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May 02, 2009



Well, if you're claiming Sam 'Muslims are all latent fascists and should be wiped out before they KILL US ALL' Harris as a spokesman, you've pretty much fucked your cause in the eyes of sane people anyway. Hitchens on a bad day isn't much better.


Funny, that was exactly the weak link I was going to seize on - although I hadn't actually come across that aspect of Harris, who I had down as a kind of Dawkins's Bulldog ("rational deduction from scientific premises explains everything IT DOES IT DOES IT DOES NANANA NOT LISTENING!").

Oh dear. As you say, advocating "naked contempt" is just not a good look.


I haven't seen the rest of that Hawkins quote, so perhaps I'm missing his point.

However, I feel much the same, though I feel the contempt should be reserved for those that show me contempt first. The fanatics should absolutly be pointed out and mocked ruthlessly, as they base their identity and relationship with the world on crazy ideas. With more moderate religionists, however, I think we can make our points better if we mock the ideas and convince them that they don't want to be like those wackos over there. In either case, I think it's important to
unapologetically stand up for what I believe in everywhere I go.


Everywhere? Really? Even down the pub?



Anyway, assuming you don't actually want to *read* Harris - trust me, I have, and he isn't worth it - Chris Hedges' I DON'T BELIEVE IN ATHEISTS is a good guide to his worst parts. Plus Chris Hedges is all-round ace.


The fanatics should absolutly be pointed out and mocked ruthlessly

How does this actually work, though? What do you mock a fanatic for? You can mock apparently reasonable believers by saying they're as bad as the fanatics, just as you can mock intelligent non-atheists by saying that theism is stupid, but I'm struggling to see what you would do with actual fanatics. What hold have you got over them - what's the common ground they're claiming?


Even down the pub?

Especially down the pub. If you can't mouth off down the pub, where can you mouth off?


I've always tended to believe in the universal applicability of the maxim "no need to be a cunt about it", but as a good Millian liberal I'm glad to see that Dawkins and the Ayatollah Khomeini are out there flying the flag for the other side.

Chris Williams

As as semi-professional atheist, I feel absolutely no need to disavow things that RD comes up with. He is not, after all, my pope. He's just this guy.

As it happens, my experience of life (which could perhaps be backed up by all sorts of half-decent psychology and sociology findings 'n all) drives me to think that it's rare indeed that you win an argument if your opening gambit is "Fuck off you cunt."

PS I'd like to credit this point to an editorial in _Back Street Heroes_ in about 1986, FWIW.


Dawkins and the Ayatollah Khomeini are out there

If the second of these is out there, where out there do you think he is?

Saul Glasman

I heartily agree about Dawkins, on two grounds. Opening an argument with contempt runs against basic humanity, and showing that the vocal arm of the atheist corporation have no regard for basic humanity, will only give more ammunition to a fundamentalist with a persecution complex. Dawkins' conviction that it would lead to good results displays a reprehensible lack of empathy.

More importantly, if my views are the target of contempt, I'll probably put my rhetorical shields up and stop being receptive to what my interrogator has to say. The way to change people's minds about religion is through tolerance, generalised critical thinking education, and the continuing gradual secularisation of our culture.

Chris Williams

"the vocal arm of the atheist corporation "

No, you've lost me here. Where's this atheist corporation, then? I can't find it in Companies House.

Martin Wisse

Dawkins has always chosen to be a cunt about it, atheism is just the latest subject he has chosen to behave like a dickhead about. Remember his feud with Steven Jay Gould about punctured equilibrium? He's just one of those guys who cannot bear anybody disagreeing with him.

Paul Yarbles

Does Dawkins really believe getting rid of religion will make things better here on earth? He's a rationality worshiping fool and if he got his way the world would be even more fucked up than it is.

The driving force behind human morality is irrational. Irrational appeals to a God that judges or ideologies whose holy texts dictate behavior just as strongly as the Koran/Bible/etc. or simple irrational compassion -- this is what keeps people in line and makes human society somewhat bearable. These irrational feelings may be explained rationally through biology or neuroscience or whatever. It doesn't mean the feelings can be replaced by rationality.

A rational person would realize the utter emptiness of morality based on rational principles and not having anything to turn back on would become a sociopath. What good reason is there not to become one? The rational ones could pretend to be nice so they don't get their asses kicked. But they'll do anything to get what they want.

And what do they want? The fulfilling of irrational urges. What does Dawkins get when he scores in a debate. An incremental uptick in some rational counter in his fore brain or an irrational animal thrill?

Anyhoo, maybe you can get rid of religion but you can't get rid of the religious impulse. Get rid of religion and something as irrational will replace it. It won't have 'God' and it'll be wrapped in nice rational-looking packaging (probably of the scientific style) but eventually it'll be as easily attacked from a rational vantage point as religion. And it may not have the nice morality that so many religions have today. Even if the morality is more often ignored than not.


Gosh, you're just an old Tory really, aren't you Paul? What's that line from Gibbon? "The myriad faiths of the empire were all regarded by the ordinary man as equally true, by the philosopher as equally false, and by the magistrate as equally useful".
You're saying Dawkins is a fool because he's undermining a false but useful belief that helps keep the population in line, and because people are basically credulous and irrational, he's fighting a hopeless battle anyway? Nice.

Paul Yarbles

Gosh, you're just an old Tory really, aren't you Paul? ... You're saying Dawkins is a fool because he's undermining a false but useful belief that helps keep the population in line, and because people are basically credulous and irrational, he's fighting a hopeless battle anyway?

You seem to think that human irrationality is a bad thing. I have to differ since I think that our irrational drives are the only thing that keeps us going. Without them we are inert.

What do you think keeps us going, non-Tory ajay? A rational contemplation of the Good and True utterly detached from our bodies? Is that a rational belief?

The problem is when we need rationality to solve some problem that falls under the class of problems that should be solved rationally and we do not do so. For example, using the numbers on passing license plates as signs from God to determine how much money we need to buy gasoline for some trip. Or vice-versa. For example, when we try to determine laws for the keeping of farm animals -- should they be made comfortable even if doing so is more costly -- using nothing but rationality. What rational reason do I have to care if an animal suffers?

Dawkins himself irrationally clings to a belief that the morality that we have today springs forth from rational deliberations. If we'd only get rid of the irrational baggage, then we'd all realize the rational basis for the basic moral system we have today. A moral system that happens to be largely the result of our irrational religious heritage however poorly followed. Isn't this foolish?

Why wouldn't such rational deliberations lead us down a different road? A road that most of us would find abhorrent.

I'm claiming that the fundamental basis for morality is in our irrational beliefs and feelings. It's not just religion. This is just one manifestation of our essential irrationality. To try to replace this real basis for our existing moral systems with science or whatever you and Dawkins propose is folly. To attack the religious beliefs of people and ignore you're own irrational quasi-religious beliefs is hypocritical folly.

Paul Yarbles

Meant to say:

To attack the religious beliefs of people and ignore your own irrational quasi-religious beliefs is hypocritical folly.


Come, Inspector. It is time for you to keep your appointment with the Straw Man.

Paul Yarbles

Come, Inspector. It is time for you to keep your appointment with the Straw Man.

This would be a case where rational approaches to food production probably would have been more successful.

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