Link blog: politics, identity-politics, ken-macleod, humanism

For American pundits, China isn’t a country. It’s a fantasyland. – The Washington Post
“Whenever I want to be cheered up about the future of my adopted country, I turn to American pundits. The air here might be deadly, the water undrinkable, the Internet patchy and the culture strangled, but I can always be reassured that China is beating America at something, whether it’s clean energy, high-speed rail, education or even the military. Over the past decade, American audiences have become accustomed to lectures about China, like a schoolboy whose mother compares him with an overachieving classmate.”
(tags: china america politics)
Ken MacLeod – Socialism and transhumanism
“The challenge for humanists and liberals in the face of a transhuman future is daunting: to replace the socialist project — or to revive it. Without something like it to underpin a sense of common human identity and common human interest, people will divide on the basis of other identities. Many on the left, of course, have found in identity politics a replacement for the universalism of their past. But identity can also be seized on by the far right. It can feed a resentful indifference to the plight of others that comes from having one’s own plight disregarded.”
(tags: socialism politics transhumanism ken-macleod identity-politics humanism)

Link blog: sex, funny, christianity, atheism

The Tornado, the Lutherans, and Homosexuality :: Desiring God

Well known complementarian John Piper explains how God sent a tornado to break the spire of a Lutheran church as a "a gentle but firm" reminder that gay sex is bad. Via a more sensible Christian on Unreasonable Faith.
(tags: church homosexuality sin bible christianity reformed sex gay piper lutheran lolxians)

Boring men?

In response to a Metafilter posting linking to an article about how all men are boring, Mefi user Pastabagel shares their idea of what it would be like if men responded to women asking what was on their minds.
(tags: funny metafilter relationships sex women boring)

Apophatic atheology: an April apologetic

"A great deal of needless offence and rancour, it seems to me, is caused by the unfortunate tendency of certain believers to take the speeches and books of atheism literally."
(tags: religion atheism apophatic funny parody ken-macleod)

Biblical Evidence for Catholicism: Was Skeptical Philosopher David Hume an Atheist?

Some interesting quotes from Hume scholars. Comes from a blog evangelising for Catholicism, so may be strongly filtered evidence, but worth a read, in any case.
(tags: philosophy hume atheism david-hume agnosticism deism religion scepticism)

Nothing New Under The Sun – The biggest problem imo with organized religion

is that it validates the very human impulse to think that we can "make up" for things – rewrite the past, undo what we have done, magic away the reality with something else – that we can fix our misdeeds and harms done by harming ourselves in some way.
(tags: religion atonement psychology morality)

Ireland Archbishop stunned by Dr Rowan Williams’ criticism of Catholic Church -Times Online

"The Archbishop of Dublin today said he was "stunned" to hear the Archbishop of Canterbury declare that the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has lost all credibility because of the child abuse scandal." Rowan's peeved at the poaching Pope (and sensibly looking to put some distance between the two churches, by the looks of it).
(tags: catholicism catholic rowan-williams anglican anglicanism religion christianity ireland children abuse)

Drama, science, evolution, morality – the usual

Link roundup and browser tab closing time…

Expel the evildoer from among you

If you’re not reading back over my old entries (why not? I used to be much better before I jumped the shark), you might not have noticed that there was some LJ drama over the last one. robhu conclusively won the debate on whether complementarianism is sexist by the cunning ploy of banning me from commenting on his blog: an innovative rhetorical tactic, and undeniably a powerful one. But it’s not over yet. I’ve realised that he may have made a Tone Argument, which might enable me to reject his ideas out of hand and advance three squares to the nearest Safe Space, so I’m awaiting the results of a steward’s inquiry. It’s possible I may have too many Privilege Points to make a valid claim for Tone Argument, but I’m hopeful the powers that be will see things my way.

Could out-consume Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Down on the Premier Christian Radio boards, they’re talking about science and religion again, specifically whether science can ignore the possibility of God’s existence. I’ve been sticking my oar in, as usual.

Red Ken again

When I reviewed Ken MacLeod’s The Night Sessions, I reckoned that he had something to do with Christianity himself at one point, as the observational humour was too keen to come from a total outsider. It turns out he’s the son of a Presbyterian minister. At an SF convention in 2006, MacLeod spoke about his childhood, discovering that creationism was wrong, and the social contract. This old speech of his was linked from his recent blog posting on the changing meaning of evolution. MacLeod says a change occurred in the 1970s when Jacques Monod and Richard Dawkins introduced a thoroughly materialistic theory. This replaced older ideas that evolution is progress up a sort of secular Great Chain of Being, ideas which C.S. Lewis grumbled about, though not for the same reasons as the biologists. “Evolutionary Humanism was no doubt troubling enough to believers, but at least it wasn’t a vision of blind, pitiless indifference at the heart of things.” It’s the latter vision which MacLeod says has so riled modern creationists. I’m not sure whether he’s right, but it’s an interesting speculation.

Morality

Some people argue that if there’s no God, you can’t have real morality. We’ve discussed this previously here (and also here). The debate seems to boil down to which definition of morality you find psychologically satisfying, since as far as I can tell it has no practical consequences: almost everyone thinks that Bad Things are Bad, whether or not they also think there are moral absolutes.

Anyway, Jeffrey Amos over at Failing the Insider Test has an interesting post specifically about the idea that morality shows there’s a God. Firstly, he argues that all moral systems have the problem of where you start from, so the Euthyphro dilemma isn’t introducing a new problem for theists. Nevertheless, it does show that the problem isn’t solved by introducing God, either. Secondly, he argues that a theist must either say that God’s ideas of morality are not similar to ours, in which case pretty much everyone is wrong about morality and once we allow this, it’s no stretch to say that they might be wrong about it in a different way (for example, maybe true morality doesn’t have to be absolute). Or a theist must say that God’s morality is similar to ours, but this runs into the problem of pain: a God whose morality was similar to ours wouldn’t allow there to be so much suffering in the world. The standard response that God allows suffering for inscrutable reasons doesn’t help: if God is inscrutable, how can we know his morality is similar to ours? The second prong of the second argument isn’t new (gjm11 makes it here, and I doubt he was the first), but I think Amos’s article states it very clearly.

Book: The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod

Irregular Apocalypse

The other Red Ken has a new book out. The Night Sessions is set in a future where the USA and UK have pretty much abandoned religion as a bad job. In the book’s alternate history, the War on Terror became the Faith Wars, which culminated in tactical nuclear exchanges as part of a tank battle in the Valley of Megiddo (ya, rly). The US/UK won a Pyrrhic victory, and the people of those countries decided that it wasn’t just the neo-cons who were to blame, but religion. Thus began what the churches referred to as the Great Rejection. Christians were persecuted, Muslims sent to filtration camps. The book opens in 2037. In the independent republic of Scotland, religion is now ignored as part of a policy of official “non-cognisance”. Then a Roman Catholic priest is murdered by a bomb, and the Edinburgh police (some of whom were in the “God Squads” which put down protests by Christians about the closing of churches and church schools) have to investigate.

No More Mr Nice Guy

MacLeod’s future Edinburgh seemed a bit like Iain M. Banks’s Culture, writ small. The religious people are the ones who have, prior to the opening of the book, learned the hard way that you “don’t fuck with the Culture”. The coppers are aided by sarcastic demilitarised combat robots, who attained consciousness on the battlefield as the result of getting better and better at modelling other combatants’ minds. There are the polybdsmfurrygoths in their silent nightclub (which used to be a church, naturally). The Great Rejection seems like unrealistic atheist wish-fulfilment.

God Told Me To Do It

Still, MacLeod has fun with his setting. The American fundies have buggered off to New Zealand and set up a creationist theme park, where one of the protagonists, John Campbell works. In the prologue, we meet him on a flight to Edinburgh, where he introduces a fellow passenger to the delights of presuppositionalism. If you doubt that people like Campbell exist in real life, check out what this guy thinks of people who allow evidence to modify their beliefs: I don’t know MacLeod’s own religious experiences, but he’s done his research. There are jokes you probably need some acquaintance with Christianity to get.

MacLeod isn’t silly enough to portray the religious characters unsympathetically. Campbell turns out to be a sensitive soul, rejected by one sect after another for increasingly hilarious reasons, who can’t quite understand why people find his theology hard to get on with. Grace Mazvabo, an Christian academic who studies the history of her religion, is well drawn.

The first part of the story is a sort of police procedural with lots of satisfying SF stuff about the kit the coppers have access to. Other reviewers say that MacLeod deliberately avoided making DI Adam Ferguson a hard-drinking future-Rebus, which is fair enough, but he and the other police seem a bit thin, somehow (the one exception being the, ahem, undercover agent who spends a lot of time around the polybdsmfurrygoths).

In fact, my main criticism of the book is that everything’s too thin. I wanted to know more about the world, and more about the characters. Maybe I’ve read too much Neal Stephenson, but I found the book too short. Still, it’s a mark of how much fun I had with it that I wanted more. Worth a read.