Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Is the Boy Scouts' decision really all that bad?

I've seen a lot of 'conservative Christian' fallout over the Boy Scouts decision to admit openly gay scouts, while maintaining the ban on troop leaders. But I'm not convinced it's a bad idea yet. My standard is, if they maintain their views that same-sex sexual behavior is wrong - really, this is actually a step forward. I would LIKE young gays to live up to that standard. I see nothing wrong with the change.

Now, if they changed their standards such that same-sex sexual behavior is morally positive or neutral, then we have a problem. But as near as I can tell, this wasn't the change at all.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Overheard conversation...

"You know, I've run into a lot of small town folks, and those idiots don't realize that they already approve of socialism. Like, they help each other out - they help their neighbors, they give a lot of money and time to the poor in their neighborhood, they share their food, all that. But then they're like, NOT MUH AMERICA OBUMMER. I think these people would really come around to socialism if people told them, like, 'Socialism is what you're doing already, but for the person the next state over.'"

They forgot to add, "Oh and also, if you don't cooperate we'll shoot you or throw you in prison. And we decide who you help, you can't determine on your own who you think should be helped. Leave that to us, thanks. Also, keep your Christianity out of it altogether, because this is a secular, government project."

Mostly, though, I was amazed that they didn't once stop to think that maybe they had radically misunderstood the small-town values they'd grown to hate. No, clearly people who give to charity just don't realize that they're already socialists.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

New blog added to the sidebar.

Ingx24's random thoughts on everything.

I disagree with Ingx24 on quite a lot, but he's one of those people who actually bothers to read about the arguments he criticizes, and (perhaps owing to his own anti-materialism) has little patience for people mangling the classical arguments for God, for dualism, or for a variety of things. So, onto the blogroll he goes.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Is dialogue with an atheist possible?

rmatrgu asks, in light of my skepticism of the Strange Notions project,
I'm obviously late on this comment and this post but where would you say there were possibilities for dialogue between catholic and atheist, if at all? What are the areas in the dialogue where both parties could put up their hands and admit to having views that are contingent on further information?
I want to be clear. My skepticism of Strange Notions' project comes down entirely to their stated decision to have dialogue with New Atheists specifically. That's not reaching out just to atheists - that's reaching out to a subset of atheists. In particular, it's a subset of atheists that sets itself apart from the pack largely in terms of its militancy. Dialogue is not possible where mutual respect is not present - and respect is verboten on Cult of Gnu terms. The absolute best you get is conditional faking of respect, but that's only going to get you an imitation of dialogue.

It's the difference between having a conversation with 'Christians' and 'Westboro Baptist Members'. It's possible to have a fruitful discussion with a Catholic about the authority of the pope, the existence of God, etc. But WBC's schtick is goading and taunting people, and having zero respect for anyone who disagrees with them. There is no 'let's sit down and have a proper conversation' possibility with a WBC member who is adhering to WBC principles - at best, you talk at them, not with them.

Sometimes, dialogue is not possible.

But, that's the WBC and the Cult of Gnu. You can have a good dialogue with other atheists and Christians. If Strange Notions was just reaching out to atheists, period, I wouldn't have been skeptical. But their stated target is 'New Atheists', and that's just a project waiting to fail.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

How to make an atheist into an agnostic in five seconds.

Remind him that atheists have a burden of proof.

Codgitator on economics

I find myself in a similar situation to his. I understand the problems that come with a purely profit-driven approach to business. But I also understand the failings of socialism, and at least some of the complexities and realities of economics - enough to know that screaming 'A living wage!' isn't a recipe for economic progress. On the other hand, I also know that the economists themselves don't seem to know as much as they like to pretend they do.

Either way, the whole exchange reminded me of Cave Johnson's business experience. I have to admit, he came up with a great solution to his economic problems. Now, to find a way to make this work...

Strange Notions of Catholic-Atheist Dialogue

Brandon Vogt, who's apparently done some writing about how Catholics can interact with the new media (internet, I'm sure), is promoting Strange Notions - a website aimed at 'debate and discussion between Catholics and atheists.' Via Leah Libresco:

As the site expands, it will have more of it’s content written by atheists (interviews, debates, etc), but right now it’s fairly Catholic heavy.  Obviously, Brandon has more contacts on the Catholic end, so feel free to use the comments to recommend bloggers and writers he should reach out to.  This is a chance to try and make disagreements a little more concrete, instead of trying to debunk Christianity broadly, and having Catholics complain, “But you’re not talking about us!
The About page of Strange Notions is definitely worth checking out - quite an impressive list of contributors are shown there. Ben Wiker, Ed Feser, Mark Shea, and many more. There's a stated intention to get atheists contributing to the site as well, since they're going for the whole 'Atheists and Catholics in dialogue' sort of approach.  Brandon seems like a driven guy, and I wish the site well.

I am also completely skeptical of the approach. The goal is laudable, but the idea of having dialogue with the Cult of Gnu - not atheists and agnostics and irreligious generally, but specifically the Cult of Gnu - is, put simply, a joke. Sincere and productive dialogue requires both sides having real mutual respect for each other, and regarding each others' views as having intellectual merit. But what makes an atheist a Gnu is, fundamentally, a commitment to the view that not only is theism or Catholicism or (etc) wrong, but that it is a view not worth taking seriously to begin with.

Hence, you have Richard Dawkins saying things like this:

I suspect that most of our regular readers here would agree that ridicule, of a humorous nature, is likely to be more effective than the sort of snuggling-up and head-patting that Jerry is attacking. I lately started to think that we need to go further: go beyond humorous ridicule, sharpen our barbs to a point where they really hurt.
Michael Shermer, Michael Ruse, Eugenie Scott and others are probably right that contemptuous ridicule is not an expedient way to change the minds of those who are deeply religious. But I think we should probably abandon the irremediably religious precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.
Let's state the obvious: there is no possibility of productive dialogue on religion or God or any number of related topics, when someone has this attitude. But this is a hallmark, a defining trait, of the New Atheism - it's one of those things that sets them apart from the so-called 'accommodationists' they attack. It's a mentality of permanent warfare and an irrational belief, all wrapped up into one nice, simple package. To drop this belief - to say 'well, religious people aren't irrational. I disagree with with them, but theirs is a reasonable position all the same' - is to exit the Cult of Gnu. You may be an atheist still, but a New Atheist, you ain't.

Now, that doesn't mean New Atheists should be written off by guys like Brandon. Far from it. But at that point, your approach simply can't be one of dialogue. Instead, the conversation must be one sided: you talk, they listen, or you hope they listen. You remove the opportunity to mock, distract, throw out red herrings and more. You talk instead with reasonable atheists and agnostics for whom sincere respect and dialogue really is possible.

I think this is one of the weaknesses of Christians generally - this kind of woolly idea that, no matter how far gone someone is, you can still pull up a chair and sit down with a cup of coffee and have a relaxed, peaceful conversation with someone. It's not true, and it's harmful to pretend otherwise.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

In which the asshole makes a reappearance

I've been trying to keep my conversation style lately to 'focused, minimally sarcastic, minimally taunting' - it just doesn't help promote any meaningful dialogue, and even if I've got a strong argument, I'd rather people hear me out and consider changing their mind. Saying 'you're an idiot' in howevermany words only makes people retreat into their shell.

This rule gets lax with the Cult of Gnu, because they're immune to thoughtful discourse anyway. Literally. If they weren't, they would not be in the Cult - they'd be some other subspecies of atheist.

Either way, I poked my head in over at James Chastek's blog and got into a minor dustup there, so linked, with a guy named tildeb. Standard Cult of Gnu. Slightly better command of grammar than normal. I usually keep quiet on James Chastek's blog, along with Brandon Watson's, as they're both intelligent sorts given to a more refined style of discourse than I care to manage even when I'm trying to be polite. But hey, a threadshitting cultist? I don't feel as bad getting into it.

Anyway, it followed a few interesting patterns that tend to show up in Cultist discourse.

The Incredible Shrinking Claim: What started off as a statement that science had demonstrated that there was no fall and therefore humanity was in no need for a savior / Christianity has been falsified as science, by the end, turned into some kind of vague wharblegarble about "You don't respect science!!!"

Hook Line and Sinker: The claim trope went down partly because tildeb put way too much stock in Jerry "Specializes in making Fruitflies Fuck" Coyne's proclamations. See, he referenced Ed Feser's argument about first parents and argued that genetics show there can be no 'first parents of all humanity' in the past, even within a larger population, because then the mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam date estimates would converge. The problem was, this only holds if the claim is that Adam and Eve exclusively interbred or similarly such that their patriarchal/maternal lines were unbroken. Oops! Coyne forgot to mention that this wasn't the case. (Because if he mentioned it, it turns out there's no scientific problem after all for the scenario Feser and the like suggested.) So Coyne's attempt to sweep an inconvenient scientific/argument fact under the rug for PR purposes screwed over one of his disciples.

Those Who Love Science Rarely Understand It: My favorite part was the end bit about how science's methods == "respecting reality", but more than that, the fact that the exposure to science on display indicated a very, uh... fractured view of science. Insisting the 'evolution, by definition' doesn't allow for any guidance is just stupid beyond words. Evolution is descent with modification, period. And the idea that a scientific theory includes within it, implicitly or explicitly, a claim that God does not oversee or determine any outcomes is itself a laugh that's easy to poke a hole through. Just ask for the peer-reviewed research showing God's activity being tested for. But if your exposure to science by and large comes from 'shit talk in the comments section of Dawkins' site', well, you're going to just set yourself up for a sandbagging.

I write all this out mostly because I feel like it'd be fun to start a list of tropes the Cult of Gnu engages in, maybe even a field guide to the various species and subspecies of internet atheist. And it was kind of fun to have a good slugging-out after a long, long break.