Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
The ups and downs of English
James Harris on The ups and downs of English
Simon Gibbs on Wedding photography (4): Preparations
6000 on Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
Darren on Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
Michael Jennings on Wedding photography (2): Signs
MarkR on Feynman Diagrams on the Feynman van
MNB Achari on Google Nexus 4 photos
MNB Achari on The ups and downs of English
Robert Hale on Feynman Diagrams on the Feynman van
Most recent entries
- Big Things blocked by the trees of Southwark Park
- Wedding photography (4): Preparations
- Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
- Reflections on a strange coincidence involving an Android app and a malfunctioning bus stop sign
- Feynman Diagrams on the Feynman van
- Rothko Toast
- Wedding photography (3): Technology as sculpture
- And another posting from my smartphone
- Posted from my new smartphone
- Google Nexus 4 photos
- Wedding photography (2): Signs
- Wedding photography (1): The superbness of the weather
- A Fleet Street lunch
- So painters also used to “take” pictures
- Funniest run out ever?
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Category archive: Atheism
From the Preface of The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins:
A lawyer or a politician is paid to exercise his passion and his persuasion on behalf of a client or a cause in which he may not privately believe. I have never done this and I never shall. I may not always be right, but I care passionately about what is true and I never say anything that I do not believe to be right. I remember being shocked when visiting a university debating society to debate with creationists. At dinner after the debate, I was placed next to a young woman who had made a relatively powerful speech in favour of creationism. She clearly couldn’t be a creationist, so I asked her to tell me honestly why she had done it. She freely admitted that she was simply practising her debating skills, and found it more challenging to advocate a position in which she did not believe. Apparently it is common practice in university debating societies for speakers simply to be told on which side they are to speak. Their own beliefs don’t come into it. I had come a long way to perform the disagreeable task of public speaking, because I believed in the truth of the motion that I had been asked to propose. When I discovered that members of the society were using the motion as a vehicle for playing arguing games, I resolved to decline future invitations from debating societies that encourage insincere advocacy on issues where scientific truth is at stake.
I uphold the right of people to indulge in such debating games, but share Dawkins’s extreme distaste for having any part in them myself. I also think that Dawkins makes his point very well, as is usual with him.
The thing that pissed me off about university debating societies like this one was not so much the insincerity, as the fact that they seemed to use the argument as a mere excuse to do bad stand-up comedy. They weren’t seriously pretending to take the other side. They frivolously refused to take any side at all, and didn’t give a damn that they made this entirely obvious. Poor, pathetic you for taking the subject so absurdly seriously, for caring about it all, for getting so involved.
The thing some people don’t seem to get about Dawkins is how much emotion is involved in his fiercely logical harangues. They assume that because he is trying so hard to be logical, which he is, that therefore no deep feeling can be involved. But there is no necessary conflict between logic and depth of feeling, any more than there is a necessary conflict between a car engine and petrol.
Just now I am on the look out for little (or big) things from books, so that I can practice scanning stuff in, to my new computer, with my new scanner. Right now it is still a bit of a struggle, so expect more bits from more books.
Today (this being the small hours of “tomorrow") I had a huge new computer delivered. Well, it’s actually the same size as the old one, but being much more formidable in what it does, in particular in how fast it does what it does, it seems bigger, the way formidable people also seem bigger. The old one was Windows XP. Now it’s Windows 7.
I admire the new machine, but have yet to bond with it. I respect it enormously, but do not, as yet, like it. It has as its regular screen picture a succession of horribly Photoshop-enhanced photos of classic British Isles coastal scenes, which I did not take, the sunset behind what I think must be the Giants Causeway (somewhere in (Northern?) Ireland) being particularly garish and ugly and tasteless. Everything else on the screen also looks more or less different, and hence more or less wrong. The keyboard is the usual huge nuclear power station controller, ostentatiously crammed with an unprecedented gaggle of incomprehensible bells and whistles doing who knows what, and this keyboard, unlike any of its predecessors, is physically unconnected to anything, instead communicating telepathically with a pod on a wire. I have already plugged in my lovely old Mac keyboard. But, I’ll get used to it. I’ll have to, because the old one was also taken away, what remained of it after its various hard discs of data had all been removed or transferred. That boat has been burned.
Just to say where I come from, in case strangers are passing by (welcome, by the way): I’m an atheist, for most of the usual atheist reasons, and an atheist who prefers Christianity to Islam, for most of the usual human reasons.
Were a time traveller/historian from the future to reveal to me that Islam had indeed been defeated (setting aside for the time being just what “defeated” might mean), I would expect him/her to add, at some point in our (I hope) quite prolonged discussions, that Christianity had played a big part in this excellent outcome.
Religion seems to me to be a part of human nature, which is not to say that all humans seem to need it like we all need air, food or drink. It’s just that a lot of us seem to. As an atheist I am resigned to this. All the arguments that convince me of the non-existence of God are not so much wrong, to a religionist, as beside the point. The point being that they really need their religion, and that’s the truth that matters to them, not people like me explaining the factual implausibility of spaghetti monsters or orbiting teapots (two favourite atheist inventions).
So the question for many is simply: which religion shall it be? And just now, it seems, although I don’t know the numbers, that when it comes to people converting from one religion to another, the big story in the world in recent decades is of people converting from Islam to Christianity, particularly (so I am told) in Africa, but even more particularly in the rich societies of Europe and the USA. See, for instance, this posting, which I dug up on the www, and in particular the comments, where “Kepha” says:
My guess is that the time is not far off when the number of conversions from Islam in the West will be so large that it will be noticed; and the most that the jihadis will be able to do is splutter with helpless rage ...
But, say other commenters in the same thread, Muslims are more than replacing themselves, by having a higher birthrate.
Many things could be said about this. I will confine myself to one (or maybe it’s two followed by a deduction), which is that whereas the flow of Muslims out of Islam and into Christianity can be expected to continue pretty much indefinitely, very possibly becoming a stampede once converts to Christianity are able to be more public about the process, the current high birthrates of many Muslim countries can be expected, in due course, to moderate. All modernising countries experience a big bulge in their birthrates, but this never lasts, or such is my understanding.
If the above is right, that’s very good news for Christianity and very bad news for Islam. And people like me, who would merely like to see Islam defeated, can just relax and be patient and let history take its course.
Okay, pessimistic cup-half-empty commenters, off you go. Tell me this is all wishful thinking.
If you feel like it. These Islam postings here are really just me thinking aloud. If others join in fine, but if not, fine too.
The Gospel of Matthew: A Book for Today? Just putting this link here because I don’t want to forget about this fascinating article.
Roughly, as I recall (it being a while since I read this), Edmund Standing (a favourite writer of mine - see one of the links here), says that St Matthew’s Gospel tells of a Jew (Jesus) with a message for other Jews, about exactly how to fight the Jewish corner against all comers. The rest of us are not intended to be part of the discussion.
All part of the big claim that Christianity means pretty much whatever you want it to mean, massive reinterpretation being built into its very DNA, in extreme contrast to Islam. Which, flying off at a huge tangent from a posting about James I’s son dying in 1612, we argue about in the comments, here.
And in connection with that comment thread, I also don’t want to forget about this, by one of the key protagonists in that.
My problem (one of my problems) is that I accumulate open windows, to things I don’t want to forget about, and which I am hence reluctant to shut. But these open windows, and all the advertising shite they come with, clog up my computer, or so it feels to me.
Now I am sure there is a better answer to this problem than the one that follows, but for now, my answer, today, is to stick a few such links here, where they won’t vanish in half a day and where anyway I know my way around.
The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet. Note, incidentally, the disastrous headline punctuation. Punctuation in headlines says you can’t have a full stop at the end of a headline, but that you can have whatever punctuation you like in the middle of the headline, fullstops included. Bizarre. (Not that that’s why the piece interests me.)
That Codevilla piece about the American ruling class. Actually I think a major part of this story is that it isn’t only the American ruling class. It’s a global, or at least beyond national, class. The entire West that was is starting to be ruled by a united gang of interconnected people. Rulers of The World Unite. You have nothing to lose but the love of your dreary little voters. (To “love”, should I add “consent”?)
On the Validity and Necessity of Atheist Criticism of Islam. I like Edmund Standing a lot. Mostly I agree with this. But, I think he makes too little of the differences between Christianity and Islam. Christianity is bonkers but Islam is downright evil. (Although, I do admit that Christian anti-semitism is deeply embedded in it.) The problem I have with Islam is not only that it is so false. It is that it so nasty. Allah does not exist, but if Allah does exist he should be opposed. This is somewhat less true of the various Christian versions of God, especially nowadays.
The Vanity Fair Sarah Palin piece. I want to read this to see if it actually says anything more than: she’s a politician! Is she going to run for President? If she gets to be President will she be a quite good one, as Reagan (won the Cold War - only talked about stopping the US state spending rise) was. Will President Palin, that is to say, actually stop the US state spending rise?
The Chinese state media global offensive. Were a time traveller from a hundred years hence to invite me to guess what sparked the Big War of 2037, I’d guess China versus someone, rather than Islam versus anyone. Islam has the will to Big War, but looks unlikely at all soon to command the means to wage it. (I include Iran in that judgement. There is more to having a Bomb than just having a Bomb. You must also have the means to attack the other guy’s Bomb, and to defend your remaining Bombs, which you must also have.) And I have long believed that being able to fight wars is more important in their causation than merely wanting to. I mean, few great powers unambiguously want to fight major wars, because they have too much to lose. But, from time to time, they still did, and might one day again. Hopefully The Bomb will continue to work its terrifying magic, and Great Wars Between Great Powers will continue to not happen, but how long will that last?
I want to do a Big Piece on Samizdata about all that, Real Soon Now. Globalisation as we now know it, i.e. the version where we don’t fight global wars against one another, is more caused by The Bomb (which first happened in 1945) than by Modern Electronic Communications (which first happened in 1842). See Global Ruling Class, uniting of, above.
That should clear out my computer’s tubes a little.
To all who are interested in this Draw Mohammed thing, which I most recently posted about here, I really recommend this piece, by a guy who runs an internet site where all the pictures and sculptures and so on ever made of Mohammed are gathered together. The point being that the claim that this is verboten is relative recent. Here’s one of the more decorous pictures, in which an implausibly sweet looking Mohammed takes his dictation, or whatever it was, from the Angel Gabriel:
There’s also quite a bit about the insane emails section of the site, where incoming psycho-emails from enraged Islamo-nutters (of whom there really do seem to be a great many) are collected for all to browse.
In among the comments, I found this, from “Big Bird”, who definitely speaks (in comment 40) for me:
I am an atheist so I don’t have a contestant in the invisible man sweepstakes but even a cursory attempt to compare the lives of Jesus and Mohamed will show there is no moral equivalency between the two. If Christians threaten others over a play then they are violating their teachings. If Muslims kill people for insulting their prophet then they are following their teachings.
Indeed. And that makes “their teachings” the fundamental problem, I would say. It’s no good concentrating only on the nutters who take these teachings dead seriously, and saying that this is the entire problem. The sane-apart-from-not-rejecting-their-teachings Muslims have also got to be told that this whole disaster is also their fault, arguably more their fault, because they are otherwise sane, and because, assuming for now that relentless claims to this effect are right, there are more of them than there are of the nutters. They are the ones doing the big, long-term damage, and they ought to know better. They keep “their teachings” alive and revered and hence liable, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, to be acted upon by anyone nutty. Or not so nutty, when the opportunity for some of serious conquest arises.
It’s like we’re dealing with a combination of God and Lenin. The aim should not be coexistence. It should be victory, over the whole thing. We should aim for a world where the number of and nature of the people who even say that they believe this stuff is small enough and harmless enough for it not to matter any more.
To me, the virtue of Everybody Draw Mohammed Day is that, as well as insisting upon the right of all to be offensive with what they say and draw and paint, it keeps the argumentative pot boiling concerning the more serious aspects of all this. What’s going on here? What’s the big picture? What is to be done? Etc.
And I recommend it to all my fellow Z-list bloggers. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? Nothing. Your “traffic” will remain beneath the contempt level, just like mine. Nobody will complain. Nobody will even comment. But, what’s the best that could happen? You could be threatened, and then you would have something real and interesting to blog about! The bad guys might even actually kill you, and then every hundredth blogger on earth (and that’s a lot of bloggers) would read your posthumous ravings, just for background to the story! A hitherto worthless footsoldier currently achieving nothing (you) in the war against Islamic or for that matter all other forms of stupidity will have tied several dozen stupid Islamists, minimum, in police and legal chewing gum, virtually for ever. What will the killers accomplish? Nothing. All they will have done is kill you. And when dead, you won’t even have to fend off seventy two crazed virgins in your afterlife, because as everyone sensible knows, there is no afterlife! It’s just win win win, as far as the eye can see.
As the big day approaches, blog about it. If nobody else is blogging about it, blog about that! When the fateful day has passed, blog about that! Whatever the bad guys do! If they commit mayhem, blog it. If they do nothing, blog that.
This is a beautifully crafted piece of internet virality, guaranteed to piss off exactly the people who should be pissed off, and to strengthen the hands of all of us would-be pissers, to coin a phrase, and generally push the world in exactly the direction it should be pushed in.
UPDATE: He‘s behind it too.
She disapproves, but I’m with her commenters.
Truth is true
The impossibility of God but the possibility of Michael Flatley’s cure and of super-super-flees
Mark Holland on believing in something and believing in nothing
Richard Dawkins on the Muhammad cartoons affair
Glenn Gould on the hereafter
The extreme memes spread by moderate Muslims
A Happy Christmas to all my readers
I am an atheist but I often prefer the Christians
How can intelligent decent people be so badly mistaken? And did 9/11 make you more opinionated?