Sunday, January 07, 2007

Idiocy Plumbs New Depths

Following the article by Lawson (see previous post) Saturday's Guardian contained an article of unsurpassed idiocy by some half-wit called Tobias Jones. This is what he says:

"...secular fundamentalists...are anti-God, and what they really want is the eradcation of religion, and believers, from the face of the earth".

That is simply a disgraceful thing to say and Jones should hang his empty head in shame. It all hangs on that word "eradication". What does he mean? Well, it seems to imply that "secular fundamentalists" (which he takes as synonomous with "atheists") favour some sort of holocaust. He cannot possibly mean that (can he?); but that is certainly the most natural reading of this passage. Well, I am quite convinced we will never see Richard Dawkins marching through London urging "Behead all those who criticise atheism". So far as I am aware Dawkins weapons are words, and words alone. Somehow the use of words to frame an argument merits denunciation (by Jones) as "totalitarian". As I say, the man is an idiot.

Suppose he doesn't mean that "secular fundamentalists" want to kill religious believers. What then does he mean? I suppose it could mean that atheists - the swine - are trying to persuade people of the merits of atheism. If atheists were wholly successful in their persuasive efforts I guess religious belief would disappear (I'm not holding my breath). But how exactly does this make atheists different from other people? I mean, if you are a devout Christian, and you believe Christ died on the cross for man's sins, and that the only way to eternal salvation is through Christ, then I suppose you want to convince others of this. If you were wholly successful then atheism would be "eradicated". But surely Jones doesn't simply mean that atheists, like other people, believe what they believe and argue in favour of what they believe? Why bother to say anything so obvious? (Mind you, atheists don't go door-to-door making a bloody nuisance of themselves).

Perhaps the most truly astonishing part of the article is the following:

"...(secular) fundamentalists....went on the offensive and sought to give offence. The subsequent reactions to the play Behzti in Birmingham, to Jerry Springer the Opera and to the Danish cartoons were wheeled out as examples of why religious groups are unable to live with our cherished freedom and tolerance..".

Eh? Run that past me again? Islamists urging that people be beheaded for publishing a cartoon is evidence of intolerance by atheists? (It is a small point but Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, the author of Behtzi, is a Sihk who says - see her statement in the Guardian 13/1/05 -"my faith remains strong". The play as I understand it is not an attack on religion).

Jones sees the ban on the hijab in French schools as evidence of secular "totalitarianism". I'm not sure that the French ban is altogether wise (it is only a headscarf after all), but remember it is a ban on wearing the hijab in school (and in a country with a strong attachment to the separation of religion and state); it is not a ban per se. There is no ban on wearing the hijab outside school. Even if the school ban is judged unwise and heavy-handed, is it quite reasonable to call it "totalitarian"? Does Jones have any comprehension of what totalitarianism is?

Jones also compains that believers "are ridiculed for being, in contrast to the stupendously brainy atheists, very dim". I don't want to be rude but the social survey evidence does show that, as Dawkins puts it in his book, "...religiosity is indeed negatively correlated with education (more highly educated people are less likely to be religious). Religiosity is also negatively correlated with interest in science and (strongly) with political liberalism". Dawkins quotes a 2002 article by Paul Bell in which he concluded: "Of 43 studies carried out since 1927 on the relationship between religious belief and one's intelligence and/or educational level, all but four found an inverse connection. That is, the higher one's intelligence or educational level, the less one is likely to be religious...". I'm not disputing that there are some really very clever religious believers (clever people are quite capable of believing nonsense); although on the evidence of this article Tobias Jones is not among them.

Finally, a general point. It is becoming increasingly common to denounce atheists and secularists (such as Dawkins) as "totalitarian". So far as I can see this is an utterly fraudulent accusation. Secularists believe in the separation of church and state and some atheists - like Dawkins - are pretty vigorous in arguing their corner. I cannot for the life of me see how this is incompatible with political liberalism. Of course, religious believers should have the right to hold their views, practice their religion, argue their corner, and so on. Whoever said otherwise? All atheists are saying is that their beliefs are nonsense, and that is something we have the right to say. Most of us also say that their religious views ought not to be funded by the tax-payer. And - not least - that they do not have the right to threaten to murder people who criticise (or mock) their beliefs. If you want to mock my beliefs feel free. That is your right. Just as it is my right to mock yours. But you do not have the right to threaten to behead me because I have "offended" you. And how on earth my belief that you do not have the right to threaten murder counts as evidence of my intolerance is quite beyond me.

2 Comments:

Blogger skipper said...

Rather glad, after your spiffing critique, that I didn't bother to read that article P'holic

6:14 pm  
Anonymous Tony said...

I have only just listened to my podcast of Start the Week which included the interview with Tobias Jones, so I am rather late to this blog. The interview launched me into a search that included the Guardian article and the associated vitriol.

One of the things that clearly irritates Jones, and obliquely referred to in his article, is the continuous flow of prose from Dawkins that suggests that faith is the preserve solely of the feeble-minded. This is the kind of ad hominem attack that those with a faith perspective are often accused of mounting. If you look through any of Dawkins’ recent works you can barely turn a page without reading some example of this kind of argument. It seems to me that many in the atheist community want to marginalise faith by making it socially embarrassing for people with a faith to express their views; after all, who would want to be associated with dim-wits?

Dawkins extends this attack from the personal, building a straw-man picture of the faith community by choosing particularly obscurantist groups on which to base many of his anecdotes. He tries to communicate what it must be like to have a faith and he gets it so wrong so much of the time. I just do not recognise the state of being that he assumes I must possess.

Dawkins’ profile of a typical Christian would be someone of limited intellectual capability who has suffered childhood indoctrination and is not interested in a rational engagement with the world. His response - to remind them that he is a very clever man, there really is no god, and hope that if he says it frequently enough they will cave in. The reality is somewhat different from my perspective. My family was agnostic/atheist, we never went to church, I had one RE lesson in the whole of my secondary education, I came to a position of Christian faith as a research scientist (now a Fellow of the Institute of Physics). What’s more - the churches that I have been a part of are full of people like me and are growing at a pace. I am quite happy to believe the statistic that there is a negative correlation between the membership of the faith community and IQ. I am heartened that low IQ is not a barrier to adopting a faith, but it is simply mis-representation to suggest that it is pre-requisite!

I find no dissonance between my scientific quest for truth and the daily working out of my faith - they are two faces of the same coin and the full weight of my intellectual capabilities are directed at both (although the tool-kits I use might look somewhat different). This honest grappling with truth is eloquently expressed by people like John Polkinghorne (one of the most influential UK particle physicists and fellow of Queens College, Cambridge), Alister McGrath (Oxford PhD in molecular biophysics and now Oxford professor of theology) and Tom Wright (current Bishop of Durham). Would it be an ad hominem attack to suggest that, in comparison, Richard Dawkins is really a professor of media studies? ;-)

7:34 pm  

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