Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Worth the wait. After a blogging hiatus, the other Wise Woman returns, calmly filleting the arguments of one Professor Anthony Grayling like a forensic pathologist, wielding logic in place of a scalpel.

Lovely stuff. A chunk of precious ambergris on the shore of the blogging seas.

UPDATE - one more thought. Let's posit that the propensity towards evil is roughly constant in all times and all cultures. I can call it Original Sin, someone else can call it a biological imperative. At best, this can translate to 'everybody needs someone to hate', at worst to genocide.

Under which system - religious or utilitaran - is this tendency most likely to achieve free expression ? After all, as Grayling said, there was implied (and often explicit) anti-Semitism in Christian tradition for two thousand years, over which time perhaps several hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed. It took an avowedly non-Christian regime to kill several million in three or four years. We should not forget, though we cannot quantify, the "acts of evil that religious scruples have restrained".


Blimpish said...

Ay well, there's an aspect of this which isn't so much about Christianity restraining anti-semitic slaughter, but the conflict between religions as such. Before the 19th century, Christians thought of Jews primarily (if not exclusively) as throwback blasphemers, hating them on religious grounds. After the death of God (etc.), the culture of Jew-hating remained but lost its reason - those of diminished or no faith could no longer hate them for rejecting a Messiah they too didn't care for, so scientific theories (that they were racially different, subhuman) became a much more interesting interpretation.

While you might bully and persecute blasphemers, and in some cases kill them, redemption remains a possibility. If you think somebody's vermin because of what they are biologically, then extermination becomes an attractive option - there's no clear way for them to compromise.

Peter said...

Brilliant point in the update, Laban. I do agree.

Anonymous said...

If you must maintain a belief in supernatural beings, then that is of course up to you. I would find it too much effort to simultaneously deny all the evidence to the contrary, while swallowing my intellectual concience. Believing for no reason must be like being a child or a pet dog.

The religion v. science arguments on this blog strike me as inane, yet I feel compelled to join in - just like a good hymn. The tit-for-tat, science did this, religion did that scoring, is not only pathetic, but insulting to anyone who has a passing acquaintance with current affairs. I know it is the duty of all believers to somewhat bury their heads in the sand, but please!!!

Science is not a secular humanist world view, though it may sit most easily with it. It only comes into conflict with religion when truth and belief collide. This process is a bit like science itself, except when truth and theory collide, theory is modified, and no-one gets hurt.

Remember the Spanish Inquisition!

Anonymous said...

anonymous- and your point is?
-the other anonymous

Anonymous said...

"If you must believe .... up to you."

Anonymous #1 is clearly a Taoist. The clue lies in his conflating of the imperative "must" with the free will implied in "up to you."

Third Avenue said...

Proponents of both sides of this argument could learn a little humility, I think.

No scientist, however atheist, has not been permeated by 1500 years of religious thought. Just look at Prof Dawkins. No believer, however pious and unworldly, was not largely formed by the realities of science and technology. It is a nonsense to try and separate the two.

To say that Nazi regime was 'avowedly non-Christian' is to oversimplify a very complex relationship between the Nazis and both the Protestant and Catholic churches (and to discount the influence of the explicitly murderous anti-semitic bile of, amongst others, Martin Luther). Equally, to blame anti-semitism, or racism in general, purely on religious bigotry, is to discount the gruesome role of 'scientists' in 'proving' the superiority of the Arian race.

The human experience, in all its positive and negative aspects, is far too complex to be compartmentalised in this way.

Anonymous said...

The idea that religion or secular humanism causes people to do nasty things to other people is arrant nonsense.

Humans have been doing nasty things to other humans for tribal reasons since before we were humans. Religion in this context is just another name for tribe.

The idea put forward by Dawkins, Grayling et al that religion causes all, (or even much), of the evil in the world is dangerous in that if it catches on,the methods used by the secular humanist tribe to extirpate the varioius religious tribes will be supression and violence.

If anyone says that they have identified the cause of all the world's troubles, lock them up where they can do no damage, as the cause is that part of humanity that doesn't agree with them, and their cure will involve an awful lot of death and destruction.

Kevin B

Anonymous said...

that last anonymous, Kevin by name, speaketh much sense.
-the other anonymous.

Squander Two said...

Kevin does speak sense, yes.

> Under which system - religious or utilitaran ...
> It took an avowedly non-Christian regime ...

Christian isn't the opposite of religious, Laban, as well you know. There's a lot of debate about Hitler's religious beliefs, but no-one who's seriously studied the man thinks he was non-religious.

When people compare the success of Nazi Jew-hatred with its predecessors, they try to come up with all sorts of reasons about why it killed so many more, but rarely mention that it might have been down to technological improvements. Genocide just got a lot easier in the 20th Century. And there's population explosion, too, of course. Wipe out an entire town in the 15th Century, and you kill four or five hundred people. Destroy the same town in the 20th Century, and you kill tens of thousands. With such obvious pragmatic reasons for the Nazis' success, it hardly seems necessary to deduce that it was merely their ideas that were inherently more dangerous to Jews than other antisemitic ideas.

Squander Two said...

Oh, and another thing.

What's all this nonsense about which system is best for making humans behave well? Religions aren't political parties; it's not like choosing a government. I'm an atheist because I don't believe that God exists. A lot of people have come to the same conclusion. Telling me that the social consequences of everyone believing the same thing as me are bad doesn't make me think, "Oh, hang on: maybe God does exist after all." And what about when it's the other way around? What if there were compelling evidence that Buddhist societies were far better behaved than Christian ones? Would you change your faith? Of course not.

Hilary Wade said...

I agree with you that it's dangerous to make out a utilitarian case for having faith, but on the other hand, if you have no faith it's hard to make out a case for addressing it at all, isn't it? Your state of mind, however complex, just ensues automatically - right or wrong - as a material consequence of your social, biological and quantum states.

Larry Teabag said...

Let's posit that the propensity towards evil is roughly constant in all times and all cultures.

Whay not just posit "I'm right", to save yourself even further effort.

Quixotematic said...

Let's posit that the propensity towards evil is roughly constant in all times and all cultures.

By who's definition of evil?