why people like Eagleton don’t write more clearly. If they did it would be too obvious that they can only spout gibberish. It makes me so sad to think that there actually exist human beings who honestly think that Eagleton is worth reading and even witty. Ditchkins indeed. Your jokes can’t get more lame than that.

  345. #345 Watchman
    May 8, 2009

    PZ wrote:

    it’s a symbol that touches us all

    Ok, that’ll teach me to go off on a rant without checking my sources! I’ve just renewed my membership in the Idiot Club.

    However, the full statement is this:

    it’s a symbol that touches us all as much as that of a representation of our final end

    The truth of this statement is hard to pin down. The “as much as” qualifier is the key. Do we have any numbers on this? Hithesh, can you disprove PZ’s assertion? Is the number of people who are inspired by an image of death greater than the number of people who are (and may also be) inspired by an image of a child’s wonder at the vastness of the universe and his place in it?

  346. #346 Gerry Schulze
    May 8, 2009

    I read this book voluntarily. I reviewed it for some friends, but cross-posted my review to Amazon. http://tinyurl.com/pq92t5

    P.Z. hit the nail on the head. If I’d known he was going to do this, I wouldn’t have bothered. Great job!

  347. #347 JBlilie
    May 8, 2009

    “Eagleton would be the skidmark at my autopsy.”

    PZ: You’re 8 hours in purgatory were worth it*: Just for thart one remark! LMOA!!!!!!!

    (* I know: That’s easy for me to say!)

  348. #348 Knockgoats
    May 8, 2009

    windy,
    Yes, I’d go with Dennekins! I don’t by any means agree with everything either Dennett or Dawkins says, but I’d gladly be associated with either. “Dennekins” sounds rather sweet and cuddly, too!

  349. #349 CJO
    May 8, 2009

    I don’t tell the girl whose suffered a lot in life, to look up to the clouds for comfort, or give her some cheap sort of hallmark card slogan…

    The Gospel narrative, the despair driven death of Christ, and the community that was still able to hope, to not confess a life of meaningless, but a life bathed in love, and empowered by it

    Yeah, you’re right. That’s too trite and maudlin even for Hallmark.

    Anyway, which Gospel narrative? The degree to which Jesus’s death is “despair driven,” if that even means anything, varies considerably among the accounts. Where is the despair in John?

  350. #350 JBlilie
    May 8, 2009

    I have voluntarily subjected myself to these apologists:

    Lee Strobel: The Case for Christ
    Alister McGrath: Dawkins’ God
    David Marshall: The Truth Behind the New Atheism
    (Also the very aptly named, Mere Christianity)

    The often cited theologian, Alister McGrath, was the worst of the lot. Nothing but bile and nonsense.

    I have vowed never to read another. Your detailed review supports this resolution in full.

    I particularly love the tired charge of: You are criticizing the wrong god/faith. They all make this charge (except the execrable Strobel*) and, naturally, none of them provide the correct god or faith. There’s a reason for this: The god/faith we are criticizing and disbelieving does happen to match theirs quite nicely, inspite of all their hand-waving. I was raised a Christian and I recognized the god I was supposed to believe in when I read TGD, The End of Faith, god is not great, and Breaking the Spell. I’ve also read the entire Bible along with the “holy” books of most of the other religions (I know, don’t even ask — I suppose the same reason PZ finally felt the need to read Eagleton.)

    You would certainly think that, given the excessive repetitions of this charge, that some one, somewhere in one fo the books of nonsense would rise to the challenge! Something like this garbage is about as close as they ever get:

    God for Christian theology is not a mega-manufacturer. He is rather what sustains all things in being by his love, and would still be this even if the world had no beginning.

    Yeah, crystal clear.

    I’d bring in some quotes from the others; but why bother?

    You can check out these if you want more pain:

    http://www.amazon.com/review/R2L9QQFVFRNKYL/ref=cm_cd_pg_pg1?ie=UTF8&cdPage=1

    http://www.amazon.com/review/R1MEYG8DXKV8VR/ref=cm_aya_cmt?ie=UTF8&ASIN=1405125381#wasThisHelpful

    http://www.amazon.com/review/R2XIMB5B1IUN9I/ref=cm_aya_cmt?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0310209307#wasThisHelpful

    (* I used to just think that Strobel was just a buffoon — until I saw him in the 5-on-1 pile-on of nonsense that Hitchens subjected himself to. What a slimy, dishonest ‘tard.)

  351. #351 God
    May 8, 2009
    I say nothing at all

    If only that were true. Dearest God in Heaven, please make it so.

    I’ll Get Right On That.

  352. #352 Watchman
    May 8, 2009

    I’ll Get Right On That.

    Thank You. It is comforting to know how important my petty concerns are to You.

    Now, about this “brain cancer” thing…

  353. #353 Logan
    May 8, 2009

    Next, PZ should see if he can stomach the writings of Slavoj Zizek (atheist, neo-Lacanian, culture critic). There’s a book version of a debate Zizek had with a theologian out now called “The Monstrosity of Christ” which the inside jacket claims “goes far beyond the popularized atheist counterpoint” books of Dawkins, Hitchens, etc.. I’m a little intrigued about Zizek, but I fear he will be a mamby-pamby mumbo-jumbo lit crit type like Eagleton is.

  354. #354 hithesh
    May 9, 2009

    “He persists in willfully misunderstanding virtually everything everyone says and in misrepresenting not only the intent of PZ’s stargazing image, but the actual words.”

    No you keep misunderstanding my use of the image, moron. You can add what the meaning of the image to all I’ve said and nothing changes.

    The image is depiction of the gift of inquiry, based on gazing at supposedly grand universe, and all the wonder it proposes engaging the curiosity of the child. But morons on this forum, keep harping that my use of the image, is cut off from the meaning of it, when it’s not.

    It’s not a touching image for all of us, it may a touching image for little Paul, and his choir here, but don’t be deluded to think it touches all of us the same. Ask a mother who tragically lost her son, if she finds anything relatable or touching about that image at all, and see if she does. See how far little Paul aspiration for that image as signifier of the human condition gets.

    The image of Jesus Christ, as reflection of one’s condition, and a source of one’s hope, is touching for many, far more than the child star gazing. It may not be as touching for you, but I never claimed otherwise.

  355. #355 PZ Myers
    May 9, 2009

    OK, accepted. You don’t find curiosity inspiring, and prefer to wallow in the pathos and sadism of tortured criminals. But then, you’re a pathological nutcase.

    You’re also still missing the point. I’m saying our culture would be better if more people saw virtue in wonder, and less were obsessed with death and an unachievable immortality. You’re making my case for me, because, face it, you’re a kook.

  356. #356 hithesh
    May 9, 2009

    CJO: “Anyway, which Gospel narrative? The degree to which Jesus’s death is “despair driven,” if that even means anything, varies considerably among the accounts. Where is the despair in John?”

    Well, that’s the meaning of the Roman Cross, the murderer of all aspirations, not much different than a noose. The Cross, was a means of the Roman to dominate by despair, driving misery and hopelessness through out those they dominated so they dare not think they’d overcome their oppression. The historical meaning of the cross doesn’t change, regardless of which Gospel account you’re look at.

  357. #357 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 9, 2009

    Ah, we have a real live masochist in the form of hithesh. I find nothing of the christ tale redeeming. God is a thug who would deliberately kill his own son. And you wish to follow such a thug? And think it is inspirational?

    Hithesh, do you have any physical evidence for your imaginary deity? Something like an eternally burning bush, that would pass muster with scientists, magicians, and professional debunkers as being of divine, and not natural, origin? If not, how do you know you aren’t deluded?

  358. #358 'Tis Himself
    May 9, 2009

    The image of Jesus Christ, as reflection of one’s condition, and a source of one’s hope, is touching for many, far more than the child star gazing.

    I’ve never understood how Christ is a source of hope. He died and got resurrected. Big deal, he’s god! He died knowing that he’d be resurrected. The rest of us (excepting Lazarus and the Wandering Jew) don’t have that option. It’s like Manny Ramirez gets more money in a year than I’ll make in my lifetime. Since I can’t hit a baseball as well and as often as Ramirez does, nobody gives me whole bunches of money.

    “Christ died to redeem us from Original Sin.” According to myth a man and woman, over whom I have zero influence, ate an apple and pissed off an omniscient, omnipotent bully who knew beforehand that they’d eat it. How is that MY sin? I’ve got my own peccadilloes to worry about, I’m not concerned with what a mythological couple did because it should have no effect on me.

    But I realize that there are a lot of deluded people who’ve bought into the fable that a criminal being executed a couple of thousand years ago is somehow hope-inducing. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

  359. #359 Walton
    May 9, 2009

    I don’t believe in God, but I do find much inspiration in biblical imagery.

    I particularly love Battle Hymn of the Republic, and African-American spirituals such as Go Down, Moses. The juxtaposition of the struggles of the Biblical narrative and of the struggle against slavery and injustice in the United States is, for me, particularly moving.

    The Battle Hymn will be played at my funeral – not out of any belief in a literal God, but because of its power as a poetic metaphor. Indeed, some Christians (especially in the American South) consider it blasphemy because of its conflation of the Civil War with God’s judgment, especially in lines such as “I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel” (referring to the Union Army’s cannons). And no one literally believes that Christ was born “in the beauty of the lilies”. But I maintain that the Battle Hymn is the single greatest poem ever written, set to one of the greatest tunes ever composed.

  360. #360 hithesh
    May 9, 2009

    PZ Myers: “OK, accepted. You don’t find curiosity inspiring, and prefer to wallow in the pathos and sadism of tortured criminals. ”

    No, I don’t wallow in the sadism of a tortured criminal, like the family who gathers to watch a lynching, or like the amusement of those who watch a horror film. The notion of redemption (which Eagleton did go over in his book) in the Christian Gospels, like parables, is in invitation to reflect on our role in the narrative, who are we in this painting. In the face of murdered innocent, a lynched child, of suffering humanity, are we the weeping mother, those who proclaim their hands are cleaned, friends who abandon them when their own well being is at stake, but profess they won’t when it’s not. Are we those yelling crucify him, or those driving nails into it’s hand, those reeling the noose. Are we more akin to the oppressor, and the crowds who support them, those who turn a blind eye in their indifference, the victim, etc.. The Gospel do not allow you to “other”, but claims all as participants, and to find ourselves in it.

    It’s not a dwelling on the torture, but a conviction by the tragedy.

    Eagleton uses Dionysus and King Pentheus of The Bacche to illustrate this, but I guess this is one of the many points you seemed to have missed, even on your second reading. He also uses Islamic terrorism, and the refusal of nation to reflect and see it’s role in the conditions that led to that, on the years of dubious intervention, and disregard for the arab people, that a nation claims to have his hands clean, even when their cloths are all bloodied up.

    The Civil Rights movement, the struggle for Indian Independence, all worked themselves built on bringing to reflection the role of individuals in their oppression and suffering. This is the image, the notion of redemption, forgiveness, love, the Gospel imagery brings, and something your image of the child and the stars fails to do.

    “You’re also still missing the point. I’m saying our culture would be better if more people saw virtue in wonder.”

    And this is your faith position, that you would like to believe by virtue of what? magic? We could all develop that sort of wonder of that child staring at the stars, but nothing about this wonderment says we’d be made better off. If I had it, I would fail to see how I would be made better off by it?

    In fact I might claim if anything it might be a diversion. Nothing about that image is a cause to reflect on our indifference, or our cruelties, or suffering, nothing about the image screams to make a better world, it can just as well be a way out, a diversion to keep us occupied and numb while the world goes which ever way it does.

    “and less were obsessed with death and an unachievable immortality. ”

    As I’ve already said it’s not an obsession with death, but with redemption, a conviction that brings to surface our guilt, and the empowerment for change. And it’s not an obsession with immorality, but the empowerment of unmurderable hope, no different than Oscar’s Romero’s words not too long before his death” If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people.” It’s hope undeniable, by oppression or despair, not even death, and not barely felt, but as vivid and as real as touching it’s wounded flesh.

    “But then, you’re a pathological nutcase [...]You’re making my case for me, because, face it, you’re a kook.”

    Well, judging you base this on your naive assumption that I was obsessed with torture like those watching modern horror flicks are, I’m not sure how well your case is looking now that you’ve been corrected.

    I might as well say your no different than a kooky Scientologist, by peddling the world would be made better if we learned from the image of a child gazing at the stars.

  361. #361 'Tis Himself
    May 9, 2009

    The Civil Rights movement, the struggle for Indian Independence, all worked themselves built on bringing to reflection the role of individuals in their oppression and suffering. This is the image, the notion of redemption, forgiveness, love, the Gospel imagery brings, and something your image of the child and the stars fails to do.

    It’s interesting that most of the people who fought to deny civil rights were fundamentalist Christians. Apparently redemption didn’t count if your skin wasn’t white. For that matter, it’s a very similar bunch of Christians who want to deny people civil rights because these people go to bed with others of the same gender. Where’s the redemption, forgiveness and love that you Christians have for these people?

  362. #362 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 9, 2009

    Still no physical evidence for his imaginary deity from hithesh. But that is the nature of godbots. They believe without evidence, and expect everybody else to believe like the deluded fools they are. And fail to see the real damage religion has done over the years. That type of selective thinking is not that a true intelligence, but one with blinders on. And they wonder why we mock them?

  363. #363 Ken Cope
    May 9, 2009

    I might as well say your no different than a kooky Scientologist, by peddling the world would be made better if we learned from the image of a child gazing at the stars.

    With an entire universe to contemplate, you would rather my children be subjected from an early age to scenes of barbaric cruelty, and lead them to conclude that they bore personal responsibility for it by their own sinful and evil and irredeemable nature?

    Stay away from my children.

  364. #364 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 9, 2009

    Stay away from my children.

    A better statement would be to stay away from all children. No child needs to be traumatized that way.

  365. #365 Ken Cope
    May 9, 2009

    NorOM, we agree. It’s the difference between short term and long-range goals.

    Oh, and what’s with the swipe against Scientoogy? On what basis other than Lit-Crit can it be determined which insane religion is more kooky than any other? At least the children of Scentologists aren’t subjected to images of clams and DC-3s flying into volcanos, and if they were, they wouldn’t be as traumatized as the children of parents who glorify snuff-porn.

  366. #366 africangenesis
    May 9, 2009

    Hithesh,

    I’ll grant that there was a human drama surrounding the crucifixtion, but being able to empathize with the different circumstances, doesn’t necessitate conviction of some role or inaction in the injustice. But the theology surrounding the crucifixtion detracts from the human pathos. The idea of human sacrifice for forgiveness of sin is disgusting and should be unnecessary for an omnipotent God who could presumably have chose to forgive sin with a snap of his fingers instead. God the father, and Christ as his son, are really making no sacrifice at all. It is a mere passion play, they both know the resurrection is certain, the suffering temporary and on their eternal scale, it is less than 90 seconds of waterboarding. Why do you choose to imbue it with mystery and meaning that isn’t present in the theology?

  367. #367 hithesh
    May 9, 2009

    “Still no physical evidence for his imaginary deity from hithesh. But that is the nature of godbots. They believe without evidence, and expect everybody else to believe like the deluded fools they are. ”

    Well, I don’t know what sort of evidence that you could peer in through a microscope, your expect me to have? I believe in life of inherent sense of meaning and purpose, and this truth is incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. What sort of scientific evidence does one give for meaning? Any more so than I can give you evidence of why I love my mother, and convince you to love her all the same.

    Any other belief of mine, is a condition of possibility, that which makes these beliefs possible.

    I don’t believe in the God you claim to be looking for, one that reveals himself to us in a petree dish, which would be a meaningless sort of God to me. I believe in the God who revealed himself in the “form of a reviled and murdered political criminal”

    “And fail to see the real damage religion has done over the years. That type of selective thinking is not that a true intelligence, but one with blinders on. And they wonder why we mock them?”

    Well, contrary to what you believe, I’m not a spokesperson for all of Christiandom, I speak for myself, and the countless theist such as myself, so I don’t know what sort of blinders I’m suppose to be having on?

    But speaking of those with blinders on, it seems that this a condition more prevalent among the Dawkins brand of atheist than me. Much of what atheist believe religion can and cannot do is not based on actual evidence, scientific studies and analysis on the subject at all, particular when much of their beliefs of what religion can do, is contrary to what these studies show.

    The Dawkins like to peddle the blinders on belief that radical Islam is “fundamentally driven by religious idealogy (as opposed, say material conditions, or political injustice)” Contrary to the research done by those who actually study this phenomenon, such as Robert Pape, Scott Atran, the MI5, and etc…

    So you tell me who lives their life here with blinders on, those who travel head on with the Dawkins belief, or those like me who actually know and understand the scientific research behind it. Don’t accuse me of having blinders on for knowing the difference between the reasons we give for actions, and the underlying motivation for them, that often times have nothing to do with the reasons we give at all.

  368. #368 africangenesis
    May 9, 2009

    PZ,

    There is a double standard here, when I noted my working class origins, I get racist intergenerational stuff about “The Great European Land Grab”

    and

    “There were land and other natural resources stolen from the previous inhabitants. Do you really not see that it is advantageous to belong to a rich, powerful society even if you are not initially rich and powerful yourself? Being born, as you were, to stably-married blue-collar white Americans is being born with a silver spoon in your mouth in global terms – and those terms are the result of colonialism.”

    I’m sure someone would have corrected and convicted you later, but just feared giving any aid and comfort to the “enemy”. Welcome to a life of undeserved privilege and the original sin of being born.

  369. #369 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 9, 2009

    hithesh, your god either exists or doesn’t. If he doesn’t exist, the bible is fiction and the whole of xian theology falls apart. This is where atheists stand.
    If god exists, and he interacts with the world like the bible says, then physical evidence for his existence is available. Show that evidence. Otherwise, you have a philosophical god who doesn’t interact with world, which contradicts the bible bring it into question, and making it a book of fiction until proven other. Also philosophy without evidence is sophistry. So without evidence you have nothing. That is how we scientists separate truth from fiction. And you just acknowledge you believe in fiction. Another name for that is you are deluded.

  370. #370 Anonymous
    May 9, 2009

    Ken Cope: “With an entire universe to contemplate, you would rather my children be subjected from an early age to scenes of barbaric cruelty, and lead them to conclude that they bore personal responsibility for it by their own sinful and evil and irredeemable nature?

    Stay away from my children.”

    No, I don’t want your child to be exposed to any of it, but sadly many children don’t have a choice. Scenes of barbaric cruelty, are inescapable for the child who has witnessed the death of his close friend, his sister, his parent, by the misery of war. You can say to this child look away, and stare at the stars, but his mind will be stuck on the image of misery and death.

    Who does he become now? Who does he perceive as the hero here? Those who wilt with rage, and violent vengeance? The Bin Ladens or the Rev. Kings? Those who call to love even when inclined to hate, or those that call to act on our raging inclinations. I would like my child to see as his ideal, Jesus Christ, and those who attempt to live up to his image, and not those persuasive destructive counter images of this, who have become no different than the men at the source of their rage.

    The star gazing child is not even a question here, he’s already far removed.

  371. #371 Rey Fox
    May 9, 2009

    “You don’t find curiosity inspiring, and prefer to wallow in the pathos and sadism of tortured criminals.”

    Some people think that makes them deep thinkers. Mostly, they’re just wankers.

  372. #372 Steve_C
    May 9, 2009

    Yeah Jesus is such a great story. Daddy demands his sacrifice in a cruel and sadistic manner to absolve humanity for doing what? Nothing, unless eating a metaphorical apple from a metaphorical tree of knowledge is a crime deserving of eternal torture.

    What a pantload of shit.

  373. #373 africangenesis
    May 9, 2009

    “The child staring in wonder at the stars.”

    Contact.
    The opening scenes of Jurrasic Park.
    Finally seeing the ocean in Dark City.
    The embracing of circumstance before the new day in Groundhog Day.
    The triumph over crisis in Apollo 13
    River in her space suit in “Objects in Space”

    Emotions. The wonder is at existance itself. Something instead of nothing. Was there ever nothing. How could there ever have been anything. This fragile ephermeral consciousness wonders, unique in the universe, but without meaning, yet with love of its life, love of its experience, love of those beings that it knows best in all their humanity, and longing to see more. The organic milleau of it all. The diversity, the struggle, the poverty, wealth, the technology, the art, the culture, the points of view, the science. Always something new. Why not? Why not … always?

  374. #374 Ken Cope
    May 9, 2009

    I believe in life of inherent sense of meaning and purpose, and this truth is incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ.

    How very special for you. That makes no more sense to me, and is no more attainable than being able to honestly claim that truth is incarnate in the person of Bozo the Clown, who is both one, and many.

    What sort of scientific evidence does one give for meaning?

    Are you capable of asking honest questions? Meaning is not inherent any more than constellations are properties of stars; meaning is assigned and communicated as part of our language, learned and taught.

    Any more so than I can give you evidence of why I love my mother, and convince you to love her all the same.

    Your mother is real, but more real to you. I had a mother, everybody who lives had one. How can you convince me to love an imaginary cosmic asshole who demands that his own son be scourged and stabbed and nailed to sticks? How could I be expected, in any meaningful way, to actually be capable of loving such a monster?

    Any other belief of mine, is a condition of possibility, that which makes these beliefs possible.

    My deepest apologies for being so insanely credulous as to be capable of swallowing such toxic foolishness.

    I don’t believe in the God you claim to be looking for,

    What lying asshole says any atheists here are looking for something as stupid and meaningless and capricious and non-existant as something worshipped by 2000 year old bronze age goatfuckers?

    one that reveals himself to us in a petree dish, which would be a meaningless sort of God to me.

    Strawgods are by definition meaningless to everybody.

    I believe in the God who revealed himself in the “form of a reviled and murdered political criminal”

    How sad for you. Also, no God revealed himself to you in that form. You were trained to see an act of torture as a focus for your addled and contemptible masturbatory fugue states. Your religion is ugly and it needs to die.

  375. #375 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 9, 2009

    You were trained to see an act of torture as a focus for your addled and contemptible masturbatory fugue states. Your religion is ugly and it needs to die.

    Clap, clap, clap. Good words. (Now where’s my list…)

  376. #376 Ken Cope
    May 9, 2009

    Wow. @373, evidence that AG may not be entirely an asshat. That’s done wonders for my sensawunda.

  377. #377 Sven DiMilo
    May 9, 2009

    an imaginary cosmic asshole who demands that his own son be scourged and stabbed and nailed to sticks

    You forgot “ineffable.”
    An ineffable imaginary csomic asshole. Now do you see???

  378. #378 africangenesis
    May 9, 2009

    “your god either exists or doesn’t”

    Are you sure?
    1) lets question the principle of contradiction: God is not, but he becomes.
    2) lets question the principle of the excluded middle: God can both exist and not exist.
    3) lets question the principle of identity: God may be changing and not himself.

    It is interesting that the marxists here are claiming to be modernists, yet the origin of postmodernism probably should be traced to the marxist cynical sophistry questioning logic purposely to achieve the state of credulity necessary to accept their “just so” stories of the dialectic and historical determinism. Even when not being used to evangelize their religion, it was being used to generally undermine support for rationality and evidence based belief through third world and then western universities.

    If you now oppose postmodernism, do you really have anyone to blame but yourselves for its existance?

    http://www.marxists.org/archive/pilling/works/capital/geoff3.htm

  379. #379 hithesh
    May 9, 2009

    africangenesis: “I’ll grant that there was a human drama surrounding the crucifixtion, but being able to empathize with the different circumstances, doesn’t necessitate conviction of some role or inaction in the injustice. ”

    We empathize with these different circumstances because we see our role or inaction in different circumstances of inaction and injustice. It’s not my inaction and injustice in an event taken place 2000 years ago, but by inaction and injustice in events taking place all around me now that the act represents.

    In one of stories of David after he had cruely stolen Uriah’s wife, he is confronted by the prophet Nathan, who tells him the story of a rich man who stole a poor man’s precious ewe. David empathizes with the poor man, lashing out at the cruelty of the rich man. Then the real horror sets in, when Nathan tells David he is the man. David may not have literally stole the poor man’s ewe, but he seen in the cruelty of the rich man, his cruelty in taking the man’s wife.

    “But the theology surrounding the crucifixion detracts from the human pathos. The idea of human sacrifice for forgiveness of sin is disgusting and should be unnecessary for an omnipotent God who could presumably have chose to forgive sin with a snap of his fingers instead. God the father, and Christ as his son, are really making no sacrifice at all. It is a mere passion play, they both know the resurrection is certain, the suffering temporary and on their eternal scale, it is less than 90 seconds of waterboarding. Why do you choose to imbue it with mystery and meaning that isn’t present in the theology?”

    Well, this isn’t the mystery and the meaning present in the Gospels. What you presented is an extra-biblical interpretation by some theist who follow this sort of atonement theology, to articulate the experience of their redemption, an attempt to give an explanation of the mechanics of that experience. The Gospels, and the rest of the New Testament do not engage in this sort of pursuit, they speak of only the experience of redemption, like I would speak of the profound affect my mother’s love had on me. What I’m not giving you is the mechanics of this effect, presenting to you the biology of this love.

    And if you attempt to fill in this picture which atonement theologies attempt to do, by presenting mechanics annexed from the actual experience, you get a very distorted picture, like the one you just presented.

    Is Christ act of forgiveness of sin a sort of act that had no real or meaningful bearing on the human condition, that God could just have snapped his fingers and done the same thing. Is it an act that Jesus derided, a mere legalistic sort of action?
    Is it forgiveness without a desire for a meaningful change in the individual being forgiven? Is it a sacrifice like Isaiah claims reeks in the nostrils of God, because it doesn’t come with a change of heart?

    Forgiveness is a meaningless act without conviction, because it fails to redeem.

    In the Gospels God reveals conviction in the Cross, he reveals himself as a God who shares in the suffering of his people, and that God loves abound to both victim and victimizer. It’s by the convicting power of this act that one is redeemed, and not by the snap of fingers.

    I’m not forgiven merely because someone said I am. I am forgiven because I see the mistakes I’ve made, the wrong I’ve done, the poor and suffering I turned my eyes away from, and see that I can no longer continue that way. The mystery and meaning I afford that act, is in what I see here.

  380. #380 Ken Cope
    May 9, 2009

    An ineffable imaginary csomic asshole.

    True dat, since it is one of the defining characteristics that handily exempts the subject from empirical investigation. Still and all, an imaginary cosmic asshole who demands that his own son be scourged and stabbed and nailed to sticks is somebody you don’t want to eff with even though some people do enjoy a challenge, and others will attempt to eff anything, but, as I understand it, you can’t eff what isn’t there unless you’re just wanking.

  381. #381 Ken Cope
    May 9, 2009

    OK, after AG @378, I’m forced to conclude that 373 was nothing more than a statistical outlier.

    Um, whoever perpetrated this:

    I’m not forgiven merely because someone said I am. I am forgiven because I see the mistakes I’ve made, the wrong I’ve done, the poor and suffering I turned my eyes away from, and see that I can no longer continue that way. The mystery and meaning I afford that act, is in what I see here.

    Will they please, please clean up after all that religio-spooge?

  382. #382 africangenesis
    May 9, 2009

    Hithesh,

    “It’s not my inaction and injustice in an event taken place 2000 years ago, but by inaction and injustice in events taking place all around me now that the act represents.”

    I am not going to feel guilt for things I haven’t done. I’ve done a lot of good, and even tried to fix a lot of things about the world and have fought injustice. I couldn’t do everything, and I’m sure a lot out there doesn’t want to be fixed. I am at peace with my finiteness and humanity.

    I give Christianity a lot of credit for what the western world has become, and for some of the beautiful people it has inspired. The wisdom literature and apologia have a lot to offer. I still read ecclesiates occasionally, and apprecieate the humanity and sense in Paul’s letters, and the teaching in Jesus’ parables and sermons. If there is any inspiration, it is in the life not the death, the distillation of philosophy and the earnest attempt to be true to it. These are humans struggling with questions, they are religious humans, but that is not unusual.

    I doubt you will find any takers for the superstition and mystery and layering of meaning here, but perhaps some have been moved. I wouldn’t look to a powerful external being for meaning, it is not something one being can give to another. I wouldn’t respect a creator that tried to lord over its creation, instead of enjoying setting it free. There is no evidence for God, if there were we would still need evidence for a connection to Christianity, and to the creation of the universe. I’m three steps removed, and I’ve probably heard it before, and I am not needy or seeking.

    What do you hope to accomplish?

  383. #383 Sili
    May 9, 2009

    How do you read so fast? Is it a very short book?

    I’m sorry for your suffering. On the other hand, now you can bill yourself as the atheist Jesus.

  384. #384 ronathan richardson
    May 10, 2009

    Matt Taibbi has a pretty hilarious takedown of this all, over at http://trueslant.com/matttaibbi/2009/05/07/god-talk-stanley-fish-blog-nytimescom/

  385. #385 Drosera
    May 11, 2009

    Jesus: “Shall I let myself be tortured and crucified to take away your sins?”

    Me: “No, thank you.”

    Jesus: “I’ll do it anyway.”

  386. #386 Stef
    May 11, 2009

    The essence of the scientific method is free and open inquiry. None of that is on tap here. These posts come across as a Country Club meeting of the terminally opinionated. I’m sure you are not all as bad as you sound, but there is little evidence here that most posters here really understand that having well-developed opinions and being able to argue ferociously for them does not necessarily equate with knowing anything significant about the subject. Likewise, if Terry Eagleton has anything important to say (trust me, he does – I’ve read the book), as a group you will be the last on the planet to know it because you’ve already got your opinions on the subject all set in concrete. We cannot ever really address an opponent unless we take the time to understand what he is saying, and just as important, we must try to understand why he might be saying it.

  387. #387 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 11, 2009

    The essence of the scientific method is free and open inquiry.

    Not quite Stef, it is also evidence based inquiry. No evidence, no conclusions. We also are very honest in our professional dealings, unlike like godbots who lie to us right and left, so there is a degree of trust within the scientific community. If PZ says Eagleton has nothing to say, I will believe him until evidence is shown otherwise. Show the evidence otherwise.

  388. #388 Ben
    May 11, 2009

    P.J., this is a sterling example of why you’re at the top of my blog reading list. Can I do a rave review of a review?

    It would be enough that P.J.’s review so deftly exposes Eagleton’s use of deceptive rhetorical devices – the “strawman” and the false analogy – as the central, shaky foundation for an otherwise reason-bankrupt treatise (to kind a word for “Reflections”?). It’s icing on the cake when P.J. weaves into the story, his personal pain and misery at having lost 8 unrecoverable hours of otherwise thought-provoking reading. But its the literary gems like this one:

    “his own contradictions are worn with pride as emblems of ineffable profundity instead of addlepated murkiness.”

    … that keep P.J at the top of my reading list.

  389. #389 ck
    May 11, 2009

    PZ, admit it: You had fun poking holes in Eagleton, just as he had fun poking holes in his “Ditchkins”. If you are actually interested in a “persuasive case” for a Christian faith that’s not just allegory, why not review Simply Christian (N. T. Wright) or Mere Christianity (C. S. Lewis)? Yes, I’ve seen you quote Dan Barker’s review of Mere Christianity, and no, I won’t excuse you on the basis of another guy’s flimsy dismissals. I challenge you and the followers of your blog to actually read and think about a serious Christian book.

    Better luck at the airport next time.

  390. #390 Ken Cope
    May 11, 2009

    Mere Christianity (C. S. Lewis)?

    That asshole provides better evidence for the existence of Narnia than he does with his apologetic asshattery over Lord, Liar or Lunatic. I’m going with two out of three, because fictional characters can be anything.

  391. #391 Ichthyic
    May 11, 2009

    why not review Simply Christian (N. T. Wright) or Mere Christianity (C. S. Lewis)?

    ROFLMAO @ CS Lewis as a “serious” writer of anything.

    Courtier’s reply, anyone?

    I mean, aside from the fact that obviously the person who suggested a review of Lewis has never apparently read any of the thousands already out there.

    no, I’m not going to waste my time googling them up.

  392. #392 Ichthyic
    May 11, 2009

    Jesus: “Shall I let myself be tortured and crucified to take away your sins?”

    Me: “No, thank you.”

    Jesus: “I’ll do it anyway.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_12E1EN6fs&feature=related

    “Crack Suicide Squad… Attack!”

    hunnnnggghhh.

    “That showed em!”

  393. #393 'Tis Himself
    May 11, 2009

    ck #389

    In case you’re unaware of it, some of us have read Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Here’s some thoughts about it.

    The first section is a defense of Christianity, although most of it is spent defending Mere Theism. This is a much weaker doctrine but Lewis seems to think that once he has established theism most of the hard work has been done. His central argument for theism is the moral argument. The key premise is moral claims (it is wrong to kill, rape, steal, etc.) cannot be true unless there is a god. There are several objections to this premise:

    (1) It’s mysterious how the existence of a deity could make moral facts true, especially if we agree with Lewis that they are necessary truths;

    (2) There are several explanations of the truth of moral claims which don’t involve the existence of anything supernatural; and

    (3) Maybe moral claims aren’t true after all. This idea we may not find pleasant, but argument from consequences (argumentum ad consequentiam) is a fallacy.

    Lewis’ method of dealing with these objections is simplicity itself. He doesn’t mention them. That’s not quite true. He does briefly consider two alternate explanations for moral claims, but he takes care to pick the silliest two, and then has the gall to pretend that he has exhaustively covered the territory. In fact, that’s a general strategy throughout the book. Find three or four positions that are superficially similar to each other, conflate them all with the most ludicrous of the three or four, and then argue against this weak straw. Even then he often fails to find good opposing arguments.

    You might be wondering what arguments Lewis has in favor of Christianity itself, as opposed to Mere Theism. You would be wrong. The word is argument, singular. That’s right: after a hundred bad arguments for theism, just one bad argument for the divinity of Christ, a claim he takes to be absolutely central, and it’s all over in two pages. Jesus claimed to be the son of God. He was either lying, mad, or speaking the truth. The biblical evidence indicates he was neither lying nor mad. Therefore he was speaking the truth. If you must read Lewis’ treatment of this subject, don’t expect him to answer obvious objections, or indeed to go into much more depth than I just have.

    The later chapters are better but still bad. You’ll just have to take my word for it since I lack the space and time to mention every single glaring fallacy. Lewis should have stuck with writing fiction, he was much better at it than Christian apologetics.

  394. #394 Owlmirror
    May 11, 2009

    If you are actually interested in a “persuasive case” for a Christian faith that’s not just allegory, why not review Simply Christian (N. T. Wright) or Mere Christianity (C. S. Lewis)?

    Like here?

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/08/get_ready_to_become_a_christia.php

    As I recall, Lewis mostly does a re-hashed Augustine, updated for modern audiences. There’s not really much more to his theology than that centuries-old work, condensed.

  395. #395 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 11, 2009

    I challenge you and the followers of your blog to actually read and think about a serious Christian book.

    I think you would find the a very large percentage of us have read the bible cover to cover. It was our first step toward atheism. The god of the bible is little better than a capricious thug, with rapes, murders, and genocide being done at his command. The laws of the bible were so complex and intertwined there was no way anybody could follow them all and not be stoned to death. Jesus was OK, but Paul really inverted the Jesus philosophy and added his bigotry on top of it. Revelations was written by someone whacked out on bad cactus juice. Overall, anyone could see the book was written by multiple authors, and if god inspired, it wasn’t any god we wanted to worship.
    And there is a reason they call it Xian apologetics. Xians really need to apologize for their delusional religion to any rational person, who are immune to their delusions.

  396. #396 jbloggins
    May 12, 2009

    PZ, you need a kindle.

  397. #397 Simon
    May 12, 2009

    Christianity is, regretfully, soundly debunked. The Norse gods now hold my appeal. :)

  398. #398 africangenesis
    May 12, 2009

    Tis Himself#393,

    Excellant analysis. “Mere Christianity” is overrated.

    ck#389,

    Trying to convert people here is unlikely to be productive. The conclusion of atheism is unlikely to be reached lightly and there is a culture here of hostility to christianity that reinforces it. However, there is a service that you and others can perform, because that hostility lacks a bit of historical perspective. There was a time when humanism was considered Christianity without the God and Christianity was considered communism with God. There was an explicit acknowledgement that much of what western society has become that it was proud of, the fight against slavery, the promotion of respect for others and equal rights, pacifism was attributubal to Christian values. The hostile environment here constantly reminds itself of the primitive barbarism of old testament some of which is still present in the new testament. Even if the Christianity did not invent the uber norms that western civilization is proud of (the are precedents in eastern religions), it played a significant role in spreading them and deserves some credit even if it took an appalling 19 centuries to take hold. Hopefully there is existing work out there documenting Christianity’s contribution. Christianity shared the barbarism of most religions, but it also inspired many of the great reform movements in western history? Why? Why was it different?

  399. #399 Stef
    May 12, 2009

    Atheists’ claims to virtue because they use “evidence based inquiry” – as opposed to the unsupportable drivel of their religious opponents – are like claiming that the Stalinist show trials were fair and just by the principles of natural law. You all talk a good game, but when it comes down to actual discussion your principles go out the window and you want to dictate what evidence is allowed and what isn’t – and you only allow evidence that favors your world view. And, in general, you can’t resist sneering at those who disagree with you, which says nothing about them and everything about the extravagant levels of self-esteem enjoyed by the self-proclaimed enlightened. So how is it you are different from your religious opponents?

    PZ’s review is a masterpiece of criticizing manner and bypassing substance. PZ seems to want to throw Eagleton out of court primarily on the grounds that he is annoying. The annoying part is true enough. Yes, Eagleton has irritating mannerisms and sometimes hits below the belt. Are Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris any better? If you think so, you are either a hopeless zealot or living in Cloud-Cuckoo Land. The real questions raised by Eagleton remain unaddressed, mostly because that would take self-searching and contemplation on the part of atheists and secularists. But we are not very interested in that. We’d much rather indulge our tempers… and our hubris.

  400. #400 Josh
    May 12, 2009

    …and you want to dictate what evidence is allowed and what isn’t – and you only allow evidence that favors your world view.

    I’ll take unsubstantiated generalizations for 1000, Alex.

    I’m sure you have some…evidence…with which to back this statement up?

  401. #401 Kel
    May 12, 2009

    You all talk a good game, but when it comes down to actual discussion your principles go out the window and you want to dictate what evidence is allowed and what isn’t – and you only allow evidence that favors your world view.

    That’s a bit misleading. The evidence that is called for is based on processes we know that work – and the evidence that is discarded is based on processes we know that don’t. Eyewitness testimony is very unreliable, testing in labratory conditions much less so. If you want to be critical, don’t fall into the trap of making hasty generalisations. Otherwise you fall in the trap of making sweeping statements that are too nebulous to be useful or downright misleading.

    The calls for evidence are simple, what good reasons are there to believe in a god? Show your working. You may complain that we reject evidence that doesn’t favour our worldview, but you are sitting at a computer right now. It does billions of mathematical calculations per second; i.e. your desktop has a greater mathematical processing power than the entire human race combined. Science works, it works so well that it dominates our daily lives. When we turn on a television, we receive signal transmitted from towers hundreds of kilometres away or even satellites we’ve put into orbit 36,000km above the surface of the earth. When you fill up a car with petroleum, you are burning a fuel that required mining, refinement and transport of long distances to get to you.

    Quite simply, science works. If you want to know another form of knowledge, then show that it has evidential backing as good as the scientific method. Otherwise quit complaining that we reject evidence that doesn’t fit our worldview, because it’s obvious that we are rejecting evidence that doesn’t have the pragmatic underpinnings that come through secular reasoning and the scientific method in particular.

  402. #402 Kel
    May 12, 2009

    I’m sure you have some…evidence…with which to back this statement up?

    She’d bring up evidence, but you know, we’d just reject it because it doesn’t fit our worldview ;)

    Stef has the chance to make a really good point, to show her working and give good examples of where atheists (as a group) reject certain kinds of evidence for the sake of others. She has the opportunity to show up the poor quality of thought systemic in “new atheism” by showing the ignorance displayed towards certain ways to gain knowledge. She can show us all up and make us look like fools – because none of us are actually interested in discussing these matters apparently. So she has one up on us already, she can sit and present a calm rationale of the foolishness of atheism while we just hurl insults at her. So go ahead Stef, give us all that you have. Show that there are ways of knowing that we are ignoring, show that we are rejecting evidence that doesn’t fit within our worldview.

  403. #403 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    May 12, 2009

    and you only allow evidence that favors your world view.

    Define evidence that you think is acceptable.

  404. #404 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 12, 2009

    The real questions raised by Eagleton remain unaddressed,

    As near as I can tell, Eagleton I saying “atheists are mean since they won’t let me push my imaginary deity down their throats. Waahhhhhh!”. Not exactly rocket science. But then, neither are xian apologetics. Verbal hash without logic and evidence.

  405. #405 'Tis Himself
    May 12, 2009

    and you only allow evidence that favors your world view.

    Yes, you’re absolutely correct. We do not accept evidence like “the Bible says” or “Ken Ham’s museum has a display” or “the banana was obviously designed to fit up the ass.” However, you’re the one trying to argue your point to us. So we get to set the rules of evidence, not you. Quoting Genesis or Ray Comfort will not convince us of the falsity of evolution.

    And, in general, you can’t resist sneering at those who disagree with you, which says nothing about them and everything about the extravagant levels of self-esteem enjoyed by the self-proclaimed enlightened. So how is it you are different from your religious opponents?

    We sneer at those who disagree with us because, usually, their arguments are silly and easily refutable. Your arguments fall into this category. Do you really think you’re the first goddist who showed up saying “you guys are meanies who won’t listen to The True Word and laugh at us who do”? You’re not even the first one to post here in the past 24 hours. We read the same tired bleats over and over again. Every couple of days someone comes here and tells us about Pascal’s Wager, apparently assuming that this is a novel concept we’d never come across. Go into the archives and you’ll find Pascal’s Wager debunked month after month. So yes, we sneer. We’ve got good reason to do so.

    But we are not very interested in that. We’d much rather indulge our tempers… and our hubris.

    Oh bullshit. Just as an example, in post #389 ck “challenged” us to read “Simply Christian (N. T. Wright) or Mere Christianity (C. S. Lewis)?” Did you notice that less than an hour later, in post #393, I gave a critique of Mere Christianity? When one of you goddists tries to debate us we often respond.

    As for Eagleton, we discussed him a few days ago. We don’t feel the need to rehash those arguments just to sooth your ego.

  406. #406 Kel
    May 12, 2009

    Do you really think you’re the first goddist who showed up saying “you guys are meanies who won’t listen to The True Word and laugh at us who do”? You’re not even the first one to post here in the past 24 hours.

    Major werd to this, I remember Crackergate where thousand page threads would be filled time and time again with different theists making the same point – that a piece of bread is worth more than the life of someone who threatens the bread. When asked for evidence that teh bread really turned into the body of Christ what did we get? More religious apologetics and vicarious condemnation where they hid behind God to project their own sense of fairness onto the universe.

    What it leaves us with is time and time again that theists think the same tired arguments are valid – it’s just that we haven’t heard them. How many creationists have come onto a Bioloogy professor’s blog to say that evolution violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics or that evolution is only a theory? It’s a projection of ignorance onto others, each time thinking that those who are thinking differently to yourself must be ignorant to be in that position. How could a professional biologist not know that evolution violates thermodynamics? It must be his evil atheist ways, not the possibility that a biology professor knows better.

  407. #407 phantomreader42
    May 12, 2009

    Let’s see if I’ve got hithesh’s “argument” down:

    “Atheists have not delivered a perfect, universal, free, instantaneous, simple, prepackaged solution to every single problem in the world, therefore my version of god (and no other) exists, and is not in any way obligated to provide the aforementioned solution. In fact, it is sacrilege to even ask for such a thing, though it is perfectly acceptable to make absurd demands for prefect solutions of random atheists on the internet based on a willful misrepresentation of a blog post. The very thought that anything could be different in any way is an explicit acknowledgement of the reality of my version of god, because I say so, and any atheist who denies this is a filthy liar, because words mean what I find it convenient for them to mean, and nothing else. Because I’ve lived such a pitifully hard life, oh woe is me, everything I say and do MUST be correct, and anyone who disagrees with me MUST be an ivory-tower elitist born with a silver spoon in his mouth, the actual facts are irrelevant, the calamity and woe of my horrible, horrible childhood give me a special omnipotent insight into anything and everything, much like Jesus Christ. I, and I alone, determine what everyone in the world believes, no matter what anyone else thinks. And because everyone believes in my god (because I say so), my god must be real. Reality is what I want it to be, your pitiful requests for evidence fall on deaf ears.”

  408. #408 Faithful Progressive
    May 12, 2009

    I posted my reply here–Why the New Atheists Are a Reactionary Movement–The Pharyngula Delusion. If you lie down with racist neo-con dogs your movement gets covered in reactionary fleas.

  409. #409 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    May 12, 2009

    Faithful Progressive as soon as you made the Atheism = Communism claim your entire post was worth shit.

    One of the most often used and historically ignorant canards repeated.

  410. #410 Faithful Progressive
    May 12, 2009

    Except I never said that, bro, rather–I said intolerant atheist regimes have been totalitarian. Also even, the Communists have called Harris reactionary!! Get real.

  411. #411 ck
    May 13, 2009

    ‘Tis Himself,

    Thanks for putting some time & thought into a response. It does not surprise me that many folks here have read Mere Christianity; I know quite a number of non-Christians who have. The book is indeed very brief, and the arguments it offers are not new. It does not ‘prove’ the existence of a God, let alone the Christian one — a task that I think most Christian apologists would agree is impossible. However, I think that the arguments deserve more consideration than you have given them. To my mind, Lewis does an admirable job of setting forth a summary of core Christian beliefs, shows that they are at least plausible, and points out significant flaws in several common arguments to the contrary.

    You spent some time considering Lewis’ argument from the moral law. Lewis holds that a strictly materialist framework cannot offer support for moral claims. Let me take your three points in sequence:

    > (1) It’s mysterious how the existence of a deity could make moral facts
    > true, especially if we agree with Lewis that they are necessary truths;

    Indeed, it is mysterious in a way (“mystery” in its technical, theological sense applies very well here). A Christian (or Jewish) understanding of God’s character, however, does make considerable sense of the origin of moral truths. For example, the moral law embodies one aspect of God’s provision for his creatures. To the degree that we follow it, we live lives that are full and satisfying. The Christian framework has proven extremely powerful for addressing this aspect of the intent of the moral law (witness the IVCF conference in Chicago last December on Human Flourishing). Whether a comparable framework can be constructed on a strictly materialist foundation remains to be seen. I’d be interested to hear what books you all might recommend on this subject.

    > (2) There are several explanations of the truth of moral claims which
    > don’t involve the existence of anything supernatural; and

    There are all kinds of interesting ideas in sociobiology, for example — though one can hardly blame Lewis for failing to respond to that. The aim of these ideas is to provide an explanation for the origin of moral behavior. I am not convinced that sociobiology is a very powerful tool to this end. But it is also important to realize that the aims of the project, even if fully realized, do not provide an especially firm foundation for an atheisic humanism, nor a strong counterargument to Lewis. Even if I believed that sociobiology could provide a plausible origin for (for example) the human impulse to help a stranger in need, there would be nothing to recommend this instinct over something more finely tuned to preserve my own genes. The sociobiological explanation would neither help us to understand what is right and why, nor would it imply the non-existence of a creator who might well choose to embed in the natural world an echo of the moral law.

    > (3) Maybe moral claims aren’t true after all. This idea we may not find
    > pleasant, but argument from consequences (argumentum ad consequentiam)
    > is a fallacy.

    Moral claims are not so much true (in the sense of describing what is) as right (describing what ought to be). While logic has an essential role in ethical thought, it is not sufficient in itself. Some minimal premises have to be agreed upon before we can use logic to construct any ethical system. So, say “argumentum ad consequentiam” all you want — it misses the point. If there is no “right”, then there is no basis for a civil conversation on this blog, let alone for the ethics of scientific work, for attempting to save the environment for our children, etc.

    You think that Lewis is only tearing down strawman arguments. I disagree. If you have time to flesh out an example, I’m listening.

    Finally, you state your dissatisfaction with the Lord/liar/lunatic argument. I think Lewis does a fair job at this for such a brief treatment. More importantly, the argument becomes stronger when it is placed in the context of 1st century Palestine. N. T. Wright (historian of that period) has done a very good job of that.

  412. #412 'Tis Himself
    May 13, 2009

    ck #411

    Finally, you state your dissatisfaction with the Lord/liar/lunatic argument. I think Lewis does a fair job at this for such a brief treatment.

    Lewis presents the logical fallacy known as the False Dilemma. This particular instance is often called “Lewis’ Trilemma” since three alternatives are given as the only ones available.

    In this case, there are other possibilities which Lewis does not effectively eliminate. For example, perhaps Jesus was simply mistaken or that we don’t have an accurate record of what he truly said, if, indeed, he even existed. Lewis’ argument is in fact unacceptable in the context of first century Palestine, where Jews were anxiously awaiting a messiah to rescue them. It’s implausible that they would have greeted incorrect claims of messianic status with labels like liar or lunatic. Instead, they would have moved on to await another claimant.

    It isn’t even necessary to go into much detail about alternative possibilities in order to dismiss Lewis’ argument because the options of liar and lunatic are themselves not refuted by Lewis. It’s clear that Lewis doesn’t regard them as credible, but he doesn’t give good reasons for anyone else to agree. He’s trying to persuade psychologically, not intellectually. There’s no reason to insist that Jesus isn’t similar to other religious leaders like Joseph Smith, David Koresh, Marshall Applewhite, and Claude Vorilhon. Are they liars? Lunatics? A bit of both?

  413. #413 'Tis Himself
    May 13, 2009

    Except I never said that, bro, rather–I said intolerant atheist regimes have been totalitarian.

    And you’re a liar. I quote from your blog:

    Because no genocides have happened in the name of religious moderation and tolerance but many have been conducted on behalf of intolerant atheism–Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot etc etc.

    Three communists mentioned by name. “etc etc.” aren’t described further so let’s look at some possibilities:

    • Kim Jung Il and his father? Both commies.
    • Hitler? A Catholic ruling a country where most people were either Catholics or Lutherans
    • Robert Mugabe? A self-described Catholic
    • Saddam Hussein? A Muslim
    • The Myanmar Junta? Buddhists to a man

    As Rev BDC says,

    One of the most often used and historically ignorant canards repeated.

    Why is it that the Liars for Jebus are such transparent liars?

  414. #414 ck
    May 14, 2009

    ‘Tis Himself,

    Your speculative alternatives to Lewis’ 3 options are easily refutable:

    “perhaps Jesus was simply mistaken”: That is an odd categorization for someone who believes himself to be God and manages to convince others of the same. If Jesus was not God incarnate but claimed to be and believed it himself, then he was a lunatic, plain and simple.

    “or that we don’t have an accurate record of what he truly said, if, indeed, he even existed”: There is more documentary evidence of Jesus’ life than any historical figure of comparable antiquity. There is 3rd party evidence of his life (Josephus), and the N.T. documents are demonstrably old, being extant in a great many manuscripts, some very close to the time they were written. The evidence was already good in Lewis’ day, as he mentions, and even earlier manuscripts have been identified since. If we don’t know what Jesus said, then you might as well decide that we don’t know what anyone said during that time period, and toss the whole discipline of history in the crapper.

    “It’s implausible that they would have greeted incorrect claims of messianic status with labels like liar or lunatic. Instead, they would have moved on to await another claimant.”– Your intuition is, at best, uninformed. I encourage you to actually read up on the period (again, Wright is a good choice, and he’s written scholarly works in addition to the popular ones, if you want to drill down that far). Jesus was largely characterized by his contemporaries according to Lewis’ three options. It is well-established that the Lord contingent grew rapidly and persists to this day.

  415. #415 Dan
    May 15, 2009

    “It was the audacity of Communism’s forthright Godlessness that shocked so many back in the day, why “In God We Trust” ended up on the U.S. currency, etc, and less so the whole wealth distribution angle, which some Christians could actually agree with.”

    Can you honestly say that communismn, and all the other “isms” of the 20th century were hostile to religion? They were religions! A slightly different sort, but relying on the religious training of entire populations, along with terrorism, to keep them in line. It could not be any other way. University proffesors may have tried to “reason” their way to these isms but they had to rely on force and ignorance to convince anyone else. Reason would tell any reasonable person that all of those social constructs require the same “leap of faith” that characterizes any other religion.

  416. #416 Grant
    May 16, 2009

    Even though your blog was as boring as the book you were reviewing, I can forgive you because you were stuck in a tin can a couple of miles above the Earth with nothing better to do. What does bother me is the fact (given) you not only lacked a computer to write your blog, you went home and spent an hour or so grinding out an attempt (though witty) to disprove the unprovable and suck us into reading a bunch of drivel with which someone is trying to compare reality to a fairy tale. The question is: Why bother? Is there a sequel to his book proving the existence of Santa Claus? Surely you can take a Rubic’s Cube with you for emergencies. That way your time will be better spent and you can fill your blog with common sense rather than senseless commonality when you get home.

  417. #417 cafeeine
    March 5, 2010

    Edinbrough Uni just put up an Eagleton lecture called “the god debate”. I didn’t make it through, but “Hitchkins” did make an appearance. Those with a better stomach than me, enjoy:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCqHnwIR1PY

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