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Throwing stones

Caution: author about to express political opinion! (Flee for the hills, if you don't approve of that sort of un-authorly behaviour.)

Dr Ruth Kelly, the Communities Secretary (new touchy-feely cabinet ministerial post) has just called for the closure of Islamic schools that promote isolationism or extremism.


She said the government had to "stamp out" Muslim schools which were trying to change British society to fit Islamic values.

"They should be shut down," she said. "Different institutions are open to abuse and where we find abuse we have got to stamp it out and prevent that happening."

Yes, indeed, she's quite right.

And while she's on the subject, perhaps she'd like to enhance her credibility by doing something about the overwhelmingly Christian fundamentalist faith schools that have been springing up like toadstools under the Blair government (42% of the City Academies trumpeted by Kelly and Blair are avowedly Christian Fundamentalist institutions which in some cases teach creationist nonsense in biology classes) and that two thirds of the UK's population are opposed to?

Certainly one might have fewer grounds for accusing Ruth Kelly of partiality if she applied her criticism of extremism across the board. But given her own religious affiliation (and Tony Blair's notorious piety) that's not terribly likely ...

Authorial opinion: There's a big difference between the new fundamentalist brainwashing academies and the old-school going-through-the-motions religious curriculum that was standard (and slept through) in all English schools back when I was subjected to it. The atmosphere of an avowedly religious institution is inimical to the development of cross-cultural tolerance; teaching kids in an environment in which One True Faith is exalted and all deviation is sneered at as Error is a sure-fire way to inculcate intolerance and hostility.

We need to get religion out of education in the UK and adopt the French model of strict separation right now, before we find ourselves drowning in brainwashed extremists of whichever stripe. The only way to do it is to do it even-handedly — simply banning Islamic schools at this point would inflame the extremist sentiments Ruth Kelly is so keen to stamp out — so a complete ban on all religion in schools is at this point the route of least resistance.

And let's face it, every cloud has a silver lining: the extra teaching time freed up by ditching dogma could be usefully used to improve the dismal standards of mathematics and grammar in school leavers.

148 Comments

1:

It seems that they are not only picking on Muslims, at least in Scotland.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=402337&in_page_id=1770

2:

Amen, Brother Stross!

I'd never deny anyone's right to choose and follow a faith of any stripe (with the caveat that they should not be permitted to commit deeds upon others outside of that faith that the faith in question demands, but there's a whole other flytrap).

However, education and religion should be completely separate. If you want your kids indoctrinated into a religion, fine - take them to church, on your own time. But to expose all kids of all persuasions to an outdated and dangerously introspective view of the world, in the name of educating them and preparing them for adult life, is just ridiculous - not to mention dangerous.

This ongoing polarisation of society gets more alarming by the day. I thought I'd outgrown conspiracy theories, but I'm really starting to worry that our glorious leaders have some sort of vested interest in seeing the world torn into pieces over ancient untestable ideologies.

But then, I'm a godless sinner, so I don't have the gentle hand of omnipotence and ineffability to smother my ability to ask questions. Maybe I shouldn't have read D&D spinoff novels during school church services after all.

3:

ISTR from the Radio4 news reports at the time this new commission into muilticulturalism etc etc was being annouced that (surprise!) faith schools are explicitly excluded from its remit.

Blair doesn't want one of his pet projects touched obviously.

4:

Greg: it was an Old Firm match. Clue: one side is Protestant and the other is Catholic, and their supporters include a good number of knuckle-dragging bigots who like to beat up on the other bunch. The term "grudge match" could have been invented for it. To put it in US terms (or just terms that are more familiar to people who don't know the Scottish football scene), what the goalie did was equivalent to making monkey-noises at a black player on the opposing team.

5:

Perhaps I was lucky. The Religious Education classes when I was at school were handled by relatively ordinary Church of England cleric, from one of the local parishes. Possibly not multicultural enough for today's politicians, but hardly trying to convert anyone (and pleasantly surprised when three of us knew what a punt-gun was).

The sort of clerical gentleman who keeps a steam roller, reads Hittite manuals on training chariot horses, or spends a weekend in Oxford attired as a Nazgul, isn't the problem.

|But how do you distinguish them from some hook-handed rabble-rouser?


6:

People don't seem to understand the concept that separating church from state is for the protection of the church, not the state.

7:

Well, really, it protects both. It protects the church from people who actually know nothing about spiritual practice, but see the church as a valuable tool for achieving their own ends. And it protects the state from people who would use the church as a means for controlling it.

But how is outlawing religious schools separation of church and state? Here in the 'states, we'd say that was state interference with religion. I'm highly sympathetic to the sentiment, but it seems like a dangerous precedent.

8:

I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments, Mr Stross.

I particularly agree with the -- Gasp! Revolutionary! -- idea that we might more productively try to address falling standards of basic literacy and numeracy.

I'm sorry. The government may claim that ever-climbing exam passes are indicative of improvement in the performance of educators, but that overlooks simple observational evidence.

Back when I was a sixth-former, doing more than three A-levels meant you were a fucking genius. That simple. Now, five A grade passes is not uncommon.

Couple this with the depressingly large number of graduates and/or qualified professionals I encounter on a daily basis who appear to have successfully completed 16+ years of education without ever having had anyone tell them how to correctly deploy a possessive apostrophe or calculate a simple percentage without recourse to a calculator ...

Bah! It makes me blood boil, it really does!

Cheers

Jim

9:

Ted: There are two issues here. The Islamic schools Kelly is talking about outlawing are private institutions, and she is claiming (rightly or wrongly) that they present such a threat to public safety that they should be closed. The Christian academies are state schools which are discriminating for entry purposes on grounds of parental religion. Not all state religious schools do, but it is increasingly common, and it's not just a few schools - around 1/3 of English state schools (I don't know about the Scottish system) are under some control by religious organisations, and in many areas that means that they are only freely accessible to parents who attend that church.
My primary objection is that it's just plain unfair, but with some of the cities of the North increasingly segregated by race and religion it also seems like a serious threat to integration.

10:

Brixton: in Scotland, the state education system is segregated -- about 30% of the schools are Catholic, and the rest are Protestant. "Non-religious" doesn't get a look in, except insofar as "Protestant" is the default option.

Point for US readers: in the British educational system(s), religious education "of a predominantly christian nature" is mandatory by law, and a lot of specifically evangelical schools are state funded (and established under the current government). Separation of Church and State doesn't exist insofar as there is a National Religion (clue: Lizzie Windsor is Head of the Church of England; bishops sit in the upper house of Parliament by right). Please check your preconceptions about religious education at the door -- we do things differently here (and not neccessarily better: while I'd like to see us follow the French model, I'd be happy enough to settle for the American one).

11:

Anarchist, if you'll try someday to draw up a curriculum for elementary and secondary schools, you'll discover that education and religion can't be separated. If you prepare a list of the things all children ought to learn before they reach adulthood, your list will supply answers to religious questions, adding up to a creed, whatever you do to avoid it. If you don't spell it out, the children will infer it from what you say on secular matters. You can make a curriculum that's Christian, one that's Muslim, or one that's atheist and materialist. But you can't draw up a "non-religious" curriculum, one that Christians, Muslims, and materialists all would agree to be sufficient for their children's education. What all agreed on, none would think sufficient.

That's why the USA doesn't have a national standard curriculum, and why we never outlawed private schools. It's also why Mr. Stross' proposal couldn't succeed, if it were ever enacted.

"The sort of clerical gentleman who keeps a steam roller, reads Hittite manuals on training chariot horses, or spends a weekend in Oxford attired as a Nazgul, isn't the problem. But how do you distinguish them from some hook-handed rabble-rouser?"

I've never found that difficult, myself. But the question you really meant was, why is the rabble-rouser a problem, and the clerical gentleman isn't? May I suggest that it's because the rabble-rouser makes no effort to comprehend the clerical gentleman? He knows the art of rhetoric, and uses it to sway others into condemning the clerical gentleman, as he does. But he doesn't try to enter into the clerical gentleman's mind, to see how one might come to be a clerical gentleman who reads Hittite manuals. He does not, in a word, inquire.

12:

Why does the school have to teach moral issues?

It shouldn't be up to the state to indoctrinate children in morals; can't parents teach their kids right from wrong?

13:

I agree that it shouldn't be up to the state to indoctrinate children in morals, Keir. The issue becomes even more sticky when you ask the question "What are morals?" I don't believe anything in the Bible (or, I'm guessing, the Qu'ran) has anything to say about morals that might work in the real world. Plus fundamentalists of all stripes confuse "sex" with "morals".

14:

Something else that I just remembered. When I was teaching here in South Africa, I never attended assembly since it consisted of prayers and a sermon (normally a harangue about the evils of atheism and homosexuality). Now, although it was *legal* to "opt-out" of assembly, it was regarded as a Career-Limiting Move. So there was nothing formal about it, I just didn't go. No-one asked. Unfortunately, the kids didn't have the same option. They had to go, or they would be punished. And that leads me to my point (eventually). What happens to kids who are raised in a Christian home but become agnostic or atheist in their early teens? It happened to me. Between their parents and the school, they simply don't have an option. They *have* to go. The idea that a teenager could have a true objection based on conscience is obviously ridiculous... This is all despite the fact that according to our brand-new Constitution, religion is not allowed anywhere near schools. As usual, the ideal is ignored, and the right-wing reactionary principals and headmasters (and they are *all* the same) do whatever they please. Eventually I couldn't take it anymore and I quit. As a teacher, it's way too easy to commit a "thought-crime".

15:

Holy Mother of God! State-funded religious schools? *Now* I understand. :'}

16:

Um, I was pretty clear on the fact that the Christian idea of God-the-creator-with-a-beard-who's-compassionate-and-allows-suffering had to be mistaken at least as early as twelve. The problem with kids raised in an environment like this is that they come to the conclusion that all spiritual practice is bullshit, and ethics are for knobs, because (a) the two are presented together and (b) they're presented stupidly and unconvincingly.

A parent who really wants their kids to develop any kind of spiritual faith would do well to steer clear of religious schools. Not that that guarantees anything, but at least they'll come out of it with a relatively open mind. By the time I moved out on my own, I had been quite effectively indoctrinated against any kind of religious faith by various well-meaning Christians.

17:

And while she's on the subject, perhaps she'd like to enhance her credibility by doing something about the overwhelmingly Christian fundamentalist faith schools that have been springing up like toadstools under the Blair government (42% of the City Academies trumpeted by Kelly and Blair are avowedly Christian Fundamentalist institutions which in some cases teach creationist nonsense in biology classes) and that two thirds of the UK's population are opposed to?

Hey, you think it's bad that private school are teaching Creationism? Over in the US we have public (state) schools that teach "intelligent design". Every few years some creationist school board is getting elected, then thrown out of office a couple years later.

One interesting thing about the national education system in the US is that it was created in response to private religious schools. A lot of the motivating force behind it was the fear that Catholic schools were indoctrinating students into being slaves of the Pope. :)

Of course, the situation is different in the US...

18:

Andrew G.: the academies teaching creationist nonsense aren't private - they're part of the state sector. It's kind of a public-private partnership for schools - some rich person gives the government money to be allowed to influence the curriculum of the school.

19:

Michael Brazier: ...if you'll try someday to draw up a curriculum for elementary and secondary schools, you'll discover that education and religion can't be separated.

I call bullshit. You most certainly can, and should, separate religion and education. As far as I'm concerned the only place that remotely presents a problem is the sciences. In which case, currently accepted science must be taught, and it should be left to the student, and his/her family, to determine how to reconcile scientific fat and theory with ones religious beliefs. Schools should not encroach on this.

20:

Andrew G. What public schools are actually teaching intelligent design? I thought Kansas decided to go with the Flying Spagetti Monster instead. The irony is that myself and most of my extended family attended catholic school through high school where we were all taught evolution. In advanced biology we all read "The Origin of Species."- a class taught by a Christian Brother no less. The god stuff was restricted soley to Religion classes. That was almost 20 years ago now.

21:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/religion/Story/0,,1859760,00.html

Looks like the Catholic church might be going to take a more combative/ ID friendly approach to Creationism/ ID.

My understanding, after 18 months of watching this all online, is that few schools are outright teaching ID; rather that many of them are simply ingoring or skating over evolutionary biology, if not downright attacking it and putting out various ID books and creationist literature etc.

The other interesting thing is how little anyone appears to be bothered that creationists are subverting school science teaching. You would have thought this a great story for a journalist- track down the people involved, get hold of some curriculum material, you could get some good quotes from Dawkins et al, as well as barking mad ones from the creationists.
But no, dead silence except for some vague unsubstantiated claims in newspapers. Its really doing my head in.

22:

Q, you've got it exactly backwards -- the natural sciences present the smallest problem, not the largest. That's because the scientists know exactly what religious assumptions are necessary for their inquiry, and argue for them specifically when challenged, leaving all other questions alone. (If the idea that science needs religious assumptions perplexes you, Google for "occasionalism".)

And if you think religion can be kept out of education, you have never tried it. For instance, "Why does the world exist?" is a religious question. Consider what it would mean to draw up a curriculum in which that question was never answered, and to open a school in which, whenever a student asked it, the teachers were required to dismiss it. Well, that forced silence implies, very clearly, that even to ask that question is irrational, to give an answer to it is doubly so, and only an intolerant bigot would insist that the world's existence has a purpose. Which is, in fact, an answer to the question: the answer given by the 19th century agnostics.

It's given without their arguments, with no arguments at all; it's given by the authority of the school and the curriculum, as dogma not subject to any inquiry. And it's given -- note this, please -- even though the school and the curriculum's designer had no intention of giving it, and honestly supposed they were respecting their students' religion by refusing to discuss it. The same thing happens with every religious question. You can't refuse to discuss them, without suggesting answers to them. And that is why religion can't be kept out of education.

Now it is possible, of course, to keep one particular religion out of education -- but only by putting in another one. You can draw up a curriculum that isn't Christian, if you make sure it is materialistic, or Muslim, or Buddhist. And if you prefer the creed suggested by silence on religious questions, then you'd be well advised to talk of separating religion from education. But you would be talking nonsense and deceiving your audience.

23:

"My understanding, after 18 months of watching this all online, is that few schools are outright teaching ID; rather that many of them are simply ingoring or skating over evolutionary biology"

Yes, precisely -- it's just what was done to the Bible in American public schools, at the start of the last century. Don't come out and say the subject is all nonsense; just refuse to discuss the matter, and let the students draw that conclusion on their own. As long as you don't care about truth and reason, it works wonderfully!

It's my belief, by the way, that a careful exposure of the fallacies in Behe's and Dembski's arguments would be a profoundly illuminating way of teaching evolutionary biology, and the methods of rational enquiry. Public schools are not, however, really interested in rational enquiry of any sort -- they were subverted, in that respect, decades ago. The creationists are just one of the factions contending for control of the instrument of propaganda that the subverters turned the schools into. The fix is to restore rational enquiry in the schools; but that's not as simple as you people may think.

24:

there's a lots of good bones to pick in this post.
Here's a shotgun approach to various topics, echoing some of the responses

A, While schools having a particular religon don't seem bad, I think it is due to a background effect. To my understanding, most religons have a central classification system [Believers and Non-Believers]. Quite often, this can degenerate through a stage of [Us and Them] to [Good and Bad]. I think that this can progress through ghetto-isation to a split society. People need to see other people as people and not labels. I feel that the best way to ensure harmony for a society is to ensure that the young people mix as much as possible, so we should have mixed schools.

B, In a scottish context since I live here, the thing that I do mind about religious schools is having my taxes pay for it. By allowing Catholic schools to have state funding, we allow any religon to demand state funding for school to serve thier community. This leads to more seperation rather than less and I have to foot the bill, in part. If you want a religious school for your children, then pay for ALL of it. and accept the fact that other groups have the same right in a free country (including a strict muslim school)

C, Answering religious questions in school
I would agree that "Why does the world exist?" is a religious question, but to me, it doesn't have one answer. Some people believe one thing and other believe another. Mr Patel who teaches geography believes in the Hindu faith and Mr Smith is a Christian. There was a book I read, a while ago that had a range of answers to various questions, each answer was pitched at a different level of understanding (from little kids up to teenagers).
Drawing up "non-religious" curriculum is a job for those people who define the education standards and exams (ultimatly the elected leaders). If you don't like what they define then educate your children privately or yourself, it's supposed to be a free country. (now there's a radical notion)

D, Why should School teach Moral Issues ?
The answer to the question "can't parents teach their kids right from wrong?" is that some parents can't (and/or won't). The capability of parents to raise thier kids varies widely from the brilliant to the woeful. Watch the various tv programmes (ie. supernanny in the UK and US) for examples of kids and parents who need help. I think Raising Kids is one of the most difficult, expensive, time consuming and stressfull activities going. But other than a brief discussion of the mechanics of producing one, there are no high schools classes in any helpful subject about raising kids. So you don't have good parents who can teach you in turn, then it's hell of a self-learning course.

E, Ditching of religon teaching
Drop Religon and get more Grammer and Math. It's very tempting given the homework, I see crossing the kitchen table. Perhaps just drop it down to a minor level for background understanding.

Hopefully Blair will go sooner rather than later, even considering the lack of promise in any of the possible successors (in either party).

25:

Damn, Just noticed "religon" should be "religion".
That's my points shot in the foot, then.
It's too late to spell properly.

26:

"I would agree that 'Why does the world exist?' is a religious question, but to me, it doesn't have one answer. Some people believe one thing and others believe another. "

Allow me to change a few words in that:

"I would agree that 'how do there come to be so many different kinds of animals?' is a scientific question, but to me, it doesn't have one answer. Some people believe one thing and others believe another. "

There are people who say things like that, and sometimes they get elected to school boards in Kansas. Is there anyone here who doubts that such people are obscurantists trying to prevent serious enquiry into biology? No? Then, Kite65, how is your statement not also obscurantism, and a block to serious enquiry into religion?

The point about making non-religious curricula isn't who should be doing it. The point is it can't be done at all. It's like making a perpetual motion machine. If that's what's needed for peace between religions, there can be no such peace.

27:

In what might be the mainstream Western culture, some knowledge of the Christian Bible is part of the general context. Stories such as that of the Good Samaritan. for instance. Whether the cultural context that story gives is a correct reflection of what it likely meant at the time it was told is another problem.

We might retell the story today as being about Ian Paisley helping a Catholic: the Samaritans of 2000 years ago had that sort of reputation at the time, and all the people who passed by on the other side were supposed to be closer fellows of the victim.

I don't know what sort of semi-literary, not quite doctrinal, influences other culture's holy books have, but ignoring the Bible is a little like ignoring Shakespeare.

The problem with the religious loonies is that their theology is pretty poor. The professional theologian, Christian and Islamic, who study the texts, are applying the tools of Reason. derioved from the Classical Greek roots of modern philosophy. Remember that Islam preserved a considerable amount of knowledge that was mislaid in Europe.

The Prophet was a successful, well-travelled, merchant. It wouldn't surprise me if he knew the lingua franca of the Eastern Mediterranean of his time (a Greek dialect?).

It's not religion that's the problem, or the educated people who started them off. It's the way that religion has fuelled factionalism, and factions have thrown away so much. You can see it on websites of Christian chruches in the USA. and the charismatic preachers of Christian and Islamic fundamentalism are working on the same human weaknesses as the charismatic leaders of 20th Century Fascism.

So, lets say we cut out religion. What fills the gap? Is it better to have the Church of England as a live vaccine against the potential insanities? Would we rather have people like Canterbury and York, or see them supplanted by some charlatan who can fill the Millenium Dome with his supporters?

28:

I must have missed the memo where it was proven that materialism is a religion, and that it has followers and worshippers and stuff.

As for schools being instruments of propaganda, certainly in the UK, that has been one of their functions since they were founded. Not usually an explicit aim; it was naturally assumed that the dominant culture that founded the school was obviously really good and therefore you should learn this stuff here in order to keep it all going along, and obviously if you disagreed you were a factionalist trying to peddle propaganda. Which other subverters did you have in mind?

As for rational enquiry restoration, do you think we have more of a chance of implementing it in schools first or in newspapers and politics first?

29:

Um.... right. I think your just being obtuse for the fun of it. You CAN separate education and religion, have I tried it? Yes, I lived it. My own education. Why does the world exist? is definitely a religious question, and there is no reason to address it in public education. The answer is "We don't know, but this is how science believes the world came to be."

Public education answers the verifiable or that which can be tested. Religion addresses matters of faith. I firmly reject your proposition that the are inseparable.

30:

I think some folk need to separate 'religious education' from 'religious indoctrination'. You can learn about all kinds of religion (and ergo as a child decide to persue an interest, if you are so inclined) without being told "This is right".

Religion as a lesson shouldn't be kept out of schools - to be taught about the various religions scattered across our fair world of dirt is a necessity, to try and reduce tension caused by the unknown.

However a specific religion should not be forced upon anyone as a given. And education should be dictated by knowledge, not cash. The academy schools will soon suffer from far more trouble than just religious directive (funded by whichever subset can 'sponsor' the school the most).

Soon the larger corporations will start their sponsorship, and we will have indoctrinated closed source software, burger flipping for beginners and 'Prada - how to wear it' lessons.

31:

Then, Kite65, how is your statement not also obscurantism, and a block to serious enquiry into religion?

I can answer than one - there's no such thing as serious enquiry into religion, because it doesn't matter any more than a discussion of which is better, Star Wars or LoTR.

Religious people arguing over religion are no different than comic book nerds arguing over who would win in a fight, Superman or Green Lantern.

32:

Andrew, there is a big difference: people arguing over Superman and Green Lantern do not, generally, have any significant impact on the large-scale actions taken by nation states. Religious differences have, demonstrably, been of large-scale practical impact in the past, whatever one may think of the substantive content of the arguments.

"Public education answers the verifiable or that which can be tested. Religion addresses matters of faith."

Well, no. Science answers the verifiable; public education covers many things which are not verifiable. Most of history is not, strictly speaking, testable or verifiable. And should philosophy be a part of public education? It is in France, which has a very secular public system. If philosophy is allowable, should we restrict it to epistemology, or allow in metaphysics?

The theory behind the statutory requirement for relgious education in England reflects a view of a unified society organized by parish and with Church and State in a single, unified whole which began to break down officially with the repeal of the Test Act and which has not had much relation to the way in which matters are conducted, in practice, for a long time. But even without the Establishment, there isn't an automatic separation of Church and State: I was exposed to much the same sort of lacklustre, by-the-numbers religious education in Ontario, forty years ago, as currently is the norm in England, despite the fact that there hadn't been an Established Church since the mid-Nineteeth century.

It is possible to address matters of religion in school without endorsing any particular brand; but only if there is not implied authority in the fact that a teacher is not endorsing something (i.e. that absence of endorsement is not perceived as endorsement of a position which automatically rejects adopting any position in other contexts). And that gets into a much broader question of dechooling society, or de-authoritarianising (is that a word?) the schools.

33:

Just an observation, it seems that religion in schools was/is fairly common in the Commonwealth, but in a lackluster sort of way, without much real feeling.

By contrast, in the US there's usually strict official separation, but a strong religious influence on education. Besides the evolution/creation controversy, I've attended schools in the 80s and 90s where Disney's Fantasia was protested when it was shown to a group of 1st graders because it "promotes black magic". I've also been to a school where there was a "student led" prayer circle every morning at the flagpole, and were a GLBT Club was banned. I've also been to schools were there was significant censorship by parent's groups over what could be placed in the school library. My favorite highschool history teacher was fired when it was discovered he was gay, and even though he won the eventual lawsuit they stuck him with the less prestigious classes and problem students.

34:

Q: "You CAN separate education and religion, have I tried it? Yes, I lived it. My own education."

And I suppose you think you don't have any religion, but stand surveying all the religions, judging them with a clear, objective eye; rather like the editors of the New York Times.

guthrie: "I must have missed the memo where it was proven that materialism is a religion, and that it has followers and worshippers and stuff. "

Nothing easier. If materialism is true, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, et al. must be false. Therefore materialism belongs to the same kind as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, et al. and the name of that kind is "religion". Maybe your sticking point is the lack of materialists performing public rites of worship? But ritual isn't part of the definition of "religion".

"As for rational enquiry restoration, do you think we have more of a chance of implementing it in schools first or in newspapers and politics first?"

Schools first of all, of course. I don't recall when or where politics has ever been a form of rational enquiry. By the way, one of the problems of a state-supported school is that setting its curriculum becomes a political matter ...

James, teachers have implied authority by the very nature of their job. To be educated is to accept a teacher's authority. And if a teacher fails to endorse any of a set of alternatives, the student cannot help but perceive that as endorsing the falsehood of the whole set.

35:

OK, so your going to implement rational enquiry in schools first, which would one imagines take a rational inquiry minded populace, which to my mind would be rather unlikely.

Actually, my sticking point is the lack of divinity in materialism. Last I knew, religions were defined as concerning divinities and controlling supernatural agencies. Materialism says nothing about said entities. That the philosophy of materialism says that everything happens with stuff is besides the point. Perhaps you can point me to some evidence for the supernatural?

By the way, surely if Hinduism is true, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism etc are false? And if Buddhism is true, Christianity and Islam are false also? Do you see there is a small problem of consistency here?

36:

Materialism is a belief system, whether you call it a religion or not. On a subtle level, materialism is the belief that the answer to any question beginning with "why" either doesn't exist, or can only be reached by examining the interactions of observable things.

On a gross level, the way that this usually manifests is in the belief that the cause of my happiness can be the stuff that I buy, or the people that I control, or the sex that I have, or whatever. It's why we believe that if you kill someone hard enough, they will stop doing whatever it is that bothers you - e.g., lobbing rockets over your border. And this is in fact the prevalent belief system in our society, among people of many religions and people with no religion.

And at least in the U.S., materialism really is the religion being taught to most children. For the deep practitioners of materialism, the scientists, this belief system works works, because in fact a lot of things can be addressed by examining their material causes. You can do a lot of good for people by pursuing materialism in a deep way. So on that level, the belief system can be held to be valid, if not supreme.

But it leaves a lot of important questions unanswered, and, indeed unanswerable. And for people who are not deep practitioners, it leaves them with a lot of useless crap in their houses, and a lot of their deepest questions, their greatest fears, unaddressed. Or a lot of blood and rubble where their houses used to be, depending on where they are unlucky enough to live.

So yeah, it is a real thing, and whether you call it a belief system or a religion, it deserves to be examined with the same degree of skepticism as any other belief system or religion.

37:

Most of this post is some notes on Micheal's response

It's interesting the effect of going from a "Why?" question to a "How?" question can have.
"Why?" speaks to purpose, motivation and intent.
"How?" speaks to the physical or mental process involved in doing something.

"Why did the chicken cross the road" leads to all sort of possibilities (some of them funny).
However "How did the chicken cross the road" leads to either walking or flying (and no jokes).

My 'Why was the world created' changes radically into 'how do there come to be so many different kinds of animals'

I quite enjoyed the quick transformation of an hopefully open-minded response to a philsophical question (why does the world exist), to essentially (to me) a process driven question and on through the school boards in Kansa to a charge of obscurantism.

From wikipedia
"Obscurantism favors limits on the extension and dissemination of knowledge, and on the questioning of dogmas.
"Obscurantism is the opposite of free thought and is often associated with religious fundamentalism by its opponents."

I do think we should question dogma, both religious and secular. I think that is a vital freedom to be able to question, investigate and analyse common beliefs within an society. While Richard Dawkins view of Religion as Dangerous Nonsense (it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own right, it teaches enmity to others etc) might be going too far, there might be some value in that position.

My statement said different people held different beliefs about why the world exists and said nothing about how correct those people were.
I would agree with Serraphin, in that there is a big difference between 'religious education' from 'religious indoctrination'.

Religion is a fundamental part of how the world actually works, both in a local way and internationally. This has been true for hundreds of years and will continue for a good long while as well.

Try to teach history (especially Medieval European) without an good understanding of the different faiths involved, the motivations and actions of different parties would be hard to understand. Or try to explain the recent fighting in Lebanon and how remote the chances of long term peace are, without mentioning religion.

Part of education, to me, to about building a person who can contribute to society in a valuable way and that is much easier if you understand the influences and values of all the people in that society.

Rather than continue these points which are gettin worn, how about 2 futures

A, Will more people embrace more and stricter religion as a comfort in a world of ever faster change ?
B, Will the internet and multiple 24hr mass media kill off (or further decimate) the old religions ?

38:

Guthrie, getting rational enquiry into state-run schools would require an electorate that supports rational enquiry, and as you say that isn't likely. This is why private schools are a good idea. And as Mr. Lemon's pointed out, "the supernatural doesn't exist" is a good deal more to say than nothing.

Though, Mr. Lemon, scientists are not "deep practicioners" of materialism; up to the 19th century practically all scientists were confirmed theists, and many important ones were priests, ministers, or rabbis. Enquiry into material causes does not require belief that no other causes exist.

Kite65, I'm glad you enjoyed my remarks, but I'd be much happier if you had understood them. Regarding your 2 futures, the Internet's main political effect has been to discredit the mass media and damage its power to write the agenda of political debates. Since the mass media is staffed by people whose knowledge of religious matters could be stuck under my left little fingernail without discomfort, the damage to their power can only help "the old religions", not hurt them.

39:

Mr. Brazier, you're right about the history of science and scientists, although frankly many of the things done in the name of science in the 19th century strike me as being pretty unchristian. But in any case, while I think a lot of scientists identify as being members of some faith even today, that is no longer a given, because it is no longer required, as it was of a student of natural philosophy back in those days.

And a lot of folks today take refuge in science the way someone in the 19th century might have taken refuge in Jesus or Buddha or whomever. Possibly with good reason, since science is not shy about showing its miracles.

And I don't think I'm mistaken in my impression that by and large, people who are really serious students of science nowadays devote much more of their mental space and energy to understanding their particular branch of scientific inquiry than they do to understanding God, or emptiness, or some other branch of spiritual inquiry.

40:

If Christianity as a whole were going through the sort of fit of violent lunacy that Islam currently is, I would second Charlie's conclusions.

But it's not. In point of fact we're not threatened by Christian fundamentalists trying to kill people in grand swathes or set up a theocracy.

There -are- Christian idiots of that sort ("Christian Identity" or Dominionists, as they're known here in the US), but even in America where most people are believers and many quite militantly so there aren't enough of -that kind of believer- to be a serious threat.

It's laughable to treat any sort of Christian as a real menace in Europe, or to treat Opus Dei as if it were going to restore the Spanish Inquisition. There are probably a lot more practicing Wiccans in Britain than Christian fundies of that ilk.

In a British context, the only real religious threat to social integration comes from Islamic fundamentalism. Nearly everybody, in their heart of hearts, knows this and only misplaced "sensitivity" prevents it from being said honestly, and that's breaking down under the pressure of reality.

The same is true in a global sense. It's false equivalence to point out that Wahabbism/Salifism is paralled by similar idiocies on the fringes of Christianity.

As Marx pointed out, a sufficiently large difference in degree becomes a difference in kind, and there are so many more Muslim nutjobs than Christian nutjobs, and they're so much more mainstream in their context, that they're a problem of a wholly different order.

There seems to be an element in Britain (and Europe more broadly) who find all actual practicing religious belief so strange that they can't distinguish between the common-or-garden variety of believer and raving loonies.

It's like being unable to distinguish between a Social Democrat and a Stalinist.

41:

"Why does the school have to teach moral issues? It shouldn't be up to the state to indoctrinate children in morals; can't parents teach their kids right from wrong?"

-- well, actually, that's a state interest of the most basic sort.

After all, the fundamental social activity (after self-defense) is passing on the torch to the next generation. Any society is organized according to a moral code: some things are right, some are wrong. This is simply inevitable and it's a universal human phenomenon. If the society's educational institutions are not passing on this set of memes (which will of course vary over time and sharply between different cultures) then they're not doing their job.

A person without a moral code is, functionally, a sociopath.

42:

"And if you think religion can be kept out of education, you have never tried it. For instance, "Why does the world exist?" is a religious question."

-- mmmm... no. That's only so if you assume that lack of religion is itself a religious position, which it ain't.

Science procedes from an assumption of naturalism.

43:

"It's why we believe that if you kill someone hard enough, they will stop doing whatever it is that bothers you - e.g., lobbing rockets over your border."

-- this is, in fact, demonstrably true an has been throughout human history. Dead people don't launch rockets, or do much of anything else.

Eg., there are no Beothuk terrorists in Newfoundland, despite their being the aboriginal inhabitants of the island. This is because the last Beothuk(*) died in captivity in 1823.

And when was the last time you met an Albigensian? The Albigensian Crusade and the Holy Inquisition between them ensured that the Cathars became a historical footnote. This is a complete rebuttal to the "you can't kill an idea" hypothesis. Of course you can.

On a less extreme plane, it's also true that, generally speaking, if you kill enough of a group of people you can terrify the survivors into doing what you want. All history testifies to the truth of this proposition.

We essentially massacred the Japanese into becoming pacifists, for example, which would not have seemed at all a plausible scenario in 1942.

One has to keep in mind, however, the profound truth of Machiavelli's observation that it is very foolish to do an enemy a _small_ injury.

If you want good results from a policy of putting the knuckle on someone, be prepared to go all the way or don't start. Half-measures don't work and indeed are likely to exacerbate your original problem.

(*) I have Beothuk ancestors, which is a different thing altogether. Some very thin strain of their genes survive, but their memes do not.

44:

Mr. Stirling, I'm afraid I find myself not buying any of your recent arguments. For one thing, democracy in the U.S. is in fact under attack by religious extremists, and these extremists are "christian," not "muslim." And they have succeeded in seriously compromising all three of the branches of government in the U.S. - we can only hope not fatally.

Of course, as far as I can tell, none of the extremists to which you refer, professing either faith, actually follow the teachings of the prophets of their respective religions.

I think it's better that we not discuss the issue of whether war is functional. We disagree in such a fundamental way that all we would do would be to spam the good Mr. Stross' blog, with no hope of ever coming to agreement. It was a very minor point that I intended as an illustrative example about materialism; I should have known that it would be pointlessly controversial, and I apologize for using it.

45:

Ted: Mr. Stirling, I'm afraid I find myself not buying any of your recent arguments.

-- that doesn't bother me. If you've got facts or logical inferences therefrom which contradict me, go right ahead.

I'm not the Pope and don't pretend to infallibility.

>For one thing, democracy in the U.S. is in fact under attack by religious extremists, and these extremists are "christian," not "muslim."

-- mmmmm, no it isn't, as far as I can see.

In 1960, the US had nondenominational school prayers and Nativity scenes in public places, and it wasn't a theocracy.

I can't see that reinstituting either now would turn it into one.

The "no Establishment of Religion" clause in the Constitution does not mean that the State has to be officially atheist, and was not so interpreted throughout the first centuries of the Republic.

>Of course, as far as I can tell, none of the extremists to which you refer, professing either faith, actually follow the teachings of the prophets of their respective religions.

-- well, in the case of the Muslim ones, I'm afraid they do, in many cases.

The foundation documents of Islam explicitly approve of aggressive war against non-Muslims and deny the legitimacy of any but an Islamic government. This position is supported by most early Islamic jurisprudence and has remained the majority position ever since.

46:

Kite65: A, Will more people embrace more and stricter religion as a comfort in a world of ever faster change?

-- alas, on current trends, this would be the way to bet.

47:

I don't think any of my American cousins are at the frothing suicide-bommber level of religious extremism, but if they didn't have that family connection, they're freakish enough that I would pass by on the other side.

And, looking from the outside, I see echoes of their attitudes in a lot of US politics today. Love thy neighbour as thyself? Why, that might even lead to dancing!

48:

I dont quite get ted lemons point.
I am not saying that materialism as a philosophy should not be critically examined. But that has little to do with the methodological naturalism in science, since science deals with stuff that can be reliably observed. The problem here is that religious and supernatural experiences have so far defied reliable observation. And in the instances in which they have been subjected to reliable observation, they invariably turn out to have material causes.

Moreover, I wouldn't quite call myself a materialist, because I like to leave the door open for anything else to come in. The problem being the lack of evidence for anything else. Where is your evidence for non-material things and goings on?

As for your example the cause of happiness of someone- I am not sure I understand it fully- are you saying that the cause of happiness has no physical existence at all? Or that happiness has no physical existence? Yet I would argue that happiness does have physical existence, as patterns and structures and processes in the brain; what stimulates that happiness is partly internal, your response to something (Are jokes materialist?) such as conversation, or a new car or something.
Or are you trying to say that sociology, phsychology, etc are not studying anything?

Though I would agree that materialism, as consumerism, is the religion of many people who profess in belief in some other religion or none at all.

So, to schoolchildren. I am not sure it is sensible to conflate materialism and consumerism. Certainly consumerism seems to be a major part of USA'ian society. But for you to claim that materialism is being taught in schools, your going to have to show how the USA seems to have so many religious people despite the alleged teaching of materialism in schools, and also what it is that is actually taught. Or are you going to start claiming that it is wrong to teach science? In fact you do say that science and materialism is fruitful. But obviously you think that more should be taught in schools with regards to ideas and philosophy, though exactly why this is inimical to materialism as you call it I cannot see why, unless you wish to posit dualism.


[quote]
But it leaves a lot of important questions unanswered, and, indeed unanswerable. And for people who are not deep practitioners, it leaves them with a lot of useless crap in their houses, and a lot of their deepest questions, their greatest fears, unaddressed. Or a lot of blood and rubble where their houses used to be, depending on where they are unlucky enough to live.[/quote]
WEll, yes, but I cannot see how this is related to materialism except by yourself. Clearly people need more on philosophy, ideas, and politics as well.

[quote]
So yeah, it is a real thing, and whether you call it a belief system or a religion, it deserves to be examined with the same degree of skepticism as any other belief system or religion.[/quote]
So is materialism real in a physical sense, or real as in an idea in our heads? Or not real at all? I would however place it in the category of belief systems, if they are defined as philosophical systems which help shape our oulook on the world.
(I'll have to work out a better definition later. I'm not a philosopher)

49:

As for the USA and its way of life etc, I suggest that in terms of deaths, Islamic fundamentalists will cause more than Christian fundamentalists, but the Christian ones have as much, if not a much better chance, of changing the society for what many people would regard as the worse.
From this side of the pond, things look somewhat finely balanced, for example IIRC there was an increase in votes for Bush at the last election from what we would call Christian fundamentalists, which matched any increase in the Democrats votes.
On the other hand, i don't see Bush trying to get any legislation through which would harm his business base.

50:

If Christianity as a whole were going through the sort of fit of violent lunacy that Islam currently is, I would second Charlie's conclusions.

Steve, Christianity is going through the same sort of fit of violent lunacy as Islam. You are merely in a privileged position where it doesn't affect you directly, while observing Islam through a media lens that focusses on the most badly-affected parts of a 1.5 billion person religion. You're also applying a double standard, exculpating present-day Christians from the sins of their grandfathers 90 years ago, while holding Islam to account.

Evidence? Let's take the Church position on contraception, which on current showing has cost something like 25 million lives over the past two decades (from AIDS deaths in Africa alone).

The Churches also implicitly condemn about half a billion people (of whom you are not one) to second-class social status by insistently defining them in terms of of their reproductive capacity. Under their code, if you're female and of reproductive age then you forfeit many of your most basic human rights in favour of someone else. (I maintain that an assertion that the rights of a foetus override the desires of a pregnant woman is tantamount to saying that the pregnant woman's right to self-determination is subordinated to the needs of the foetus: a more loaded word for this relationship is slavery.) I suspect you might have to re-examine your attitude to christianity if you found yourself suddenly inhabiting the head of an 8-week-pregnant 18-year-old black woman in South Dakota, Steve.

Let's also take the regular outbreaks of Church-inspired violent homophobia in the Orthodox countries (notably Russia and Greece), which regularly claim lives and are not notable for being the cause of much public hand-wringing or investigation. Or the similar groundswell of homophobic propaganda in the US, from the more militant protestant fundamentalist churches, who have a real desire to see homosexuals persecuted into invisibility. (Which overspills routinely in Africa where, for example in Zimbabwe, homosexuality now carries the death penalty).

If homosexuals were dealt with as an ethnic group or religion, the prevailing attitude to them of most Christian churches could only be described as being of genocidal intent within the strict letter of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Slightly more tenuously, going back sixty-seventy years a certain modernist ideology with its roots in the "respectable" Christian anti-semitism of the 1870s murdered a bunch of my relatives. Asserting that "Hitler was an atheist, so his anti-semitism wasn't Christian" is a thin fig-leaf; the majority of the people he led were Christian and their anti-semitism was Christian. Luckily that aberration was stomped flat and the wreckage bombed until the rubble bounced, but it isn't out of keeping with the way Christians behave towards other religious minorities when they can get away with it. (Where was that last pogrom against Jews in Poland? The one in 1946 that murdered a bunch of concentration camp survivors who'd made the mistake of returning to their homes?)

Nor are the supposedly mild and enlightened Christians of today fast at despatching the discriminatory relics of an earlier age. It remained legal to discriminate against Jews in the UK (in employment, certainly) as recently as 1977, and the Act that finally made such discrimination illegal was heavily criticized at the time and experienced much push-back.

Despite this, I don't have a problem with most Christians -- as long as they don't expect me to adopt their beliefs or live by their strictures. Nor do I have a problem with Sufi mystics; except that for the past 80 years the west has systematically been encouraging the most violent, intolerant strains of Islam at the expense of those that are more introspective and less aggressive.

But from my point of view, as an antitheist rather than an atheist (I think Dawkins' only error is in being rude to the people he thinks are idiots: a little politeness doesn't hurt) of non-Christian and non-Moslem origins, all the Religions of the Book are pernicious and dangerous creeds that encourage intolerance and, ultimately, genocide directed against outsiders. And the only difference between Christianity and Islam today, in practice, is that Christianity has better PR machinery and the deaths it inflicts usually take place quietly in sick-beds rather than messily in public shootings or stonings.

51:

"Why does the world exist?" is a religious question.

The honest answer to question is simply: "There is no answer."

It is possible to expand this answer into a severe logical reasoning based on G�del's Theorem ("This statement cannot be proved" expressed as "The existence of this universe cannot be proved") which shows that the question really is, and always will be, and always will have been, pointless.

Now, if the question had been put this way instead -- "HOW does the world exist?" -- you might get somewhere...

52:

Nothing easier. If materialism is true, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, et al. must be false. Therefore materialism belongs to the same kind as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, et al. and the name of that kind is "religion". Maybe your sticking point is the lack of materialists performing public rites of worship? But ritual isn't part of the definition of "religion".

So, but the same logic, if Christianity is true then fairies, elves, broken mirrors and black cats causing bad luck, etc. must all be false. Therefore Christianity belongs to the same kind as those beliefs, and the name of that kind is "supersition"?

You could also say that Relgion as well as chemistry, physics, and biology are all ways of explaining the world, called science. And under the rules of science relgion is unprovable and therefore false by it's own rules.

I think there's a flaw in your logic, myself...

53:

Let me add that I didn't want to start a pro/anti religion flame war here.

The issue I'm bringing up is the question of avowedly religious schools of a fundamentalist stripe -- one type is funded by the government (at the enthusiastic behest of ministers who share the religion in question), while another type is funded privately and deeply frowned on by those same ministers.

The issue is, in other words, political hypocrisy and rabble-rousing bigotry (not "my religion is better than yours").

54:

Steve, the constitution is interpreted by the Supreme court, which has been systematically stacked with religious and political extremists starting in the Reagan years and continuing right up to the present. No truly moderate justice has been nominated since I was a child.

As for your example the cause of happiness of someone- I am not sure I understand it fully- are you saying that the cause of happiness has no physical existence at all? Or that happiness has no physical existence? Yet I would argue that happiness does have physical existence, as patterns and structures and processes in the brain; what stimulates that happiness is partly internal, your response to something (Are jokes materialist?) such as conversation, or a new car or something.

Well, you could say that the cause of happiness is endorphins. But if you said that, then the logical next step would be to arrange to provide your brain with a constant supply of endorphins. And we call that drug addiction. Not happiness.

Computer programs are patterns, and it's a popular science fiction theme that you can make a sentient computer that is self-aware. But I doubt you can even prove to me that you are self-aware, even though I'm sure you believe you are (and I don't dispute that you are - I'm just saying you can't prove it). Ultimately the way computer programs work is that you have a bunch of inputs, and a bunch of processing, and a bunch of output. And this is done step by step - the computer itself never has any gestalt appreciation of the data - it just iterates over it and produces some result.

In your example, I think what you're suggesting is that there's a pattern in there somewhere that has as its output, "I am happy." But if that's so, then you don't need the pattern. The pattern is just a program whose output is the input of the part of you that decides whether or not you are happy. So if you could just replace the program with a 1 bit, you'd be set, wouldn't you? You'd always be happy, regardless of what was going on. But is that really happiness?

55:

The issue is, in other words, political hypocrisy and rabble-rousing bigotry (not "my religion is better than yours").

Isn't, at it's heart, that sort of political hypocrisy and rabble rousing just "my god can beat up your god"? To a truly religious person it isn't a matter of being tolerant or intollerant, but preventing dangerous false ideas from taking hold. Thus, a muslim school would be bad, while a chritian school would be tolerable as long as it wasn't too far from your own beliefs. If Mormons openned a religous school would they be as accepted as Catholics or Evangelicals? And if, god forbid, Scientologists tried to what would happen?

I'm just playing devil's advocate here, I'm a Deist and Discordian, not an Atheist.

56:

If the Scientologists ran a school for children, they'd charge the parents a tuition fee.

57:

This is, in fact, demonstrably true an has been throughout human history. Dead people don't launch rockets, or do much of anything else.

Eg., there are no Beothuk terrorists in Newfoundland, despite their being the aboriginal inhabitants of the island. This is because the last Beothuk died in captivity in 1823.

And when was the last time you met an Albigensian? The Albigensian Crusade and the Holy Inquisition between them ensured that the Cathars became a historical footnote. This is a complete rebuttal to the "you can't kill an idea" hypothesis. Of course you can.

Was that your reason for writing the Draka books - to make the case for "justifiable genocide" not being an oxymoron?

58:

Anonymous,

According to friends and acquaintances who have witnessed such encounters at conventions - some of whom are by no means his fans - Stirling becomes quite upset when anyone professes admiration for the Draka.

I dub thee netcoward.

59:

>political hypocrisy and rabble-rousing bigotry
Ok, Getting back on track....

Looking at the current crop of Politicians, it seems that they are much worse than the previous generation.
They seem to lack the ability to achieve stuff, even for thier core supporters. There are disppointed republicans in the US, who thought Bush would be more actively right wing (abortion etc). There are certainly union groups in the UK, who are wondering exactly what sort of labour party are currently in power.

I'm not sure whether the root cause is short-term thinking (i.e. what can I do to stay popular this week) or just plain incompetence.

Perhaps the most effective leader is the monomanical one, who believes and drags everyone else along towards the promised land. If you want CHANGE, perhaps you need to have leaders like Thatcher to drag everyone towards the final goal. Perhaps if there is any sort of compromise, the political process and vested interests slow and stop any proposed change before it can happen.

Recently, it appears to be impossible to get a straight answer (or even rarer an indication of any sort of failure) from any Politician. Even statements which total nonsense "UK action in Iraq has not made the UK more of a target for terrorism" seem to be OK and defensible.

I always liked the statement "No matter who you vote for, a politician gets in".

Watch in the future for the politicians (in all parties) campaign for the grey vote cos the young are just too weird and don't actually vote.

60:

(By the way, sorry I forgot to enter my name first time round)

According to friends and acquaintances who have witnessed such encounters at conventions - some of whom are by no means his fans - Stirling becomes quite upset when anyone professes admiration for the Draka.

I don't admire the Draka at all. What I am asking is "Does SM Stirling believe that Muslims are real-live Draka, IOW a people so horrifically evil that their genocide would be justifiable?"

61:

George,

Please accept my humble apology. I was mistaken on the point of your post.

62:

Apology accepted :)

63:

Andrew: "So, by the same logic, if Christianity is true then fairies, elves, broken mirrors and black cats causing bad luck, etc. must all be false. Therefore Christianity belongs to the same kind as those beliefs, and the name of that kind is 'supersition'?"

Actually, Christianity doesn't have anything much to say about fairies, elves, or bad luck from breaking mirrors. It wouldn't even be difficult to imagine a world where all of those, and Christianity, were true. It's some sciences which would need rethinking if fairies turned out to be real ...

Mr. Stross: "Christianity is going through the same sort of fit of violent lunacy as Islam."

If you do any research into theological support for "fits of violent lunacy", you will come across R. J. Rushdoony on the Christian side, and Sayyid Qutb on the Muslim side. However, if you're honest in your research, you'll also find that the number of people who hold Qutb's views exceeds the number of people who hold Rushdoony's by several orders of magnitude. I doubt that the typical American evangelist has even heard of Rushdoony, never mind following him.

As for the rest of that post, gosh, Charles, if that's what you really think, why aren't you shouting "ecrasez l'infame!" with Voltaire? Why are you willing to tolerate theism and theists at all?

Mr. Stirling: "Science procedes from an assumption of naturalism."

If you mean, scientists begin their enquiries under the hypothesis that supernatural agencies are not involved, yes, that's true. If you mean, however, that scientific enquiries are logically impossible if supernatural agencies can influence events, no, that's absolutely wrong.

Mr. Lemon: "the constitution is interpreted by the Supreme court, which has been systematically stacked with religious and political extremists starting in the Reagan years and continuing right up to the present."

And after 25 years of this systematic stacking, the count of SC Justices who reliably vote as the GOP would wish them to is ... 2 out of 7. (Roberts and Alito haven't been on the bench long enough to tell.) Not a very effective bit of stacking, that.

64:

"If Christianity as a whole were going through the sort of fit of violent lunacy that Islam currently is, I would second Charlie's conclusions."

Perhaps a little late to respond to this, but I think you have to look at the behavior of "Christians" in the third world. Just the existence of The Lords Resistance Army in Uganda illustrates that Christians in the modern era can be just as horrific as Muslims.

In our society as was pointed out earlier separation of Church and State is more important for the idea that it protects a small religion being suppressed by a larger religion. In the US a lot of little Protestant churches acted to prevent the larger better financed Episcopalian and Catholic churches from dominating them politically. The only thing they could agree on is that they didn't want to be supressed.

Most Muslims who have moved to Western nations appreciate this, it protects them. Radicals raised in other cultures aren't quite so appreciative, Christian or Muslim.

We had to go through the horrors of the Wars of the Reformation to learn our lesson. Hopefully others learn it quickly, and we don't forget it.

65:

About that suggestion, way back when, that the time spent on religion in schools should instead be devoted to math and grammar:

"I am afraid we are not rid of God because we still have faith in grammar." -- Friedrich Nietzsche

66:

On the qestion of evil characters, I wouldn't want to make specific accusationsm although we all know of one obvious writer to refer to.

It's the problem of Orcishness. Tolkien partly handles it by putting Sam and Frodo into the middle of the Orcish world, both witnessing Orcs bitching about the iniquities of their life, and later in disguise. But it's also apparent, in what his son selected for publication in The Silmarillion, that Orcs and Elves are two sides of the same coin: not human, not like us, not necessarily soulless, but in their own category, which seems to allow for a healing of the Spirit before reincarnation.

Tolkien struggled to be consistent with his Christian beliefs, while his depiction of Orcishness is colouted by his experience of war. They are something that we all might become.

Even the great villains of his world are Fallen Powers: they were not created as Evil.

OK, we're not all the sort of lunatic that Tolkien was. It seems silly to think of the creation of Middle Earth as a symptom of PTSD, but could it have existed without the Great War?

Not every mustache-twirling villain is a cheap plot token, but they are a snare and a temptation for authors. You need conflict, so introduce something evil. You don't have to explain evil. It doesn't have to have a motive.

And, I'm sorry to say, if that cap fits anyone here, I rather think it will fall over deaf ears.

There's a steady thread of such thinking in fiction, and it seems to be fiction which is popular with a lot of people. It sells books. It could be a mindless zombie horde, a sadist thrown out of his own time, or a whole culture of homo superior who see us as the Orcs. It is the spectre of Al Quaida, and SPECTRE itself. And, by being evil, it takes away from the heroes of the fiction any need to make a hard moral choice. Kill them all, we know how God will decide.

(Of course, if they're already dead, we can assume that God has decided, but he can't sign off on the paperwork until they stop shambling.)

And if you want subtlety, you go somewhere else. You move from The A-Team to Doctor Who, choosing cardboard sets over cardboard chanracters.

But which way does religion push you? Does it give you an easy answer, or a problem. Kill the heretics, or we are all neighbours?

And if God exists, why does he allow pain and evil? Why are there orcs, beyond our fantasies?

67:

Stirling : If the society's educational institutions are not passing on this set of memes (which will of course vary over time and sharply between different cultures)

You use this to justify teaching morals to childrens. Firstly, that is the parent's job. Secondly, WHAT set of morals are you going to use (Christian morals? Satanic morals? Flying Spaghetti Monster morals?) And thirdly, nearly of all our moral code (don't kill, don't steal), etc., is innate (i.e. evolved into our genes) and is universal across cultures. We only need to learn the "local flavour" (i.e. covering every inch of flesh in clothing - including your eyes - so as not to provoke lust).

I apologize

68:

Not killing and not stealing are innate? Then why do various societies expend so much energy hammering home the point that such practice is a Bad Thing?

69:

My local MP is a Muslim (*), among other things. I should probably write to him and ask what he thinks about this.

(*) References to his religion seem to have vanished from his website since the last time I looked. I find this ominous.

70:

Michael: As for the rest of that post, gosh, Charles, if that's what you really think, why aren't you shouting "ecrasez l'infame!" with Voltaire? Why are you willing to tolerate theism and theists at all?

As Oliver Cromwell said, "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken".

Despite holding pretty firm convictions, I will concede the possibility that I might be wrong (however unlikely I think it is). My opinions don't rely on some religious revelation of ULTIMATE TRUTH, so I can't be absolutely certain that they're correct. Consequently, the theist extremist's intolerance (which is born of the knowledge that they have the one, true answer and everyone else is wrong) is unsupported by antitheism. (Or should be unsupported. There are always going to be people who take a set of conjectures and raise them to the status of absolute truth.)

Intolerance is the root of the problem I have with theistic neighbours, and I don't see antitheist intolerance as being in any way less ugly or more righteous than any form of theist intolerance. So I refuse to condemn absolutely anyone who doesn't condemn others absolutely.

Clear?

71:

Not killing and not stealing are innate? Then why do various societies expend so much energy hammering home the point that such practice is a Bad Thing?

I'm not trying to say no-one does these things. I'm just saying that people who do these things are aware that society disapproves; murder is only justifiable to a soldier or a cop who uses his gun in the line of duty; in extremis. Normally people don't steal and don't kill, and don't have to be told not to do so. In fact, when you think of the intense basic training most soldiers undergo, one of the purposes of that training is to remove that inhibition to kill.

You may or may not agree with that, but schools are teaching facts and techniques, not for "moulding" - which is really just a euphism for brainwashing. And besides, as I asked previously whose morals should we teach?

72:

Sorry to go on like this, but...anyone who kills simply for pleasure and finds no wrong in it is mentally damaged in some form (e.g. schizo, sociopathic), and would not have been prevented from his course of action by anything he learned at school.

73:

Charlie: Steve, Christianity is going through the same sort of fit of violent lunacy as Islam.

-- oh, Charlie, this is just totally absurd.

Example: how many Christians will kill you for making a film disrespectful of the Bible, and then stick a manifesto to your body with a dagger?

To pose the question is to answer it.

Christianity is a 'soft target'; that's why people are more eager to attack it. It's much less dangerous to do so.

>while observing Islam through a media lens that focusses on the most badly-affected parts of a 1.5 billion person religion.

-- since that amounts to about 350 million people, minimum, I think I'm being quite accurate.

>Evidence? Let's take the Church position on contraception

-- as if anyone paid any attention? And since when were Roman Catholics synonymous with Christianity?

>The Churches also implicitly condemn about half a billion people (of whom you are not one) to second-class social status

-- Charlie, try comparing women's status in Christendom with that in the House of Islam, both now and in the past.

Islamic civilization _is_ misogynist, grotesquely so.

Not that the West has been free from sexism, but again, a sufficient difference in degree is a difference in kind. Which precisely describes the situation here.

Again, the Muslim mainstream are equivalents of fringe loonies in Christendom.

Is there a Western country where women aren't allowed to drive? No? Didn't think so.

>I maintain that an assertion that the rights of a foetus override the desires of a pregnant woman

-- Charlie, I'm for abortion rights too.

However, I don't consider it unbearable if people disagree with me.

My particular opinions (and yours) have no inherent right to exercise ideological hegemony. Free marketplace of ideas and all that.

>if you found yourself suddenly inhabiting the head of an 8-week-pregnant 18-year-old black woman in South Dakota, Steve.

-- ummmm... Charlie, that's a rather unhappy rhetorical example.

Like, for starters you can drive across the entire state without meeting any black people to speak of? People of scandinavian and German descent, ya, you betcha. And Indians.

You _do_ know that there are substantially more restrictions on abortion in most of Europe than in the US?

And that black people here have a _much_ higher abortion rate than whites?

>Let's also take the regular outbreaks of Church-inspired violent homophobia in the Orthodox countries

-- like official ceremonies where gays are buried under walls by bulldozers, as formerly in Kabul?

>Or the similar groundswell of homophobic propaganda in the US, from the more militant protestant fundamentalist churches

-- Charlie, they're entitled to their opinions, however wrong you or I may consider them.

And their opinions are simply the ones which everyone held until recently.

>Asserting that "Hitler was an atheist, so his anti-semitism wasn't Christian" is a thin fig-leaf

-- well, no, it's a pretty thick one, more like a banana frond.

Hitler wasn't only an atheist, he and his movement were militantly anti-Christian and intended to destroy the Christian churches.

You can scarcely blame Christianity for an explicitly anti-Christian movement that expressely wanted to eliminate it!

OTOH, note where the Protocols of the Elders of Zion currently have the most currency.

>but it isn't out of keeping with the way Christians behave towards other religious minorities when they can get away with it.

-- ah... haven't noticed any mobs killing Jews here recently, and this is the most Christian country in the world. Or at any time in the past couple of centuries, come to that.

Really, Charlie. Come on, now.

>Nor do I have a problem with Sufi mystics; except that for the past 80 years the west has systematically been encouraging the most violent, intolerant strains of Islam at the expense of those that are more introspective and less aggressive.

-- oh, great, we're responsible for Salafism. Rolling of eyes.

>But from my point of view, as an antitheist rather than an atheist

-- well, Charlie, globally most people are believers, always have been, and always will be.

We atheists are a minority and that's probably the way it's going to be forever and ever, amen.

Secularism turns out to have been a temporary regional fashion rather than the wave of the future; and one with an inherent tendency to self-destruct.

Eg., regular churchgoers have an average of 3 or more children here in the US. Secular types average 1. Extrapolate the trend.

74:

"Steve, the constitution is interpreted by the Supreme court, which has been systematically stacked with religious and political extremists starting in the Reagan years and continuing right up to the present. No truly moderate justice has been nominated since I was a child."

-- well, that depends on how you define "extremists". I define "extremist" objectively; as someone who holds beliefs on the far end of the spectrum.

I'm afraid you seem to be using it in the sense of "someone who I deeply disagree with".

75:

"The issue I'm bringing up is the question of avowedly religious schools of a fundamentalist stripe -- one type is funded by the government (at the enthusiastic behest of ministers who share the religion in question), while another type is funded privately and deeply frowned on by those same ministers."

-- Charlie, let's put this in the form of a question.

A) if a majority of British people believed as the Blairs believe, would it threaten British institutions?

B) if a majority believed as the hook-handed cleric believes, would it do so?

I consider both religions equally false-to-fact; I don't believe in any form of God.

However, the hook-handed guy's religion is more of a _problem_. That's simply a fact.

76:

Charlie: Intolerance is the root of the problem I have with theistic neighbours,

-- ah... but Charlie, the overwhelming majority of contemporary Christians firmly support religious liberty and political democracy.

And have for some time.

77:

"Was that your reason for writing the Draka books - to make the case for "justifiable genocide" not being an oxymoron?"

-- sigh. In a word, no.

You might try actually following the argument.

78:

I don't admire the Draka at all. What I am asking is "Does SM Stirling believe that Muslims are real-live Draka, IOW a people so horrifically evil that their genocide would be justifiable?"

-- I'm talking about the _ideology_. Islam is an ideology; my contention is that it's an ideology which is inherently prone to causing us severe problems. Therefore it's a "bad" ideology.

79:

"And, by being evil, it takes away from the heroes of the fiction any need to make a hard moral choice. Kill them all, we know how God will decide."

-- ummm... what's people being evil got to do with killing them?

War generally means killing the other side's conscripts, when it doesn't mean burning them all alive in city-wide bombardments or equivalent.

You don't have to think they're evil; you don't even have to have any personal animosity towards them at all.

My father-in-law never had any particular dislike for Germans, for example, and like most GI's was completely non-political.

In fact, he rather admired the German soldiers he fought, and considered them just another bunch of poor unfortunate bastards trying to stay alive. That didn't stop him from killing them -- sometimes after they'd surrendered, if it was impossibly inconvenient to take them to the rear.

You don't kill people in war because they're evil; you kill them because they're on the other side.

Asi es la vida.

80:

We atheists are a minority and that's probably the way it's going to be forever and ever, amen.

Secularism turns out to have been a temporary regional fashion rather than the wave of the future; and one with an inherent tendency to self-destruct.

Eg., regular churchgoers have an average of 3 or more children here in the US. Secular types average 1. Extrapolate the trend.

Religion seems to be on an upswing right now, certainly. That doesn't mean it will stay that way -- these things seem to come in waves.

Also, the higher birth rates don't mean that all three of those children will be Christian/Islamic or even religious like there parents are. Evangelicals, in particular, gain much of their strength from recent converts not those born into the faith. It's not uncommon for the children of religious parents to be more moderate or secular, or to leave the faith all together. And it's even less likely that the child of secular/non-religious people will become religious, or if they do that it has to be Christian.

Look at the growing number of Wiccan and related religious practictioners in the West. Or the number of people who identify as Christian, but don't attend church regularly.

Less than half of Americans regularly attend church, only 25-45% depending on what data you use. And when you break it down by age, you see that the 20-30 group attends much less often than the over 50 group. And this is a country where over 75% identify themselves as Christian.

There's some interesting info here: http://www.religioustolerance.org/rel_rate.htm

81:

We atheists are a minority and that's probably the way it's going to be forever and ever, amen. Secularism turns out to have been a temporary regional fashion rather than the wave of the future; and one with an inherent tendency to self-destruct. Eg., regular churchgoers have an average of 3 or more children here in the US. Secular types average 1. Extrapolate the trend.

Religion seems to be on an upswing right now, certainly. That doesn't mean it will stay that way -- these things seem to come in waves.

Also, the higher birth rates don't mean that all three of those children will be Christian/Islamic or even religious like there parents are. Evangelicals, in particular, gain much of their strength from recent converts not those born into the faith. It's not uncommon for the children of religious parents to be more moderate or secular, or to leave the faith all together. And it's even less likely that the child of secular/non-religious people will become religious, or if they do that it has to be Christian.

Look at the growing number of Wiccan and related religious practictioners in the West. Or the number of people who identify as Christian, but don't attend church regularly.

Less than half of Americans regularly attend church, only 25-45% depending on what data you use. And when you break it down by age, you see that the 20-30 group attends much less often than the over 50 group. And this is a country where over 75% identify themselves as Christian.

There's some interesting info here: http://www.religioustolerance.org/rel_rate.htm

82:

Firstly Mr Lemon, why, if the chemical immediate cause of the emotion of happiness in someone is endorphins, does it follow that we should provide a constant supply of endorphins? Are we to be happy all the time?

Then if this way was to be followed, would the overall effects be bad for the person, the classic SF example being the wire into the pleasure centres of the brain.
Of course, would continual happiness be recognisable as such, if that was the only thing you could feel? Probably not. It is worth noting that as far as I understand biology, your mood naturally changes, and the evolutionary changes that we have undergone ensure that most of us have a variety of homeostatic processes going on. Our moods change, but around a level. So problems will arise with trying to take lots of endorphins, such that you'll probably damage yourself physically. Real life is not as definite as programming of philosophy, there are all sorts of limits, in this case biochemical ones.

I agree, it is probably rather hard to prove to you that I am self aware, any more than you can prove that we have free will. But I dont see the exact relevance of your description of computer operations, since that is not really how humans seem to work.
I suggest that until you can write large scale programs that evolve in response to their environment or built artificial brains that can alter their structures in response to stimuli, we wont get anywhere with AI.

I'm interested, can you point towards information on our capabilities for gestalt comprehension of data.

For my example, the response to your reply is to ask, what part of me decides whether i am happy or not? And how does it reach that decision?
In one sense though, yes, if you could replace the program deciding if I am happy or not with one bit saying "yes", then that would be the same as taking lots of endorphins.
As for if that is really happiness, which philosophy do you wish to use? I'm sure that various answers would be given depending which philosophy you use to describe it. Me personally, I would say that since the chemical method used is effectively the same as the natural, in this case, it is real happiness. But I would not reccomend it, because after a while the physical toll would be too much and lead to adverse consequences.

Anyway, hopefully Charlie wont mind us taking this thread somewhat off at a tangent.

83:

I'm talking about the _ideology_. Islam is an ideology; my contention is that it's an ideology which is inherently prone to causing us severe problems. Therefore it's a "bad" ideology.

Since you yourself have mentioned several times that Muslims are essentially unconvertible, what is your suggested course of action?

84:

On secularism vs. religion: we don't inherit our religion with our genes. And while religious families average more children than secular ones, children from a religious background appear more likely to secularize as they mature than children from a secular background are to acquire religion.

[troll]Anyway, in the context of western civilization, Americans are a superstition-ridden aberration[/troll] -- seriously, they're far more inclined towards religiousity than any other developed nation.

85:

I think Christian extremism is more than comparable with Islamic extremism - but it is a mistake to expect them to take identical forms.

What I would consider extremist Christianity is firmly ensconced in the US - from radical clerics like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson (liberals made God drop his magic shield protecting the US), to high-ranking generals who advocate in uniform that their god is better than the Islamic god, to John "Let the Eagles Soar" Ashcroft, to the President of the US. When faced with a President who allegedly talks to God (and gets answers), was chosen by God to be in office (apparently God and Scalia look alike in shadowed parking garages), who declared a Crusade, and who refused to take a position on the imminence of the apocalypse? I rather think the Commander-in-Chief of the world's most powerful military counts as in the mainstream of politics in his home country.

Looking at prayer in school is a misdirection. School prayer is an issue that the right wing doesn't want to win, because losing gets them attention and money. IMO, the real issue is the diversion of funds away from state schools to religious schools, where students will presumably be taught Grendel was a dinosaur descended from those on the Ark.

It is true that the US government won't (yet) kill people for desecrating the bible. Possibly because I have an ancestor who was crushed for refusing to plead when accused of witchcraft, I am less sanguine about the possibility. Atheists and jews have both been chased out of town in the US for deviating from the Christian status quo. There are no shortage of Christian extremists in the US.

However, how many people have died in the Middle East because of this government's apocalyptic hubris? If you believe that God has told you what to do, then to disagree with that is to disagree with God - which is hardly the attitude in a healthy liberal Western democracy.

In my opinion, the threat to the West comes from anyone who avoids inconvenient reality for the embrace of a comfortable fantasy alternative.

86:

-- seriously, they're far more inclined towards religiousity than any other developed nation.

Actually, the Irish are twice as likely to attend Church regularly, and the Poles and Italians are just as likely as Americans.

Considering where many Americans' ancestors came from originally, there may be a connection. :)

And Canada's not that far behind the US, so it's not just the US.

87:

Interesting note. The Muslims I know are just as religious as the Christians I know. Some attend services regularly, some do not. Large numbers just insert a religion because it's expected.
The secular Muslim does exist. The conflict we see today is not really a religious conflict, it is a cultural one. The so called Muslim world is in a state of upheaval. Think of it as more like the human rights struggle in the American South or South Africa.
The bottom level reactionaries can be violent in any nation. We only have to hope that "our" side, the secularists, win.

88:

Andrew G: Also, the higher birth rates don't mean that all three of those children will be Christian/Islamic or even religious like there parents are.

-- it's the way to bet; something like 80% will, here in the US. As far as Evangelicals in the US are concerned, new converts outnumber defecting children by a considerable margin.

The overall American religious stats haven't moved much in the past 50 years but that hides vast shifts _within_ the denominational landscape, away from the "mainline" Protestant churches and to a lesser extent away from the Cathoics, and towards the Evangelicals.

Eg., between 25-35% of American Hispanics are now Protestant, mostly Evangelicals/Fundamentalists of various sorts. A generation ago all those people would have been Catholic -- nominal Catholics, mostly.

One of the underreported global stories is the spread of Evangelical Protestantism in non-traditional areas; Latin America, for example. 15% of Brazil are Protestant now.

And they're growing like weeds in China, somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 converts every _day_.

The number of Christians in China there has gone from 1% of the population to around 5% or more in the past generation and the growth is accelerating. Mostly under the radar, because the Chinese government tries to keep it quiet, and mostly Evangelical-style quasi-underground "house churches", although the offical government-registered ones are growing sharply too.

89:

George: Since you yourself have mentioned several times that Muslims are essentially unconvertible, what is your suggested course of action?

-- hammer, kick and bludgeon the hostile ones until they're too afraid of angering us to do anything we consider bad.

Accept that they'll always hate us; accept that nothing we do will much affect their inner feelings; accept that this means much blood will flow. Oderint dum metutant.

Then let "Baywatch" and its equivalents do their work over the generations.

Osama's niece is a feature of the bar scene in London, known for her leather miniskirts.

90:

"I'm not trying to say no-one does these things. I'm just saying that people who do these things are aware that society disapproves; murder is only justifiable to a soldier or a cop who uses his gun in the line of duty; in extremis"

-- that depends entirely on the society. There are many in which killing for, for example, revenge or "honor" is widely accepted.

91:

Charlie: seriously, they're far more inclined towards religiousity than any other developed nation.

-- quite true. They're also the only developed nation that's reproducing itself; ie., the only one not sliding down the slope towards extinction. Not to mention contrasts in the state of national morale -- I've noticed that Euros find the broad acceptance of nationalism almost as shocking.

These factors may be linked... 8-).

As I said, I'm not a believer myself, but I'm increasingly coming to the conclusion that it's a Good Thing most Americans are.

92:

Charlie: On secularism vs. religion: we don't inherit our religion with our genes. And while religious families average more children than secular ones, children from a religious background appear more likely to secularize as they mature than children from a secular background are to acquire religion.

-- not around here, they're not. In fact, the stats point the other way, and by a considerable margin.

The people most likely to become more secular as they grow up are the children of the least relgious -- Episcopalians and such.

However, those are also the people most likely to move from a "mild" to a "strong" Church.

Religion Lite doesn't have as much market appeal as the Real Thing.

93:

>to high-ranking generals who advocate in uniform that their god is better than the Islamic god

-- any believing Christian must believe that Islam is largely false.

Two mutually exclusive statements cannot be simultaneously true.

Exactly how is this "radical" Christianity? Again, what you're doing is defining any real belief as "radical".

Christianity makes claims to exclusive capital-T Truth; if you believe in it, all other religions must be false to the extent that they disagree.

>When faced with a President who allegedly talks to God (and gets answers),

-- Believers pray and believe God answers them. They also believe that everything happens according to God's will.

Again, you're asserting that all Christian believers are "radical" somehow if they really believe.

>Possibly because I have an ancestor who was crushed for refusing to plead when accused of witchcraft, I am less sanguine about the possibility.

-- oh, puhl-eeze. Yeah, witchcraft trials are a possibility we should be concerned about in the US.

By the way, what planet do you come from, and how many moons does it have?

>However, how many people have died in the Middle East because of this government's apocalyptic hubris?

-- you know, people get killed in wars. It sorta goes with the territory.

And there have always been wars and always will be wars.

As long as they're the right people, to quote Dirty Harry, this is bad... why?

94:

"you see that the 20-30 group attends much less often than the over 50 group"

-- recently there was an alarm raised about the high average age of attendees at classical music concerts in the US -- a median age of about 57.

Then someone dug up some stats and found that the median in 1960 was... 57. In fact, it's been about 57 as far back as there are any records.

It's a life-cycle thing and has been observable for generations. Same-same in the context we were talking about. When people raised in religious households marry, settle down and start having kids, they start attending Church more regularly.

95:

Just as an aside, the point of killing people in war is to make the survivors, if any, give up and obey you out of fear. This is true of all wars without exception; the whole purpose is to break the will of the other side through organized violence and its threat.

96:

Charlie: Do you want me here? After all, it's the Stirling variety hour, and he's asked me not to respond to his posts. So please tell me what you want.

Anyway, Steve is wrong on two empirical points. First, the fastest-growing religion in the United States is ... none. I draw no conclusions, but it seems that he should acknowledge the trend, even if he thinks it won't continue.

Second, there are a number of Western nations with above-replacement fertility. As I presume Steve knows, TFRs are a synthetic figure that assume members of a cohort will replicate the fertility pattern of a cross-section. Once you correct for this, such doomed places as France and Denmark move into the above-replacement zone. Of course, Steve may have reasons to believe that such corrections are a distortion of reality, and that cohort members will follow the cross-section. In that case, he should again acknowledge the fact and explain why, since it is relevant to his argument. Alternatively, if it is not relevant to his argument, then he should refrain from making imflammatory and incorrect comments in an odd attempt to score rhetorical points.

Then again, my "should" comment depends on the purpose of these comment threads. Charlie? Are they intended as a forum for education and debate on the topics you mention in your posts, or are they merely to give people like Steve a place to unilaterally sound off? If the latter, then I will happily stop commenting. Until then, I will continue to point out factual errors and intellectual inconsistencies, for I enjoy it.

And Steve, I will look you up the next time I'm in New Mexico, unless you ask me not to. I am quite curious.

97:

Noel: I've not been following the debate hour-to-hour: I have other things in my life. (Feel free to stick around.)

As for the purpose of the thread ... I'm trying to host a discussion. The presence of certain parties who are in the habit of using megaphones (naming no names, Steve and JvP have been known to do this) does tend to skew things a bit.

(I suspect you've gathered that my own politics are far to the left of most of the American posters around here ...)

98:

Charlie: Thanks! I will, then.

Re your politics: /far/ to the left? I guess I'd need to identify the American posters around here, but you're not all that far to my left.

Single-payer health care, confiscatory inheritance taxes, sharp rises in marginal income tax rates for high earners (but with correspondingly large French-style child exceptances), and expanding Social Security above $90,000 for both contributions and benefits. (Although two out of three are already SOP for your great country, so maybe it doesn't count.) Plus, of course, all the stuff you believe in that's not really exactly "left," of course, you know, like civil liberties and the separation of church and state.

I suppose that occasionally I do flirt with the idea that there are realistic conditions under which it is possible to pull off successful "liberal imperialism," but if I didn't at least consider the idea, then I wouldn't be following my current research agenda. So I'm not sure that counts. Plus, I'm not sure that the idea isn't really, at heart, quite a lefty one.

And I do like free trade, but mostly because I don't like the idea of condemning African peasants to further poverty than anything else. In fact, I used to be rather libertarian, but only because I really did think that less government intervention would lead to a more egalitarian environment. (Don't ask. I was young.)

Are you to my left?

99:

I'm an American poster, and I suppose Charlie is to the left of me in a number of areas, though not all. Steve and I do tend to agree on many things, though I think he has a rather Hobbesian while I'm more Lockean. When I'm being utopian I'm a market anarchist, but more practically I'm a moderate interventionist libertarian.

100:

Anyway, Steve is wrong on two empirical points. First, the fastest-growing religion in the United States is ... none. I draw no conclusions, but it seems that he should acknowledge the trend, even if he thinks it won't continue.

I think Steve's argument is not that more people are becoming religious, but that people who are already religious are becoming moreso. It's a matter of people who were raised Catholic or Methodist but only went through the motions of it converting to more dynamic and versions of the regligion, like Evangelicals or Pentacostals.

Lots of these Evangelical churches are not associated with a larger denomination, and tend to be undercounted in surveys.

101:

Noel: Are you to my left?

I notice that you left out social and foreign policy issues, so I don't know. Certainly on the domestic/fiscal side we're about level-pegging. Wrt. the UK, I'd like to see a rise in the threshold for the current top rate of income tax -- it's 40% and cuts in at £32,000 a year or thereabouts (from memory), and that's too low -- but I'd also a series of higher tax bands reintroduced. Make them logarithmic; the current widening gap between CEO and worker pay is damaging to the cohesion of society and needs to be fixed, if necessary with a big stick.

Andrew G: the polarization of the religious groups into unobservant/functionally agnostic and hyperactive/highly committed is something that happened in the UK Jewish community, beginning about two generations ago. The current demographic projections are for Judaism to become near-as-dammit functionally extinct in the UK by 2100, through a combination of marrying out/loss of religion on one hand (I'm in that group -- in fact, of my generation in my family not one has married another Jew or remained religiously observant) and consolidating within the extreme ultra-orthodox movement on the other hand. (And the U-O tend to clump together in small communities and/or emigrate to Israel or the United States, hence the projected lack of Jews in the UK.)

Long term, as we collectively adapt to the massive future shock that was delivered by the industrial revolutions, I suspect we (the human species) are going to see the Abrahamic religions in general going the same way. They're just not a good model for living successfully in an industrial or urban world.

102:

Long term, as we collectively adapt to the massive future shock that was delivered by the industrial revolutions, I suspect we (the human species) are going to see the Abrahamic religions in general going the same way. They're just not a good model for living successfully in an industrial or urban world.

Perhaps, but I'm not sure there are other religions out there that would do as good a job that could provide the same comforts and benefits to most people. Deism works, but it's rather dismal for most people.

Out of all the "modern" religions, the only one that really seems better for people than any of the old ones is Unitarianism -- and they just do that by being a Big Tent religion. Other religions like Mormonism or Scientology don't really seem to be any better to me. And Wicca is almost an anti-industrial religion, a revival of folk animism clothed in revised myth.

There are non-theistic religions and philosophies I suppose, like Buddhism and Humanism. Buddhism comes with a lot of baggage though, and Humanism seems to be lacking something.

103:

Andrew G: there is a religion out there that delivers the goods -- science. Not science as in the scientific method and the tiresome technical stuff some of us spent a good chunk of years studying, but science as it filters through into the perceptions of the [largely uneducated] public -- in other words, the sociological role science fits into in post-Enlightenment western societies.

Science fictions as a very Catholic religion, interpreted by white-coated priests, and it tells them how things are, and funnily enough, it delivers prosperity. What's better about it is, you don't even have to believe much or study things; it just keeps ticking along in the background.

Seriously, most people don't understand the scientific method or how science works or in fact much of anything about it -- the level of general ignorance in the public at large is staggering. Nevertheless, over the past couple of centuries it has achieved the same level of authority as a major religion -- not unquestioned, but hard to question -- because the public at large have slotted it into their mental niche for "religion -- syncretist and universal".

104:

NB: I'm not saying that science is a religion! Rather, the scientifically uneducated relate to science as if it was a religion.

105:

Andrew G- "I'm a moderate interventionist libertarian."

Can you explain some more about this viewpoint? It almost sounds self contradictory.

I think Charlies right about large chunks of the population relating to science as if were a religion. Its a real pain in the backside though. And some of the rest of the population dont think science does much at all.

106:

I'm moderate in that I'd like to see real results now, even if that means compromise. I'd also like to gradually reduce the size and role of the government, as appropriate. An evolutionary rather than revolutionary change. On a practical matter than means I'm in favor of things like minimum wage, a degree of taxation, some environmental and other regulations, etc.

I say I'm an interventionist to set myself apart from the more usual isolationist ideas of libertarians. I think the US should take a leading role in world affairs, and work to topple totalitarian regimes around the world. So I'm in favor of the goals of the war in Iraq, if not the means. To use an analogy, I think it's wrong to pat yourself on the back that you only use violence in self defense while your neighbor is beating up his wife and kids.

107:

Charlie: it's hard to say, regarding social and foreign policy issues. They often tend to be transient, and it's not always easy to say which is "left" and which is "right." On the hot-button issues of the day, however, I suspect we mostly see eye-to-eye.

I have a soft-spot for universal military service, but it's so far off-the-table that it's really more of a eccentricity than a position. Plus, is it a lefty or righty stance? Both, in fact.

As I mentioned, I do have that niggling feeling that "liberal interventionism" or "progressive imperialism" or "global meliorism" or what have you can greatly improve human well-being. I could be wrong, however, and recent events have caused me to move rather far away from Andrew's position because, sadly, it seems that we don't really know what's going on in some of those families and we don't have the resources or the will to take care of the kids.

In other words, I'm not sure that the world wouldn't have been better served --- and overall human suffering reduced --- by a purely cynical deal with Saddam along the lines of: "You admit 3,000 permanent armed agents who are going to run around and hassle you, and agree to sell us oil at $2 a barrel under the world price. In return, keep on with whatever other horrors you've got brewing."

108:

Asserting that "Hitler was an atheist, so his anti-semitism wasn't Christian" is a thin fig-leaf

-- well, no, it's a pretty thick one, more like a banana frond.

Hitler wasn't only an atheist, he and his movement were militantly anti-Christian and intended to destroy the Christian churches.

If I could follow up on SM Stirling's comment with some additional facts. The Nazis, Hitler especially, despised Christianity as a belief fit only for weaklings, not for the coming amoral Superman (that they misread Nietzsche on this issue is besides the point). With the possible exception of Himmler and his bizarre paganism, the Nazi ruling circle was composed of atheists.

Though he called himself a Christian in Mein Kampf and in several speeches, it is well to remember that these were pronouncements for public consumption and were made by a consummate liar/politician. No politician could have hoped to get himself elected in Weimar Germany as a self proclaimed atheist. In his public pronouncement concerning his religious faith, Hitler did the sensible thing, he lied.

For his real views on the subject see his Table Talk, surreptitiously recorded by Martin Borman and never intended for the public. These statements represent his real views (more on this below). Statements made in confidence to a circle of cronies is obviously a better indicator of the man's thinking than statement made to woo the public.

Hitler had every intention of destroying the Christian faith and replacing it with Nazism when the time was ripe. His accommodations with the Roman Catholic Church and German Protestant churches were purely tactical. For a more in depth look at this issue see the OSS post war report on Nazism and the churches at www.lawandreligion.com run by Rutgers University. For a shorter version, see pages 477-478 of Weinberg's A World at Arms (IMHO the best single volume history of the war). Religious faith was the common enemy of atheistic regimes of both the far right and the far left.

An historical article from Christianity Today sums up the conclusions of the OSS report quite nicely:

Donovan's Nuremberg report undermines the assertion, made by Feldman and so many others, that because several key Nazis had ties (however tenuous) to a church, and because the Nazis advanced insidious policies, then those insidious policies must be inherently Christian. To what extent elements of popular Christian ideology fed Hitler's anti-Semitism is a separate and valid question, but the "if A then B" connection fails because insidious anti-Christian policies do not fit the syllogism above. A plan to eradicate Christianity can hardly be construed as Christian, and persons supporting such a plan can hardly be considered believers of any standing.

Now, as for Hitler's Table Talk... Outside of the officially atheist Soviet Union, what politician in the 1930s would publicly admit to being an atheist? Let me repeat for emphasis, Hitler was a skilled politician and a consummate liar (the two often go together). Mein Kampf was for public consumption and expressed only those views most likely to get him elected. To really understand what such a man believes, it is necessary to view those words that were not intended for public consumption, as historian Hugh Trevor-Roper makes clear:

We must go direct to Hitler's personal utterances: not indeed to his letters and speeches-- these, though valuable, are too public, too formalised for such purposes-- but to his private conversations, his Table-Talk. Table-Talk, like notebooks, reveal the mind of a man far more completely, more intimately, than any formal utterance.

In Table Talk the following statements on Christianity by Hitler will be found:


The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity's illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew. The deliberate lie in the matter of religion was introduced into the world by Christianity. Bolshevism practises a lie of the same nature, when it claims to bring liberty to men, whereas in reality it seeks only to enslave them.

Christianity is a rebellion against natural law, a protest against nature. Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure.

Being weighed down by a superstitious past, men are afraid of things that can't, or can't yet, be explained-that is to say, of the unknown. If anyone has needs of a metaphysical nature, I can't satisfy them with the Party's programme. Time will go by until the moment when science can answer all the questions.

Christianity, of course, has reached the peak of absurdity in this respect. And that's why one day its structure will collapse. Science has already impregnated humanity. Consequently, the more Christianity clings to its dogmas, the quicker it will decline.

A movement like ours mustn't let itself be drawn into metaphysical digressions. It must stick to the spirit of exact science. It's not the Party's function to be a counterfeit for religion.

If in the course of a thousand or two thousand years, science arrives at the necessity of renewing its points of view, that will not mean that science is a liar. Science cannot lie, for it's always striving, according to the momentary state of knowledge to deduce what is true. When it makes a mistake, it does 10 in good faith. It's Christianity that's the liar. It's in perpetual conflict with itself.

The reason why the ancient world was so pure, light and serene was that it knew nothing of the two great scourges: the pox and Christianity.

Pure Christianity-the Christianity of the catacombs-is concerned with translating the Christian doctrine into facts. It leads quite simply to the annihilation of mankind. It is merely whole- hearted Bolshevism, under a tinsel of metaphysics.

I adopted a definite attitude on the 21st March '933 when I refused to take part in the religious services, organised at Potsdam by the two Churches, for the inauguration of the new Reichstag.

Our epoch will certainly see the end of the disease of Christianity. It will last another hundred years, two hundred years perhaps. My regret will have been that I couldn't, like whoever the prophet was, behold the promised land from afar.

The fact that I remain silent in public over Church affairs is not in the least misunderstood by the sly foxes of the Catholic Church, and I am quite sure that a man like the Bishop von Galen knows full well that after the war I shall extract retribution to the last farthing. And, if he does not succeed in getting himself transferred in the meanwhile to the Collegium Germanium in Rome, he may rest assured that in the balancing of our accounts, no "T" will remain uncrossed, no "I" undotted!

Christianity is an invention of sick brains.

Yes Virginia, Hitler and the Nazis were atheists.


109:

Sorry I screwed up the italic quotes on the last post, I hope it doesn't make reading it difficult.

110:

A common rebutal from atheists when confronted witht he mass murder committed by the atheistic regimes of the 20th century is to bring up the inquisition.


From Prof. Rummel's study on "Deomocide" by totalitarian regimes of the 20th century:So, the famine was intentional. What was its human cost? I had estimated that 27,000,000 Chinese starved to death or died from associated diseases. Others estimated the toll to be as high as 40,000,000. Chang and Halliday put it at 38,000,000, and given their sources, I will accept that. Now, I have to change all the world democide totals that populate my websites, blogs, and publications. The total for the communist democide before and after Mao took over the mainland is thus 3,446,000 + 35,226,000 + 38,000,000 = 76,692,000, or to round off, 77,000,000 murdered. This is now in line with the 65 million toll estimated for China in the Black Book of Communism, and Chang and Halliday's estimate of "well over 70 million." This exceeds the 61,911,000 murdered by the Soviet Union 1917-1987, with Hitler far behind at 20,946,000 wiped out 1933-1945.

The total for the three largest atheist regimes of the 20th century (Stalinist, Nazi and Maoist) comes to approximately 160 million over 70 years. This does not include mass murder by secondary Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, the Khmer Rouge and other totalitarians. AN Wilson is correct, the horrors of the 20th century stem from atheism and were carried out by atheists.

As for the Inquisition, from an FAQ on the Inquisition:How many were executed by the Spanish Inquisition? By most standards, the records of the Spanish Inquisition are spectacularly good and a treasure trove for social historians as they record many details about ordinary people. Nothing like all the files have been analysed but from the third looked at so far, it seems the Inquisition, operating through out the Spanish Empire, executed about 700 people between 1540 and 1700 out of a total of 49,000 cases. It is also reckoned that they probably killed about two thousand during the first fifty years of operation when persecution against Jews and Moslems was at its most severe. This would give a total figure of around 5,000 for the entire three hundred year period of its operation.

Technically speaking, the Inquisition never killed anyone as it handed over the vistims to the civil authorities who carreid out the deed. Technicalities aside, remember this was an age where everyone from Aztec to Presybterian to Catholic, to Shiite, to Lutheran to Shinto killed for religious reasons. "Good Queen Bess" killed far more Catholics than "Bloody Mary" killed Protestants, Elizabeth got better press in the English history books.

Overall, the total dead from all the witch burnings (though they existed, the so-called "burning times" are a myth), jihads, crusades and inquisitons in history pale in comparison to what athiests (and the deists of the French revolution's Terror) managed to acomplish in a few short decades.


111:

On the subject of low secular birth rates, I'd like to add my 2 cents. If you want to blame something, blame urbanization. It's just too darned expensive to raise a large family in an urban environment. I heard an NPR report a few weeks ago on the cost of housing in SF. The average home price is $800,000. Apparently if you live in a high population density city you can afford a mortgage or you can have kids, but since kids need a house anyway you can't have kids period. Same for Japan and Europe. By historical standards, both Japan and Europe should be classified as very large "cities". Indeed, there is an inverse correlation between urbanization and birth rates. And its all economic.

Children are not economic assets in cities like they are on farms. Families in cities (except when the cities serve a funnels for newly arrived immigrants, like New York at the turn of the last century) are always smaller than those in the country. Cities have always been population sinks that fill more graves than cribs each year (in the past this was aggravated by lack of sanitation and exposure to many more disease vectors - until the modern age life expectencies in cities was shorter than in the countryside). Cities have always needed a fresh influx of peasants from the countryside to maintain their populations. In very large cities the raising of children is very expensive and the children provide no direct economic assets to their parents in return. Not surprisingly, urban areas have low birth rates.

Additionally, cosmopolitan urban areas are where you find large numbers of secular liberals with religious conservative out in more insular rural areas. Urbanization is the cause of both secular liberalism and low birth rates. Exposure to a smorgasbord of religious beliefs (whether in ancient Alexandria or modern New York) has a tendancy to wear away religious certainty. Living in a big city drives home the need for liberal-style Big Government. For example, in cities you need sewer and water departments managing complex systems. In the country you can do with personal water wells and septic systems. City people are big government liberals because they experience big government not just as a good thing but as a neccessity.

As the world urbanizes, everyone including theocracies like Iran and Red states like Nebraska, experience declining populations. In fact, Iran's TFR is already below replacement and lower than France's. Iran, like most of the world (except for North America, Japan, Australia and Western Europe) will grow old before they can grow rich. Which is why the Iranian leadership is desparate to make their move to great power status now. In a generation it will be too late.

112:

A basic meta question for Charlie:

Stirling has shown conviningly that mainstream Islam is orders of magnitude more oppressive than even the most wild eyed fundy Christian.

So why is it that you save your vitriol for Christianity exclusively, with never a word of condemnation (and many an excuse made for) the abhorent behavior of Islam?

Why the blindess, why the hypocricy?

113:

Daniel, Hitler and the Nazis were Nazis. Their belief system was Nazism. The modernist political movements of the 20th century were, I would argue, notable for having the dynamics of religious belief systems: while the Soviets overtly espoused atheism, you couldn't progress within the system unless you believed (at least publicly).

As for why the vitriol for Christianity -- well, it was Christians who hounded my ancestors out of several countries and the Christian-inspired racism of the Nazis that killed off a branch of my family during WW2. They're generally closer to home and more threatening to me than Islam. Islam is also bad -- it's just a little lower down my personal priority tree. Finally, the current level of anti-islamic rhetoric in the west is a semi-respectable cover for absolutely vile racism directed against people because, to put it bluntly, they have the wrong skin colour. (Think I'm joking? The first person murdered in the USA after 9/11 because the killer "thought he was a muslim" was actually a Sikh.) This shit is cover for anti-brown racism, and it stinks.

Clue: I'm an antitheist and an anti-racist. I believe all religion is misguided superstitious claptrap. And I hold racists in exactly the same mis-esteem that I hold religious bigots.

114:

PS: I disagree strongly with your assertion that Stirling has shown anything at all about Islam. Steve and I differ fundamentally on this issue and his presence on this discussion thread does not indicate that I endorse his beliefs -- quite the opposite! We're having an argument (except I don't have the energy for it this month, due to (a) bronchitis and (b) gearing up to move house).

115:

Noel, I find your style so insanely irritating (and there's the history to consider as well) that if you said the sun was going to rise tomorrow I could not bring myself to agree. I suspect the reverse is also true.

That's why I asked you to _kindly_ not to read, address, comment upon, or reply to my posts. I'll do the same if you will, and Charlie will be spared the ugly consequences which will inevitably result if we do otherwise.

Out of courtesy to Charlie, please follow this suggestion.

Pretend I don't exist. I'll pretend you don't exist.

116:

Umm... last time I looked, Tunisians and Syrians were the same "race" as Sicilians and Greeks; Mediterranean white people. Absent cultural clues, you usually can't tell them apart.

117:

Daniel: Urbanization is the cause of both secular liberalism and low birth rates.

-- that's bass-ackwards. People tend to move to places that suit their sensibilities.

The locus of religious enthusiasm in the US today isn't among farmers; it's in the "exurbs" and "edge cities" and other low-density but indisputably urban environments.

118:

Charlie: They [Christians] generally closer to home and more threatening to me than Islam. Islam is also bad -- it's just a little lower down my personal priority tree.

-- that's... boggle. Boggle, boggle, boggle.

119:

Charlie,

The terrorists were and are Muslims, their ideology is Islam.

How can an anti-Christian organization determine to eventually destroy Christianity be Christian inspired? Hitler was inspired by Darwin, not Christ.

There is no such thing as complete lack of belief. Non belief is itself a belief for the same reasons that not making a choice is itself a choice. Atheism in power has always been a kind of religion - it can't be otherwise.

As for personal history, branches of my family were killed by Cromwell's Puritans and driven from the "Old Sod" to America by English imperialists. The 800 years of English overlordship in Ireland are comparable to the worst of the pogroms and persecutions suffered by other European minorities. Yet for some reason I cannot summon up any vitriol for the English in general or Puritans in particular - despite what their New Model Army did in places like Drogheda.

To be anti-Islamic is to be no more anti-brown than being anti-Nazi is the same as being anti-blond-hair-and-blue-eyes. For the record Islam is a belief system, NOT a race. There are plenty of blond and blue eyed Muslims in the world.

As for your argument with Stirling, I look foreard to an eventual riposete from you. In the meantime I hope your PC fears of being labeled a racist by people who confuse belief with race don't blind you to a grave danger in your midst.

120:

People tend to move to places that suit their sensibilities.

People tend to move to places that suit their pocketbooks. Nobody (except the very wealthy) paying off an $800,000 mortage can afford to raise a family, let alone a large family. You will have no idea just how expensive kids are until you have some of your own and you have to pay for braces, dancing lessons, tuition, etc.

The locus of religious enthusiasm in the US today isn't among farmers; it's in the "exurbs" and "edge cities" and other low-density but indisputably urban environments.

Well the locus isn't among farmers because there are damn few real farmers left in this land of the agribusiness. The truth remains, there is an inverse correlation between relgious belief and population density. That famous red/blue state map of the American election is misleading. What is instructive is the county-by-county version of the same map with cities like Omaha and Memphis in the heart of "Red America" being solidly Blue and rural/suburban counties in New Jersey, New York and the rest of "Blue America" being decidedly Red.

121:

People tend to move to places that suit their pocketbooks. Nobody (except the very wealthy) paying off an $800,000 mortage can afford to raise a family, let alone a large family. You will have no idea just how expensive kids are until you have some of your own and you have to pay for braces, dancing lessons, tuition, etc.

That's both true and not true -- people are limited in where they can live by their jobs. Oklahoma's dirt cheap, but good luck finding a job in most fields that pays well.

And house prices only tell half the story -- expensive areas also pay well and while you may not afford much house you can afford a nice new car, college for you kids, vacations, etc.

122:

Um, Mr Duffy, Hitler wasnt inspired by Darwin, any more than all the racists before Darwin were inspired by Darwin. Thats just another canard flung around by the religious fundamentalists who have a problem with science and evolutionary biology in particular.

124:

Daniel: The terrorists were and are Muslims, their ideology is Islam.

By your yardstick, I ought to be condemning Catholicism -- after all, that's the ideology the IRA subscribed to, and I've been evacuated from more venues due to IRA bombings than Islamicist bombings over the years.

There are 1.5 billion muslims. A very large number of them indeed are clearly not terrorists. Painting Islam as a "terrorist ideology" is unhelpful, to say the least.

I'm inclined to say that the real terrorists are the ones who killed 150,000-plus Iraqi civilians, and counting. But they're in the White House and Downing Street, and unlikely to be hauled in front of the international tribunal they so richly deserve.

125:

So the indirect deaths of 150k or so civilians in the process of ending terrorism and preventing even larger deaths in the future is terrorism and bad?

I find it odd that so much of the world is up and arms about a war of liberation and ending terror, while they virtually ignore things like Darfur. An Islamic government kills hundreds of thousands and displaces millions, and the bigest worry is that the US overthrew a couple dictatorships and some people got killed in the process?

126:

Steve: no. Not unless Charlie asks me to. What ugly consequences do you predict?

You often say things that appear to be contrary to fact and you make unfounded logical leaps. When you do, I will call you on it. I enjoy it. If my replies bother you, then you can stop posting. Or you can, like, show me why I'm wrong.

Andrew: I don't understand your implicit argument that the deaths of 150,000 civilians in Iraq (your figure) has prevented more deaths in the future.

Charlie: I hope you feel better! Where are you moving to?

127:

Andrew: I don't understand your implicit argument that the deaths of 150,000 civilians in Iraq (your figure) has prevented more deaths in the future.

I meant to say with the goal of preventing more deaths in the future. Though I've seen some figures that show the current death rate is lower than it was under Saddam rnation wide. Higher in Baghdad though. That could change if there's a bloody civil war and the US does nothing about it, however.

Of course, you have to believe that the end justifies the means to fully agree with me. Still, I think everyone can agree that the US's actions in Iraq are better than Sudan's in Darfur -- unless you think the West should be held to a higher standard than the less developed peoples of the world. I know that was a rather fashionable thought in the 19th century...

128:

Andrew: OK, I gotcha, with the caveat that I'm not sure what Gulf War 2's original goal actually was. I'm not sure that the man who ultimately ordered it knows either. Thank you for clarifying.

Regarding holding the West to higher standards: I'm not sure that's actually what's going on. Rather, people are angry about what they feel responsible for. The U.S. government is my government (regardless of who I voted for) and I'm angry about what they do in my name and with my taxes. In addition, I can channel my anger into useful actions. The Sudanese government is not my government, and in this case the only way I have to affect things is to get my government to invade them.

129:

Andrew: So the indirect deaths of 150k or so civilians in the process of ending terrorism and preventing even larger deaths in the future is terrorism and bad?

There was no real terror threat to the west in Iraq prior to the invasion. The invasion not only killed 150,000+ civilians -- it created a terrorist threat.

As for the high death rate in Iraq prior to the invasion, there was a little sanctions regime in place that, in a just world, would have seen its architects up in front of the international court of justice (next in the queue behind Mr Hussein). Hint: Iraq had a more-or-less viable public health system, before GHWB and his heirs decided to try starving the Ba'athists out by cutting off the supply of medicines and baby food.

I find it odd that so much of the world is up and arms about a war of liberation and ending terror, while they virtually ignore things like Darfur. An Islamic government kills hundreds of thousands and displaces millions, and the bigest worry is that the US overthrew a couple dictatorships and some people got killed in the process?

I note in passing that the Darfur mess wouldn't have happened if the US hadn't been locked in a pointless quagmire that also sucked in most of the available non-US western peacekeeping resources. Or maybe we should go back further and blame European imperialism for the fucked-up mess that is Africa today.

You appear to be getting your idea of what's going on in the world by following the mass media outlets in the US. That's a bad idea. The US mass media seem unable to handle the possibility that maybe their country doesn't always do the right thing.

130:

"You appear to be getting your idea of what's going on in the world by following the mass media outlets in the US. That's a bad idea. The US mass media seem unable to handle the possibility that maybe their country doesn't always do the right thing.

You know, that's funny because the consensus of most people I know around here is that the US mass media is overly left-leaning, hates the war on terror, and is hurting US efforts in Iraq. :) With the exception of Fox, which goes way to far in the opposite direction.

Mostly I get it from RSS feeds of various sources, the Economist, Reason magazine, blogs. A mix of things.

As for the high death rate in Iraq prior to the invasion, there was a little sanctions regime in place that, in a just world, would have seen its architects up in front of the international court of justice (next in the queue behind Mr Hussein). Hint: Iraq had a more-or-less viable public health system, before GHWB and his heirs decided to try starving the Ba'athists out by cutting off the supply of medicines and baby food.

I do think Iraq has been mishandled since the first Gulf War -- so many wrong choices and missed opportunities! First we should have deposed Saddam back then. And if we didn't we should have been serious about backing up the anti-Saddam movements in the country. The whole oil-for-food and sanctions was a joke, you'd think we'd learn after Cuba that embargos don't work. Hell, you'd think we'd have learned they didn't work from the Embargo Act of 1807 where we tried to embargo Britain with no effect.

I note in passing that the Darfur mess wouldn't have happened if the US hadn't been locked in a pointless quagmire that also sucked in most of the available non-US western peacekeeping resources. Or maybe we should go back further and blame European imperialism for the fucked-up mess that is Africa today.

I'm not thinking so much of the lack of troops, but the relative lack of outrage I've seen compared to the US actions in Iraq or Israel's actions in Lebannon. People just seem to not care and expect that sort of thing in Africa... :(

I wouldn't blame European imperialism for the trouble in Africa today. I think things would have been better if they had create the new countries along tribal/ethnic lines rather than administrative. Of course, the Africans themselves might not have gone for that, the early liberation movements were often pan-ethnic. The failure of the Africans to create a multi-ethnic society following independence and the ongoing corruption in their governments are the most to blame.

131:

I would definitely heap some blame on us europeans for the state of Africa today. Thanks to IMperialism, pre-existing social networks and societies were broken up, and their economies reconfigured to permit us to get as much out of them as possible. The effects of this are still being worked through.
You have already mentioned some of the other factors involved.

132:

I think the biggest problem is the manner in which independence was gained. In most cases the Europeans set up their colonies without the thought that those colonies would one day be independent. Then independence came in a rather rushed, tense, and haphazard fashion. Few Africans had been trained and educated to lead their countries, at any level of government. Egypt and South Africa are both instances of a more orderly independence, and both countries have been more successful than many of the other nations in Africa. Morrocco might be another example, as it was a protectorate of France rather than a colony.

The timing of the independence movement with the Cold War didn't help matters either. Having the US and Soviets arming opposing sides did terrible things to the stability of the continent. Without the Soviets, Africa would be in better shape today.

133:

Andrew: "You know, that's funny because the consensus of most people I know around here is that the US mass media is overly left-leaning, hates the war on terror, and is hurting US efforts in Iraq. :) With the exception of Fox, which goes way to far in the opposite direction."

Andrew, that is entirely disconnected from reality. Have you watched either CNN or any of the main networks over the last few years? Do you read the "he said, she said" stories reported in the main newspapers?

There are also several studies of the topic, ranging in partisanship. You could read them.

But unless the smiley face means that you're joking --- which the subsequent sentence put in doubt --- then your statement really makes me doubt your judgment.

Charlie: the evidence is that you're wrong about the sanctions. The combination of the sanctions and Desert Fox appears to have decisively ended Saddam's expansionism and attempts to develop nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, the evidence for their humanitarian effects comes entirely from official Iraqi sources. U.N. teams did not confirm them; nor did Western reporters.

I'd be happy to take the presentation of the evidence to that effect off-line. Of course, the less the humanitarian impact of the sanctions, the stronger the argument against the war. The rate of violent deaths in Iraq today far exceeds the rate of executions carried out by the Saddam regime, and it would be hard to argue that the average Iraqi lives in less terror.

134:

Noel said it before I could, Andrew: the US media are all barkingly right-wing by the standards of the rest of the planet.

135:

But unless the smiley face means that you're joking --- which the subsequent sentence put in doubt --- then your statement really makes me doubt your judgment.

I'm not saying I agree or not. I think the mass media across most the world over simplfies issues to the point where it doesn't matter how true they are or not, they might as well be making up partisan propaganda. However, most people in the US feel the media is biased against their particular view.

To be more serious about the subject than I was earlier, liberals tend to think there's an overly large pro-conservative bias, while conservatives tend to think there's an overwhelmingly large liberal bias.

I stopped watching the news a long time ago, while Clinton was still on office.

I found Charlie's statment amusing because I hang around conservatives so much on the blogosphere and they're always going off about the liberal bias of the mass media.

The fun things about my views is that I don't agree with conservatives or liberals, so I don't even bother paying attention to who's biased against who.

136:

Noel said it before I could, Andrew: the US media are all barkingly right-wing by the standards of the rest of the planet.

I don't doubt it, most international news I read takes a different stance on things than US news. I'm not sure if I'd say it was always to the left, but it's usually different.

Of course, just because the US is to the Right of the world doesn't mean we're wrong. The best thing that could happen to the world is if it was made more like the US.

137:

Just for kicks, here are the regular RSS news feeds I get on my google home page: Slashdot, digg, Wired News, Ars Technica, Gizmodo, CNET News, Reason.com, CNN, Reuters top stories, Google top stories, BBC News World Edition, and Space.com.

Plus, things that people email or show up on mailing lists.

If a headline catches my eye, I usually read up on it from multiple sources just to get different views.

138:

Andrew, you should probably be a little more careful about what you write. Why, may I ask, would Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, or even France be better off if they were more like the U.S.?

And why wouldn't the U.S. be better off if we were more like Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, or France?

139:

Like Canada? Arguably yes. Denmark, New Zealand? Maybe. France? No. I glumly suspect the French may have an Intifada in their future.

140:

Of course, just because the US is to the Right of the world doesn't mean we're wrong. The best thing that could happen to the world is if it was made more like the US.

What, you want us to withdraw healthcare from 20% of our population, expand the proportion of citizens living in poverty by 200%, and make 1% of the population (yourself not included) very, very rich indeed?

Andrew, every time I visit the US I get more worried by how run down your public infrastructure is, how visible the poverty is, and how desperately deficient your public services are.

As Graydon Saunders commented, the US economy shifted from a wealth production model to a wealth concentration model about 40 years ago. It takes a couple of generations for the effect of that type of change to become fully visible, but the end product is more like Brazil than Japan.

Steven: I suspect the French "intifada" has already been and gone.

Interesting tid-bit: France and Germany assess their unemployment statistics differently from the USA. If you subtract the number of students in vocational training from their unemployed figure -- they're classed as "unemployed" in FR and DE, but as "not unemployed" in the US figures -- and add the prison populations of all three countries (people in prison aren't part of the general working population -- at best they're third-world slave labour that isn't wage-earning in any meaningful sense) you end up with virtually identical unemployment figures across the three economies, and higher per-capita GDP in France and Germany than in the US. Those French ghettos that were going up last summer and autumn? They're equivalent to the inner city projects in various US cities. France is about as likely to have an Intifada as the USA is likely to have a Black Uprising.

141:

France is about as likely to have an Intifada as the USA is likely to have a Black Uprising.

The race riots and other race problems of the 60s and 70s could happen to France. Just because we're not haveing a problem now doesn't mean it's not possible. France could easily have the same problems the US had then. Of course, that's nothing like the problems Israel has...

What, you want us to withdraw healthcare from 20% of our population, expand the proportion of citizens living in poverty by 200%, and make 1% of the population (yourself not included) very, very rich indeed?

Being poor in the US is better than being rich in 90% of the world. Poverty statistics don't give a good picture of things, there are very few who are desprately poor today. By the official statistics, the year with the fewest poor was 1973, which is insane. The middle class of 1973 would be considered poor by the standards of 2006.

I'm not sure what this focus on there being some super rich is, either. Good for them, most of them probably earned it, or their parents did. There's nothing wrong with being rich. I'd prefer 1% be super wealthy than no one.

As for healthcare, how long do those people have to wait for medical care? How many top surgeons are there? Who does the bulk of medical research in the world? I'd be in favor of expanding coverage for the poor, but not for the entire population.

142:

I realize I sound a bit crazy in my above post... apologies.

When looking at statistics for the US, it's good to keep in mind that it's a big, big place.

For instance, I make slightly above the average income for the United States, which is around $41,000. However, I live in a state where the average income is $47,000, making me a bit below average but still middle class.

However, to my relatives in Florida, where the average is $30,000, it seems like I make a lot more money and am upper middle class. My parents in Florida make as much as I do, for instance, but they have a much larger house and more spending money.

So you can't really say that a huge number of people are living in poverty without knowing where those poor are. Someone making $25,000 a year in New York or around where I live is poor, no doubt about it. Someone making $25,000 a year in Alabama is middle class and most likely has a nice apartment or perhaps their own home, a car, and plenty of spending money.

I was living quite comfortably as a recent grad on $20,000 a year in Florida, but had to cut back my lifestyle when I moved to Connecticut even though I was making $6,000 more!

So, basically, I don't buy Charlie's argument that the US is so bad and Europe is better.

143:

Andrew, you are arguing from a profound lack of knowledge, correct? You admit so yourself. The U.S. does worse on a plethora of health outcomes. The U.S. also does worse on a number of other indicators. Meanwhile, the poverty statistics in the U.S. are fairly clear-cut. It is, quite simply, $9,570 for a single person or $19,350 for a family of four. Your argument implies, correctly, that the poverty statistics understand the number of poor in the country as a whole, unless you want to tell me that a family of four living on $19,350 a year in Alabama isn't poor.

Of course, compared to the average family in Mexico, they're not. But compared to the average family in America in 1973, they certainly are.

It's harder to compare with Europe, since it makes a big difference how you calculate PPPs. Do you use the European consumption basket or the American one? Do you use European relative prices or the American one? Anyway, here are some facts.

http://www.lisproject.org/publications/liswps/417.pdf
http://www.lisproject.org/publications/liswps/409.pdf

If you look up health statistics, then the U.S. does even worse. It's quite awful.

Anyway, Andrew, you strike me as a rather young fellow who's going through that peculiarly-American jingoist-lbertarian phase. I was there myself. (Man, was I there. It's embarrassing to think about.) I used to recommend military service as a way out, although that doesn't seem quite as attractive anymore. Then again, some time in the Air Force or Navy never hurt anyone. Either way, I think you'll outgrow it, as your ideological framework grows less-and-less consistent with the evidence available to you.

144:

Charlie,

I truly hope you are right about France. It is probably a stretch to say that I admire France, but unlike most Americans, I am well aware of the debt the USA owes to France for the USA's very existance. We owe the French our respect, at a minimum.

But I do fear that the French have still not begun addressing the problems that led to the recent riots.

145:

Andrew G-
Assuming you like some form os self determination for countries and large groups of people, the biggest problem with IMperialism is the invasion and removal of self determination from the subject nation. Poor independence arrangements exacerbates the problem, since you are usually left with a fractured country with some educated elites often trying to run things to their own benefit.
Interestingly enough, I think some of these countries could have had better independence if they had been under our rule for longer, giving them time to build up the gvt and political and economic structures necessary to cope with independence. But of course that isn't the point of Imperialism.
You forgot that egypt especially had a long history of a gvt and an economic system that was much better developed than that of many central African countries. And South Africa was to some extent settled and run by westerners already, for long before it became a British possession. This means that both countries were more developed and mature in ways that made independence much better.
The point is that in order to experience some of the fruits of the current economic system, a country has to be fully integrated into it. Which requires a mostly literate populace, good communications, strong central gvt with a loyal army, and strong law enforcement.

Also, conversly, without the USA, much of Africa might be in a better state today than without the cold war.

146:

There are two problems with that.

One, obviously Christian extremists in Britain are not planting bombs in subways, etc, and generally commit far less violence despite their greater numbers.

Two involves the reason for One. As Bernard Lewis has pointed out, the historical accident of oil wealth landing in the laps of Wahhabists in Saudi Arabia has led to the creation of a vast network of mosques preaching a perverted, xenophobic version of Islam. Ironically, because of this, Muslim immigrants are generally more extreme than those in their former homelands, especially the second generation who is raised on it exclusively. The separation of church and state has actually made this worse in places like Germany, because the Wahhabists are more than happy to step in and fill the void (German Turks wanted to use Turkish Islamic textbooks, but were told that violate separation of church and state; guess whose textbooks they ended up using?).

147:

The U.S. does worse on a plethora of health outcomes.

Those are generally the product of lifestyle choices, not the quality of health care. When measured in terms of disease mortality, the U.S. does as well or better.

Your argument implies, correctly, that the poverty statistics understand the number of poor in the country as a whole, unless you want to tell me that a family of four living on $19,350 a year in Alabama isn't poor.

Of course, compared to the average family in Mexico, they're not. But compared to the average family in America in 1973, they certainly are.

Actually, that's certainly NOT true, because of productivity improvements. The poor family today is much more likely to have a color TV, washing machine, air conditioner, reliable autmobile, etc., not to mention all the things that didn't even exist back then, like computers, VCRs, iPods and Tivo. That has been demonstrated unequivocally by numerous studies. Additionally, they are more likely to have access to cheap food; our poor have an obesity problem.

Also, if you use American poverty standards, Europe has far worse poverty than the U.S. by virtually any measure, because even in the prosperous countries Europeans on average earn only about 75% of what Americans do.

148:

The rate of violent deaths in Iraq today far exceeds the rate of executions carried out by the Saddam regime, and it would be hard to argue that the average Iraqi lives in less terror.

None of that is even remotely close to accurate. It's amazing how ignorant war critics are about Saddamist Iraq.

Saddam executed some 30,000 people a year by most estimates. That's before we get into the several wars he started, which claimed another million lives at least. The conservative number of total killings attributed to the regime is usually about 2 million over 24 years, or about 83,000 per year, which would give us about 300,000 for the 3 1/2 years since the removal of Saddam even people were being killed at the same rate now (note that this is direct killings, not "excess deaths" as the Lancet study looked at). Not even the wildest fantasies of the antiwar crowd approach that, let alone exceed it. In fact, the antiwar Iraq Body Count finds 48,000. That's not even one average year under Saddam.

And the Index of Political Freedom found Iraq to have vastly more political freedom than under Saddam; Iraq is now rated as one of the most free countries in the region. Baghdad may seem more violent now, but remember under Saddam the murders went largely unreported.'

Finally, one shouldn't discount the fact that the Iraqi government is now at least nominally opposed to brutally slaughtering everyyone who disagrees with it. That it costs lives to get to that point is regrettable, but lives lost in that effort are surely less regrettable than those snuffed out to serve a dictator's ambition.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on August 27, 2006 1:03 PM.

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