Category Archives: Dawkins

Dawkins Wants To Share Eroticism, Tim Stanley That Devil Intervenes

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Richard Dawkins suggested that broadcasting loving erotica might help to tackle misogyny generally in theocratic states.

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This was in response to what Boris Johnson said regarding blue balls theory that by not getting laid, this led to wanking at porn and then jihadists (I debunk the theory here.)

Clearly that was not what Dawkins was expressing. Rather, it was that women and men should be viewed in loving ways whether sexually or otherwise. Erotica that stressed that would be a contrast to repressive religious cultures that insisted on men and women being segregated, with women being covered up as a temptresses in need of modesty to preserve herself, and protect men from themselves.

Dawkins ended up deleting his tweet, following unloving mounting derision at the idea.

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Tim Stanley seemed to find sadistic delight in laying the boot in:

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After a few minutes of mockery, the tweet was deleted. Perhaps even he realised how utterly mad it was. Which suggests a degree of self-awareness that I didn’t think possible in Britain’s nuttiest professor.

Time was when it looked like Dawkins was about to go the full “nut-job 180” and declare that, upon reflection, there actually is a God and it’s Richard Dawkins – and have himself blasted into space on the back of a dolphin singing Onward Christian Soldiers. As you can tell, I’ve come to regard Dick with a great deal of affection. He’s just a mad uncle – a genius academic with monomania who probably isn’t a bad person just a rather naïve one. And his capacity for dreaming up new ways to irritate the religious is, at least, not boring.

So how did Tim show that he was far from a nut job or mad uncle himself? By trying to tell us the answer to Stephen Fry’s how could a loving God let children be born with bone cancer was already in the bible.

Not only has theology dedicated itself for thousands of years to unpicking that problem but the answer to it is there in the very Bible itself. Since Adam and Eve ate the apple, we’ve been living in a fallen world full of pain. God granted us free will not only to do bad things but also good things – like finding a cure for cancer or caring for those dying from it.
Terrible things happen because of a) random acts of nature, b) the intervention of the Devil or c) the corruption of man.

“I’m not saying anyone has to believe what I write…” goes on Tim, but I would like him to go further and write more. Does he literally believe there was an Adam and Eve that ate an apple? Was it a just God that then allowed all their offspring to suffer for such a transgression by being cast out of paradise? Did God not set the randomness of nature, or was it beyond his capacity to control? Does the devil intervene by controlling nature, us or influencing directly our thoughts and actions, even using children and loved ones let alone heads of state or Telegraph journalists? Does the corruption of man mean children must expect getting bone cancer, or a worm burrowing out of their eye, and still praise God while in pain thus accepting their corruption?

“…please don’t act like it’s never been said before or that the answer to Fry’s facile question doesn’t exist.” That is the problem – they are not answers. What evidence does Stanley have, significant insight to know this is of God, that he can use without sounding like a nut job mad uncle? He cannot, though he can say this is my belief and that is enough for me. Thing is,he sees this as an answer for everyone, one we should embrace in our wretchedness.

So the choice of spreading around the world loving erotica or the good news that children are responsible for their bone cancer because they are born corrupted. It truly is a mad world where Dawkins feels the need to delete his tweet, but Stanley can let stand dogma that is truly pernicious.

I appreciate some people wondering at the tweets by Dawkins. However, there are far worse things said as religion, which seems to make people authorities while standing on sand by a lapping sea of faith.

Watch for the tides, in case your reason is lost far out to sea.

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Richard Dawkins Mistakenly Rails Against Blocked Website

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Move over honey pot, because steaming down the track was a new locomotion of a commotion for Richard Dawkins:

https://twitter.com/richarddawkins/status/525988792982044673

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If you read his screen grab, the answer presents itself – to prevent a few users slowing down the internet watching videos, streaming is blocked. Needless to say, there were too many good puns to be had to just point that out …

Free thought does require you train yourself to read the small print. Not just for religious terms and conditions.

So “The God Delusion” lecture was not being blocked after all … this would never have happened, rationally, on a replacement bus service as above.

Update:

Incidentally, here is the lecture Dawkins was looking for:

Update:

Dawkins apologises:

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Sam Harris We Need A Serious Narrative To Counter Islamism

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Sam Harris has written a blog post in the aftermath of prior to his appearance on Bill Maher’s show. On the show, Ben Affleck showed concern that all Muslims were being judged by one variant of extreme Islam as true in the whole world.

For Sam, as he stresses in his post, the true believers are ISIS. If you as a Muslim, who does not believe like ISIS in punishment for apostasy, blasphemy, or polytheism you are one of “many of whom do not take their religion very seriously.”

Rather an odd way for Harris to encourage such unserious Muslims:

Understanding and criticizing the doctrine of Islam—and finding some way to inspire Muslims to reform it—is one of the most important challenges the civilized world now faces.

While Sam calls his article Sleepwalking Into Armageddon I want to scream at Harris to wake up to reality. Calling people not serious Muslims is part of the religious fire which is helping the implosion throughout the Middle East and South Asia. Just ask an Ahmadi or a Shia.

Theocratic States are the problem. Whether Iran sentencing to death Mohsen Amir Aslani for stating Jonah being swallowed by a big fish was metaphor. Or Rafi Badawi sentenced to imprisonment and regular lashings hosting a liberal secular site in Saudi Arabia. About thirty countries deny basic human rights thanks to their blasphemy and apostate laws.

Such emotional human narrative was never used by Sam Harris or Bill Maher. It is the principle and concept, rather than using the names and examples of those dying by oppressive theocratic regimes. It comes across as an academic discourse that dehumanises people; it does not help us win over the emotional (but less informed) argument that Ben Affleck gave.

Sam Harris tries to use biblical scripture, and the teachings of Jesus, for why the West is secular.

Despite all the obvious barbarism in the Old Testament, and the dangerous eschatology of the New, it is relatively easy for Jews and Christians to divorce religion from politics and secular ethics. A single line in Matthew—“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”—largely accounts for why the West isn’t still hostage to theocracy.

Just one slight problem. That is not a literal interpretation of the Gospel. To quote from Reza Aslan’s “Zealot”:

The truth is that Jesus’s answer is as clear a statement as one can find in the gospels on where exactly he fell in the debate between the priests and the zealots—not over the issue of the tribute, but over the far more significant question of God’s sovereignty over the land. Jesus’s words speak for themselves: “Give back (apodidomi) to Caesar the property that belongs to Caesar . . .” The verb apodidomi, often translated as “render unto,” is actually a compound word: apo is a preposition that in this case means “back again”; didomi is a verb meaning “to give.” Apodidomi is used specifically when paying someone back property to which he is entitled; the word implies that the person receiving payment is the rightful owner of the thing being paid. In other words, according to Jesus, Caesar is entitled to be “given back” the denarius coin, not because he deserves tribute, but because it is his coin: his name and picture are stamped on it. God has nothing to do with it. By extension, God is entitled to be “given back” the land the Romans have seized for themselves because it is God’s land: “The Land is mine,” says the Lord (Leviticus 25:23). Caesar has nothing to do with it. So then, give back to Caesar what is his, and give back to God what belongs to God. That is the zealot argument in its simplest, most concise form. And it seems to be enough for the authorities in Jerusalem to immediately label Jesus as lestes. A bandit. A zealot. [Location Kindle 1520]

Does Sam Harris want Christians to take seriously that the land of Israel belongs to the Jews? Because that is the literal interpretation – real estate divinely given. Let no Caesar take away. We know the bloodshed such an idea of the Holy Land has led to.

Instead Sam has modified the text to suit a liberal secular agenda. That it is scripturally incorrect does not matter. His idea of what the scripture means is a perfect fit for the moderate Harris.

Woe betide any Muslims that attempt to do likewise with their Koran or Hadith. Sam already knows your scripture in a way he does not even know the bible. He has passed a fatwa that you are not a serious muslim. While twisting how Christianity is to fit a secular paradigm. Do as I say not as I do. It is a contradictory and frankly confused counter message.

So much for the counter narrative and the Christian secular narrative. On Bill Maher’s show again Maajid Nawaz (author of “Radical” and whom Sam Harris singles out as someone we should support) talks here about the ideological narrative of islamism – and how relatively new it is. Note how he gives the human emotional narrative I mentioned.

We need to make the case for universal human rights, and how a theocratic state prevents that. We need the concept of pluralism, that a religion is more varied than any claim to orthodoxy about one true version. Whether by a mullah or an atheist, the history of ideas and culture has shown different rivers flowing through time. Despite claims there is one true source, and one course to follow.

Tom Holland introduced me to the concept of various rivers flowing into the Koran, rather than my suggestion it was a plagiarised work. In the concluding part of his critical review of Karen Armstrong’s “Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence” in today’s Sunday Times he states:

Islam, by militarising Christian notions such as martyrdom and spiritual struggle, then helped the Arabs forge the largest empire the world had ever seen.

From that point, the struggle for competitive advantage between Christian and Muslim powers would repeatedly witness the drafting of theologians as well as soldiers. Had Armstrong only set about tracing the evolution of such dynamics, she would have succeeded in endowing her book with the focus it so signally lacks.

We need to get serious about the human, the theological, ideological narrative of the evolution of islamism. Harris needs to get that sharp focus as does Armstrong. Until he does, his challenge will be dismissed by the very Muslims he is trying to inspire.

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The Discussion We Need On Rape and Alcohol

No one seems, in their rush to condemn Dawkins as a sexist misogynist dinosaur that damages the atheist movement, to actually see what the law states regarding evidence of rape when alcohol has been consumed. Nor that about 40% of rape cases brought by the Crown and Prosecution Service end in no conviction. I am going to try and deal with all of this. Bear with me.

That was the basis of Dawkins’ discussion on twitter, and the high profile rebukes I saw made no attempt to discuss how this applies under law in the UK. If any lawyer followers have any additional input, or clarifications please feel free to comment on this post or via twitter so I may include.

An appeal court judgment in 2007 in the UK attempted to clarify rape law regarding alcohol consumption:

Sir Igor Judge, Lady Justice Hallett and Mrs Justice Gloster said the appeal had required them to “address the effect of voluntary heavy alcohol consumption as it applies to the law of rape”.

In making the ruling, Sir Igor said: “If, through drink – or for any other reason – the complainant has temporarily lost her capacity to choose whether to have intercourse on the relevant occasion, she is not consenting, and subject to questions about the defendant’s state of mind, if the intercourse takes place, this would be rape.

“However, where the complainant has voluntarily consumed even substantial quantities of alcohol, but nevertheless remains capable of choosing whether or not to have intercourse, and in drink agrees to do so this would not be rape.”

He added that the “capacity to consent may evaporate well before a complainant becomes unconscious”. [BBC News]

The ruling was based on the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (which when Dawkins previously talked about mild rape and mild pedophilia I referred to here).

It states in section 75 that I linked to above (emphasis my own on points Dawkins making on twitter):

75 Evidential presumptions about consent

(1)If in proceedings for an offence to which this section applies it is proved—
(a)that the defendant did the relevant act,

(b)that any of the circumstances specified in subsection (2) existed, and

(c)that the defendant knew that those circumstances existed,the complainant is to be taken not to have consented to the relevant act unless sufficient evidence is adduced to raise an issue as to whether he consented, and the defendant is to be taken not to have reasonably believed that the complainant consented unless sufficient evidence is adduced to raise an issue as to whether he reasonably believed it.

(2)The circumstances are that—

(a)any person was, at the time of the relevant act or immediately before it began, using violence against the complainant or causing the complainant to fear that immediate violence would be used against him;

(b)any person was, at the time of the relevant act or immediately before it began, causing the complainant to fear that violence was being used, or that immediate violence would be used, against another person;

(c)the complainant was, and the defendant was not, unlawfully detained at the time of the relevant act;

(d)the complainant was asleep or otherwise unconscious at the time of the relevant act;

(e)because of the complainant’s physical disability, the complainant would not have been able at the time of the relevant act to communicate to the defendant whether the complainant consented;

(f)any person had administered to or caused to be taken by the complainant, without the complainant’s consent, a substance which, having regard to when it was administered or taken, was capable of causing or enabling the complainant to be stupefied or overpowered at the time of the relevant act.

(3)In subsection (2)(a) and (b), the reference to the time immediately before the relevant act began is, in the case of an act which is one of a continuous series of sexual activities, a reference to the time immediately before the first sexual activity began.

The law stands that a person can be drunk but still voluntarily give consent, but where that capacity has been lost to consent due to a state of inebriation it would be rape. A court on the basis of evidence would attempt to clarify what happened.

Going back to the BBC news coverage of the Court of Appeal case in 2007:

It is the first time the Court of Appeal has looked at the issue since a legal definition of consent in rape cases was established by the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

The law says a person consents to sex if they agree by choice and have the freedom and capacity to make that choice.

Mr Bree had denied raping the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, but was convicted by a jury at Bournemouth Crown Court and jailed for five years last year.

The student said she had not consented to sex after they had been out in Bournemouth drinking vodka and Red Bull and cider.

The quashing of his conviction related to “deficiencies” in the trial judge’s summing up, and Mr Bree was freed from prison on 13 March.

Dawkins tweets

The issue here is whether the complainant lacked capacity to consent to a sexual act – the tweet by Dawkins does not address that, but rather recollection. Other evidence might exist but Dawkins is dismissing that being the case. In the jargon, evidential presumption of consent cannot be proved a negative.

If it can be proved that alcohol had nullified her capacity to consent, but the defendant went against this, it would be rape. That would be crucial evidence in Dawkins hypothetical case for the prosecution and defence to examine. Especially Crown Prosecution in bringing the case to trial.

This is twitter, and lacks space, so what did Dawkins say regarding evidence?

It would be rather uncharitable to state Dawkins means here if you are unconscious and raped you cannot bring about an accusation. Again, this is twitter.

To see how ridiculous that interpretation, it would be like saying you cannot accuse someone of murder unless the corpse has a recollection. The point is evidence existing for a trial to be brought against someone.

To the charge that Dawkins is insensitive about rape:

You only have to think of recent rape victims of ISIS jumping to their deaths rather than living, to see the horrendous attitudes to rape victims that have to be overcome in the world.

The context

There have been accusations made against prominent people in the atheist movement of using their status to sleep with women. No prosecutions, but versions of events have played out in the blogosphere. Writers and bloggers, rather than prosecution and defense experts, have poured over testimony as amateur sleuths to make pronouncements.

I can only add that yes, I have seen celebrity status used in the hope of one night stands at conferences with female volunteers (not Dawkins but lips sealed as to who unless she makes public). It happens. This attitude to women needs challenging across many civil movements. Women are not there to provide sexual entertainment. They are delegates and advocates in their own right. More of them need to be given a platform to speak on atheist and secular issues.

In a rationalist community sex should be something dealt with by grown ups in social intercourse. Ideas of written consent forms, or fears that lots of men are being maliciously prosecuted are misplaced (see the graph by the Enliven Project here). A gentlemen does not ask a woman he has just met in an elevator for coffee in his hotel room at 4am. He knows which way that might be taken, whatever he says to mitigate. It is creepy, scary and not on. Neither would he ensure that a woman drinks more than himself in an attempt to make her more suggestible. Especially if he knows it would be a big “No” sober.

Was Dawkins weighing in on this last accusation doing the rounds for sometime, or perhaps wanted to discuss based on Cee Lo Green ‘People who have really been raped REMEMBER!!!’ series of deleted tweets this month?

Yes when I read one of Dawkins tweets I hit the roof. What on earth was he getting at? So after I peeled myself from the ceiling realizing what a field day this will be for Dawkins’ opponents, I read his tweets.

The tweet that seems to have set off this latest episode:

A reply made Dawkins continue:

It was a discussion and Dawkins was looking to be challenged. Regarding his do not accuse if you have no recollection tweet, came this point:

This though was the kicker for me from Dawkins:

Until you see how he clarifies:

The issue of capacity to consent when intoxicated:

Now I can take any one of Dawkins’ tweets to say how horrible and disgusting his attitude is. When you go back through the timeline, it is a discussion on rape and alcohol. It would be wrong to take one tweet on its own then flesh out without reference to the others.

The Real World

The huge problem with such a conversation is it ends up being weighted against women imbibing rather than men raping. Their credibility as a witness means rapists may well get away with it.

On this subject do read this post:

I have one very clear memory that still haunts me two years later. I remember waking up during the night and seeing him on top of me, my trousers around my ankles and my shirt still on. I pulled away and heard him mutter “Oh no, it fell out” to himself, at which point I blacked out again. I assume he continued to rape me.

I told very few people at the time, but a friend came with me to the police station. The receptionist, on learning I was reporting a sex offence, insisted on me giving details in front of everybody in the waiting room before taking me somewhere private. Two officers then came to my house, where I was questioned further. One described rape as “just something that happens”, especially at university. The only advice I received was to drink less in future.

Appalling attitudes exist. A woman that has been drinking is considered to have been asking for it. Just as if she was not covered up. Dawkins was trying to discuss all this. On twitter how evidence and credibility is used in court. The idea that he wants rapists to get away with it or blames women for being raped is wrong. How the real world works, how court cases examine evidence, are valid points of discussion.

Yet it has been twisted into Dawkins saying “What if she is lying?” which he never said. Also “For good measure, Dawkins argued that rape victims shouldn’t be considered trustworthy if they were drinking.” when Dawkins was discussing how court of laws operate in a hypothetical case in the real world when no other evidence existed but testimony.

There will be plenty of things to disagree with Dawkins on. He discusses some things and I want to have a go at him because I think he is wrong, or I can see how it will play out in the public sphere. What really needs discussing is how we reduce incidences of rape and ensure rapists are convicted. When rape convictions are at around 60%  we need a public discourse whether the law is being correctly applied, if it needs changing, and that women who are raped have the confidence to come forward.

Dawkins tried to have a conversation about that. It has been turned instead to condemnation over things he was not saying. Still, people will not often follow links, and if one tweet is presented not look to see if it has a context that explains it differently from isolation.

As to demands that we denounce Dawkins, as if atheists could be put on a Salem court trial to pass a test whether we dance with the devil, my answer is this. When he is right I will stand with him. When he is wrong I will say so. No one is my leader in atheism. Do not try to make my views less by associating my none belief with other people.

I once thought it would be good for Dawkins to talk beyond religion, secularism and science.

I bet even he is beginning to wonder if it is worth the aggro.

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Dawkins Endorses Anti-Muslim Twitter Account

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Richard Dawkins promotes following @jihadistjoe on twitter. The following screen grabs are from the same day Dawkins endorsed, but just before he tweeted his endorsement.

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Jesus and Mo cartoons strike the balance between humour and biting satire by tackling outrages religious ideas and thinking with irreverence. @JihadistJoe however plays on Muslim streotypes, using far right propaganda that all Muslims are a danger to society. Regrettably the cartoons @jihadistjoe uses hark back to the dark days of caricature designed to make bigotry and prejudice acceptable by being regularly seen.

Treating Muslims as extremists or their supporters because they follow Islam is anti-Muslim bigotry. The insidious suggestion is secretly (without being honest or duped) they work to undermine democracy and society. To point out believing this is a crazy conspiracy mindset that goes against everyday experience with Muslims in the UK, is to be met with the suggestion you are a willing dhimmi or a useful idiot.

Secularism is about promoting rights for all as equal citizens. Religion does not have preferential treatment in public space over others, citizens are free to believe or disbelieve without penalty or favour. The state does not control faith, and promotes a pluralistic society where individual rights are paramount. We are truly free to think for ourselves and understand God or the world around us, and form our own moral compass, as law abiding citizens.

People deliberately overlook the contributions against extremism by Muslims who champion secularism. Dismissing the concern secularists have against anti-Muslim bigotry. Just two examples of pluralism and secularism in action: Maajid Nawaz chairman of Quilliam anti-extremist think tank, has recently mean made an honorary associate of the National Secular Society. While atheist Peter Tatchell has become a patron of Tell Mama, the anti-Muslim bigotry charity.

When Richard Dawkins endorsed the account, he accused one person that pointed out how bad the account was of lacking humour and judgment. Yes Richard, humour might be down to personal taste, but if you cannot see what the account is promoting (at odds with secularism) then your own judgment has to be called into question.

We cannot let the extremists define us nor should we side with them. We can stand for human rights without using prejudice and bigotry.

    Update 6 July 2014:

Whilst most people seemed to get that suggesting Muslims “breeding” and having places to worship as part of “Jihadist support team” (the iceberg beneath the surface) are anti Muslim sentiments in line with extreme right wing views on Muslims, a few remain unconvinced or see this as isolated bum notes of an otherwise funny account. Whose aim is to use humour to target hatred at terrorists not Muslims. The other is how dare I be concerned about this account when people are being killed and oppressed in the name of Islam?

We need to fight bigotry and dehumanization of people by anyone.

On that note here are a few more tweets to see the focus is not on terrorism by islamists but Muslims too.

When discussing these things with @jihadistjoe online he said the context was “The Project” by the Muslim Brotherhood. A coordinated effort, to penetrate all levels of society with a “cultural invasion” with the aim “to progressively infiltrate, confront, and eventually establish Islamic domination over the West.” [Link he provided via twitter]

@Jihadistjoe did not explain where he was getting the cartoons from or where they were originally published. He also declined to reply on this blog.

A global conspiracy believer who uses it to justify his use of bigotry against Muslims has been promoted by Richard Dawkins. That saddens me as a fan of his work and as someone that writes about secular issues.

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The Unbelievers – A Review

 

Just released on iTunes this month, The Unbelievers features Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss as they go about the media and conference circuit promoting scientific inquiry over absolute religious belief. They want us to question everything, so here the question must be would you pay to download this movie?

If you are looking for Richard Dawkins to explain evolution or for Lawrence Krauss to expound on how there can be a universe from nothing this film is not for you. The Unbelievers may wet the appetite to watch their discussions in full (see video below) and read their books. This film is promoting why and how they are moved to do what they do, and the success will be if it inspires you to do likewise.

The motivation is dealing with the misconceptions of science, that people have the right to have their intelligence questioned when important issues like climate change need to be discussed. Let alone the origins of humanity. Religion should not get in the way of scientific facts. In american public life atheists are put on a par with rapists. The extent to which an honest adequate public discourse can occur is the background when faith and science clash.

A key difference did emerge between Dawkins and Krauss. Richard suggested that if one idea of a faith was obviously scientifically wrong why not abandon the whole thing? Lawrence rather stressed freedom of private belief. For him it was people that wore their religion on their sleeves in public life were fair game – while Dawkins wanted us to question if someone really believed in something like a wafer turning into the body of Christ.

Rather than believing absurdities, there is a magic in reality which gives comfort and joy. Finding purpose by critical thinking for yourself. It is about seeing the negative, and the positive, in life the universe and everything and being charged up to live while you can.

For a film that is just over an hour, it dwells too long on hotel rooms, lobbies and receptions, catching cabs and the professors waiting to be interviewed. The conversations by the two men should be the central piece of The Unbelievers. Another time wasting scene is Dawkins being interviewed over the phone while he is in his hotel room. All I could make out was a drone at the other end, wittering on, before Richard spoke. The room itself was dark and grey, about as enlightening as that interview.

The black and white segments at the beginning and end of the film, with Woody Allen, Cameron Diaz, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Hawking talking – to name a few – were notable highlights. It might have made sense to have more of them inter spaced during the film. The star monologues were the real cherries on top of the cake to be had. When Harris, Dennett and Hirsi Ali speak at a conference it is a brief few seconds from them in comparison, were too short.

If I wanted to introduce Dawkins and Krauss to a new audience this is not the film I would use. Rather, it would be the conversation they had together on “Something from nothing” which you can watch below for free.

The biggest regret with the movie is the main challenges facing unbelievers – apostasy and blasphemy – are not covered in this film. Rather it is a congratulatory look for the stand that Dawkins and Krauss take on science against supernaturalism. One you may wish to applaud with £9.99. This is the interest two academic science professors have in challenging religion as unbelievers, rather than highlighting unbelievers in the world. Krauss stressing secular activism in the film for effective public policy in a democracy using science at the Reason Rally in DC is the rallying point at the end of the movie.

That The Unbelievers may inspire you to take part in such activism, as you realize it is not just enough to have Dawkins and Krauss talking about it. It needs you doing this, without hope of a film of your exploits nor plaudits, to make something happen.

Related posts:

Why We Need Richard Dawkins

A neo new atheist? (includes trailer to “The Unbelievers”)

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Douglas Murray Confuses Atheists With Vulcans

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“Atheist logic gives them a cold, unfeeling sort of personality. The typical Atheist day consists of waking up, meditating, eating, working, meditating, sleeping… very dull true, but quite logical to the Atheist mind.”

The above is actually a description of Vulcans where I replaced with atheist. Reading Douglas Murray talking about an atheist world he appears to have done the same.

There is a perfectly good utilitarian argument for putting dead babies into a hospital furnace. And if the foetuses are genuinely unwanted, then burning them instead of fossil fuels means we plunder fewer natural resources of our ailing planet. I cannot see that the action greatly trespasses John Stuart Mill’s ‘harm principle’.

If all this sounds far-fetched, we should look back only a century, when entire schools of very intelligent non-believers could discern no moral objection to eugenics. Religion holds back the religious (even if not always stopping them). But today, despite the moral qualms which the extremes of eugenics posthumously bestowed upon us, there is no reason why atheists should not again go down such paths.

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The disposal of a foetus moves us to human breeding programmes. One clear objection is whether utilitarian ethics are actually useful to such moral questions – I am with Rawls and Nozick they are not. The reality is a hospital furnace may be the most effective and environmentally friendly way to dispose of a terminated unwanted foetus. Murray is trying to get us to see a foetus as being used as a human battery which unfeeling atheists cannot object to. It is a false analogy.

Atheists are among the first to say that atheism is not a basis of morality. Religion was the best we could do in debating morality and ethics for a large part of human discourse. Religion is not the final say on such questions anymore, and current debate within religion let alone outside it on ethical and moral questions are as vibrant as ever.

Regarding eugenics I am reminded of what Dawkins said when contributing to What is Your Dangerous Idea?:

In the 1920s and 1930s, scientists from both the political left and right would not have found the idea of designer babies particularly dangerous – though of course they would not have used that phrase. Today, I suspect that the idea is too dangerous for comfortable discussion, and my conjecture is that Adolf Hitler is responsible for the change.

Nobody wants to be caught agreeing with that monster, even in a single particular. The spectre of Hitler has led some scientists to stray from “ought” to “is” and deny that breeding for human qualities is even possible. But if you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed, and dogs for herding skill, why on Earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability? Objections such as “these are not one-dimensional abilities” apply equally to cows, horses and dogs and never stopped anybody in practice.

I wonder whether, some 60 years after Hitler’s death, we might at least venture to ask what the moral difference is between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons. Or why it is acceptable to train fast runners and high jumpers but not to breed them. I can think of some answers, and they are good ones, which would probably end up persuading me. But hasn’t the time come when we should stop being frightened even to put the question?

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Perhaps the answer is that a child should not be forced to take music lessons anymore than they should be bred to be a musician. I cannot see an objection to preventing deliberating diseases and disorders before birth anymore than taking medicine and treatment after birth for them. The moral difference is coercion, that an individual chooses their own destiny, that genetics should not have the final say over destiny of a person.

Regarding abortion of “wrong sex” I have made the argument against that on the 60 million women missing in India. Infanticide, as Murray describes, is one I have debated at university and been against.

Murray tries to blame atheism for the above two things happening. Absolute baloney, as he tries in vain to provide a narrative that we need faith to find value and sanctity in life.

Neglecting ethical thought, moral discourse and philosophy in the modern era is not the mark of a serious commentator. Rather, it is that of a snake oil salesman that sees religion as right and will even use dead foetuses to make their point that we need religion.

A word of caution about Judeo-Christian ethics. Like the one that in Psalm 137:9 celebrating revenge on Babylon thus:

Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.

We could also mention the genocides against the unbelievers sanctioned by God as well. We really do not have to go backwards, as Murray suggests, to go forwards.

I am confident that through past and present human discourse we can answer these questions without throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Thanks to Iram Ramzan for tweeting Murray’s article to me.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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