Of battles and wars

17 02 2009

Christopher Hitchens will be debating William Lane Craig in April on the question: “Does God Exist?”

And the apologetics community is creaming its collective trousers. Craig is apparently a very skilled debater, so they’re expecting him to trounce Hitchens. Ergo more souls won for Jesus! Ergo more idiots rolling around on the floor speaking in tongues! Yea!

Hint: it doesn’t work that way. Perhaps it does work that way in the authoritarian-follower universe (call it the “argumentum ad D’Souzam“), but atheists don’t consider Hitchens their pastor or Pope, you won’t find Hitchens’ conversion to fundamentalist Christianity (should that eventuate) precipitating the conversion of the heathens en masse, and there will still be atheists around to scrutinise Craig’s arguments even if Hitchens is defeated. (Some would argue it wouldn’t be the first time.) An apologist defeating an atheist in a public debate only demonstrates that the apologist is a more skillful debater than the atheist. It does not constitute evidence that a deity exists. To paraphrase Al Swearengen, you may want to write that down and stick it over your one good fucking eye.

And Neil thought he had problems . . .

19 09 2008

Just have a look at the grief Martin Wagner is experiencing at the hands of a loving Christian. In a nutshell: Wagner, co-host of The Atheist Experience TV show and author of the Atheist Experience blog, critiqued a creationist’s article on the evils of atheism. Well, the creationist didn’t like that, and retaliated by vandalising Wagner’s Wikipedia entry, claiming that Wagner was a drug addict and a paedophile. Wagner called him on it on the Atheist Experience blog, and the creationist didn’t like that, either, so—like a hybrid of David Mabus and John A. Davison—he trawled atheist and Christian discussion boards alike across the Internet, and started a half-dozen blogs, wailing persecution at the hands of Wagner and a Wikipedia administrator (the creationist’s vandalism led to his banning from Wikipedia). Wagner, now armed with sufficient evidence to mount an online defamation suit, obtained the services of an attorney. The creationist went quiet for three months, then issued Wagner with a “Cease and desist” letter. Wagner has decided that enough is enough, and is now pressing ahead with legal action. He observes:

If you write anything online, there’s a good chance it will be read by someone you don’t know, who isn’t already your friend and predisposed to be kind to you no matter how much you insist on doing the writing equivalent of face-planting on the pavement. That’s the crazy thing about the intarweebs: there are people on it. People who have opinions who don’t always march in lockstep with your own. And if they disagree with you, they’ll say so. Sometimes they’ll be polite (which I am), sometimes they’ll be snarky and sarcastic (which I am). But there’s no protective law that says that opinion articles published on blogs and websites get to be shielded from criticism or even pure derision. I understand, every time I post to AE, that what I’m writing is as likely to be critiqued or flamed as it is to be praised. And I don’t mind that fact. If your ego is too fragile to take criticisms of your writing and ideas, you shouldn’t be writing in as public (some might say anarchic) a venue as the frackin’ internet!

Absolutely right. But that’s the thing about these high RWAs, especially when they are permitted access to a keyboard and an internet connection. They don’t like it when people disagree with them. They take disagreement with their ideas as a personal attack, and they deem it justifiable to respond in kind. And given the havoc and mischief they can wreak upon their victims—outing in Jeremy’s case, stalking in Bruce’s case, hacking in Neil’s case, and now legal threats in Wagner’s case—they arguably should be considered a threat to democracy, if not society.

On the other hand . . .

5 02 2008

John Allen Paulos has some questions to put to the candidates . . .

Putting Candidates’ Religion to the Test: Twelve Irreligious Questions for the Candidates Before “Tiw’s Day’s” Elections” (ABC News)

UPDATE: Aardvarchaeology offers a perspective on the US political scene that could almost apply to Australia also.

MySpace bans atheists . . . a few thoughts

1 02 2008

(Originally posted in the comments at OzAtheist)

There is an extremely twisted logic to all of this, you know. From a certain (paranoid, mindless, irrational) perspective, atheism is much more of an affront to Christianity than Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism or Judaism–and it has nothing to do with Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens.

You see, at least Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Jews–whatever their theological differences–can agree on the idea that faith (magical thinking, belief without evidence, belief in the supernatural) is a good thing. Atheists, on the other hand, don’t see the necessity of faith at all (I’m not counting the Straussian view that faith might be necessary to keep the hoi-polloi in line). I can see how from a certain point of view, when I say “I am an atheist,” what they hear is “This ‘faith’ you have–it’s pointless, a waste of time and energy, a joke. Because if it wasn’t, then we’d all have faith.” In short, atheists are mean and offensive purely by virtue of the fact that they are atheists.

Obviously I’m not claiming that all theists think this way about atheists. But evidently some do, and I think this MySpace discrimination issue is symptomatic.

A final thought. If I was a Christian and ill-disposed towards atheists, I wouldn’t necessarily see the MySpace discrimination against atheists–which gives atheists the moral high ground–as a good thing.

Perhaps some theists need to be pointed in the direction of this article.

On the appeal of the appeal to tradition

15 01 2008

I join Ninglun in congratulating Jim Belshaw for having a blog post of his republished at On Line Opinion, but I really must take exception to the following:

Take a question that I have not discussed on this blog, my views on gay marriage.I support civil unions for gays. I support legal recognition of the joint rights of gay couples. I do not support gay marriage because the term “marriage” carries very specific connotations linked back to our Christian heritage, so that the application of the term “marriage” creates tensions and problems among much larger groups in society.

This may change. But for the present, my view is that we need to find a solution that gives gays the legal and indeed symbolic things that they need, while recognising the views of the larger group.

I have a profound love of and respect for our core institutions. Perhaps I can be classified as a conservative in this area, although the views I hold are very much minority views even among those classified as “conservative”.

I can’t get my head around this position at all. Unless I am mistaken, by his support for civil unions Jim is advocating for gays all the rights and privileges pertaining to legal marriage. He just doesn’t think gays should be allowed to call their marriages “marriages”–because, in his view (and that needs to be emphasised), the term “marriage” has “very specific connotations linked back to our Christian heritage,” and if we let the gays use it, that will create “tensions and problems among much larger groups in society.”

Sorry, I don’t get it. The people who are going to get their panties in a twist over the breach of Christian copyright on the term “marriage” are just as likely to object to the legal recognition of the joint rights of gay couples–surely the latter runs counter to “our” Christian heritage just as much as gay marriage supposedly does? If pandering to the sensitivities of these people is indeed a legitimate concern in a secular democracy–even if that means denying gay couples equality before the law–it just seems inconsistent to me to simultaneously oppose gay marriage and support civil unions.

Obviously I don’t think that the marriage laws in a secular (and liberal) democracy should pander to the concerns of those who, for religious reasons, think the law should treat gay couples differently. Nor do I see the relevance of our “Christian heritage” in the framing of our laws–at best, this constitutes an appeal to tradition, and perhaps also an appeal to popularity; in the context of a secular democracy, it becomes something far more sinister. So I’ve never understood the social utility of advocating two legal institutions–marriage, and marriage-that-for-PC-reasons-we’re-not-allowed-to-call
-“marriage”–when one would suffice. That’s assuming that civil unions would confer upon couples the same rights and entitlements as marriages do. If not, that’s a different (and worse) kettle of fish.

If our core institutions perpetuate injustice and enshrine prejudice, I don’t see why they ought to be loved and respected. I guess that’s why I’m not a conservative.