Posts Tagged ‘Fundamentalism’

Radio 4 Series Challenging Stereotype that Religion and Science Are at War

June 12, 2019

According to next week’s Radio Times there’s a new, three-part series beginning on Radio 4 next Friday, 21st June, at 11.00 am, Science and Religion about the relationship between the two disciplines. From the pieces about in the magazine, it attacks the idea that science and religion are at war. The blurb for the programme’s first part, ‘The Nature of the Beast’, on page 131, says

Nick Spencer examines the history of science and religion and the extent to which they have been in conflict with each other. Drawing on the expertise of various academics, he begins by exploring what the relationship says about what it means to be human.

The paragraph about the programme on the preceding page, 130, by Sue Robinson, runs

Are science and religion at war? In the first in a three-part series, Nick Spencer (of Goldsmith’s, London, and Christian think-tank Theos) takes a look back wt what he terms the “simplistic warfare narrative” of these supposedly feuding disciplines. From the libraries of the Islamic world to the work of 13th-century bishop Robert Grosseteste in maths and natural sciences, Spencer draws on the expertise of a variety of academics to argue that there has long been an interdependence between the two. I felt one or two moments of consternation (“there are probably more flat-earthers [believing the earth to be flat] around today than there were back then…”) and with so many characters in the unfolding 1,000-year narrative, some may wish for a biographical dictionary at their elbow… I certainly did. Yet somehow Spencer produces an interesting and informative treatise from all the detail. 

We’ve waited a long time for a series like this. I set up this blog partly to argue against the claim made by extremely intolerant atheists like Richard Dawkins that science and religion are and always have been at war. In fact no serious historian of science believes this. It’s a stereotype that comes from three 19th century writers, one of whom was reacting against the religious ethos of Harvard at the time. And some of the incidents that have been used to argue that science was suppressed by the religious authorities were simply invented. Like the story that Christopher Columbus was threatened by the Inquisition for believing that the world war round. Er no, he wasn’t. That was all made up by 19th century author Washington Irvine. European Christians had known and accepted that the world was round by the 9th century. It’s what the orb represents in the Crown Jewels. The story that Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, in his debate on evolution with Charles Darwin, asked the great biologist whether he was descended from an ape on his mother’s or father’s side of the family is also an invention. It was written years after the debate by Darwin’s Bulldog, T.H. Huxley. A few years ago historians looked at the accounts of the debate written at the time by the students and other men of science who were there. They don’t mention any such incident. What they do mention is Wilberforce opening the debate by saying that such questions like evolution needed to be carefully examined, and that if they are true, they have to be accepted, no matter how objectionable they may be. Wilberforce himself was an extremely proficient amateur scientist himself as well as a member of the clergy. Yes, there was opposition from many Christians to Darwin’s idea, but after about 20 years or so most of the mainstream denominations fully accepted evolution. The term ‘fundamentalism’ comes from a book defending and promoting Christianity published as The Fundamentals of Christianity published in the first years of the 20th century. The book includes evolution, which it accepts.

Back to the Middle Ages, the idea that this was a period when the church suppressed scientific investigation, which only revived with the Humanists of the Renaissance, has now been utterly discredited. Instead it was a period of invention and scientific discovery. Robert Grosseteste, the 13th century bishop of Lincoln, wrote papers arguing that the Moon was responsible for the tides and that the rainbow was produced through light from the sun being split into various colours by water droplets in the atmosphere. He also wrote an account of the six days of creation, the Hexaemeron, which in many ways anticipates the ‘Big Bang’ theory. He believed that the universe was created with a burst of light, which in turn created ‘extension’ – the dimensions of the cosmos, length, width and breadth, and that this light was then formed into the material and immaterial universe. Medieval theologians were also often highly critical of stories of demons and ghosts. The 12th century French bishop, William of Auxerre, believed that nightmares were caused, not by demons, but by indigestion. If you had too big a meal before falling asleep, the weight of the food in the stomach pressed down on the nerves, preventing the proper flow of vital fluids.

The Christian scholars of this period drew extensively on the writings of Muslim philosophers, scientists and mathematicians, who had inherited more of the intellectual legacy of ancient Greece and Rome, along with that of the other civilisations they had conquered, like Persia and India. Scholars like al-Haytham explored optics while the Bani Musa brothers created fascinating machines. And Omar Khayyam, the Sufi mystic and author of the Rubaiyyat, one of the classics of world literature, was himself a brilliant mathematician. Indeed, many scientific and mathematical terms are taken from Arabic. Like alcohol, and algorithm, which comes from the Muslim scholar al-Khwarismi, as well as algebra.

There have been periods of tension between religion and particular scientific doctrines, like the adoption of the Copernican system and Darwin’s theory of evolution by Natural Selection, but the relationship between science and religion is rich, complex and has never been as simple as all out war. This should be a fascinating series and is a very necessary corrective to the simplistic stereotype we’ve all grown up with.


Refuting Anti-Semitism Smears with the Reasonableness Test: Part Two

May 25, 2018

The claims that some of the comments made by critics of Israel are anti-Semitic because of their imagery and language used also reminds me very strongly of the claims made by some of the paranoid conspiracy theorists themselves. For example, Israel has constructed a wall around itself designed to keep the Palestinians out. This is very controversial, and the great British caricaturist, Gerald Scarfe, drew a cartoon of the Israelis building it using the blood of the Palestinians as mortar. The picture was published either in the Independent, or the I. The Israeli ambassador, an odious creep called Mark Regev, immediately declared that the cartoon was anti-Semitic. The inclusion of blood in the picture was a reference to the Blood Libel, the murderous lie that Jews kill Christians and use their blood in the matzo bread at Passover.

In fact, the cartoon contained no reference to this vile libel. There were no references to either the Passover, matzo bread or ritual murder. It was purely about the wall, and the Israelis’ butchery of the Palestinians. But the accusation had the intended effect. The I or Independent caved in and made an apology. But blood and its imagery is a very common image used to portray the brutality of oppressive, violent regimes and groups of all types around the world. It is certainly not confined to Jews. Regev was, of course, making the accusation of anti-Semitism to close down a graphic portrayal of the Israeli state’s brutality, as the Israel lobby has been doing to its critics since the 1980s. But his accusation bears less relation to objective fact than to some of the really paranoid theories that have circulated around America about secret cabals of Satanists plotting to destroy American society from within.

One of these, which surfaced c. 1982, concerned Proctor and Gamble and their logo, as shown below.

As you can see, this shows a ‘Man in the Moon’ surrounded by thirteen stars. According to the rumour, which was boosted through its inclusion by several Southern fundamentalist Christian preachers in their sermons, the imagery reveals that the company is run by Satanists. The thirteen stars represent the thirteen members of a witches’ coven, and the ‘Man in the Moon’ is really Satan himself. Especially as the curls of the figures hair is supposed to show the number 666, the number of the Beast, the Antichrist, in the Book of Revelations. See the illustration below, where I’ve circled where I think these ‘Satanic’ curls are.

Now if you applied the rule adopted by the lawyers for the Israel lobby to the imagery here, you could argue that it is fair to accuse Proctor and Gamble of Satanism, because that’s how its logo and its imagery has struck thousands of Americans. But you be ill-advised to do so, because the company vehemently denies any Satanic connections. It’s actually a patriotic symbol, with the thirteen stars representing the thirteen founding colonies of the USA. The company has also redesigned the logo to iron out those curls, so that they no longer appear to show 666, and engaged the services of other right-wing fundamentalist preachers, like Jerry Falwell, to show that the company is not run by Satanists. They also have a very aggressive legal policy, so that if you do claim that they’re a bunch of Satanists, they will sue. And I very much doubt that the court will be impressed by claims that the company must be Satanic, ’cause somebody can think that looking at their logo.

This is real, Alex Jones, tin-foil hat stuff. And stupid rumours of Satanic conspiracies have real consequences for ordinary people, just like the smears of anti-Semitism have been used to damage the lives and reputations of decent people. We have seen people falsely accused of child sacrifices and abuse, based on no more than fake recovered memories, in scenes that could have come out of the Salem witch hunt back in the 17th century. Some of them have even gone to prison. This is why it is absolutely important that people are always considered innocent until proven guilty, and that accusations of Satanic ritual abuse, and anti-Semitism, should always be held to objective, not subjective standards. The rule that such accusations must be believed, because somebody may think that a person is a Satanist or racist, simply on the way a comment subjectively strikes them, only leads to terrible injustice.

The Israel lobby here are showing the same paranoid psychology that permeates the racist, anti-Semitic extreme right. The type of people, who search the newspapers and other texts looking for proofs that the Illuminati really do run the world. Or that the Zionist Occupation Government really has taken over America and the West, and is attempting to destroy the White race through racial intermixing. Or that Communists have burrowed into the American government.

One of the proofs of this last conspiracy theory was the tiny lettering on the Roosevelt dime. Just below FDR’s neck and extremely small, were the letters ‘JS’. According to the rumour, the letters stood for ‘Joe Stalin’. This rumour first appeared in the Cold War, in 1948, when the scare about ‘Reds under the bed’ was just beginning. But it’s completely false. Oh, the letters are there, but they don’t stand for Stalin. They’re the initials of the coin’s designer, John Sinnock. You can claim all you want that the claim is subjectively true, because liberalism and the welfare state = Communism, or some such similar right-wing bilge. But it wouldn’t stand up in a court of law.

And some Christian fundamentalists in America have also seen in the colours used by state roads signs evidence of a conspiracy to put them in concentration camps. Back in the 1990s there was a rumour panic going around about the colours used in spots adorning the highway signs in Pennsylvania. These were supposed to show the location of the concentration camps, in which true Christians would be incarcerated when the Communists or one world Satanic conspiracy came to power. In fact they showed no such thing. The state’s highway department used the dots as a colour code to mark the year the sign was first painted. This was to show how old the sign was, and so indicate when it should be repainted.

Continued in Part Three.

Trump Brings Armageddon Closer by Moving American Embassy to Jerusalem

December 8, 2017

And this is exactly what Christian Zionist millennialists like Tim Lahaie want.

Yesterday, Trump announced that he was going to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This is what the Israelis have been demanding for years, but previous administrations have not given into them, because they were very much aware that this would set off a powder keg of rage and hostility across the Middle East. Jerusalem was taken from the Palestinians, and still contains a sizable Arab population. The Israeli nationalist right would love it to be the capital of their nation, but it is also claimed by the Palestinians.

There have been mass protests and riots against Trump’s decision all over the Middle East. RT yesterday put up this footage of Israeli squaddies or the police trying to put down protesters or rioters in Bethlehem yesterday.

And politicians from across the political spectrum have condemned Trump’s decision, from Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon to Theresa May and Boris Johnson.

May’s condemnation is far less full than one would wish. As you can see, she doesn’t condemn it because it’s a rubbish decision. She only condemns it because it hasn’t been made according to the proper decision making process. As for Boris, he optimistically says that it’s good that the Americans are committed to the two-state solution. In fact, the Palestinians aren’t happy with the two state solution, for the simple reason that the Israelis will keep stringing them and the rest of the world along with it, while taking whatever remains of Palestinian land. The aim now is to demand an end to Israeli apartheid and the full rights of Palestinians as equal Israeli citizens. But as this would threaten Israel’s existence as a racial ethno-state, there’s going to be profound opposition to this.

The Young Turks have also weighed in on this issue. In the video below, Cenk Uygur and John Iadarola explain just why it’s a bad idea. They point out that it’s been mooted before, and there were a series of resolutions passed in both houses of Congress in the 1990s. But then somebody pointed out what would happen if they did. They state that it’s an incendiary situation, because Jerusalem is a holy city to Christians, Jews and Muslims, and that many of them will not want to see all of the city and its shrines placed under Israeli rule. Uygur also points out that for some Christian Zionists, an apocalyptic war is exactly what they want. They believe that there will be a final battle between the forces of good and evil when one of the mosques in Jerusalem is destroyed. This will lead to a nuclear holocaust, following which Christ will return.

Uygur follows this with an atheist rant, which I don’t agree with. But he states that even though he doesn’t believe in the prophecy, it has to be taken seriously because others do, and they are willing to fight and kill for it. He concludes by making the point that it’s just Islam that’s the problem. It’s also Christian fundamentalism. To which Iadarola adds that ‘Fundamentalism is the problem’.

I know a number of people, who hold a very literal view of the Creation story in Genesis, and who could be fairly described as ‘Fundamentalist’. They’re good people. But Uygur is absolutely right about the dangerous, apocalyptic views of the Christian Zionist right. Christian Zionism began in the 19th century, because it was believed that if ancient Israel was restored, Our Lord would return to Earth to usher in the Millennium. In the 1980s this morphed into a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union. Now it’s become a war between Israel and Christendom versus Islam.

One of the leaders of American Christian Zionism is Tim LaHaie. LaHaie is one of the authors of the Left Behind series of novels, in which the Rapture has occurred and all the righteous have been taken to heaven in preparation for the rise of the Antichrist and the Tribulation, before Christ’s return and the overthrow of Satan. The novels were a massive hit amongst the American Christian readership, and were turned into a film/TV series.

But not only are these views extremely dangerous, they’re also abysmally bad theology. The Church Fathers in the Early Church were acutely aware of the temptation of some Christians to try to force events, and were very much against it. Furthermore, the Millennialists predictions depend on a very specific reading of the Book of Revelation. The Book of Revelation is not easy to interpret as very much of it is in symbolism and imagery that was probably well-known to Mediterranean Jewish Christians, but has been lost to us over time. The mainstream view is that the book is part prophecy, part commentary on contemporary events. The ‘Beast 666’ is believed to have been Nero, the Greek version of whose name, Neron, has that value in the Gematria numerological system. Not only did Nero persecute Christians, as a young man he also used to dress up as a beast and go around with his fellow aristocratic yahoos attacking ordinary Roman citizens. So this is partly a commentary on the contemporary persecution of the Church in ancient Rome under Nero. However, the Book is also prophetic, in that it looks forward to the general resurrection of the dead at Christ’s return. But this will happen without there being a tribulation or apocalyptic battle beforehand.

If you’re a Christian, and wish to read more, then I heartily recommend you go over to Tekton Apologetics and look at J.P. Holding’s writings on this issue. Holiding’s a theologically Conservative, Protestant Christian with a literal view of Genesis. I don’t know what his political views are. For all I know, he might be a man of the right. But this doesn’t matter, because he has written very detailed, informed critiques of this dangerous, Millennialist nonsense, and is a very, very fierce critic of the Left Behind books, and the way they have dumbed down American Christianity.

Alex Jones Cries and Rants about British Mutant Gill Babies

July 26, 2017

More sheer, howling madness from Alex Jones of Infowars, the man for whom the term ‘fake news’ could have been coined. As I’ve mentioned before, Jones is a notorious conspiracy theorist, who hosts his own internet TV show where he claims that the people of America and the world are under attack from their own governments, determined to impoverish and enslave them. Those responsible for this nefarious project are the ‘globalists’, by which he means the elite 1 per cent, the major industrialists, politicians and world leaders. According to him, they are determined to create something very much like the one-world Satanic superstate of Christian Fundamentalist end-times demonology. The leaders of this conspiracy are involved in every kind of depravity imaginable, including child sacrifice and paedophilia. He appeared on Jon Ronson’s Channel 4 documentary Them: Adventures with Extremists, where he and Ronson sneaked into the annual meeting of America’s political and business elites at Bohemian Grove in California. Witnessing a bizarre playlet in which the participants burn an effigy of ‘Dull Care’, Jones and his followers immediately decided that the figure was a child being ritually sacrificed to Satan.

Jone’s has said a number of times that he doesn’t know if the ultimate forces behind the conspiracy to enslave humanity are demons or malign, extradimensional aliens. But he believes they really exist, whatever they are. Thus he accused Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton of being demonically possessed, and that Clinton was a participant in Satanic rituals involving eating human blood and other body fluids. He also had to make an apology and a very public retraction on air after he claimed that there was a paedophile ring supplying children to Democratic party politicos operating out of a pizza parlour in Boston. Of course there wasn’t. But that didn’t stop someone with a gun going into the place looking for the underground basement where they kept the kids prisoner. Fortunately, the owners were able to show him that no such dungeon existed, and no-one was shot. But it could very easily have gone the other way.

He also had to retract similar allegations made against the Turkish owner of a yoghurt factory. This company had a policy of hiring immigrants, including those from the Middle East. So Jones alleged that the firm’s boss was another paedophile, and that workers from his company were responsible for a spate of rapes in the area. No, the boss wasn’t, and his workers weren’t either. And after the factory boss consulted m’learned friends, as Private Eye calls them, Jones had to appear on air to state that, once again, he’d made a mistake.

As a member of the American Right, he’s firmly against gun control. He’s also against fluoride in the water, and seems to believe that there is some kind of UN plan to have their doctors castrate the male population. Quite apart from putting chemicals in the water to turn the frogs gay.

As well as enslaving us in refugee camps for the victims of natural disasters, Jones also believes, or claims to believe, that the globalists are trying to deprive us of our basic humanity. He denounced the gay rights movement as a ‘transhumanist space cult’ intending to create a genderless human being. Which really isn’t how the vast majority of gays and their supporters in their movement for equality see it at all. Away from sexual politics, Jones has frequently ranted about how the globalists plan to turn everyone into some kind of genetically engineered cyborg.

In this short clip, under a minute, Jones cries about how, when he was in Britain, he saw tanks full of babies and small children, who’ve been genetically engineered into fish people. They all had gills, and were swimming around, breathing under water.

I’ve put this up partly because it involves my home country, obviously. Jones has been to England. He appeared briefly on the Daily Politics with Andrew Neil, where he started yelling about the evils of gun control and how we would never crush good Americans and take their guns away. Or something like that. It ended with the camera pulling away from Jones to focus instead on Neil making the circular ‘nutter’ gesture by the side of his head.

I don’t know whether Jones has been to Blighty again or not. I’m absolutely sure, however, that he has not seen gilled, gene-engineered sprogs in tanks. I think there was a project to develop artificial gills in the 1907s – Duncan Lunan mentions it in his book, Man and the Planets – but that seems to have died the death of all scientific dead-ends. And a few years ago the BBC science documentary programme, Horizon, did cover experiments where animals were shown breathing in liquid. It wasn’t water, however. It was a special, oxygenated liquid, and the creatures didn’t have gills.

It also seems to me that he’s watched too much X-Files on DVD. The show’s central story arc was that there was a secret project to create human-alien hybrids in preparation for a final, alien invasion in which the normal human majority would be completely exterminated. The aliens and the hybrids were, of course, green blooded. As well as being extremely difficult to kill, the human-alien hybrids could also breathe under water. There’s a scene in one episode where Mulder and Scully look around a secret lab in an old warehouse, full of humans sleeping underwater in their tanks.

It’s a good question whether Jones actually believes any of the stuff he spouts. A few months ago his ex-wife sued for custody of their children. They were then living with Jones, who also his studio in his home. His former wife claimed that Jones was insane, and that watching their father rant about these bizarre and terrifying conspiracies, which existed only in his head, was damaging to their children’s mental health. Jones’ lawyer responded that he didn’t believe any of this nonsense, and that it was an act, or performance art. Which is sort of a confession that he’s a fraud.

My guess is that a fair number of Jones’ viewers don’t believe any of the stuff he comes out with, and watch Infowars in the same way people used to read the Weekly World News and its daft stories. Such as, ”Dad Was Bigfoot’, Says Beastie Man’, and a headline news story about a Grey alien giving his vote to Bill Clinton. Jones also probably realizes this, and doesn’t care. If you look on YouTube, there are number of videos explicitly labelled ‘Alex Jones Rants’, which seem to come from Jones or Infowars themselves.

And at least one British tabloid has run bogus stories on the same theme of secret genetic experimentation. Two decades ago, a couple of British newspapers also tried to go for the same market as the Weekly World News in the states. There was the Sunday Sport, now The Sport, and its story about a B-52 bomber being found on the Moon. The Daily Star also tried to plumb those depths. At the time, the Science Fiction chiller, Chimaera, was running on British television. This was a series about a journalist and female genetics engineer, who had uncovered a terrible secret plot to breed a human-chimpanzee hybrid to act as a new slave class. Although SF, the series is not as incredible as it seems. At one point Stalin was interested in creating such a ‘Humanzee’ hybrid to serve as soldiers in the Soviet Union.

While the series was running, the Star, if I remember correctly, carried a story, which claimed that similar genetic experiments were being carried out by the British government, and that their journalists had found laboratories containing elephants the size of rabbits. Well, they clearly hadn’t, although there certainly had been genetic experiments of a sort. This was the time of Dolly, the cloned sheep, and attempts to create a sheep-goat hybrid, experiments which made Chimaera and its plot all too plausible. However, the Star’s attempts to become even more stupid and bonkers than the Sport failed, according to Private Eye, and the wretched rag lost rapidly lost readers. They then had to make a complete volte-face, and go back to something resembling normal journalism. Jones’ tale of secret human experiments in British labs also hark back, consciously or not, to Chimaera and the daft story in the Star which it inspired.

While some people do see Jones as a joke, there is a very serious aspect to him and Infowars. Many people do take it seriously, as was shown by the incident at the Boston pizza parlour. And Jones was one of those backing Trump’s campaign for the presidency. He had the orange buffoon on his show several times, lauding him as the man, who would finally lead the revolt against the globalists. Which is quite ironic, if we’re talking about human-animal hybrids. Trump got very annoyed last year when the American comedian, Bill Maher, declared on his show that Trump was so orange, he must be half orangutan. Trump took the joke so seriously, he began waving his birth certificate around to show that both his parents were human, and threatened to sue for libel. Of course, in practice Trump has shown himself every bit as globalist as all the other politicians and businessmen, moving factories and parts of his business empire abroad to where he can exploit the cheap labour of workers in the Developing World.

As with the Star’s bogus stories about genetically engineered dwarf animals, I doubt anyone has been taken in by Jones’ nonsense about genetically engineered fish babies. But that doesn’t mean people don’t believe some of his nonsense, and he is having a destabilizing effect on American democracy through his promotion of the extreme right. However risible his stories are, Jones and his power to influence part of the American electorate have gone far beyond a joke.

The Euthanasia of the Elderly in Stephen Baxter’s ‘Titan’

July 18, 2017

A few days ago I put up a post about the nightmare, alternative future described by the British SF novelist Stephen Baxter in his novel, Titan. Baxter’s a writer of hard SF, a subgenre in which the fiction is nevertheless grounded in solid, known science fact, though often with an element of artistic license. Titan was written in 1995, and is partly set in the decaying America of the first decades of the 21st century. A militantly anti-science president, Maclachlan, has been elected with the support of the Ku Klux Klan and Christian fundamentalists. Maclachlan shuts down NASA for good after a shuttle disaster. The launch complexes are closed down. Those that aren’t demolished become simply tourist attractions, as do the agency’s headquarters and mission control. One of these, a museum to the Apollo moon landings, is altered so that it promotes instead the spiritual experiences many of the astronauts did have during their missions. Maclachlan also introduces legislation demanding that only the Aristotelian cosmology of Thomas Aquinas, with its crystal spheres, is taught in schools. What is left of the agency is given over to the USAF under the paranoid and nationalistic General Hartle, who is very much like the rogue American General Jack D. Ripper in Stanley Kubrick’s classic nuclear black comedy, Doctor Strangelove.

Against this, the agency attempts to launch one last, great space mission, a crewed voyage to Titan, where the Cassini probe has found evidence of active biological chemistry.

I commented in my post on the remarkable similarity between the policies of the fictional Maclachlan and Donald Trump. Maclachlan is fiercely nationalistic, and withdraws American peacekeepers from their stations around the globe, as well as pulling America out of NAFTA and the various other free trade agreements. America also pulls out of the World Bank and the IMF, and the UN is kicked out of New York. Like the real anti-Semites of the America Far Right, Maclachlan believes that the US is under ‘Israeli occupation’. Maclachlan also dismantles the country’s welfare programmes, especially those benefiting Blacks and other minorities, and starts building a wall with Mexico.

He also devises a policy to deal with America’s increasingly aging society: euthanasia chambers for the unwanted or neglected elderly. These are euphemistically called ‘Happy Booths’. There’s a very touching scene in which the last, fictitious surviving Apollo spaceman, Marcus White, is gassed to death in one of these chambers by a couple of nurses, who are every bit as malign as Nurse Ratchet in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. By this time, however, White is so confused with dementia, that he is lost in the delusion that he is back as a middle-aged man at NASA in his prime, suiting up and breathing the pure oxygen in preparation for another flight to the Moon.

This is interesting, as it completely turns on its head one of the truly despicable pieces of propaganda the Republicans were running ten years ago to make sure the American public didn’t get single-payer healthcare. Instead, we had Sarah Palin and the rest of the maniacs screaming that the introduction of single-payer healthcare, where all Americans would have free medical treatment financed by the state, would lead to ‘death panels’. Palin herself made a speech about how she didn’t want her children facing them. The idea was under a socialist system, medical care would be rationed. Those individuals deemed to be a waste of state money and resources, such as the elderly, would thus be humanely killed.

It was a disgusting piece of propaganda, based partly on the murder of the disabled in Nazi Germany. The Nazis were also pro-euthanasia, producing propaganda forms with titles such as I Don’t Want to Be Born. It was also based partly on the vile views of some of the founders of the Fabian Society, particularly H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw, who were very much in favour of eugenics and the sterilization of the biologically unfit.

Unfortunately, many Americans were taken in by this bilge. There was a BBC report on the truly horrific state of American healthcare, in which a clinic offering free treatment in California immediately attracted 50,000 + prospective patients. These are the 20 per cent of Americans, who couldn’t afford their private healthcare before the introduction of Obamacare. The Beeb’s reported also attracted the attention of Republican supporters, who’d believed all the rubbish they’d been fed by Palin and her stormtroopers. One of these was an elderly man, who rushed up to the Beeb’s crew and shouted ‘Your healthcare system stinks!’ When they politely asked him how so, he looked confused, and began to mutter about ‘death panels’.

There are no death panels in Britain, or anywhere else with a socialized, or state-funded medical system. As for Germany, state financing of medical treatment for the workers was introduced by Bismarck in the 1870s, nearly fifty years before the Nazis seized power. There is a problem, where dying individuals may be refused treatment of expensive and/or experimental drugs or other procedures on the NHS because the costs far exceed any chance of success. This is very much a controversial issue, as we’ve seen the past week with the parents fighting to send their dying son over to America for treatment. However, there are no death panels.

The ‘Happy Booths’ described in the book are a piece of artistic invention by Baxter. Conventional Christian morality rejects euthanasia for the same reasons it has traditionally ruled out abortion, except in certain very restricted circumstances. This is because both judge that there are certain forms of human beings, such as the unborn and the disabled, who are held not to have the same rights to life. If it is permitted to kill the disabled and the unborn, it is argued, there is a danger that the same attitude will spread to other groups also considered inferior, like the Jews and other ‘untermenschen’ in Nazi Germany. And Baxter is aware of this, as elsewhere in the book he describes how the British relative of one of the astronauts, stricken by CJD or ‘Mad Cow Disease’, is going to a euthanasia clinic even though their parents consider it unchristian.

A president dependent on the support of right-wing Christian fundamentalists would alienate a sizable part of his constituency if he did. What happens instead is that, through its hostility to state medicine and the welfare state, Republican politicians of Maclachlan’s type make it impossible for the poor, severely ill to support themselves. Hence Bernie Sanders’ chilling statistic that 50,000 Americans die each year because they cannot afford private medical treatment.

This is basically the same attitude of Tory party under David Cameron and Theresa May. They have extended the sanctions system and the Work Capability Tests to make it as difficult as possible for the unemployed and the disabled to quality for state support. The result of that has been that researchers at Oxford University found that in 2015 alone, 30,000 people died through the Tories’ austerity policies. And Mike over at Vox Political reported yesterday that, according to the Skwawkbox, there’s a nasty clause in Universal Credit, which means that the claimant has to find a job in two years, or they lose their benefit.


This is a right-wing ‘genocide of the disabled’, as Mike, Johnny Void, Stilloaks, Tom Pride and the Angry Yorkshireman have said on their blogs, and Jeffrey, one of the great commenters here, has said on this. But it’s carefully hidden. The victims aren’t actually killed, they’re simply left to die. And the few politicos, who dare to call it what it is, are denied their ability to sit in parliament.

On Friday Mike commented on a piece in the Disability News Service about Mr. Jared O’Mara, a disabled Lib Dem MP, who has called the Tories’ policies towards the disabled ‘eugenics’, and stated that they want disabled people to ‘suffer and die’. Mr. O’Mara is to be commended for the way he tried to tackle Iain Duncan Smith, the former head of the DWP and therefore the government’s chief minister responsible for implementing this policy. However, Mr. O’Mara finds it impossible to find anywhere in the House of Commons to sit during debates. There is insufficient seating for all 650 MPs, and there is no form available for disabled MPs to fill in stating that they have particular seating needs. As Mike says, this is all very suspicious.

As a religious person, I can’t say I’m happy about the anti-religious stance of Titan. I went to a Christian college for my undergraduate degree, and some of the students were Creationists. I am not saying that their literalist reading of the creation story in Genesis is correct, but I have to say that they were, by and large, decent people. Those I met weren’t racists or political extremists, and I know that one or two were actually left-wing. I also can’t say that they were anti-science, outside of the very specific field of evolution. Moreover, since the election of Donald Trump there has been the emergence of a religious Left in America, something which couldn’t have been predicted when Baxter wrote the book back in the 1990s. One of the authors of the collection of articles attacking the Neo-Cons, Confronting the New Conservatism, pointed out that the Neo-Cons were not necessarily going to be politically dominant for ever. Kansas, and many of the other mid-western Republican states, had in the 1920s been centres of the Social Gospel movement, which combined Christianity and Socialism. It’s possible that as more Americans recognize how truly disgusting Trump and his party are, Christians over the other side of the Pond may return to it.

However, Trump and his administration are anti-science. The Republican party is strongly opposed to climate change, and so there has been a concerted attack on environmentalism since Trump took office. Legislation protecting America’s glorious natural heritage has been repealed, and federal scientists responsible for monitoring the environment have been effectively gagged. They may not publish any scientific papers supporting climate change, and the federal agency itself has been effectively gutted.

Titan also portrays a future suffering from global warming and catastrophic climate change, as do very many of the SF novels written during the same decade, such as Bruce Sterling’s Heavy Weather. So far Trump hasn’t wound up NASA, though I don’t doubt that the agency is still under considerable pressure to keep expenses under control. But the real harm is being done by Trump’s deliberate rejection of climate change to appease powerful donors from industry, particularly the Kochs in big oil. This denial of climate change, and that of the other world leaders, will lead to the deaths of millions worldwide. If it hasn’t already.

Answering Dr. Logic

January 12, 2009

Wakefield Tolbert, one of the many great regularly commentators on this blog, has asked the following question:

1) What is your take on the following from Doctor Logic, who asserts that religion is bad due to not being self corrective, and having only dogma as a backup. Now by his definition, fundamenalist paints a wide brush, being about all who seriously persue faith based Christianity:

“What Is Fundamentalism?

According to my definition, a fundamentalist is someone who prefers to take
knowledge from authority rather than from experience.

Creationists are the textbook case of fundamentalism. They’ll spare no effort to
discredit the science that falsifies literal biblical claims, but spend no effort
justifying their belief in the authority of the Bible. If they were as skeptical of
the Bible as they were of radiological dating, they would quickly denounce the Bible as a work of fiction.

Fundamentalism is not just another form of irrationality. It’s irrationality with
conviction. Fundamentalism has no corrective mechanism. How does the fundamentalist know that his authority is, well, authoritative? Apparently, not by experience. Without correction, we cannot claim commitment to the truth because we reject a priori any possibility that we could be wrong.

The Christian fundamentalist cannot complain that Osama bin Laden is using the wrong epistemology. bin Laden is using the very same epistemology as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Reason and experience are equally unimportant to all three of these clowns because each will carefully fold his experience to fit into his holy box.

The problem with every fundamentalism is that it results in unnecessary conflict. Instead of reaching consensus based on shared experience, the fundamentalist regards shared experience as either threatening or subservient to his unchangeable prior beliefs. “

2) His insistence in some war between science and religion, relying mostly on
Richard Carrier and Andrew Dickson White. You’ve mentioned this before in some posts but did not directly address the claim that “superstition” resulted in the SUPPRESSION of budding science and/or science that had been around but stymied by the fall of Rome and the resultant takeover of E
urope by Christianity.

3) The associated of Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Pol Pot, and other with atheism is unfair, as opposed to Christiandom’s association with the horrors of the medieval purges, because what we have in the former is a personality cult–and not the proceedings and results of ideology per se.

IE–socialism turned into something more peaceful in other places in Europe,
apparently inidicating the ground some seeds fall on is more important than the seed of ideology themselves.

Moreover, in advanced western democracies, the cult of personality is tempered via the voting box, and religion is suppressed. Thus atheist (or tending that way) Sweden is very peaceful internally and in international relations, as is ofr the most part Britain and France and numerous others who long ago gave up blookthirst and imperialism and internal conflict.

The noted exception being the IRA–but that was a religious conflict, as DL points out, protostants agaisnt catholics raging over influence and terriroty. NO?

Thus, to sum up, Religion creates most internal strife and even most imperialist ambition.

Let’s critique Dr. Logic’s argument and its basic assumptions. Firstly, he states that

According to my definition, a fundamentalist is someone who prefers to take
knowledge from authority rather than from experience.

There’s immediately a problem of definition here. Dr. Logic has offered us his definition, but recognises that there others. This immediately raises the question of whether Dr. Logic’s definition is correct. Now one other definition is that fundamentalist movements are simply attempts to return to the original basis of a religion or ideology, which is felt to have been attacked or distorted by more recent developments. Now fundamentalists are usually considered to be individuals who stress the absolute, literal truth of a religious text, such as the Bible or Qu’ran, and for many people Creationists are the most obvious examples of fundamentalists because of their profound belief in a literal interpretation of Genesis.

However, Dr. Logic’s definition of fundamentalism also includes less literal forms of religious faith and denominations, such as Roman Catholics, who stress the authority of the church’s teaching as well as the Bible but who generally have an allegorical interpretation of Genesis. Indeed, Dr. Logic himself considers that Creationists are the classic example of fundamentalists: ‘Creationists are the textbook case of fundamentalism.’ However, there are major problems with his position.

Firstly, he contrasts authority with experience. Yet the authority of a religious text, such as those of the Bible, is based on experience, that of the presence and activity of God in human history. The Gospels, for example, are based on the experiences of the apostles and the first people to witness Christ’s ministry and teaching, while St. Paul’s own ministry and theology are based on his own, profound experience of Christ and the Gospel. Indeed, the list of witnesses St. Paul supplies in his epistles, and the names of particular individuals mentioned in the Gospels, are given to demonstrate the truth of the narratives as accounts of events witnessed and experienced by real people, who would vouch for their truth. Thus the authority of the Gospels and the New Testament epistles, for example, are based very much on personal experience, so that there is no basic division between authority and experience. Thus authority and experience are not necessarily contrasting and distinct.

Another problem is that Dr. Logic appears to have an empiricist attitude to knowledge. Something can only be considered true if it accessible to human experience, which he appears to identify with the scientific method. However, empiricism is no longer accepted by most scientists and philosophers of science because many of the objects and entities investigated by science are not accessible to human experience but are the products of human reason. For example, it is impossible to see a single electron. Scientists nevertheless are confident that electrons and other subatomic particles exist, because the scientific models that suggest their existence are the best explanation for the results of certain experiments and natural phenomena, such as electromagnetism, and have not been falsified. Thus in science, direct experience of an object or entity is not necessarily a criterion for its existence.

Another problem for Dr. Logic’s argument is that there appears to be an underlying assumption that the scientific method is the only true form of knowledge. Yet philosophers such as Mary Midgeley and Alvin Plantinga have pointed out that there are other forms of knowledge that are equally valid in providing true information of the world, apart from science. Indeed, there are areas in which the scientific method simply cannot be used to assess the truth of a particular claim or provide information. For example, it may be difficult or impossible to verify scientifically the existence of a historical individual, such as, for example, Julius Caesar. Nevertheless, the existence of authoritative written texts and biographies documenting his life and career make it certain that he existed.

Also, Dr. Logic seems to consider that a theory or model of reality is valid only if it can be altered and refined over time. Yet if a theory or model is fundamentally sound, such alterations don’t correct any flaws, but add to them. Moreover, there may be genuine limits on human knowledge and scientific investigation, where theories and scientific models effectively remain conjecture and their truth or otherwise cannot be demonstrated. In which case, their refinement and alteration also may not constitute correction, as these refinements in turn may also not make the theory closer to the truth.

Now let’s deal with Dr. Logic’s comments about fundamentalists:

They’ll spare no effort to discredit the science that falsifies literal biblical claims, but spend no effort justifying their belief in the authority of the Bible.’

This clearly isn’t true of many people of faith who could be described as fundamentalists, who do present arguments for the authority of the Bible and scripture based on philosophy and reason. The awesome J.P. Holding, for example, has a literal view of the Creation account in Genesis, yet his web site is devoted to demonstrating the historical truth and authority of scripture.

Now let’s deal with Dr. Logic’s comments that:

Fundamentalism is not just another form of irrationality. It’s irrationality with
conviction. Fundamentalism has no corrective mechanism. How does the fundamentalist know that his authority is, well, authoritative? Apparently, not by experience. Without correction, we cannot claim commitment to the truth because we reject a priori any possibility that we could be wrong.

There are a number of flaws with this argument. Firstly, there’s the statement that ‘Fundamentalism has no corrective mechanism’. This is problematic because fundamentalist movements consider they are correcting ideological trends that have no validity and are themselves a danger to the truth.

How does the fundamentalist know that his authority is, well, authoritative? Apparently, not by experience.

This assumes that Fundamentalists are fideists, and that they believe something is true solely through faith. But throughout history people of faith have attempted to use reason to demonstrate the truth of their beliefs, and this has included personal experience and observation of the world.

Without correction, we cannot claim commitment to the truth because we reject a priori any possibility that we could be wrong.

This statement is problematic because it assumes, in turn, that the fundamentalist must be wrong, and so could itself be seen as a rejection of the truth.

‘The Christian fundamentalist cannot complain that Osama bin Laden is using the wrong epistemology. bin Laden is using the very same epistemology as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Reason and experience are equally unimportant to all three of these clowns because each will carefully fold his experience to fit into his holy box.’

Again, this is questionable as it assumes that religious fundamentalists may not be able to support their ideas through reason. Furthermore, merely because religions are based on revelation does not mean that they are equally valid or invalid, as much philosophy of religion concerns the question of distinguishing whether a religious experience is true. Furthermore, even from within a particular religious tradition it is possible to criticise a particular fundamentalist interpretation of it. For example, Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda have targeted and murdered civilians and non-combatants, yet the Qu’ran expressly forbids this. Despite their Muslim fundamentalist views, therefore, al-Qaeda have directly acted against a literal interpretation of the Islamic law.

Furthermore, it could be argued that fundamentalists may well be acting according to experience when they adopt their fundamentalist views. Many Muslims in the Middle East turned to fundamentalism because the programmes of modernisation and westernisation adopted by their governments did not provide their societies with greater prosperity or freedom, and the rapid changes associated with these modernisation programmes created massive social problems and disruption. In this instance, modernisation had created problems, which, they believed, could only be solved through the creation of a fundamentalist state and the strict application of Sharia law.

The problem with every fundamentalism is that it results in unnecessary conflict. Instead of reaching consensus based on shared experience, the fundamentalist regards shared experience as either threatening or subservient to his unchangeable prior beliefs. “

Again, this is extremely problematic. Firstly, this seems to equate fundamentalism with violence and the attempt to impose a set of religious laws by force. While this is true of certain forms of militant fundamentalism, it may not be true of others. For example, many Christians are profoundly concerned at certain secular trends that they feel threaten the sanctity of human life, such as abortion and stem cell research. However, opposition to them in the West largely consists of the lobbying of politicians, and letters and articles in the press and other media to argue and explain their position in the hope of changing or influencing legislation in those areas, rather than use force and violence.

Instead of reaching consensus based on shared experience, the fundamentalist regards shared experience as either threatening or subservient to his unchangeable prior beliefs.

There are, again, profound problems with this statement. Firstly, it seems to regard shared experience as a criterion of the truth and morally binding, and that it is, indeed, possible to discover a common rationality. Yet the Enlightenment project ended in the 19th century because philosophers found it impossible to decide upon just such a shared rationality. Additionally, the fact that something is considered to be true by the majority does not mean that it actually is. In the ancient world, for example, infanticide was morally acceptable, but the vast majority of people in the West today, regardless of their particular religious views, regard this with horror and consider it objectively wrong. Thus, something like infanticide is still objectively wrong, even if it is, or has been, considered as morally acceptable by the majority.

Furthermore, merely because a particular moral view held by a majority of citizens does not have a basis in a religious doctrine or belief, does not necessarily make it rational or correct. Many philosophers consider the basic assumptions made by atheists to be similar to religious views in that they are not necessarily self-evidently true, but require explanation and support from another set of beliefs in their turn, which may similarly also not be self-evidently true, and so require support from other beliefs. In the case of Muslim fundamentalists, to them their view of reality makes more sense, and is more self-evidently true, than that of the contemporary, secular West. On the other, some religious beliefs may also be supported by rational argument, such as those offered by some religious groups against abortion, or at least, certain types of it. Furthermore, even if a fundamentalist or person of faith rejects the validity of a certain political decision, this does not necessarily mean that they will use force to overturn it. Again, in the west those who object to certain political decisions on moral grounds general do so through the democratic process and by attempting to change the attitude of the majority, rather than impose their view by force.

Now let’s deal with his claim

that “superstition” resulted in the SUPPRESSION of budding science and/or science that had been around but stymied by the fall of Rome and the resultant takeover of Europe by Christianity.

Now ancient societies were profoundly conservative and it is true that in ancient Rome science and technology were not developed or adopted, for reasons, which are unclear. Indeed, Roman authors like Pliny complained that there was less scientific research after the world had been united under the Roman Empire, than when Greece and the world was divided into separate states. Scholars have suggested a number of reasons why the Romans failed to make much progress scientifically, all of which have been criticised. One suggestion is that the availability of slave labour meant that mechanisation was not competitive in reducing the costs of production. Others have suggested that emperors deliberately rejected technology in favour of providing employment to the vast number of unemployed free citizens in ancient Rome as a way of creating both jobs and internal peace and security. There is a story that when one engineer presented one of the emperors with a design for a machine for raising pillars, the emperor rejected it as he had to provide work to feed the plebs, the Roman free poor. Some classicists reject this story, however, as legend. A

Another explanation for the failure of the ancient world to develop science is the aristocratic nature of the society and the low status of the teknon, or artisan. In the ancient world, philosophical speculation about the nature of reality was generally the province of the aristocratic elite, who looked down on manual work. Thus, while ancient engineers were capable of producing highly sophisticated machines, such as the Antikythera mechanism, which modelled the movements of the planets, the development of such devices may have been seen as below that of true, aristocratic philosophers and so they were not generally adopted or applied.

Also, the ancient philosophers generally worked from a process of logical deduction from first principles, rather than scientific induction, as they distrusted sense experience, which they felt could be deceptive. These are sociological and philosophical explanations for the lack of technological and scientific development in ancient Rome. In fact the British classicist E.R. Dodds, in his essay ‘The Ancient Concept of Progress’ notes that the concept of progress appears to have been only ever accepted by a large number of the public in the 5th century BC, and though throughout antiquity most of those who believed in progress tended to be scientists, after the 5th century all of the major philosophical schools either denied the existence of progress, or restricted it. Thus it could be considered that it was philosophy, rather than religion, that prevented the ancient world developing a concept of progress.

Now let’s examine his comment

3) The associated of Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Pol Pot, and other with atheism is unfair, as opposed to Christiandom’s association with the horrors of the medieval purges, because what we have in the former is a personality cult–and not the proceedings and results of ideology per se.

Firstly, the personal dictatorships of Stalin, Mao and Hitler were based on the view contained within Communist and Nazi ideology that contemporary, bourgeois democracy prevented societal or racial progress or development. Both Nazism and Communism developed personal dictatorships from an ideological rejection of individual freedom. In the case of Communism, it was felt that democracy was only a stage that humanity would pass through before it was replaced by socialism and then world Communism. Indeed, democracy was rejected by Communist leaders like Lenin, because it was felt to act against the interests of the working class as expressed and directed by the Communist party.

European Fascists similarly rejected democracy as it was felt to act against the true interests of the nation or race as a whole by allowing individuals to pursue their own interests rather than those of the nation. In Communism, Lenin in particular stressed the importance of a highly centralised, authoritarian party in order to enforce party unity and prevent the emergence of different factions, as had occurred with the Populists and Socialist Revolutionaries. Now it is true that one of the reasons for the emergence of these anti-democratic philosophies is the lack of democratic tradition in both Germany and Russia. However, this does not mean that the authoritarian regimes and the dictatorships that emerged in Russia and Germany did not claim an ideological basis. Also, the Communist regimes considered that they had discovered the objective, materialist basis of history and society, and that religious belief was a threat to the proper development of society according to the materialist dialectic process, and so had to be suppressed. While the dictatorships of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot were indeed personality cults, the violent rejection of democracy and attempted destruction of religion were based very much on Marxist ideology.

Regarding Christianity’s association with the horrors of medieval persecution, it’s true that Christians have committed horrific atrocities in the name of their religion. However, this does not mean that Christian belief necessarily requires and demands the use of force to enforce religious adherence, and throughout history there have been Christian groups that have strongly objected to the use of force by Christians.

Then there’s Dr. Logic’s comments:

IE–socialism turned into something more peaceful in other places in Europe,
apparently inidicating the ground some seeds fall on is more important than the seed of ideology themselves.

Moreover, in advanced western democracies, the cult of personality is tempered via the voting box, and religion is suppressed. Thus atheist (or tending that way) Sweden is very peaceful internally and in international relations, as is ofr the most part Britain and France and numerous others who long ago gave up blookthirst and imperialism and internal conflict.

Firstly, it is indeed true that the Nazi and Communist dictatorships arose in countries that had no tradition of democracy. However, it could be argued that Sweden has been successful in securing peace and prosperity because it’s form of Socialism is reformist, rather than Communist, and so gradually sought to replace capitalist society through the electoral process rather than through revolution. Lenin violently denounced reformism as he felt that reformist socialists were supporting bourgeois class interests rather than those of the working class. Furthermore, it could be argued that Sweden, and other European nations like England and France, have succeeded because it has retained many of the forms and values of Judeo-Christian society, rather than attempt to replace them outright, as was the case with the Communist and Nazi dictatorships.

As for the statement that religion creates war and imperialism, this is extremely problematic. Clearly religion has formed a component of imperial expansion, but in many cases this was secondary to secular, national, military and commercial interests. The European empires were founded largely through the desire to gain territory and commercial prosperity for the European imperial nations themselves as much as to promote Christianity. In the case of the British Empire, many Christians were firmly opposed to imperial expansion because of the consequent maltreatment and exploitation of the indigenous peoples. The Evangelical Anglicans and other Protestants in particular strongly believed that Britain also had a duty to the indigenous peoples in Britain’s colonies, and that they should be protected from abuse.

In the case of the sectarian violence between Roman Catholic and Protestant in Northern Ireland, this strongly influenced by conceptions of national identity and the history of British imperialism, rather than based purely on religion. Henry II, the king of England who first conquered Ireland in c. 1145, did so primarily in order to control one of his barons, Strongbow, who had already conquered part of Ireland for himself.

Thus religion does not necessarily lead to irrationality, conflict and violence, and Fundamentalism does not necessarily reject reason, experience and the peaceful democratic process.