Interesting to compare two different responses to Southern Lauren‘s attempt to enter a Muslim area she opposes. Each links to a different report of the event. (I had thought Southern had been denied a visa to enter Australia; I’ve obviously been out of touch with the latest developments.)
A darling of extreme right-wingers everywhere . . . there’s no doubt that she’s a bigot. Nevertheless, she has the right to speak and the right to go anywhere she wants in public. In this encounter, though, she wants to enter to a “no go” part of Sydney, Australia inhabited largely by Muslims. There’s no doubt she wanted to stir up trouble. . . . The thing is, she has a right to do that; and, indeed, calling public attention to Islamic homophobia or sharia law has its beneficial side. . . . I emphatically defend Southern’s right to say and do what she wants in public. . . . [A]n Aussie police inspector . . . has “grave concerns that she might cause a breach of the peace” because the area is “highly religious”:===. . . . [H]er counterarguments are sound: any “breach of the peace” would be the fault of those who would cause the trouble, not Southern. . . . .
Southern did her usual schtick of seeking out what she calls “no-go zones” to show how racist they are, as if she thinks racism is a bad thing. So she walks into an area with a high proportion of Muslims with camera and sound guy in tow, making a little bit of a spectacle of herself, and notices how suspiciously people are looking at her (surprise!) and that some people are yelling in Arabic (oh my god), and starts to head down a street to a mosque to stir up some real juicy footage. She’s stopped by a policeman, who tells her no: he knows that she’s there to provoke trouble, so he tells her that she may not go there. He also informs her that local white people have no trouble coexisting in this neighborhood — making it clear that the problem isn’t with respectful citizens, it’s specifically with her and her actions. . . . She knows nothing.
Reader Peter Nothnagle sent me the transcript of an Easter talk, “Jesus: Fact or Fiction?”, that he gave last March to a joint meeting of the Unitarian-Universalist Society of Iowa City and the Secular Humanists and the Secular Students at Iowa. I was much impressed with Peter’s success at distilling all the scholarship around the historical “Jesus” (he’s read all the relevant stuff) as well as his ability to present it in a reader (and listener) friendly manner.
Peter’s conclusion is that there is no evidence for a historical person around whom the Jesus myth accreted—something I’ve thought for a long time. . . .
Peter Nothnagle (who describes himself in his presentation as “just some guy with a hobby”) forwarded Jerry Coyne a covering note in which he writes:
I conclude that the figure of Jesus was invented by one faction in a diverse religious landscape in an effort to create an “apostolic succession” of authority – “our priests were taught by priests that were taught by followers of Jesus Christ himself, in person”. But even if I’m completely wrong about that, it is undeniable that the only evidence that exists for a living, breathing, walking, talking Jesus is weak, contradictory, or simply fraudulent. Therefore no one can be justified in believing that such a person existed.
Such blind dogmatism! :-J
Coyne himself comments:
One of the things that’s always puzzled me is the rush to judgment about the historical Jesus by Biblical scholars, nearly all of whom, including Bart Ehrman, are eager to say that a historical (not a divine!) Jesus is probable, despite the woeful lack of evidence. This includes Biblical scholars who aren’t religious. It often seems that they’re being tendentious: trying to arrive at a conclusion that splits the difference between secularists and religious people, trying to offend neither group.
The paper itself, or a Why Evolution is True (WEIT) version, is downloadable at here. (I have not yet read it but will probably comment when I do.)
Interestingly this post appears hard on the heels of staunch anti-mythicist James McGrath comparing Christ mythicists with hypocritical and smug airline passengers who think they can pilot their aircraft better than the trained pilot. He attacks their “hypocrisy” . . .
the hypocrisy of it, as though figuring out what is happening with the climate, or the history of biological organisms, or what happened in the past, involves less training and expertise than flying a plane or performing surgery. All these different skills share in common that there is training and specialization required, and while plenty of people think that they can do them without training, the evidence doesn’t support such assertions.
In stark contradiction to this assertion that anyone doubting the historicity of Jesus is way out of one’s untrained intellectual depth, only 48 hours earlier the same author claimed the evidence for the historical existence of Jesus was so obvious or clear to everyone (by inference even to “just a guy with a hobby”) that mythicists were “morally reprehensible” for rejecting it:
denying that which we have adequate evidence for is more irrational – and more morally reprehensible – than believing that for which we do not have adequate evidence.
At any rate, there’s a lively discussion going on in Heather’s comments section, and Neil Godfrey has shown up, arguing, as he always does, that the role of Islam in Islamic terrorism is much overrated. I’m just glad he’s inflicted himself on Heather and not me.
It baffles me that nearly every nonreligious ideology—Nazism, Stalinism, racism, and so on—can be seen without opposition as a source of horrible acts, but when you get to religion, well, nope, it never inspires anything bad. (Of course, those same folks will tell you about all the good it inspires.)
Of course Islamists terrorists used their religious beliefs to justify their terrorist program. Of course National Socialism and Stalinism inspired wicked things. So is “socialism” to blame for the Holocaust? the genocide of the kulaks? I recently wrote a post referring to Robert Owen and his socialist ideas. It’s utterly absurd to suggest socialism itself is responsible in any way for Hitler’s rampage in the name of National Socialism or anything done by Stalin.
Nazi and Stalinist ideologies are to socialism as Islamism is to Islam — as my recent posts on the origins of Islamism make very clear in the words of the Islamists themselves.
Who the hell is this Neil Godfrey anyway that Jerry Coyne should bother to even make reference on his blog post to my comment on Heather’s site?
Jerry Coyne is no doubt upsetting the biblical scholars whose living (and more often than not their personal faith) depends upon Jesus having been a historical figure @ Not much evidence for a historical Jesus. (He insists he speaks as a scientist and as such is not very impressed by theologians claiming he should respect the consensus of theologians; I do wish he’d approach Islam scientifically, too!) He’s referring to Historical Evidence For Jesus by Rosa Rubicondior.
(As an afterthought, I also wish theologians would not botch the theory of evolution by unscientifically saying that it is compatible with Old Earth Creationism.)
I’m always surprised at how much rancor is directed toward “mythicists”—those who deny that there was a real Jesus who, whether or not he was divine, was the nucleus around which Christianity accreted. I’m also surprised at how certain many biblical scholars are that Jesus existed (Bart Ehrman, to give a prominent example).
Yet although I am the first to admit that I have no formal training in Jesusology, I think I’ve read enough to know that there is no credible extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus’s existence . . . . As a scientist, I’ll say that I don’t regard the evidence that Jesus was a real person as particularly strong—certainly not strong enough to draw nearly all biblical scholars to that view. It’s almost as if adopting mythicism brands you as an overly strident atheist, one lacking “respect” for religion. There’s an onus (animus?) against mythicism that can’t be explained by the strength of evidence against that view.
[I] agree with Carrier that mythicism appears to be rejected by Biblical scholars for mere psychological reasons. . . . And I’m still puzzled why Bart Ehrman, who goes even farther in demolishing the mythology of Jesus in his new book, remains obdurate about the fact that such a man existed.
One can already hear the predictable responses from the anti-mythicist guild ….. area of expertise… not qualified… consensus…
Jerry Coyne, a scientist whom I and many others respect for his efforts in advancing a popular understanding of evolution, has invited a guest post on his blog, Why Evolution Is True, by Ben Goren on the historicity of Jesus.
He begins (and I quote this much to whet appetites to read the full post on Jerry’s blog):
Many æons ago, in the heyday of USENET, I was first exposed to the idea that maybe there simply wasn’t any “there” there at the heart of Jesus’s story. It was, of course, at first a bizarre notion…but one that eventually become overwhelmingly compelling to me — and especially, ironically enough, after I took the time to look up the original sources Christian apologists offered as evidence for Jesus’s existence.
Somewhere along the line, I started challenging apologists to offer a coherent apologia, a theory of Jesus that was both self-consistent and supported by evidence. In all the years since then, I cannot recall even one single person, Christian, atheist, or other, who argues for an historical Jesus who has ever taken me up on this challenge, despite repeatedly offering it and even begging people to take a whack at it. And, so, I’d like to thank Jerry for letting me use his own soapbox to present this challenge to what’s, I’m sure, the largest audience it’s yet received.
I was disappointed, and for some reason even a little surprised, to read Jerry Coyne’s response, Islamophobia again, to my recent post and see that he chose not to deal with the key points I raised. In fact, he merely repeated his own arguments as if my own rebuttal of them was nowhere on record. What was most disappointing was his upfront declaration that he had no interest in engaging with contrary views, even referring readers to a Christopher Hitchens quotation expressing disdain for any opinions but his own and inviting anyone who wishes to challenge those opinions to kiss his arse.
So there is clearly no interest on Jerry’s side to seriously debate the issue. His mind is made up and has no room for anything new when it comes to the question of Islam.
Much of his post is elaborating on the recent events in Bangladesh. At least a hundred thousand demonstrators (estimates vary between 100,000 and 500,000 in the news sources) have come out into the streets calling for the deaths of atheist bloggers. That is how the news has been filtered into the Western media and that’s all there is to the story as far as Jerry and others are concerned. Presumably anyone who has any further information that might change that view of theirs will be invited to kiss Jerry’s arse.
This blog is all about sharing information and inviting readers to look deeper behind what is most commonly presented to the public. Concerning what is going on in Bangladesh, I really did expect intelligent and thoughtful sceptics to be a little more astute and diligent with checking sources before swallowing what they see on mainstream TV news.
So at the end of this post I will present a few facts — facts easily obtainable by anyone with unfettered access to the internet — that Jerry and others presumably do not think are relevant.
Can you imagine Catholics, for example, rallying by the hundreds of thousands to call for the death of anti-Catholic bloggers? Or murdering them?
Not in this day and age, no. But I do know of some ugly moments in history . . . And that’s Jerry’s problem here. He has assumed a situation in Bangladesh needs absolutely no reference to history there, or to the different religious groups and political roles they have played in recent decades and months, is validly comparable to a Catholic area in the United States. This is the danger of people not knowing or understanding, or not even being interested in understanding, another people on their own terms. Now Jerry has quickly added that what is happening in Bangladesh has nothing to do with colonialism or politics because the demonstrators are clearly saying “Death to the atheist bloggers” in the name of Islam.
That’s it. End of story. Kiss his arse if you want to actually understand some context and background to what has brought those demonstrators out to the streets with those cries, or suggest that this is worth a serious comparison with how Catholics in twenty-first-century America behave.
Jerry completely avoids my argument when he repeats this nonsense:
I still can’t quite understand why it’s sort of okay for atheists to level strong criticisms at other religions (Sam, after all, wrote Letter to a Christian Nation, and I spent an entire week on this site documenting the immorality of the Catholic Church [e.g., here and here]), so long as that religion is not Islam. We’re not accused of Catholicphobia or Baptistphobia, but only Islamophobia. I think this reflects a double standard, for such accusations hold Muslims to lower standards
Rubbish. I have criticized Islam. (Not often, I admit, because my experience is mostly with Christianity.) I have no problems with anyone, not even Muslims, criticizing Islam. There is a lot to criticize, especially given that they have not had the history of Reformations (plural) and Enlightenment challenges that Christianity has experienced. They have a lot of catching up to do.
From time to time since starting this blog I have had a few Muslims (not all!) take great offence at some of my comments or posts. Jerry did not notice or understand my explicit comparison of the sorts of criticisms that are leveled against other religions and those that are lately leveled against Muslims by our leading lights of new Atheism.
He then reprises the accusations he says he regularly hears against new Atheism and its association with Islamophobia. I don’t know if he really hears all of these arguments, because his first point, “it’s racism”, fails to grasp what is actually being said about Islamophobia. Islamophobia is not racism in the normal sense of the word, but it does take negative racist stereotypes and imputes them into a whole religion, and inevitably that implies all adherents of that religion. That’s a neat way of enabling one to claim the odd Muslim (or Jew or black man) that one knows really is a nice person without detracting from the general collective demonization or dehumanization.
Is this dehumanization?
When anyone imputes to other groups the potential to act in a way that is not normally ‘human’ — e.g. on the mere say-so of an authority, and for no other reason or unusual conditioning, go out and kill others; or believe that parents en masse threatened to kill their children in order to gain entrance into a first world country (we once had a Prime Minister here who had much/most of the nation believing just this about some Muslim refugees!) — then one is dehumanizing them.
Jerry also says his critics argue that Islam is no worse than any other religion. I don’t know what others say, but there is no doubt Islam has some major problems that are not faced by Christianity today, and that has to do with history as mentioned above. But let’s stop using abstractions for people. Let’s talk about adherents of religions. That’s where the conflict and any future solution lies. It’s the adherents who define the religion in real terms. And critics of Islam need to know a lot more about Islamic populations than they glean from mainstream media soundbites.
And Jerry misses the point completely about the question of “not all Muslims being violent”. Jerry is not listening — he tells people to take a ticket and go and . . . . — so he keeps repeating the same old the same old the same old. I don’t know how I could have made the point any clearer in my previous post but (or therefore?) he ignores the real argument completely.
Bangladeshi Demonstrators Calling for the Deaths of Atheist Bloggers
No doubt anyone with his or her mind made up will only find in what follows validation for their Islamophobia. But for others . . . .
Disclaimer: this post expresses my own view entirely. Others who also have posted on this blog may or may not think quite differently.
Time to get dirty hands and write about something important. Something unhealthy has been happening in the name of criticizing “tenets of religious belief . . . bad ideas and behaviors.” Prominent public intellectuals, in the name criticizing harmful religious beliefs, have become mouthpieces for ignorance and intolerance.
Just as it is incumbent upon Muslims to marginalise their own violent extremists, mainstream atheists must work to disavow those such as Harris who would tarnish their movement by associating it with a virulently racist, violent and exploitative worldview. — Murtaza Hussain
Jerry Coyne, who has written probably one of the best books for generalists arguing the case for evolution, and whose blog I check from time to time for updates in the sciences, also from time to time posts disturbingly ignorant articles about Islam or Palestinians. Richard Dawkins, whom I respect and love as much as anyone does for his publications explaining evolution, was not very long ago interviewed by a Muslim on Al Jazeera and unashamedly threw off all his scientific training by relying entirely on anecdotal and media portrayals of Muslims. I have previously criticized Sam Harris for doing worse. Chris Hitchens, as much as I admire his works on Kissinger and Mother Teresa and his all-round wit, was guilty, too.
Over the last few days Jerry Coyne has been posting his disapproval of anyone suggesting his views on Islam (shared by the other names above) are Islamophobic. See Nasty atheist-bashing in Salon, Playing the Islamophobic Card and New Attacks on New Atheists (and one defense). He accuses such critics of quoting the likes of Harris out of context, of not defining what they mean by Islamophobia, of fallaciously accusing them of guilt by association with neo-fascists, and worst of all, of failing to address any of their actual criticisms of the Muslim religion.
Why are their criticisms of the Muslim religion wrong?
I am an atheist. I have experienced some of the best and worst of religion. I wish for a world where humanity has discovered that religion is long past its “use by” date. I believe that the Abrahamic religions in particular are responsible for immeasurable sufferings and torments among societies and individuals. I have no time for their belief systems. The sooner we all outgrow our awe of our holy books the better. (None of this means I believe in attacking individuals for their beliefs. There is a difference between criticizing belief systems and targeting individuals over their personal faith.)
I have compared different varieties of Christianity today with the various drugs on the market. Vapid Anglicanism is a mild aspirin. Happy Pentecostals are the happy marijuanas. I know of a few cults that are the deadly heroins. (They really do reduce addicts to ill health, poverty, anti-social life-styles and death, literally. Suicides, untreated illness, ignorance within and without the cults.)
According to most scholars with anti-mythicist viscera I have come across, the very idea of a mythicist publishing in a scholarly peer-reviewed journal is not supposed to be possible. So it is heartening to see a mythicist’s publication in a pay-wall journal (you can’t read it unless you pay the publisher — and it doesn’t matter if you were one of those who contributed financially to Richard Carrier’s research grant) and not only that, but one that is noticed and publicized by a much wider constituency — Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True blog.
At least evolutionist Jerry Coyne himself is able to outline some of the pertinent points related to this argument. Richard Carrier himself blogs to point to evidence he did not cite in his article.
Sam Harris, Jerry Coyne, and no doubt many other atheists have landed especially hard blows against the Muslim religion recently, prompted specifically by the recent wave of deadly protests over the trailer for the film Innocence of Muslims. So here are my two bits.
Sam Harris dismisses the idea that murderous violence of Muslim rioters should be ultimately blamed upon Western foreign policies (a euphemism for invasion, occupation, exploitation, support for violent overthrow of some dictators and democratically elected governments alike, and support for the violent entrenchment of other dictators among the Muslim states of the Middle East).
Sam Harris has countered that if it were not for the particular religious teachings of the Muslim religion then Muslims would not react with blood-lust against makers and facilitators of a satirical movie mocking their religion. Christians don’t react the same way when someone insults their faith. So it is clear that there is something more rotten in the state of Islam than in other religious faiths.
One of the problems (there are several) I have with this argument is that the Muslim violence we have been experiencing has not been with us until quite recent times. Violence and terrorism used to come from anarchists and secular political movements in Europe and the Middle East. The pioneer suicide bombers (in Lebanon in the 1980s) included Christians and Socialists (See Dying to Win by Richard Pape). The current wave of Muslim violence is not one of history’s constants but is a new thing.
Presumably Sam Harris’s complaint is that a more civilized religion would not see its adherents so seethe in response to whatever geopolitical shifts or Western policy intrusions into the Middle East have occurred in recent times, so that when an insulting work raises its head, devotees of more benign faiths would still manage to behave themselves.
But that just leads to the next question: Why do the majority of Muslims not react so violently but have instead been embarrassed by the violence and have loudly urged their brothers and sisters to simply ignore the ridicule? And another question: How do we explain the quiet of the Muslims for so long until quite recent times? Did no one ever publish a blasphemous or satirical cartoon or work until recent times? Or did Muslim communities generally ignore anything like that however offended they may have personally been? Continue reading “All this Muslim business”
If there is no original ancestor who transmitted hereditary sin to the whole species, then there is no Fall, no need for redemption, and Jesus’ death as a sacrifice efficacious for the salvation of humanity is pointless. The whole raison d’etre for the Christian plan of salvation disappears. . . . .
Science has now shown us that both selfish behavior and altruistic impulses are at least partially heritable traits. The instinct for self-preservation and a concern for the well-being of other individuals appear to have both played a role in the survival and evolution of our species. If that is the case, then the tension between “sin” and selflessness might actually help define who we are as humans. The project of religion has been sin eradication, and that approach now appears to be a fundamental denial of human nature. . . . . Continue reading “Evolution and Christianity are not compatible”
I would love to share in a series of posts here some of Jerry Coyne’s paper, Science, Religion, and Society: The Problem of Evolution in America, for those who do not have online access to it. (It is available through a paywall only — see the link for details.) Jerry Coyne’s blog post certainly assures us he would like it to be shared widely.
Not a matter of anti-supernatural bias
I am singling out here one short section in the paper in which he addresses the claim often heard among the faithful that scientists (and by extension we could also say historians) approach their studies with a bias against the supernatural.
The idea that deities don’t affect the universe, then, is not an unjustified a priori assumption, as theologians often claim, but a conclusion born of experience: the experience that only a naturalistic attitude — -that is, a scientific one — has helped us understand nature and make verified predictions about it. As our confidence that science helps us understand the universe grows, so wanes our notion that immaterial and supernatural forces exist.
So what leads to this conclusion?
Beyond this incompatibility of methodology and outcomes is a philosophical incompatibility: the scientific view that supernatural beings aren’t just unnecessary to explain the universe (“methodological naturalism”), but can be taken as nonexistent (“philosophical naturalism”). Forrest (2000, p. 21) explains the link between these two forms of naturalism:
Taken together, the (1) proven success of methodological naturalism combined with (2) the massive body of knowledge gained by it, (3) the lack of a comparable method or epistemology for knowing the supernatural, and (4) the subsequent lack of any conclusive evidence for the existence of the supernatural, yield philosophical naturalism as the most methodologically and epistemologically defensible world view.
This is where philosophical naturalism wins — it is a substantive worldview built on the cumulative results of methodological naturalism, and there is nothing comparable to the latter in terms of providing epistemic support for a worldview. If knowledge is only as good as the method by which it is obtained, and a world view is only as good as its epistemological underpinning, then from both a methodological and an epistemological standpoint, philosophical naturalism is more justifiable than any other world view that one might conjoin with methodological naturalism.
Someone posted a link to a post on my blog on Jerry Coyne’s blog “Why Evolution Is True” (See his post: I get Christian email: more irreducible complexity) — and wonderful, wonderful! I like reading books like his (I have referenced Coyne’s book twice here but never knew he also had a blog) — and I loved reading his summary explanation for the evolution of sex. He was giving a clearly reasoned, evidence-based response to a Creationist. I have read more detailed accounts of this topic, but what was refreshing was to see how real science, real argument, real logic, real evidence, really works. You don’t find arguments like that — or you certainly very rarely find them — when historical Jesus scholars respond to Jesus mythicist arguments. Actually that is misleading. Historical Jesus scholars very rarely in my experience ever respond to Christ myth arguments. They mostly pretend to, usually with a snicker or sneer, and demonstrate their ignorance or incomprehension of
basic historical methodological ideals in nonbiblical studies,
A good friend who is a creationist recently offered me a creationist article to read (“or refute”). The article’s arguments against evolution are based on:
a misstatement of, or failure to understand, the arguments for evolution itself
a glossing over of arguments for evolution by misleading oversimplifications
a failure to address the counter-evidence for evolution cited by evolutionary scientists
“bait and switch” — “sloppy language leading to sloppy thinking”
The article my friend gave me is Tortoises of the Galapagos by Lita Cosner and Jonathan Sarfati, apparently found in creation.com.
Here is the critical passage:
Evolution from goo to you via the zoo would require new genes encoding encyclopedic amounts of new information. But the tortoises’ adaptation to various island environments can be explained by the sorting out of already existing genes with some of these then eliminated by natural selection. . . .