|Liberalism poster, by Floris van den Berg|
Ignorance and Fear Mongering
57 minutes ago
A philosophical audit trail.
Fairy stories might equip the child to reject supernaturalism when the time comes … Santa Claus again could be a very valuable lesson because the child will learn that there are some things you are told that are not true. Now isn't that a valuable lesson? Unfortunately it doesn't seem to have had the desired effect in some cases, because after children learn that there is no Santa Claus, mysteriously they go on believing that there is a God.So the media caricature of Dawkins is wide of the mark again, even if he is still somewhat Professor Yaffle-like.
Saint Nicholas was a historical figure, an early church bishop. We can teach our children about who he was and explain how people like to make-believe that he comes and brings children presents today at Christmas time. Children love to make-believe, and so you can invite them to join in this game of make-believe with you. When you see a Santa at the shopping mall, say, “Look, there’s a man dressed up like Saint Nicholas! People pretend that he is Saint Nicholas. Would you like to tell him what you want for Christmas?”Hoorah for Xmas! Ho-ho-no! There's a pretend Santa over there! Would you like to tell pretend Santa what you want for Christmas? 'What the hell for?' might be the reasonable reply.
My daughter said that our policy of telling the children Santa is make-believe led to “some interesting conversations” at school with children who said that Père Noël exists. “No, he doesn’t!” Oops! I find it rather ironic that it was our children who were the free-thinkers and sceptics when it came to Santa Claus. Best to tell your children that while we know Santa is a just a fun, make-believe figure, they shouldn’t upset other parents who haven’t been so honest with their children as we have.So Dawkins is less the killjoy than Craig on this occasion; one can imagine the other parents advising their kids not to listen to Craigs Minor. Stop spoiling the magic, WLC! At one point he seems to be channeling Dawkins when he says 'Maybe the whole Christmas story is a myth which thinking adults should outgrow'. Hallelujah! But, sadly I think he means the story of Saint Nicholas, not the Nativity.
When I read Atran’s brand of Islamic apologetics, and when I think of the terrorists’ cries of “Allahu Akbar” that accompanied their Kalashnikov fire, and when I ponder why young men out for just “a good time, a cause, and brotherhood” would do these deeds knowing they were surely going to die (and probably believing that, as martyrs, they’d attain Paradise), and when I think of the other deeds they do—the slaughter of Christians, Yazidis, apostates, atheists, and gays, and of the way they treat women like chattel, raping their sex slaves and stoning adulterers—when I think of all this, and the explicitly Islamic motivations the terrorists avow, I have to ask people like Atran: “WHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO MAKE YOU ASCRIBE ANY OF THEIR ACTIONS TO ISLAM?”Perhaps fair enough, although I'm not sure I fully understand Atran's position; this article suggests he does acknowledge that motivations aren't entirely political:
Some officials speaking for Western governments at the East Asia summit in Singapore last April argued that the Caliphate is traditional power politics masquerading as mythology. Research on those drawn to the cause show that this is a dangerous misconception. The Caliphate has re-emerged as a seductive mobilizing cause in the minds of many Muslims, from the Levant to Western Europe.Atran appears to have commented on Jerry's piece, saying:
I recommend some of the commentators, as well as the principal author, read some of our scientific papers inScience, PNAS, BBS, and reports of others in Nature, You might also glance at articles and editorials in the NY Times, Foreign Policy, Wall Street Journal etc. I never made an argument that “religion” is not a cause of terrorism. “Religion,” in fact, is as empty a notion (scientifically speaking) as “culture.” What I said is that the propositional content of some religious canon is not a principal predictor for may joining Al Qaeda (and now ISIS), and that, the principal predictors have to do with social network factors. Intel and military have used these finding to help break up those networks. Counter canon narratives have done absolutely nothing at all to stop violence or dissuade ISIS volunteers. In other findings, most recently reported in PNAS and NATURE, we detail how commitment to strict sharia of a form practiced by the Islamic State Caliphate, and Identity fusion (a particular type of social formation), although independent (largely uncorrelated) interact to predict costly commitment to costly sacrifices, including fighting and dying.
Mr. Coyne, like Mr. Harris, are not interested in the science, at least on this issue, but in continuing their declamations against “liberal apologetics.” Neither has ever had any dealings with volunteers or fighters from ISIS and Nusra (accepted perhaps reformed ones in safe settings), they have never been to the frontlines of combat zones to see for themselves what motivates fighters. They have never systematically interviewed or psychologically tested volunteers for such movements. And they have never tried, or been asked by those actually fighting ISIS or Al Qaeda to help in the fight because their proposals are, quite frankly, ridiculous. They are like angry children who believe that yelling at the top of their lungs will change the world. Like many politicians and pundits, willful ignorance of the science that bears on this issue is understandable (good argument is, by and large, used for persuasion and victory in social discourse, not discovery of the reason). The sad thing is that their followers believe they have scientific credentials that must give them knowledge ot support their arguments. But even Nobel prize winners have no special insight into social and political affairs, and their views should be scrutinized without passion by their peers (wishful thinking, I know).It's again difficult to tell what his position is, because he denies that he argues that '“religion” is not a cause of terrorism" (apologies for the double negative) but goes on to describe it as an empty notion (scientifically speaking), and to cite 'social network factors' as the principal predictor of joining 'Al Qaeda (and now ISIS)', which together appear to suggest that he is arguing that religion is not a cause of terrorism. I've posted this comment:
Thanks for making this comment. I assume it’s genuinely Scott Atran! It would be helpful if you could recommend one or two links that you think particularly address the issues raised here. You say that you ‘detail how commitment to strict sharia of a form practiced by the Islamic State Caliphate, and Identity fusion (a particular type of social formation), although independent (largely uncorrelated) interact to predict costly commitment to costly sacrifices, including fighting and dying’. Apologies, but I don’t understand what that means! So bear with an interested bystander for a mo, if you can.
I think as a layman I can appreciate that a frankly perverse organisation like ISIS has multifarious causes; obviously billions of religious people don’t behave that way, so ‘religion’ is not explanatory in that sense, and might be, as you say, an ’empty’ notion. But a similar observation could be made about the term ‘politics’ and yet no-one would deny (or would they?) the political motivations of communism as an important factor in Stalin’s actions, for example. Perhaps the vast majority of communists would not have indulged in purges, so it would be correct to say that there is some other predictor of those particular actions. Nonetheless, the communism played a part, is it reasonable to say?
Furthermore, just about every theist I’ve met would not recognise their religion as an empty notion.
This suggests that saying that ‘religion’ is an empty notion in *some* sense is a weak rejoinder to anyone who argues for or against the effects of religious beliefs, and unlikely to persuade either the irreligious or the religious that religious beliefs should not be criticised (or praised).
So someone who thinks that way can accept your (no doubt firmly supported empirically) view that ‘the principal predictors [for joining Al Qaeda (and now ISIS)] have to do with social network factors’, whilst still decrying the deleterious effects of religious beliefs within the complex matrix of factors that have caused these phenomena.
For example, it seems silly to claim that religious beliefs could be used to predict who would commit acts of terrorism in the Northern Ireland troubles (both Protestants and Catholics did, of course). But it would surely be fair to point out the role that religion played in the underlying complex mix of history and culture that brought those two communities to that point.
For another example, it seems to me that one can differentiate between the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the one on Bataclan by reference to a particular religious doctrine – blasphemy. The CH attack is more obviously religiously motivated than Bataclan, prima facie. You seem to be saying that your research suggests that both attacks are predicted more by social network factors than religious ones, and I bow to your superior knowledge on that. But how could Charlie Hebdo be *singled out* for attack (amongst the enormous Western infidel media pack) if it weren’t for their particularly blasphemous (according to Islam) actions? This is surely an attack where the religious belief is ‘critical’ to the motivations of the terrorists. The Bataclan attack, less so, imo, but still an underlying, important, factor.
It is this sort of specificity of action that, again, to a layman like me, would not occur without the religious doctrine. And you perhaps acknowledge this when you say that the content of religious beliefs aren’t a ‘principal predictor’; are they a secondary one?
So the question from a complete ignoramus like me who wants to understand the differences between you and Coyne is this: Coyne suspects you would not even ‘ascribe any of [the terrorists] actions to Islam’. It’s still not clear from your comment how you respond to his question. Even if the religious doctrines aren’t a principal predictor of *who* acts, do you acknowledge that they do effect the behaviour of jihadists in Syria and in attacks on the West? If you do, and I get the impression you might, then I’m not sure what Coyne is saying that you disagree with. Is it just the emphasis he puts on ‘religion’ when these atrocities occur? He clearly cites other factors – ‘disaffection, the need to feel part of something greater than oneself, innate aggression of young males, and, yes, the mishandling of many Middle Eastern situations by the West’, so he’s not denying those other causes. Just because people bemoan one factor does not mean they discount all others.
If, on the other hand, you don’t think such doctrines have an effect on terrorist behaviour, I should like to see the papers that support that conclusion, in the (perhaps forlorn!) hope that I could understand them.
If you’ve got this far, thanks for reading, and apologies if I misconstrued your position!It's interesting that Atran says that 'Counter canon narratives have done absolutely nothing at all to stop violence or dissuade ISIS volunteers'. This doesn't counter Coyne's complaints about religious causes, but it does perhaps point to why Atran is frustrated at 'New Atheists'; their complaints are pointless, because attempts to change religious views have not worked, according to whatever metrics Atran has used in his studies.
... a hearer must have non-testimonially based positive reasons for believing that testimony is generally reliable. (p.440)Testimony
If the speaker S asserts that p to the hearer H, then, under normal conditions, it is correct for H to accept (believe) S's assertion, unless H has special reason to object. (Adler, 2015)Jonathan Adler calls this the default rule (DR) and it plausibly describes our everyday behaviour. But the question is: does simply telling someone something, rather than, for example, showing them, confer knowledge?
[O]ur assurance in any argument of this kind is derived from no other principle than our observation of the veracity of human testimony, and of the usual conformity of facts to the reports of witnesses...and:
Were not the memory tenacious to a certain degree; had not men commonly an inclination to truth and a principle of probity; were they not sensible to shame, when detected in a falsehood: Were not these, I say, discovered by experience to be qualities, inherent in human nature, we should never repose the least confidence in human testimony. (Hume, 1777, p.174)Hume is claiming that a reasonable person ‘reduces’ testimonial evidence to facts derived from their memory and experience – it is not justifiably knowledge otherwise.
...telling is a move in a practice. The practice may be conceived as that of informing through telling, but it should be understood that the practice embraces both informing through telling, understanding acts of telling, and adopting a stance towards what one is being told. (Millar, 2010, p.177-178)So the testimony must be what Millar calls ‘felicitous’ (p.178). Testimony can be deliberately deceptive, in which case it is not felicitous. This allows us to distinguish the ‘dragons’ testimony from knowledge-imparting testimony; the mother is perhaps engaging in the practice of ‘safeguarding through telling’ rather than ‘informing through telling’.
The crucial point though is that we account for the acquisition of knowledge in these cases in terms of the exercise of an ability to recognize a phenomenon as having a certain significance. It is the ability that is in the driving seat and its possession does not turn on independent support for any generalization that informs it. (p.187)Generalisations form a large part of our knowledge acquisition skills, but Millar suggests that we can acquire knowledge by recognition; so we can recognise from tracks on a path that deer have been there. While a certain amount of the background knowledge to this judgement is plainly observational, there is, he claims, a recognitional skill that has been learnt that cannot be reduced to perception, memory and inference – ‘...we should also take seriously the idea that our knowledge that p from someone's telling us that p is recognitional as well’ (ibid).
If early learning is to be conceived as the acquisition of knowledge through being told, as in the straightforward cases, then the knowledge will not meet the conditions I have laid down. (p.192)And he offers an approach to the acquisition of such knowledge which is reductionist. He says that knowing that Hobart is the capital of Tasmania ‘consists in an ability to recall a publicly available, known fact, which has been gained from repeated encounters with reliable sources of information’ (p.192).
|The panel, with some minor celebrity spotting thrown in.|
[Same sex] marriages are a sort of legal fiction which we must respect.He thinks there is an essence to marriage that resists legal re-definitions, just as horses and chairs could not be re-defined. This shows a curious blindness to the complexity of social institutions, which, by their very nature (one may say 'essence'), are defined by their social milieu. Simply perusing the Wikipedia article on marriage presents a bewildering variety of types, many of which do not feature just one man and one woman (WLC's preferred flavour). Of course, to describe the marriage of two people in love as any sort of fiction is deeply offensive to those involved.
The Supreme Court did not legalize, nor is anyone advocating for, gay marriage. What it legalized was same-sex marriage, regardless of sexual orientation....and he is right, strictly speaking. But let's not pretend that Craig is railing against two heterosexual men getting married; it is the homosexuality he is prejudiced against, and his language shows his prejudice:
Suppose you are a baker who is approached to make a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding or that you are a wedding photographer who is hired to photograph a same-sex ceremony. It’s hard to see how you can justifiably resist legal authority here and refuse to comply, regardless of how distasteful it may be to you, since your activity is not sin on your part.Craig supposes it may be 'distasteful' to provide a service for a same-sex marriage; why 'distasteful'? Sin is not a matter of taste, after all. Plainly it's the homosexuality that is not to Craig's taste, rather than some contravention of his definition of marriage. If somebody redefined a horse as a chair, no-one would find that 'distasteful'; simply incorrect.
...we should and must resist authority if it requires us to act contrary to God’s will.So, he thinks it's necessary for Christians to impose God's will over and above the law of the land. As at least one study suggests, what God wants tends to be the same as what the individual believer wants. This is a recipe for insurrection, or at least civil disobedience à la Kim Davis, even if one has some sympathy for conscientious objectors in general.
As our secular culture becomes more and more accommodating to same-sex marriage, the pressure upon Christians to compromise and conform will be heavy and unrelenting.Yes, the repeal of anti-miscegenation laws delivered legal justice and, as a consequence, generated social pressure on racists to drop their prejudices; so too, now, will the pressure build upon the homophobic to drop their prejudices now that equality before the law has been granted to those of every sexual orientation.
I love this party because in my heart and in my soul I am a liberal.
I believe in a society in which we are all free to make our own choices and live the lives we want. But freedom means very little when the only choices we have to make are whether to feed our children or heat our homes.
Now we must be the voice for the poor and the disadvantaged, the underdog and the despised. We must defend fundamental human rights and freedoms from Tory attack; it falls to us to make the unequivocal economic and moral case for immigration; and I will proudly make the case for Europe in the forthcoming referendum.
Liberalism is about championing the individual against the powerful, that means standing firm for our Human Rights Act, against internet surveillance and illiberal extremism orders. But it’s also about protecting individuals from those giant evils that rob people of their freedom: poverty, poor housing, inequality.
A free society that glories in diversity is a stronger society.
We believe that everyone is entitled to equal respect, whatever their income, personal characteristics, way of life, beliefs or sexuality.
He thinks God knows everything. ‘Every hair on your head is numbered,’ he says, without blinking. God knows every hair on his head? ‘Yeah.’
He scoffs at the idea of a ‘half-baked distant God – either he created every bloomin’ atom in the entire universe or he didn’t’. He derides those who believe in ‘some kind of part-time, low-wattage God’.Similarly, he believes Heaven and Hell really exist. Heaven is ‘a place where there’s no more tears, no more crying, no more pain, no more suffering, no more death’.Such certainty strikes me as illiberal. His conversion to Christianity sounds ill-considered:
It exists as a physical entity? ‘Yeah. It’s what the Bible tells me.’
He became a Christian at 18, when marooned in a house in rainy Singapore on a trip with his mum. ‘There was nothing to blinkin’ read and I read this weird-looking book on God. It was life-changing,’ he explains.For something so 'life-changing' you would hope that a deep thinker would need more than one book.
There are past statements of his...which strongly suggest he holds fundamentalist views regarding the Christian faith...Such peculiar but (too?) strongly held views can lead to bizarre political actions. He signed a letter to the ASA saying:
...unless you can persuade us that you have reached your ruling [that the Healing On The Streets ministry in Bath are no longer able to claim, in their advertising, that God can heal people from medical conditions] on the basis of indisputable scientific evidence, we intend to raise this matter in Parliament.He subsequently conceded that this was silly, but still maintained the ASA 'really aren’t appointed to be the arbiter of theological matters, I think they’ve overstepped their remit.' and admitted:
As a Christian I believe that prayer helps – although my belief is that God mostly heals through medicine, surgery and human compassion and ingenuity.So he does believe in prayer-healing, which is pretty daft on evidentiary grounds, and completely daft on scientific grounds.
Christianity, I am convinced, is not ‘a bit’ true. It is either not true, or it is so compellingly utterly true, that almost nothing else matters … There is no middle way....which he apparently made at a National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast in 2013.
Abortion is wrong. Society has to climb down from the position that says there is nothing morally objectionable about abortion before a certain time. If abortion is wrong, it is wrong at any time.The worry from his response to the prayer-healing debacle is that he will mould his liberalism in the light of his religious beliefs, not mould his religious beliefs in the light of his liberalism. As Catherine Bennett writes:
It seems only fair to ask that, when ethics are debated, [MPs] disclose which supernatural affiliation has dictated their response, along with any penalties for disobedience.(Photo "Tim Farron 2014" by West Berkshire Liberal Democrats from Newbury, England - IMG_1781. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tim_farron_2014.jpg#/media/File:Tim_farron_2014.jpg)