L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

22 August 2006 Blog Home : August 2006 : Permalink

Criticising Your Religion

The gentlemen at Powerline have an excellent link to an Opinion Journal article about Islam and its inability to laugh at itself. I note this more in passing because I really want to talk about a  Townhall.com article about evolution which is irritatingly both right and wrong. But the two are possibly more related than you might think. Ann Coulter's book Godless makes the excellent point that many "secular" people act remarkably like devout believers when it comes to the roots of their "unfaith" and certainly many of them seem to exhibit the same "sense of humour failure" that Muslims do. Case in point the "Lefty Lexicon" which managed to insult both and, as a result, got panned equally by both.

On the other hand those who are secure in their religious faith tend not to have a problem laughing at its foibles or at the antics of coreligionists. I have head jokes about Buddhists and reincarnation from Buddhist monks, Jewish jokes from rabbis, Christian jokes (including scurrilous ones about God, St Peter and the pearly gates) from priests of various denominations and so on.

The radically secular evolution believers are unfortunately not usually so good at this although I can sometimes see why becuase there is only a limit to how many times you can try to explain something to someone whose mind is apparently closed. Patterico has a nice post about the OJ Jury where he makes that point:

The bottom line is this: people who don’t want to be convinced of something cannot be convinced.

Of course this bites both ways. Neither the evolution deniers nor the fundamentalist evolutionists are willing to be convinced, but although I don't have much time for Jack Kemp (the townhall writer) in his denial of evolution, I think I might get a better resposne from him if I made a good argument than I would from his opponents. Certainly I would expect him to treat my reasoning with respect and be presented with what he believes to be a logical refutation and I see a lot of the "fundamentalist evolutionists" playing the man not the ball as it were in their responses by criticising the brains or education of those they disagree with.

In an internet connected world you have no excuse to do this. It is OK (and in my next post I expect to demonstrate it) to say that X is a crank, fool, liar or whatever so long as you present evidence, ideally with hyperlinks that help the curious read up further, to buttress your case. It is not OK to say X is a crank, fool, liar and therefore to be ignored without that backup. However this sort of thing, and the related argument of "X is not expert in the field (unlike Y who happens to agree with me)", is used by lefty defenders of orthodoxy from feminist studies to climatology. Good examples include the attacks on Bjorn Lomborg, the Skeptical Environmentalist, and other climate change skeptics but can also be seen in the defenses of the UN, the EU and other transnational institutions. The reason article about Lomborg explains neatly why I think that people who rush to "defend" science do the subject of their defense no good:

The subhead of the review section, "Science defends itself against The Skeptical Environmentalist," gives the show away: Religious and political views need to defend themselves against criticism, but science is supposed to be a process for determining the facts.

Much the same applies to the outrage over Lawrence Summers' comments about male and female mental capabilities where the shouting down of Summers proved to many that feminists are indeed hysterical harpies. The only good response was the debate between Pinker and Spelke which covered the current state of knowledge and, I think, came back with the verdict of "Not Proven" although my reading of the literature inidcate that Summers and Pinker are more likely right.

If the liberal mainsteam wishes to defend itself against its "conservative" attackers it needs to have a better argument that "because" or "saying that is racist/sexist/discriminatory".

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin