- God Is Not Dead Yet | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction
- William Lane Craig lays out his best arguments for the existence of God.
(tags: kalam william-lane-craig christianity religion apologetics atheism philosophy)
- On God and Our Ultimate Purpose
- Stephen Maitzen argues that introducing a God does not solve the question of what, if anything, makes life meaningful.
(tags: god purpose stephen-maitzen maitzen atheism philosophy)
- Cycle of Fear – NYTimes.com
- Tim Kreider (of “The Pain, When Will It End?”) on the meditative value of fear: “When I’m balanced on two thin wheels at 30 miles an hour, gauging distance, adjusting course, making hundreds of unconscious calculations every second, that idiot chatterbox in my head is kept too busy to get a word in.”
(tags: meditation funny flow cycling anxiety)
- How filthy lucre could subvert the Church of England | World news | The Guardian
- “Conservative evangelical churches threaten to withhold cash from pro-gay and liberal ‘heretics'”. What fun.
(tags: andrew-brown money evangelicalism church-of-england anglicanism anglican)
- Beyond Mitt’s Underwear: Part 1: Apostasy and Restoration
- tongodeon did an excellent series on Mormon beliefs. This is the first part, which links to all the others. The conclusion is worth reading even if you skim the rest.
(tags: lds joseph-smith underwear mitt-romney religion mormonism mormon)
- Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is – Whatever
- An explanation which tries to avoid those problematic identity politics jargon terms (see what I did there?)
(tags: sexuality feminism race privilege gender)
- John Norman, the philosophy professor who created the barbaric world of Gor
- io9 interviews John Norman, the famous complementarian and author of the Gor novels.
(tags: bdsm fantasy book scifi gordon-brown john-norman complementarianism)
- Advice God
- Like Advice Dog, but Advice God! I'm snaffling some of these: "UNCONDITIONAL LOVE/WITH CONDITIONS".
(tags: religion atheism funny god humour)
- YouTube – Christopher Hitchens drops the hammer
- "It's considered perfectly normal in this society to approach dying people who are unbelievers and say 'Now are you going to change your mind?'" Well, yes, that's anticipating-as-if there's a Hell, say. But if we're going to apply the norms of discussion fairly, I like Hitchens’ idea of atheists going round religious hospitals. 🙂
(tags: christopher-hitchens death religion hell conversion)
- Hell and linoleum | Andrew Brown | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk
- "What would it feel like to believe that anyone really deserved eternal conscious torment? Is it even humanly possible?" I think that Georges Rey's "meta-atheism" is correct on this point: most Christians don't anticipate-as-if there's a Hell, though claiming to believe it and still worshipping a monster is bad enough. berneray's comment is good, read that as well.
(tags: hell christianity religion andrew-brown)
- Random Thoughts on The Roles of Leading and Following « Swungover
- Via CW at Lindy. There seems to be much more debate about this than there is in ballroom, perhaps because ballroom's more conservative anyway, perhaps because it's settled by "you're shorter, therefore you're going backwards so I can see over you".
(tags: dancing lindy leading following swing)
- New Statesman – Making marriage harder
- "the world would be a far happier place if marriage was harder and divorce easier" – an interesting proposal from the New Statesman's legal correspondent.
(tags: marriage funny law)
- At last an IT supplier that tells it like it is – The Tony Collins Blog
- "No platitudes, just straight talking on govt IT from Martin Rice of agile software company Erudine." I've heard tales of middlemen charging government the Earth to take an £100/year hosting account and install WordPress on it. Glad to see someone speaking up.
(tags: government economics politics uk waterfall agile IT)
- Why the Cornish hotel ruling should worry conservative Christians | Andrew Brown | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk
- Andrew Brown on the ruling against a some Christian hoteliers who refused a double room to a gay couple. The Christians would also not allow unmarried straight couples to share a double bed, but the judge made the decision on the basis that the gay couple were civil partners.
(tags: religion sex homosexuality law society andrew-brown)
- YouTube – crazy watering can
- Sort of Russell's Teapot with some bite: a brilliantly edited video. Apparently done as a homework assignment: can you do this stuff on home equipment these days? via mefi.
(tags: religion crazy watering-can video youtube teapot russell)
Down at the Graun, they’ve been looking into those “traditionalists” in the Church of England, the ones who are involved in the most recent bout of the Interminable Anglican Sex Kerfuffle. Andrew Brown has discovered complementarianism, and he doesn’t approve. He’s found the Doctrinal Rectitude Trust‘s site, wherein he’s learned that trustees sign various declarations of their doctrinal rectitude, annually (which seems a bit lax: I’d go for twice nightly, and three times on Saturdays). We’ve discussed the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy before, and the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood was mentioned during the ComplementarianFail drama of 2009. It’s the Danvers Statement which has Brown so exercised, and he quotes a few choice passages from it for your enjoyment.
Intelligent, willing submission
Now, my old church was a Reform one, so I remember a bit about this stuff. I’ve been sharing my memories of those halycon days of “intelligent, willing submission” here; wheeling out the inevitable Houseplants of Gor gag (and handcuffs) here (another commenter has actually read John Norman’s books: fun times); making simont‘s point about the failure mode of complementarianism here; and arguing that Christianity is not necessarily evil here.
Some of the reports I’ve seen about the Sex Kerfuffle have been theologically confused (not Brown’s of course: he correctly identifies the Reform people as Calvinists). It’s reported that the “traditionalists” might all defect to Rome: in Reform’s case, this is about as likely as Ian Paisley getting all chummy with Jessel the Tri-felge Putenard. The traditionalists are two distinct groups, both of whom suspect that the other lot aren’t really Christians, but who are prepared to make common cause over the vital issue of penises and the possession (bishops must have them) and disposition (they must not put them too near other men) of the same. It is the traditionalist Anglo-Catholics who might defect to Rome.
The Graun‘s recent editorial warned that the church should either get with the programme or face disestablishment: “The Church of England now expects both the benefits of establishment and the cultural freedom of private religion. At the very least, a national church should not become disconnected from the best values of the country it serves.”
The Graun seems to think that the established church should be what Andrew Rilstone describes as “the Church of Dumbledore”, a sort of deistic religion whose purpose is to work for social goods, “baptising the dead and burying the sick”. Rilstone originally wrote The Ballad of Reading Diocese the previous time a Kerfuffle over Jeffrey John arose, but it remains as relevant as it was then.
The National God Service, the Church of Dumbledore, seems to be one of those oddly British historical vestiges, like the monarchy. While I don’t particularly see the point of it, it hardly seems worth the trouble of getting rid of it. A church which patronises women and views gay relationships as sinful, on the other hand, should go its own way: the state should have nothing to do with such an organisation. It’s not clear to me who’s currently winning: I’ll watch developments with interest.
As a toxic neo-atheist fundamentalist neo-rationalist sceptic, it was difficult to know what to hope for in all the kerfuffle about the Equality Bill: is it better that the government narrows the scope for discrimination against homosexuals by religious organisations, or better that the church publicly admits it’s so important for it to discriminate that it’ll use the votes of the bishops in the House of Lords to accomplish it? Which will bring in the Kingdom of Dawkins sooner? It’s so hard to tell.
The only winning move is not to play
The story so far: the Government wanted to specify the scope of the religious exemption from the Bill’s provisions, after the European Commission said the existing exemptions were too broad and might result in legal action from the EU. The Government told the churches that their somewhat cosy position would not change and that the new wording was merely clarifying it, but the churches weren’t taken in: there were petitions organised by charming characters, everyone got terribly excited, and there was an amendment proposed in the House of Lords to strike out the more specific language. As Andrew Brown’s blog posting has it “Eight serving bishops and Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, voted for the decisive amendment which was carried by five votes”. Eight bishops and five votes, you say?
Brown says this may be a pyrrhic victory for the church, as its actions have shown it’s out of touch with Radio 4 listeners and other worthy types. If you were Rowan Williams (you remember, Rowan Williams), you’d probably be wondering how long the forces of antidisestablishmentarianism will be able to hold out against the floccinaucinihilipilification of the Christian heritage of this country.
Decorate the church with swords, or pictures of knights, or flaming torches
It’s not just Radio 4 listeners the church has to worry about. Over at the Times, Ruth Gledhill wonders why men don’t go to church. She quotes from this painfully awful advice from a Christian charity on how to make the church attractive to men: “Men appreciate ‘professionalism’… things done well. For instance, if you use a drama make sure it is good, otherwise men will find it embarrassing” (women are, of course, undiscriminating); “does the church always need to be decorated with flowers? … How would it go down to decorate with swords, or pictures of knights, or flaming torches?” How would it go down, readers?
Gledhill has a serious point, which is that the church is undergoing the evaporative cooling of group beliefs: society is getting more socially liberal, and those left in the church less so, because those who do have liberal beliefs cannot stand to stay in the church. Though Gledhill has some anecdotes about thriving liberal churches, she doesn’t back this up with data.
Luckily, someone else has gathered a whole load of data. According to the Guardian, the 2008 British Social Attitudes survey by the National Centre for Social Research showed that “36% of people thought sexual relations between two adults of the same sex were ‘always or mostly’ wrong, down from 62% in 1983” (detailed numbers are here, if anyone wants to play with them). Gledhill links to the chapter on religion from the survey, which makes interesting reading: between 1983 and 2008, the percentage of the sample describing themselves some sort of Christian fell from 66% to 50%. “No religion” rose from 31% to 43%. The percentage describing themselves as “Church of England” fell from 40% to 23%. In 2008, 62% said they never attended religious services.
We’ll nae be fooled again
As Brown says, there’s a tension between the government’s role in promoting libertarian freedom and promoting social goods. There is an argument for freedom of association, but the question is where to draw the line. My preference would be to allow the exceptions the church wants, on the condition that organisations making use of them will not receive public money or tax exemptions (such as charitable status). The church is dwindling, and out of step with society: the rest of us should not have to pay for it.
Anyone for another petition?
Andrew Brown went to the lecture on God and evolution by Ken Miller, the one which robhu mentioned in the comments last time. Brown was impressed by Miller. I commented using the same arguments as my previous posting.
The wonderful thing about standards is
In other news, top geneticist Francis Collins has started his own Christian apologetics site, Biologos.org. Collins is a theistic evolutionist. He’s got answers for those awkward creationist questions (mentioned last time) on evolution and the Fall and death before the Fall. Not just one answer, in fact, but several, which could all equally well be true, because as far as I can see there’s no possible way to chose between them on the basis of evidence (except possibly on the evidence of a strong inner conviction, I suppose). Still, several answers are better than one, right?
Atheists can be wrong too
The usual suspects in atheist blogland are having fun with Biologos: here’s Jerry Coyne, P. Z. Myers, and P. Z. Myers. The latter P. Z. Myers refers to a post at Evaluating Christianity. Myers says this article at Biologos is making the argument that evolution is impossible because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, a (badly mistaken) argument that is popular among creationists.
This is unfair to Collins, who knows the creationist argument is wrong. Collins is actually making a God of the Gaps argument. The low entropy condition of the early universe is an unsolved problem in physics, as Sean Carroll explains in Scientific American (Carroll commented at Evaluating Christianity confirming this). Unsolved problems in physics are fertile ground for Christians looking for something for God to do.
I hope Myers will issue a correction, because I think it’s important to get stuff like this right.
A while back Andrew Brown over at the Grauniad posted a list of the 6 Points of New Atheism. There was a bit of a bun-fight among the atheists about this, because, though Brown’s an atheist, he was criticising Dawkins Our Leader. It got even more fun when Dawkins turned up in the comments. (My own contribution was to treat the 6 Points as one of those internet quiz memes: I score 2.5/6 for New Atheism, which makes me slightly more Old Skool than New, I suppose). It’s a bit like that Southpark episode where the Unified Atheist League fights the Allied Atheist Allegiance. What’s the fuss about? Here’s part of it.
Most Christians say God is omniscient and omnipresent. Yet the Christian woman whom Yellow blogged about, the one who wrote to a Christian problem page with her self-pleasuring problem, clearly doesn’t really believe God is present and watching her all the time. But she at least believes that believing those things is virtuous for a Christian. The philosopher Daniel Dennett calls this latter sort of faith belief in belief.
This doesn’t just apply to religion. palmer1984 posted a poll which suggest similar things apply to moral beliefs. It is virtuous to say that we should care for people in other countries as much as we do for those in our own, but most people don’t really believe it.
Some people, especially those with a scientific education (or a certain sort of evangelical Christian background), think of belief as affirmation of a set of propositions. To those people, it’s obvious that these propositions should not be internally contradictory or conflict with reality. But, as Saunt Yudkowsky observes “it is a physical fact that you can write “The sky is green!” next to a picture of a blue sky without the paper bursting into flames”. The same applies inside our heads. Dr Vilayanur Ramachandan’s fascinating experiments on anosognosia patients seem to show that explaining why a belief is valid and changing your beliefs are separate systems in the brain.
I take Yudkowsky’s point that speaking of belief doesn’t capture the psychology here precisely because “beliefs” are often taken to be propositional sentences, but our brains don’t deal in those much. Instead of talking about what someone “really believes”, I suppose he’d prefer to say that the woman speaks-as-if she believes God is omnipotent and omnipresent, but, at least in some instances, behaves-as-if God is not.
Brown says he’s annoyed with neo-atheist rationalist fundamentalist sceptics because neo-atheists think that all brains work like theirs or can be convinced to do so, but that thinking is wildly optimistic. This is the point of Brown’s Freud vs God post, which you should all go and read. See you in 5 minutes.
Back? Brown’s getting this stuff from Dennett and from anthropologists who study religion, such as Pascal Boyer. Boyer details his views over at a sceptics’ website, where he tells sceptics off for their narrow understanding of religion. Another anthropologist, Scott Atran, does a similar thing on edge.org, responding to Sam Harris and others in the wake of the Beyond Belief conference back in 2006.
The anthropologists say that religious beliefs should not be understood as propositional statements about the world, however much they resemble them. What of God’s omnipresence and omniscience? One thing religious people do with this belief is check whether an action is morally right by imagining what their model of God would think of it. This might be done retrospectively, if a religious context provokes thoughts of God. They certainly don’t anticipate-as-if God is in the room and watching.
Brown has linked the ideas of the anthropologists with the observation that most people don’t try to formulate coherent propositions on anything, including religion. I don’t know whether the anthropologists would agree with this, I’d need to read more of their stuff to tell. It’s clear that most religious people do try to draw a map of the real world. As Yudkowsky illustrates with his dragon-believer example, most believers already know what excuses to make for the apparent absence of dragons or gods, even as they claim belief in them, so they’re keeping a map of the real world somewhere. The believers without the map are the ones other believers regard either as shiny-eyed lunatics, like the folk who don’t go to doctors because God will heal them; or as heroes of the faith for showing such belief, like the monks and martyrs. I’d paraphrase Brown’s argument as “most people don’t see the virtue of having one map for all occasions, or of being able to articulate it”.
Of course, if you’re a religious believer, you might find the anthropologists’ approach a little patronising. Some of you seem to have beliefs which are propositions about how the world is. As I said over on robhu‘s journal a while back, Dawkins at least does believers the courtesy of taking them at their word. What do you think?