Thursday, July 19

A displaced fight.

Gary's been blogging about the Silver Ring Thing debacle, and I've been happily baiting one Mr Alex Botten in the comments. Gary has quite sensibly asked that we not have a fight on his blog, so, being a lot more stupider than he, I'm moving it over here. Fun, fun, fun.

Now, I'll a little trepidatious about doing this, because I know Botten of old, and, frankly, I'd rather not have the likes of him commenting on my blog. Yet here I am, inviting him to do so. Will I never learn? Tsk.

(So, this message for him:

Alex, any personal abuse or sweary ranting will get you banned from the comments. And yes, I am well aware that you will want, as usual, to feign ignorance and claim that you've never hurled any personal abuse in your life — to which my reply is that, in that case, continuing not to do so should be no great imposition. Cheers.)

Right. Since this thing atarted as a comment debate, I must apologise for the rather non-linear format that is usual to these things. If you're not used to messageboard fights, you'll get used to it quickly enough.

And on with the show.

Botten is one of those atheists who thinks that no religion has done anything good ever.

Personally I want to see ALL religion wiped from the face of the Earth. It's a poisonous non-thinking that has kept our species in a state of infantism for far too long. Teaching it in schools, or to children in any shape or form is tantamount to child abuse IMO. I suffered years of stress and unhappiness because of the way my parents insisted I go to their church and it has only been comparatively recently that I've been able to wake up on a Sunday morning without a feeling of dread in my gut.


Rather surprisingly, then, he argues strongly against the division of church and state:

[The judge] is right, [the Silver Ring] ISN'T a part of Christianity at all. The Judge was bang on the money. And if it's not for an upholder of the Law to decide who should? The Elders of the local church?


My reply:

> Personally I want to see ALL religion wiped from the face of the Earth.

Yeah, but by reasoned debate or by state fiat? We've seen what happens in states powerful enough to ban religion. It's not good.

> It's a poisonous non-thinking that has kept our species in a state of infantism for far too long.

Just off the top of my head, here are a few examples of things given to us by religious thinkers: the end of slavery; musical notation; the telegraph; Morse code; the sciences of geodesy and topology; the contraceptive pill (one third of the team behind it was a devout Catholic); clocks; that forgiveness is better than reprisal; the way to make pacifist resistance against a violent enemy actually work; freedom of speech; the separation of church and state; Special and General Relativity; algebra. It makes no more sense to deny the great good done by religions over the years than it does to brush all their evils under the carpet. I might add that the first eight of those examples weren't even just brought about by clever or good men who happened to be religious, but were developed specifically for religious reasons.

But you think Socrates was infantile.

> I suffered years of stress and unhappiness because of the way my parents insisted I go to their church

A lot of people (I'm not one of them) suffer years of stress and unhappiness until they join a religion that suits them. Their experiences matter every bit as much as yours or mine.


And now back to Botten:

> Yeah, but by reasoned debate or by state fiat?

I would hope by people realising for themselves what a world of shite religious belief is.

> But you think Socrates was infantile.

I didn't say that anywhere. Anyway, anyone who believed in the immortality of the 'soul', that he was picked by the gods, and that being 'morally upright' was something bestowed by the 'gods' (thanks, The Internet!) seems pretty backwards to me.

He may have been seen as one of the greatest thinkers of his time but a lot of his philosophies seem laughable to us now, living in a world that is far more enlightened than his.

> here are a few examples of things given to us by religious thinkers: the end of slavery; musical notation; the telegraph; Morse code; the sciences of geodesy and topology; the contraceptive pill (one third of the team behind it was a devout Catholic); clocks; that forgiveness is better than reprisal; the way to make pacifist resistance against a violent enemy actually work; freedom of speech; the separation of church and state; Special and General Relativity; algebra

What an absolute non-argument!! The development of these things were all entirely unrelated to the religious beliefs of the men and women behind them!

Let's have a look at some of those.....

> the end of slavery

A system endorsed by the Church for hundreds upon hundreds of years, even the 'god' of the Bible seemed to be pro-slavery!!

> musical notation

Some of which was banned, for being 'demonic'. And do you know something about the beliefs of the writers of the earliest known representation of musical scores? Cos I'm not sure I do 4000 years later....

> the sciences of geodesy and topology

Let us not forget the Church preaching that the world was flat, that the Sun orbits us.....oh, and torturing and killing people who didn't agree. And the Bible claims the Earth is only just over 6000 years old.

> Special and General Relativity

Einstein was probably an atheist, certainly an agnostic, NOT a believer.

> the contraceptive pill

....which many churches preach is a mortal sin to use.

> (one third of the team behind it was a devout Catholic)

...who must have been not so devout if he was involved in something that was an abomination in the eyes of his 'lord'

Your argument is the kind of nonsense trotted out by religious apologists all around the world, conveniently ignoring both the masses of non-believers who have done far more for us, and the context of the times a lot of great thinkers have lived through (times where, in some cases, not expressing a faith was tantamount to suicide)

> A lot of people (I'm not one of them) suffer years of stress and unhappiness until they join a religion that suits them. Their experiences matter every bit as much as yours or mine.

Sadly they are seeking comfort in lies and childish mysticism.

Again I say, the world would be a far better place without religion of any kind.


And that's where Gary stepped in, so this is where I move it to my blog.

Although Botten says that he never said Socrates was infantile (what he in fact said was that religion kept our species in a state of infantism. Since Socrates was both religious and human, that includes him), he does now say that he was backwards and his philosophies were laughable. I invite readers to compare Socrates with Alex Botten and decide for themselves which is the greater philosopher.

But Alex misses the key point: yes, our world is more enlightened than the times in which Socrates lived, but the reason our world is more enlightened than his is the contribution made to our knowledge by him and people like him. Einstein may have overturned Newton's theories, but he was only able to do so thanks to Newton's theories. When later knowledge supercedes earlier knowledge, it doesn't negate its contribution.

Botten wants religion to vanish

by people realising for themselves what a world of shite religious belief is.


That's hardly a defense of a judge dictating what is and isn't valid religious behaviour. Unless you think that people make up their own minds on issues by being forced to do so by the law.

Botten might well be right about Einstein — I should have checked — but as for the rest....

The development of these things were all entirely unrelated to the religious beliefs of the men and women behind them!


Note what Botten is claiming here: that Jesus's preaching of forgiveness was unrelated to his religious beliefs, and that Ghandi's pacifism was unrelated to his religious beliefs. It's certainly a novel interpretation of history.

[Slavery:] A system endorsed by the Church for hundreds upon hundreds of years, even the 'god' of the Bible seemed to be pro-slavery!!


Slavery was endorsed by every human society for our whole history. It was the banning of slavery that was the unusual event, and it was banned as a result of Christian thinking. Not only that, but the British Parliament decided that, having declared that slavery was wrong, it would be hypocritically immoral to leave the system in place everywhere but Britain. So they used their armed forces to ban it almost worldwide.

[Musical notation:] Some of which was banned, for being 'demonic'. And do you know something about the beliefs of the writers of the earliest known representation of musical scores? Cos I'm not sure I do 4000 years later....


No musical notation was ever banned for being demonic; music was banned for being demonic. And musical notation is not four thousand years old: it was invented around one thousand years ago by Guido Monaco. We do know quite a bit about his religious beliefs, because he was a Benedictine monk. He invented musical notation in order to record and to teach Gregorian chants — i.e. for religious reasons.

[Geodesy and topology:] Let us not forget the Church preaching that the world was flat, that the Sun orbits us.....oh, and torturing and killing people who didn't agree.


The Flat-Earthers are, contrary to poopular belief, quite a recent phenomenon: their movement really picked up in the Twentieth Century. Prior to that, it was generally known and accepted that the Earth was spherical — yes, even by the Church. The Church did preach that the Sun orbits the Earth, but Galileo, again contrary to popular belief, was neither tortured nor murdered for teaching otherwise.

Neither of these things, of course, has anything to do with either geodesy or topology. If it's important when the religious suppress innovation, it's important when the religious create it. You can't just ignore half the balance-sheet.

Gauss developed topology and geodesy in his quest to find optimal points on the Earth's surface for positioning observatories. He was concerned with observatories because he wanted the best planetary observations possible, because of his devout belief in astrology.

[The pill:] > (one third of the team behind it was a devout Catholic)

...who must have been not so devout if he was involved in something that was an abomination in the eyes of his 'lord'


Obviously, no-one knew for sure that the Church would oppose it until after it was released. One of its inventors (I wish I could remember his name) was indeed a devout Catholic, whose ambition was to create a form of contraception that the Vatican would not oppose. He had high hopes for the pill because it is made purely of hormones that exist naturally in the female body anyway. He failed in that aspect of his quest.

Your argument is the kind of nonsense trotted out by religious apologists all around the world, conveniently ignoring both the masses of non-believers who have done far more for us, and the context of the times a lot of great thinkers have lived through (times where, in some cases, not expressing a faith was tantamount to suicide)


I'm hardly a religious apologist. I just don't see why being wrong about one thing makes everything someone does reprehensible. Who are these masses of non-believers who have done far more for us than believers ever did? Considering the extent to which they're outnumbered, they must have been pretty damn busy. And do we really need to be told to consider the context of the times that historical figures lived in by someone who says that Socrates was backward?

Finally, Botten is annoyed that people who are made happier by religion

are seeking comfort in lies and childish mysticism.


What militant atheists never explain very well is exactly how that's harmful. I'm with Richard Dawkins when it comes to how the belief in an afterlife makes suicide bombing possible, but most people aren't suicide bombers. If a man lives an ordinary life, working in an office in Basingstoke till he's sixty-five and then doing the gardening with his wife till he's eighty, being kind enough to his children, watching some TV, giving a bit of money to charity, having the odd drink with his friends, does it really matter all that much if he believes something that isn't true and if that belief makes him happier than he would otherwise be? Why exactly is that a problem for the rest of us?

Just as religion isn't for everyone, neither is atheism. It may be true (I certainly think it is), but a lot of people say they find it alienating and lonely. I personally know one atheist who wishes he could believe in God because he knows that his atheism depresses him, and is exasperated at his own intellect's refusal to accept God's existence. The human brain is a complicated thing; there's more to it than rational deduction. And it's hardly irrational behaviour to want to reduce your own depression, even if you do so by believing something irrational.

And then there's the issue of specialism. I'm a musician. A lot of musicians get exasperated by the success of acts who create, well, bland one-dimensional simple music, while so much really clever and accomplished music goes unrecognised. But not me. There are so many areas of human achievement, and no-one has time to be interested in all of them. So, just as I can go on forever about augmented fifths and major sevenths but know sod all about mountaineering, there are people out there who devote so much of their time to studying the latest ropes and crampons that they have no time left to appreciate the deeper technical obscurities of music, so just listen to Westlife instead. There's nothing wrong with that: the music does all it needs to do for them.

Similarly, some of us are more interested in metaphysics than others. Atheism isn't a simple belief. As Dawkins himself pointed out, it's extremely counterintuitive: prior to Darwin, it was even irrational (yes, yes, I have heard of Hume, thanks; Dawkins points out what's wrong with Hume's atheism very neatly in The Blind Watchmaker, which is a damn good read). A lot of people don't want to spend ages studying evolution, which is a pretty complex thing to get your head around — and why should they? If someone's too busy developing new recipes or writing exciting screenplays to devote a big chunk of their precious time to deciding not to believe in God, I for one am happy to eat the food and watch the films.

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