Is Asking For Evidence From Psychic Sally Really A ‘Modern-Day Witch-Hunt’?

It is according to Brendan O’Neill. In The Telegraph he writes that the “hounding” of Sally Morgan, supernatural adviser and dead-person telephone, is reaching the fever-pitch of the historical witch hunts. “Decent society once hounded witches; now it hounds pseudo-witches,” he asserts. Indeed, “the anti-Morgan lobby is motivated by the same impulses as those of pointy-hatted witch-hunters of old”. What’s interesting is his list compared to what both sides – witch hunters of the past and O’Neill’s of today – wrote or described of their own actions for pursuing their “witches”.

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Why Secular Values Require Constant Defence

The Founding Fathers

In her book Freethinkers, Susan Jacoby constantly highlights how often great thinkers are neglected from the American historical canon due to their criticism of religious authority or social norms. This may seem odd to anyone who knows even a little about the Founding Fathers and, for example, Abraham Lincoln – but we know of these gentlemen due to their role as presidents and founders of the very nation itself, despite their antagonism toward organised religion and its “truths”.

During the late 18th century, many thinkers – prominently those fighting for abolition and women’s equality, which were often united causes – optimistically presumed that the deliberate neglect of powerful activists would be eroded, since the values themselves would come to fruition; and, thus blooming, all would recognise those who originally distributed the seeds of such knowledge. But even today, the names William Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Mott, and Ernestine L. Rose, are quite forgotten by those who more confidently remember other names within the era.

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Are We Born Atheists?

A recurring rebuttal from some atheist thinkers, to convey ideas about atheism, is to assert “We are all born atheists”. This is used to show believers that we have all been at some point atheists. Perhaps, too, we are almost all of us atheists of most gods that have been proposed – and indeed of those that have not even been considered yet.  According to the definition of ‘atheism’ Paul Cliteur finds most important, however, we cannot be atheists of that which we haven’t considered, which means we cannot say we are born atheists.

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How Offensive – The Banned Axe Advert and Patronising Christians

An advert about odours that “could offend” Christians has been pulled because of a single complaint from an angelically-concerned, single (male) individual. I’m offended his offence was taken seriously. Does my offence count?

From the Axe advert - How offensive that they would want to do anything else for eternity except dwell in servility and worship

Recently, it’s been very interesting watching advertising bodies get involved in metaphysical debates about the existence of god. For example, when the wonderful (but British) Ariane Sherine successfully managed to get an atheist message on busses – with powerful support from Richard Dawkins – they were told to change “There is no god” to “There is probably no god”. There were very bad arguments for this, but it’s fairly obvious why – ironically it is to cater to those who do believe, despite it being directed at those who obviously do not. Now, in South Africa, we’ve had something similar. Continue reading

Why Infanticide Is Not Only Moral, But Morally Obligatory

In Defence of New Humanist Magazine and Peter Singer against Nadine Dorries

This post is in response to claims made by someone called Nadine Dorries who says that the magazine New Humanist is an “extreme” organisation and apparently a “cult”. She claims that humanists advocate “infanticide” – and apparently that’s a bad thing. We need not be interested in her weird accusations of calling a magazine a “cult” (what would you call Cosmopolitan? A religion?). I want to focus on her claims that infanticide is (by definition) immoral, evil, and so on. And, therefore, anyone who advocates must bad, too. These claims are nonsense if we actually examine the arguments.

The Humanist Logo (from Per Caritatem blog) / The Symbol of "Evil" to Dorries

Some brief background: Dorries became the frontrunner for New Humanist’s Bad Faith Award, which is the award the “worst enemy of reason” for that particular year, according to New Humanist’s readers. Past “winners” have been such notables as Sarah Palin and the Pope. Anyway, in response to discovering herself at the front end of apparent silliness, Dorries responded with, well, precisely how a frontrunner for the Bad Faith Award would. Continue reading

Bad Comments Round #3: Criticising The Arts – In Defence Of Diane Coetzer

Recently, Diane Coetzer wrote a negative review of The Parlotone’s concert Dragonflies and Astronauts. Due to her criticisms, Eban Oliver of Catalyst Entertainment responded with unnecessary vitriol on Facebook. The whole incident is painting him in an ugly light, proceeding before lawyers and the courts, and could be the first such case in which South Africa considers defamation in terms of social media. Here, I’m looking at how criticism (of the arts works) and why it’s necessary for artists themselves. Oh, and why we need to be adults about criticism, on both sides.

There appears to be a problem with criticism. As I’ve previously explained elsewhere, labeling things ‘opinions’ and ‘feelings’ are unhelpful when we are critiquing or arguing for or against something. What matters is not that what we offer is an opinion – that’s a neutral term and, besides, everybody has one. What matters is whether it’s a good opinion. By good, I mean well-argued, reasoned, ideally with evidence and so on. This, note, can be given by experts or lay people like myself. It’s just that we expect experts to be consistently providing good arguments (mainly in their field but sometimes outside, too). This is the basis for scientific explanation and understanding. Using good arguments, with evidence and so on, the best approximation of what’s true and what is nonsense. Continue reading

“What’s Your Opinion?”

How do we handle ‘opinions’? Everyone seems to have them. Indeed, even here I’m giving my opinion about opinions. It’s a never-ending battle of everyone having an opinion and those who complain about everyone having an opinion, often not realising that they’re doing the very thing the are complaining about. Anyway, perhaps a way to do it is just to get back to what we want to see inherently in all good arguments and viewpoints: soundness, quality, consistency, evidence and so on. But of course this has other implications.

Everyone’s got an opinion. But what should concern us is whether these opinions are worthwhile or not. When news channels obtain soundbites from random pedestrians, it’s perhaps meant to convey a sense of fairness or engagement: “Look,” says the media, “we care what you think.” As Charlie Brooker, for example, has pointed out, the media (a horribly broad term, I realise) is now often dictated by the public, driven by demand and is now no different to any other type of product in the world, driven by consumer demand. The difficulty though is trying to figure out what isn’t driven by those who will pay for it.

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