Palin wins hearts – boggles minds

Amazingly, it seems that despite the sheer force of nonsense in her, ahem, speeches, Sarah Palin has won some supporters. No, I cant understand it either.

Reading the comments on the entertaining Guardian piece I linked to previously, shows there are some people with an interesting take on reality. I will try to provide links to the comments but Heather has informed me this doesn’t seem to be working.

For some reason, there are a lot of Americans reading British newspapers [see Heathers Post] and then feeling the need to wade in when ever the Republican party is mentioned. Nearly all are so rabidly anti-Obama it is quite funny. Even funnier are the ones who say we should mind our own business and no one in America cares what we think. The irony is fantastic, and only matched by their ignorance of it.

Anyway, on the current stream of conciousness, which is at least on the American Comment pages… I am aware my recent posts have been long, so I will only look at two funny comments here:

The first s by the very American sounding “JohnQPublic” who writes:

No honest person would have described this debate as anything other than a draw in which both candidates states many falsehoods as truths and didn’t answer the questions posed. No one sets the cause of equal rights for women further back than do self-described feminists.

Well, I am hurt that John Q Public thinks I am dishonest, but in all fairness nothing Biden could have done would have been either as offensive or just plain wrong as Palin. To say she “drew” with him is comical. Bastet only knows what the second sentence refers to…

The second is by the also-American-sounding “FreedomLand.” This one is so good, I’m going to have to take it a bit at a time:

Ahh, is this the male misogynist blog? Opps, no, its written by a woman! Perhaps an Obama-phile in disguise. “The Ring” attacks again, duh…..

The “ring” bit has lost me, however the opening gambit speaks volumes. It is a twist of appeal to ridicule mixed with ad-hominems. It says nothing of value and adds nothing to FreedomLand’s arguments – it does highlight a lack thereof.

For some reason, it has become quite common for a certain type of person to misspell “oops” as “opps” – check out how many times you can see it on FSTDT. It certainly takes the sting out of this attempt at an insult though.

[comment about Palin getting off lightly] No, you are quite wrong, Michelle Goldberg, Barack Obama has been doing precisely that all year. Along comes a woman with executive experience in government and you assume the rules should change to pillory her to your satisfaction.

Choke. Wow. There are loads of people who bang on about how Palin has more experience than Obama. I find it quite weird to be honest, but most worryingly, if she does have “experience” why in Hades’ name does she come across as an ignorant retard every time she sees a camera? If she has “executive experience” where in Asgard is she hiding it?

Palin gets away with murder in front of the public. People hold back on savaging her because it seems a touch unchivalrous and, honestly, it is like kicking a puppy. She is, on the whole, too easy a target to fully ridicule – even here we hold back because so many things just seem to obvious and cruel as she is blatantly educationally subnormal.

You also forgot to mention that her husband is at least part native American Eskimo. What does it mean for a white woman to be married to an indigenous ethnic minority in the USA? Quite a lot really…..

What? A lot of what? The article also forgets to mention she has ten fingers and two ears… Is this a weird implication that Palin gets the “race” vote because she is married to a Native American? Have you seen Obama? I am really confused by this rant.

[comment on her performance being a farce] Well, this IS politics as it is, you know. Its a popularity contest decided by the lowest common denominator in society and usually on the most superficial grounds. Its the same for women candidates as it is for men.

Oh that makes it OK then? Vote for Palin because she is an idiot who appeals to other idiots.

Isn’t America a great place?

I am rapidly trying to convert my urge to emigrate to the US into an emigration to New Zealand

Vote For Me! Self Delusional Politics

I cant wait until the US elections are over. At the moment, it is not possible to encounter a news bulletin that doesn’t make reference to it. Often including a clip of the brain destroyingly odious Sarah Palin stringing random words together in the manner of someone who has heard them, but has no idea what they mean.

Initially, reading about how Palin had been chosen to appeal to the “female demographic” (what?) I felt offended on behalf of women the world over. It is stunningly offensive to think that a political strategist thinks so little of American women that they would vote for Palin simply because she is a woman. I mean, how shallow must you be to choose your vote based on nothing more than the gender of the politician….

With this in mind, imagine my surprise to read / hear on various news sources (admittedly less and less, recently) that polls showed women were changing their intended votes because of Palin. Wow. Who in the name of Loki would have thought that could happen. Fortunately, this is largely just terminally bad polling techniques and probably bears as much resemblance to reality as me being a multi-millionaire. Phew.

When the initial relief had passed, I realised that there still were actual, living, apparently sane (*), people who thought Palin was a good candidate and would do the part good. Shock time again. How can this be I wondered. She is woefully under-educated and this is only matched by her lack of experience in either national or international politics. Yet some people love her.

How can this be the case, I wondered. Look at this example of a Palin quote about how she isn’t going to answer the questions she is asked during the debate: (source)

I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I’m going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also,

No really. Not only is it a collection of empty words which seek to divert attention from her ignorance, it is also quite bad use of language. Now you might have thought there would be some element of scripting and rehearsal, so the only conclusion is this is how she wants to be seen speaking. It is clearer in this next quote (same source)

Here, for example, is how she responded to Biden’s comments about how the middle class has been short-changed during the Bush administration, and how McCain will continue Bush’s policies:

Say it ain’t so, Joe, there you go again pointing backwards again. You preferenced [sic] your whole comment with the Bush administration. Now doggone it, let’s look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future. You mentioned education, and I’m glad you did. I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and god bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right? … My brother, who I think is the best schoolteacher in the year, and here’s a shout-out to all those third graders at Gladys Wood Elementary School, you get extra credit for watching the debate.

Look at the use of language. If you are a native English speaker it is enough to make your brain scream mercy while your eyes surrender the fight. If she was a bit older, I would assume she was senile. The meandering from point to point, to avoid the question, is something Grandpa Simpson would be proud of. It starts off gibberish then ends up with a shout out to some random school children. Truly the mind boggles. She plays on being un-educated to a level that would make George Dubya himself blush. It is beyond painfully bad. Surely no politician could think this is the way to speak in public.

Then, all of a sudden, it hit me like a bolt of lightning from Zeus himself.

This is why people want to vote for her.

Her “down to Earth” use of language constructs, her folk-story terminology, her “cute” (**) mannerisms. These are solely engineered to make people think “Hey, she is just like me.” Amazingly, taken in this light, it is very successful.

Still this confuses me a touch. I am not a good candidate for running the bath, let alone a country. Most people I know are either easily confused by finance, fail to understand international relations, struggle to decide how to reduce crime and so on. These are educated, intelligent people who could run rings around Palin (even if they are only three years old). None of the people I know, myself included, would make a good world leader – even if we all daydream about it occasionally.

Ah. Lightning bolt again. Thank Zeus that the Olympians are watching over us.

Palin appeals to the ignorant people who, through years of false positive reinforcement, actually do think, all the time, that they could really run the country. These people must be so truly deluded that they think it is just a slight accident of fate that their name isn’t on the ticket, and if they could run the country so could Palin – who is so like them.

This is a terrifying example of how a massive dose of self-delusion can have a traumatic effect on the nation.

Not only that, but it is really, really offensive. It offends me that people can be so self obsessed as to even come close to thinking this. Yes, everyone can have ideas on how the country can be run, and sometimes we may think we know better than the politicians. Yes, we can all shout at the TV how we could do the job a millions times better but the truth is very different.

In the modern world (and possibly always) there are very few, if any, jobs that are so generalised anyone can do them without training. My job is very specialised and I doubt someone could walk in of the street without any prior knowledge or training and even come close to doing it. Heather’s job is the same. Pretty much every job I can think of is done by people who have been taught how to do it, and it is done better by people who have experience. Even jobs considered to be of low importance to society require training.

Why on Earth are people so arrogant that they think a job as important as Vice-President (to a potentially frail President) can be done by someone “just like us.” Surely if America is a great nation, it needs great leaders – not empty phrases jumbled together in a pathetic appeal to the lowest common denominator?

(Sorry for the rants. I will attempt to resume normal service as soon as possible)

* By this, I mean they were not currently locked up in a mental health facility… Their lack of sanity is evident by their voting choice.

** By cute, of course, I mean vomit inducing.

Blinded By Hate

Over on the wonderful Grumpy Lion blog there is a predictably excellent post which examines how most of the Hawks in the US government are, in fact, war dodging cowards while most of the doves have actually served in combat. This is something of a truism, as generally speaking, old men who have seen combat are a lot more reluctant to send others into battle.

However this is only a generalisation and it is important to be aware that, no matter how much a person may wish otherwise, it will not hold true in all circumstances. There are people who have never seen war who are solidly opposed to it and there are people who have seen death and destruction first hand but have not been turned pacifist by the experience.

With this in mind, the comments from Steph and Roy are especially entertaining. These have largely descended into a string of ad hominems against me surrounded by a huge helping of equivocation, so I am no longer going to take up space on Grumpy Lion with my responses, but there are some issues from the (erm) debate which I think are worthy of further mention.

Both Steph and Roy, in the finest internet traditions, demand copious examples of “evidence” to disprove their anecdotes. In fact the only information provided by either of them for their argument is a comment by Steph’s “grandfather” and a some vague references to the writings of Roy Jenkins. The most they can produce is “all of Churchills biographers” which is an immediately falsifiable claim (as I know of three biographers who claim different things). When contrary writing is cited, they dismiss the source as not being a “historian of note” (neatly ignoring their own single source’s status in the process).

Interestingly it seems the concept that Churchill dipped in and out of military service is impossible. Here we see another example of how the drive to shout and insult has blinded Roy and Steph to what I wrote in that I agreed with them that all the sources had Churchill working as a Journalist in the run up to Ladysmith and then Roy writes this with apparent glee: (this is a bit about Churchill covering the Spanish-American war of 1898)

It proves Steph is right and you are wrong and runs a horse and carts through your argument that Churchill wasn’t a correspondent before Ladysmith and saw active service. He avoided active service by going to Cuba.

Madness. Real, painful madness. It was around this point I finally realised there was no room for actual debate with either Steph or Roy and both were so obsessed with their idea that every hawk has to be a shivering coward nothing I wrote – even when I agreed with them – would actually be read.

Another example of what I have come to see as standard internet arguments (where the person doesn’t really have anything to say but hates the topic so much they have to argue) is the constant rattling about trivial facts.

I wrote that the Regimental History of the Royal Scots Fusiliers (now a battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland) had references to Churchill being Commanding Officer of one of their Battalions and having led his men on 36 forays across no-mans-land. This really drew some irate hand waving. Now it is certainly very possible that he did not lead his battalion on exactly 36 missions, but is the balance of probabilities going to lean towards none or at least 1 being the most likely?

One of the odd arguments centred on Military records being useless for historians. I found this pretty odd, given that these are the records used by most historians – especially for Ancient and Medieval researchers. Still, I began to work out what the issues here were when I mentioned that a good starting point for WWI research were the MOD’s records. Steph responded with:

This is a bare faced lie, the MoD didn’t even exist then.

Well blow me down with a feather. It seems that Steph (and to an extent, Rob) are obsessed with stating the obvious as if it is an argument. Everyone knows the Ministry of Defence did not exist in WWI, it was called the Ministry of War. However, since the MOW became the MOD, guess where all the MOW’s records are stored…?

Throughout the debate (for want of a better word) is along these lines. For good measure Steph points to her having a Doctorate in Law as if it carries any weight in an argument about WWI. Amazing.

Please, anyone, take a look at the thread and its debate and let me know what you think. Was I being unclear? Are there issues I have missed out on? Did Steph and Rob provide solid evidence for their claims? Did they bother to pay the money to visit the Regimental Museums and see what was there?

How many angels fit on a pinhead?

Comments on Pharyngula’s blog led me to a discussion about the Sam Harris & Chris Hedges debate. I know I don’t keep up – luckily there’s no god to judge my atheism orthodoxy – because this is ages old, but I found the tapes on truthdig.

This debate between Sam Harris (outspoken atheist) and Chris Hedges (Christian, outspoken against the fundamentalist right) is one of the rare debates that actually expand your thinking. Both are excellent speakers. Both make some unassailable points, as well as speak occasional tosh. (Like any of us. Except me of course.)

Lots of these “debate” things are just creationist fronts or debates about ideas, like the medieval discussions over how many angels can fit on the head of a pin (I.e the premise is meaningless, the detail is mind-numbing and the importance is non-existent.)

Ignore the content to some extent and just consider the approaches. Pure thought vs thought in the world. “Proper science” and “social science.”

“Proper science” is good at the logic. I.e.., it tells you that the “God” concept is nonsense. This is so self-evident that you can get pretty fed up with restating it. All the same, Sam Harris does it beautifully and probably as well as anyone can.

He also points out that the spiritual and ethical and emotional aspects of the human psyche don’t require a belief in a sky-god. This is always good to hear because religious believers can often appear to have cornered the market in transcendence.

Social science is good at understanding the ideological consequences of beliefs. Hence, Chris Hedges was able to discuss the social context that has created fundamentalism of every kind. (For instance, he argued that the basically secular PLO was ousted by Islamic fundamentalists, as a direct consequence of the actions of the US and Israel.) He’s not an atheist but I can’t see how that that makes him wrong. I couldn’t even see how most of what he said was affected one way or another by him being a believer. (Although I may not have been payng total attention.)

I don’t think there’s a real split between social science and “proper” science. However, a lot of “proper” scientists know much very little about social science. I certainly believe many atheists could learn a lot from the sociology of religion.

Reference, our recent ill-advised foray into a discussion of ADHD on the Pharyngula comments that seemed to do nothing but generate misconceptions… Say, for instance, a new psychoactive medicine is developed. “Proper” scientists can understand the biochemistry and study its mode of action. It is the realm of social science to ask questions about how it is used, why it is used, who has access to it, how do social relations influence what medicines are developed, who pays for the development, who pays for the end-product, what does it mean to the individual to experience its effects, and so on, ad infinitum. These are not just boring topics to “proper scientists” (just as biochemistry is to me) They are also things they have not been trained to evaluate (just as biochemistry is to me).

The different modes of thinking can be mutually incomprehensible. So, it’s great to find a real debate that illuminates an issue from two sides.

Ie, ignore the Christian stuff that comes from Hedges and consider the approach. That is, a recognition that ideas have consequences. Our beliefs have no importance except where they find social expression. Quoting Alun’s comment on a post here.

Someone with a personal hotline to a god with no social support is merely a lunatic (as defined by the rest of society)

The Problems of Debates

A few months ago, I opined about the problems of using public debate to determine the value / validity of science. I think, now, this is even more “true” than I did previously.

Over the internet there are a variety of blogs, both theist and atheist, which have looked at the recent Nightline debate between the Rational Response Squad and the trained monkeys (Comfort and Cameron). With a few exceptions from the more dogmatic, fundamentalist, Christian blogs, most commentators agree that the RRS had a more convincing argument and that the trained monkeys were drowning under their own poor logic.

Sadly, most of the blogs also agree that the poor RRS duo came across very badly. This is not a reflection of them as people and it certainly is not a reflection of the subject matter they were presenting. The fact of the matter is that public speaking is not second nature to most people. Doing so on TV is more daunting and being able to talk without demonstrating nervous habits is something which takes practice and training. Comfort and Cameron are not really hampered by this (one being an actor and the other a preacher), and during the debate, the “comfort” with which they spoke was apparent. Now, they were let down by their inane nonsense and condescending attitude, but it could have been a close call.

Imagine a similar debate, this time not between such highly polarised topics where people have pretty much all made up their own minds. If this were, say, a debate between the Ekpyrotic theory and the Big Crush theory would people be swayed more by the evidence or the skill of the presenters?

[tags]Atheism, Science, Theism, Physics, Ekpyrotic, Big Crush, Belief, Christianity, culture, debate, Faith, Kirk Cameron, Philosophy, Rational Response Squad, Ray Comfort, Religion, Society, Stupidity, woo[/tags]

Ray Comfort – Did I miss something?

Amazingly, it seems not everyone thinks Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron made fools of themselves during the debate with the “Rational Response Squad.” It has been mentioned on this blog, Nullfidian’s Blog and Pharyngula if you want to read more / watch the footage.

I should point out, the footage is painful. Comfort / Cameron are broadly clueless and debate in the style of 10 year olds (as do the RRS, but at least they are young and enthusiastic). Comfort claims to be able to prove the existence of God without using the bible, but opens the book pretty much every time. The whole crux of the theist argument is an appeal to fear. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Oddly, despite this, some theists think Comfort did well. Seriously. And more than one theist crackpot thinks this… On the Shepherds Scrapbook site, the post begins:

Ray Comfort’s “debate” happened this afternoon (watch here). I’m at least very thankful for his presentation of the gospel message, although he said he would not open his Bible.

Amazing really. Theists are wonderful creatures, I just don’t think I can eat one whole.

[tags]Atheism, Belief, Theism, God, Religion, Debate, Rational Response Squad, Christians, Bible, Philosophy, Society, Culture, Logic, Arguments, Logical Fallacy, Kirk Cameron, Ray Comfort, Stupidity, Woo[/tags]

Rational Response Squad Debate

Quick one for people who haven’t checked out Pharyngula recently. PZ Myers has put up a link to some video footage of a debate between the “Rational Response Squad” and Ray Comfort / Kirk Cameron.

It is pretty entertaining footage, for very predictable reasons though. The theists are actually embarrassingly bad at putting their argument forward. After about five or six minutes it becomes painful watching them spout nonsense and revert to book thumping arguments.

If all theists were this inept, religion would have died out long ago. (This is especially true as the RRS are not really putting forward very strong arguments themselves… 🙂 They really did not need to read from scripts so much… )

[tags]Atheism, Belief, Christianity, culture, debate, Faith, Kirk Cameron, pharyngula, Philosophy, Rational Response Squad, Ray Comfort, Religion, Society, Stupidity, woo[/tags]

How to Defend Religion?

(found from Nullfidian’s excellent blog)

I was reading the write up on the various Times Online sites of the “Intelligence Squared” event which tool place recently. Basically this was a debate on the motion “We’d be better off without religion.” On the side For the motion were Richard Dawkins, AC Grayling and Christopher Hitchens. On the side Against the motion were Julia Neuberger, Roger Scruton and Nigel Spivey.

Ruth Gledhill, the Times’ Religion reporter, has written an interesting summary of the proceedings titled “Articles of Faith.” Gledhill describes herself as someone who is sure God exists, yet there is not much in the way of a pro-theist bias in the reporting. All in all, it struck me as a reasonable post (not least because she says the “For” argument was better than the “Against” one 🙂 ).

Towards the end of the piece it gets a bit strange though. When talking about the dangers of creationism, she writes:

Well I’d be upset if my son became a creationist but there is no chance of that, not in the Church of England at least.

Which, while reasonable, is a risky proposition to take. Creationism / ID is a fundamental part of the monotheistic doctrines, so while [insert religion] may not overtly push it, it is there below the surface. I would love to see a Christian doctrine which does not assert the universe was created by God, and that man was not made in his image. Although I may be biased, I find it hard to see how some can reconcile this belief with anything else.

Next she comes to something I find very strange, yet it seems used all the time by “reasonable” people when they want to defend their faith:

[Dawkins] problem is that he takes religion too literally, and as many have pointed out, is too fundamentalist about his own atheistic creed.

Wow. All over the net, on TV, the radio and in papers people try to defend religion, and deflect criticism, by saying the critic is taking religion “too literally.” Personally I am at a loss for any other way to do it. Either God exists or he doesn’t. I assume Christians (and Jews/Muslims) believe God exists – is that taking religion too literally?

Religion is built around doctrine and “rules” which are claimed to be the word of God. If the faithful get to pick and choose which ones they follow, doesn’t that make a mockery of that which is already comical? If the best defence for “religion” is that it is something which gives people the chance to get together with each other and has some vague good ideas (don’t want to take the doctrine literally, do we?) then it strikes me it really is an idea which has passed its sell by date.

If religion is not meant to be taken seriously, what is it?

On a different note, as always, the comments in response to a post like this produce much more entertainment. Gledhill is too good, too reasonable, a writer to really froth properly – unlike those who comment … 🙂

Some examples include:

I agree with Richard Dawkins, we WOULD be better off without religion.
But Jesus… without Him, we are all – literally – lost! (David Smith)

Not sure if that was supposed to be a joke or what.

This kind of format suits both Dawkins and Grayling if they speak in the same way that they write. They like to write controversial bluster which they don’t need to provide references for or explain further. (Phil Craig)

I assume that was a joke. Both write books which are filled with references, unlike the religious apologists or more relevantly the holy books themselves. When the Bible claims that “In the beginning…” where is the reference to back this up? Interesting when Phil Craig is challenged about his comments, David Smith responds:

Mike George:
‘To suggest that [Dawkins] offers ‘controversial bluster’ with no explanation is to ignore the fact that the whole of his writing offer rational arguments and link to scientific study and theory.’

Richard Dawkins:
1.’It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane, or wicked… ‘

2. ‘I believe, but I cannot prove, that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all ‘design’ anywherein the universe is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection (i.e. evolution).’

Still, at least Dawkins is consistent with Darwin himself.

Having made an exhaustive study of Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’, which set the evolution ball running, American engineer Henry Morris wrote: ‘One can search the whole book in vain for any real scientific evidences for evolution – evidences that have been empirically verified and have stood the test of time. No proof is given anywhere – no examples are cited of new species known to have been produced by natural selection, no transitional forms are shown, no evolutionary mechanisms are documented… One can only marvel that such a book could have had so profound an influence on the subsequent history of human life and thought.’

Which broadly shows a lack of understanding (two references out of context – sounds like Uncommon Descent to me..) about both Dawkins’ work and the actual mechanics of the theory of evolution (and how science works). For some reason, UD may be to blame, anti-evolutionists seem to think that the whole current theory was written by Darwin in Origin. Madness. I suppose this is what comes of being tied to a book which is not supposed to ever change…

There are more, but I could end up spending all month writing about them so I will stop now. Have a look, see what you think and if there are any more howlers please let me know.

Dawkins and Eagleton

A few of the atheist and pro-religion blogs have referenced Terry Eagleton’s views on Dawkins. I can’t miss the opportunity to bore you to death with more on this.

Eagleton is not a bad writer. He uses quite an impressive turn of phrase when he’s insulting Dawkins. He is a cultural studies lecturer of a certain kind – was brought up as a Catholic, was a Marxist in the 1970s. He was in one of those rather sweet Trotskyite groups that appeal to idealistic students, The defining characteristics of these are usually that they direct their intellectual attention to ripping apart the views of other such groups, in “how many angels can fit on the head of a pin” debates. I.e. they appeal to people with a religious nature but no belief in God.

Sadly , Cultural Studies in the hands of a lot of university dons becomes stuff that you would rather pull your teeth out wiithout anaesthetic than read. The subject meanders away from the facsinating and illuminating work of people like Stuart Hall, Roland Barthes and Umberto Eco (I’m talking about the last two when they are writing for a popular audience 🙂 of course.) It becomes “an angels on the head of a pin” debate subject, with arcane rules and procedures that are neither art (because lots of the works are ugly) nor science (because they make endless unproven assertions). Unlike Hall or Barthes, they don’t care much whether their work has any relevance to human society. It often becomes a way of showing off to their fellow Cultural Studies intellectuals. The world outside the University is as alien to them as the world of the average worker is to Posh and Becks.

I suspect, maybe unfairly, that Eagleton may be one of those lecturers with little concept of “too dull”, witness his reverential mention of Derrida. OK, fair point, the piece was in the London Review of Books, hardly a mass market publication. Still this gives a flavour of it:

What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? Has he read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope? Has he even heard of them?

Well, nor have I. But I’m still going to mouth off about it.

Dawkins often seems to be a very traditional Enlightenment rationalist, with an optimistic belief that logic and reason have some sway over human actions. Dawkins is writing on the assumption that it is enough to draw attention to errors in their thinking and people will give them up. I wish that were true. Yes, the “God” concept that he attacks most often is the concept of a child, not of a theologian. Dawkins’ arguments are addressed to the general public. Who have usually been fed a lot of “God” nonsense that bears no relation to Eurigenia. And I would be very surprised if one in a million people had heard of the “epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus” etc.

I can’t begin to see what possible relevance these arguments could have to the point of whether God is a delusion. (The people banning evolution teaching in schools can probably barely read, for a start. I suspect Rahner’s words are as unknown to them as they are to me.) The abstract arguments of theologically sophisticated thinkers are not what get taught to kids in Sunday schools and Maddrassas. Imagine an infinitely complex and elegant argument about how Father Christmas could get round everyone’s house in the same night (by bending the space-time continuum, creating his own warp space, or merely amending our consciousness so we thought it was one night but it really takes years.) The debates would throw lots of light on our thoughts about the nature of space and time. But guess what? Father Christmas doesn’t really bring your presents. (Sorry to be the one to break that news.)

I am not a big Dawkins fan, I’m still miffed about the sociobiology…. I think he is utterly naive in terms of sociology and doesn’t understand how the power of religion is indeed rooted in power. He often writes as if ideas have an existence of their own outside of the material world. tA best, can influence the world, but don’t really grow out of social relations. I think this is called “Idealism”, as a Philosophical concept, or it should be. He is not a social scientist. Unlike Eagleton, I don’t this disqualifies him from having views about society though. It just shows that he isn’t the infallible authority on atheism, (thank Void.) There is a lot more to be understood about the role of belief in social relations, and to do it effectively does need a grounding in social science rather than biology.

However, Dawkins isn’t talking about sociology. Nor is he discussing theology, Eagleton. He is talking about whether there is a personal God who made the universe and performs miracles. He is absolutely right about the illogicality of Faith. Dawkins expresses views that you would imagine would be all-but universal in the 21st century and is attacked from all sides.

Hence, he makes us realise we live in a time when human intellectual progress is in reverse and he’s prepared to challenge this state of affairs. In the popular media. Repeatedly. Lucidly. And his influence has encouraged lots of people to actively assert their rationality in a world which is abandoning the whole awkard rationality thing at a rate of knots.

What’s Eagleton doing? He’s turning to the Church he was brought up in, like many lapsed Catholics in their later years. He’s looking only at a Church that appeals to socially-unengaged and pampered intellectuals. He doesn’t seem aware that the world is becoming a battleground and religion is being used to stir up the fighters on every side. For at least a thousand years, religion has been the excuse for committing atrocities, obscuring the battles over land and property that were really taking place. It does matter that people speak the truth about it and question what they are told.

Dawkins considers that all faith is blind faith, and that Christian and Muslim children are brought up to believe unquestioningly

Of course, all ordinary believers don’t seek to brainwash their chilldren. (Although the faith schools and vicars and pastors and priests and Imams all have a good stab at it.) In fact, many people feel compelled to make their children observe religious tradtions that they don’t really believe themselves. That’s why children are brought into territory of the Church or Mosque or synagogue before they can speak, let alone reason. And the old Jesuit saying of “Give me a child before the age of seven and he’s mine for life” (or words to that effect) seem to be proved by Eagleton’s own leanings.

In any case, I think by definition, faith in the unknowable is blind faith.