This week’s reading is hopefully a bit varied. Some of them I might address, with praise or scorn, later. In no particular order we have Dawkins telling us why the Pope is bad, m’kay? Boring stuff, as usual, but I think it has more to do with the Guardian wanting to sell some papers than Dawkins really trying to prove a point. His latest trend doesn’t seem to be about argumentation anymore: instead, his form of conversion is more admirable. He attempts to show how living without god is an exhilarating experience; he is, in sense, practicing what he preaches. His new book, The Greatest Show on Earth, is a welcome return to his genius as a writer: showing us how to do and what is the science behind “the evidence for evolution”. This is the stuff he should stick to. The God Delusion is an important book – but anyone who reads only this book of his is missing out enormously on what Dawkins is truly capable of (as anyone who reads pieces of his about the Pope is, too). H/T Paula Kirby for discussing this loosely with me.
Speaking of excellent advocates of clear thinking, from scientific background, my friend Blaize has an excellent post concerning the great Daniel C. Dennett. In it, Professor Kaye (no, he’s not a professor – yet! – but his intellect warrants me calling him that), highlights an issue from a horrid pseudo-scientific book, Understanding Intelligent Design; in it, Dembski & McDowell make a bald-faced lie about Dennett’s “Satanic desire” to stick religious-focused parents into zoos. Apparently, Dennett said this proudly in some unknown, barely regarded book, which barely anyone reads called … oh dear, what was it…? Oh! Darwin’s Dangerous … something. Never heard of it? Yeah, me neither. It’s not like it was shortlisted of the Pulitzer Prize, or is regarded by biologists and other thinkers as one of the most important books (EVER), or is one my favourite books ever. Read Prof. Kaye’s blog where he nicely outlines the lie and gives Dembski & McDowell a wonderful smackdown using merely good citation and referencing.
Relating to religion – and seeing as the Silly Season is drawing its final gasps of death – there is also a wonderful book-review, at the NYT, of Olivier Roy’s Holy Ignorance: When Religion and Culture Part Ways. Here we discover why those defending Christmas from the “secular humanists” or “atheists” or “godless” are incredibly and wonderfully wrong. As the reviewer notes: “There are no Christmas dinners in the Bible, which is why America’s Puritans, strict adherents of what that venerated text offers, never sat down by the raging fire awaiting St. Nick; indeed, they briefly banned Christmas in Massachusetts.” Roy answers the question why so many, of different faiths and none, bother to celebrate the birth of a sadomasochistic, hydrowalking, Jewish-zombie.
Basically, Roy embraces the thesis that the apparent fundamentalism we witness on FoxTV and Osama Bin Laden Cam are really religion in its death-throes. It’s not an original thesis, despite what the reviewer says.
However, I am usually sceptical of writers who make claims like: “the ideology currently governing Iran or motivating Hamas has more to do with nationalism than with religion.” I am not sure how you make such claims, but perhaps Roy has some evidence for this claim. I have not yet come across convincing evidence of this, but it always smells of slight-accomodationism.
On an unrelated note, my friend, the great Sister Y has a blogpost about different forms of antinatalism. For those of you unaware – and if you are reading this blog, shame on you for not knowing! – antinatalism, broadly speaking, is the position that we should (1) not continue the species and/or (2) it is wrong to bring life into existence. It is, apparently, the greatest current taboo: more terrifying than telling people god doesn’t exist, is telling them at some point they won’t exist, nor will anyone with their genetic line. Indeed, no humans will exist at some point in the future. Aside from biological science, this is firmly in line with the form of thought encapsulated in pessimism, which has a number of factors. The most important realisation of pessimism is no one deserves or has a right to happiness. Furthermore, it brings with it ethical implications that reverberate from realising a linear conception of time: just as there was a point where you did not exist in the past, a similar such occurrence will happen in the future. Sister Y, a fellow pessimist, constantly tackles a major moral question: should we force people to be alive? Brilliant as always, her clarity and depth always makes important reading. If you want to disagree with antinatalism, begin your argument by looking at her well-crafted posts.
In keeping with taboos, Sister Y mentions my column about consensual cannibalism. In keeping with my usual approach to my 3quarksdaily column, I am looking at practical moral issues of today. In this particular issue, I was looking at the ethics of the cannibalism case, in Germany, where a man replied to an online advert requesting someone to devour. Both parties were uninterested in causing suffering. I was wondering why there is a moral issue concerning a human corpse, when no one appears to suffer (the corpse is a corpse). I have no problem with human corpses, just as people have no problem eating chicken corpses. Our horrible knee-speak has us reacting to human corpses, as somehow special. So we have laws against desecrating the dead, or in fact eating them; but find little problem needlessly killing millions of chickens and cows.
In my 3quarks column, I usually attempt to engage with problems relating to public or applied ethics; this is important, as many readers constantly send me private emails indicating their appreciation and their own rethinking because of these columns. Most people do not send me threatening emails, indeed, most people barely notice my columns! However, those who bother to engage with me have helped tremendously in my current thesis topic premised on eliminating “hope” and “optimism” from public policies, because we can remove these from everyday life (without killing ourselves).