Link blog: uk, anglican, new-atheism, anglicanism

Paul Haggis Vs. the Church of Scientology : The New Yorker

Just in case you were in any doubt that Scientology is a massive con.
(tags: religion scientology cult)

Clergy told to take on the ‘new atheists’ – Telegraph

The Archdruid is going to fight the Dawkinsator. This will be epic.
(tags: atheism uk anglicanism anglican cofe rowan-williams new-atheism richard-dawkins)

What “socalized healthcare” is really like

Not perfect, but pretty good at treating urgent stuff.
(tags: uk nhs health medicine)

Terry Jones Adapting Good Omens Into A TV Series Bleeding Cool Comic Book, Movies and TV News and Rumors

Should be good, if it happens.
(tags: terry-pratchett pratchett neil-gaiman books television fantasy)

On ableist language

Why you shouldn't call the Conservative cuts "crazy". I found this very helpful.
(tags: satire identity-politics disability politics)

Link blog: pope, jesus, rowan-williams, books

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman | Books | The Guardian

Rowan Williams review Philip Pullman's latest. Via andrewducker.
(tags: christ jesus books christianity guardian literature religion review theology rowan-williams pullman philip-pullman)

They Work For The BPI

Who voted for the Digital Economy Bill, coloured by party affiliation. A sea of red. Oh well, they'll be gone soon, with any luck (though of course, most of the Tories didn't even turn up).
(tags: politics bpi debill digitalbritain election)

The Third Strike by Andrew Sullivan

"The AP's story on Joseph Ratzinger's direct involvement in delaying for six years the defrocking of a priest who had confessed to tying up and raping minors ends any doubt that the future Pope is as implicated in the sex abuse crisis as much as any other official in the church."
(tags: catholic pope abuse church corruption rape ratzinger religion paedophilia)

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)

Link blog: religion, dualism, francis-collins, discovery-institute

Substance dualism

QualiaSoup has a new video up, a short argument against substance dualism (the idea that consciousness arises from separate kind of mental substance outside the physical world).
(tags: consciousness philosophy dualism qualia)

Theodicy III: Primo Levi versus Francis Collins

Jerry Coyne has been reading Francis Collins's "The Language of God" as well as Levi's works on Auschwitz. Not surprisingly, he doesn't find Collins's theodicy very convincing.
(tags: theology religion jerry-coyne francis-collins)

Rowan Williams’ choice | Andrew Brown | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

Andrew Brown kicks some righteous ass: "Under Williams, the church that marries two women who love each other is to be thrown out of the Anglican Communion. The church that would jail them both for life, and would revile and persecute their defenders, stays snugly in his bosom. Not even the Archbishop's remarkable gift for obfuscation can conceal these facts forever."
(tags: homosexuality politics uganda uk religion christianity anglicanism rowan-williams)

Discovery Institute: The Mask Falls Away

The IDers at the DI go bonkers about the Climategate emails: "A cabal of leading scientists, politicians, and media concubines have conspired to lie about global warming. The reasons are obvious: power and money. … I’m not sure that the scientific community can or will respond to this debacle in a courageous or ethical way. The ID-Darwinism debate clearly demonstrates that venality and shameless self-interest, as well as a toxic leftist-atheist ideology, runs very deep in the scientific community." I'm adding "toxic" to my standard "neo-sceptical strident fundamentalist neo-atheist" spiel.
(tags: lolxians climate global-warming intelligent-design discovery-institute)

Pining for the fjords or I Was A Twentysomething Matt Redman Fan

Friends have been playing with Spotify, which it turns out has a whole load of Matt Redman songs (imagine U2 singing about how Jesus is their boyfriend, and you’ve got it). I heard Redman at Soul Survivor when I went, many years ago. Though the charismatic services were a little bit scary at first, the whole thing fired me up to the extent that I alarmed my parents on my return by saying I was thinking of training for the ministry (I could have been the next John W. Loftus). At one of those services, I ended up wondering whether I should ask for prayer for healing. Looking back, I can perhaps understand how the Neumanns thought it was better to pray than phone an ambulance. The question of what, if anything, God is up to these days is a tricky one, and it’s easy to get it wrong.

Praise the Prophets

A while ago, the Word of Dawkins came unto me, and the Spirit of Rationality rested upon me, and I spake forth, saying: “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.” Prophetic, no? (You may say that I’d read about similar cases in the past, but I think you’re bringing a question-begging assumption of metaphysical naturalism to my text).

Rowan Williams has a map. He recently told everyone not to expect God to do much about global warming (by the way, Newsthump’s version of the story is good fun). Likewise, in the Neumanns’ situation, most Christians would call a doctor. So, I don’t think God is going to stop global warming or heal diabetics (much less amputees), and, for the most part, Christians don’t either. Of course, I don’t attempt to excuse the absence of the dragon by telling the story of the man on the roof of his house in the flood. But when you consider what we anticipate will happen, we’re not so very different after all.

Wasted youth

Dead parrotWhen I was a Christian, it seemed there was an unspoken understanding on these matters. God made all that is, seen and unseen; Jesus did all those miracles you read about in the New Testament; the statistical likelihood was that Jesus would, in the fullness of time, come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and bring fresh supplies of lemon-soaked paper napkins. God could do anything. Still, right now, you were more likely to see answers to prayer about work stress and for courage to evangelise your friends than answers to prayers for people to be healed of cancer. Or at least, it was best not to be too surprised that prayers for the big stuff might be “answered in a different way”. (That is, if someone dies, they don’t have cancer any more. No, really, this is not a joke). There were people who asked annoying questions about why God didn’t do more, dissatisfied customers if you will, but I just found them irritating. God obviously existed, so why couldn’t they just realise that?

The Neumanns did without this tacit understanding, which is unfortunate because having the understanding means you have the map: it’s what allows Christians to get along in polite society without, say, being jailed for killing their children. Rather, just as Elijah did, the Neumanns anticipated-as-if God would act. They believed Biblical promises on prayer, as reiterated by their supporters here and here.

So what went wrong? Well, regular readers will know that God isn’t real, though Christians can hardly say so. The usual excuse won’t do, alas: it can’t be that the Neumanns lacked faith. A family with sufficient faith to gather to pray around their ailing child as she lies on her deathbed is surely an example for Christians everywhere, even the ones who believe in doctors. Likewise, even if God has provided doctors, it seems mean-spirited for God to penalise the Neumanns for not using them: which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? We must look for better excuses.

Things not seen

Perhaps those Bible verses aren’t intended to be the promises they seem to be (though they seem pretty clear to me, so if you encounter this argument, I hope you will chastise the person making it for twisting the Scriptures). Perhaps, as the Neumanns apparently believe, God foreknew that the kid would eventually turn away from Jesus, and took her home early to prevent it (though I’m disappointed by their liberalism, in that after their child died, they didn’t slit the throats of the local pastors and turn instead to Baal, Satan or Dawkins, which would have been a more biblical response). Still, both these explanations are at least possible, and if the maintenance of your belief is itself a virtue, that possibility should suffice. As recent convert Sam Harris says:

These people [that is, neo-militant rationalist atheists like Jerry Coyne] are simply obsessed with finding the best explanation for the patterns we witness in natural world. But faith teaches us that the best, alas, is often the enemy of the good. For instance, given that viruses outnumber animals by ten to one, and given that a single virus like smallpox killed 500 million human beings in the 20th century (many of them children), people like Coyne ask whether these data are best explained by the existence of an all knowing, all powerful, and all loving God who views humanity as His most cherished creation. Wrong question Coyne! You see, the wise have learned to ask, along with Miller, whether it is merely possible, given these facts, that a mysterious God with an inscrutable Will could have created the world. Surely it is! And the heart rejoices…

Of course, one mustn’t carry this sublime inquiry too far. Some have asked whether it is possible that a mysterious God with an inscrutable Will works only on Tuesdays or whether He might be especially fond of soft cheese. There is no denying that such revelations, too, are possible – and may be forthcoming. But they do not conduce to joy, chastity, homophobia, or any other terrestrial virtue – and that is the point. Men like Coyne and Dennett miss these theological nuances. Indeed, one fears that these are the very nuances they were born to miss.

Perhaps God is not deceased, but merely pining for the fjords. This, too, is possible. And the heart rejoices…

What is faith?

Prompted by Rowan Williams saying that neo-atheist fundamentalists aren’t attacking the religion ++Rowan actually believes in, the Barefoot Bum has a good bit on the role of the term “faith” in discussions with believers.

Getting killed on the next zebra crossing

The argument goes something like this: religious faith is sometimes taken by atheists to mean “belief without evidence” (Dawkins says as much in The God Delusion, for example). “Ah, no,” say believers, “that’s not what faith means, our belief is based on the evidence”. There follows an interlude for examination of this evidence, which turns out not to be so impressive. “Did we say based on? We meant compatible with,” say the believers. “That’s not good enough”, says the Bum, “all sorts of things are compatible with the evidence if you’re prepared to add ad hoc stuff to shore up the core beliefs you really don’t want to get rid of, but then those core beliefs are held without regard to evidence”. “But,” say believers, “you yourself have some core beliefs you hold without regard to evidence”. “Well,” says the Bum, “I don’t think so, but anyway, you’ve just conceded that I was right about faith, haven’t you?” “Oh dear,” say the believers, “we hadn’t thought of that”, and promptly disappear in a puff of logic.

Six impossible things before breakfast

The believers’ final attempt to parry the Bum is similar to an apologetic argument I’ve seen, whereby the believer says “If you have an unevidenced belief that your senses aren’t under the control of the Matrix or of a cartesiandaemon, why not round it off by believing in my religion?” This is an odd argument: the believer mentions beliefs you might doubt if you’re a radical sceptic (you’ll recall that you risk becoming a radical sceptic if you’re a university-educated Catholic), but which most people accept because it’s impractical not to. It turns out that belief in gods is something we can get by without. (On a related note, the folks over at Iron Chariots have a reasonable article on the proposition that atheism is based on faith).

Edited: Chris Hallquist puts it better than I did, when he says that “belief in the Christian God isn’t very much at all like most of the common-sense beliefs commonly cited as threatened by Descartes & Hume-style skepticism (like belief in the reliability of our senses), but is an awful lot like beliefs most Christians wouldn’t accept without evidence–namely, the beliefs of other religions. That kind of response is very hard to reject without special pleading on behalf of Christianity, and doesn’t involve commitment to any potentially troublesome epistemic principles.”

Three parts of faith

There’s another thing missing from the popular atheist definition of faith. At least for Christians, faith has an element of trust as well as acceptance of facts. After all, even the demons believe.

Over at Parchment and Pen, C. Michael Patton separates faith into three parts: content (faith in what?), assent (affirmation that the content is true) and trust (the part that the demons lack). Patton blames the lack of assent (which requires an examination of the evidence) for the loss of faith of the ex-Christians he’s encountered. He goes so far as to say that the statement “You ask me how I know he lives, he lives within my heart” is stupid. Patton seems quite different from other Christians, who say that the main reason they believe is the internal feeling of God’s presence, what they call the witness of the Holy Spirit. One can perhaps forgive atheists for using “faith” in a way Christians don’t like if the Christians themselves aren’t sure what it’s about.

The virtue of faith

A thought which should occur to anyone who reads Less Wrong: you can make people reluctant to give up religious faith by making them think that having faith is virtuous. And this is what we find: in Christian philosophy, the theological virtue of “faith” is holding on to belief in the face of doubt. But hang on, where is the virtue in this? Chopping and changing all the time would be impractical, but it’s hard to see why it’s wrong. I suppose that conceiving of a religion as a relationship with God makes faith seem virtuous, because then we apply our notions of faithfulness within a human relationship. But these notions do not apply to facts about the world (even the demons believe), and to think that they do is to fall victim to a cognitive trick (since if the facts of religion are not correct, maybe there’s no-one to have a relationship with). Rather, say:

If the sky is blue
I desire to believe “the sky is blue”.
If the sky is not blue
I desire to believe “the sky is not blue”.

The Archbishop is a Harsh Mistress

Poor old Rowan. In an interview and speech characterised, in a very real sense, by his habitual turgid sesquipedalianism, someone managed to find the statement that Sharia law “is unavoidable” in the UK. If you think my ability to provoke religious flamewars is impressive, you should see the BBC’s Have Your Say forums (or, you know, don’t), or the Graun‘s Comment is Free, right now.

Unexpectedly, the same bunch who voted in favour of the religious hatred legislation a few years ago suddenly found something wonderful, and opined that they weren’t sure public beheadings were such a good idea (though I’m not sure that position is a vote winner: Daily Mail readers would probably be in favour, as long as it wasn’t the Muslims doing the chopping).

All of which is beside the point, really, because ++Rowan (that’s “1 more than your current Rowan”, geeks) wasn’t advocating any of that stuff. After struggling through all 8 pages of his grey prose, I can tell you that Rowan’s a sci-fi libertarian of the sort you sometimes get in Ken Macleod’s books, or maybe Heinlein’s, or Neal Stephenson‘s. What he wants is for people to be able to voluntarily affiliate with a court system for the resolution of some disputes. In an attempt to preserve his right-on lefty image, Rowan claims he’s a little nervous about the unpleasant whiff of the free market about this, but I think we all know he’s secretly itching to set up ++Rowan’s Greater Anglican Communion franchulates all over the world (er, hang on a minute…), strap on a katana and set out on his motorbike for a showdown with Dawkins.

What’s less clear is what he wants for Muslims which isn’t already available. In an article about Jewish courts in the UK, the BBC says that “English law states that any third party can be agreed by two sides to arbitrate in a dispute”. Does anyone know whether there’s anything stopping Muslim courts doing something similar to the Jewish ones?