Monday, December 17, 2007

Robert Farley takes the stupid pill

Farley is a usually intelligent, perspicacious writer who makes insightful, sound arguments and is a tireless champion of not only liberalism but rationality. But we can conclude that immediately before this post, "Thoughts" on religion [scare quotes added], he took a stupid pill... or perhaps the whole bottle.
DJW is absolutely correct to follow up Matt's condemnation of Dawkins statement on Catholicism. It isn't just illiberal; it's virtually totalitarian. Dawkins is, essentially, arguing that raising children as Catholic is worse than sexually abusing them. Since we all agree that sexually abusing children merits the violent retribution of the state, the next logical step is pretty much unavoidable. Dawkins may have been tossing the statement off without really thinking about it (indeed, his "arguably" suggests that he isn't really willing to stand by it in its strongest form), but it is nonetheless illiberal, particularly if we define liberalism as, in large part, a political recognition of the fact of pluralism.
The logic here is egregiously faulty and the insinuation can be considered nothing less than a canard, more appropriate to Ann Coulter or perhaps Jonah Goldberg.

Let me repeat Dawkin's statement, quoted in the earlier post, "New Atheism" [quotation marks original]
I was asked what I thought about the widely publicized cases of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland. I replied that, horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place.
Now Dawkins is making a dramatic statement here, and he might well be mistaken. But is it totalitarian? He is not advocating or even suggesting the violent retribution of the state. That is Farley's own invention. And it's simply retarded.

Perhaps Farley slept through fourth-grade civics class. The reason that we don't allow the state to violently punish speech is not because speech cannot be bad, or harmful or abusive. The one and only one reason we do not allow the state to punish speech is that no state can be trusted to punish only bad speech: the government will inevitably punish speech that is detrimental to its own interests, rather than the people's interests.

There's a lot of speech that is incredibly harmful, terribly damaging, and deserves our contempt and scorn. Racist, homophobic bigotry, neoconservative propaganda, Ann Coulter, and LOLCats. Just because the cure of coercively suppressing speech is worse than the disease doesn't mean bad speech is not in fact bad. In contrast, we punish sexual abuse because sexual abuse is bad and sexual abuse is not typically used to resist an evil government.
...most of us quite likely know a mildly irritating militant atheist.
And I'm sure most people who would have rather ignored the ugly facts of slavery knew a mildly irritating militant abolitionist. Most people who would rather not think about the war in Iraq... you get the point. We want to be irritating: It is only by irritating people who would rather not think about evil that anything bad gets fixed.

[R]eligion is so deeply embedded in human culture and society that there's very little point in trying to pry out and then weigh its positive and negative effects.
Do I really have to draw yet another obvious parallel to slavery here?
But nevertheless, I can only bring myself to say that yes, Hitch is probably right about the effect of religion; I can't say for sure.
You can't say anything for sure, all there is are degrees of probability. Farley makes arguments on "probably right" all the time, but suddenly when it comes to religion, he has to be absolutely certain to commit himself? Sorry, Bob, only the religious get absolute certainty, a.k.a. fanatic self-righteousness.
[R]eligion has an entirely different relationship with the unobservable, positing that it has some critical (but fundamentally unknowable) relationship with the world that we see.
Good grief! Did Farley go to school to construct such egregious bullshit? A critical but fundamentally unknowable relationship with the world? Let me say that again, so you can savor the stench of bullshit: "[R]eligion... has some critical (but fundamentally unknowable) relationship with the world that we see." Please do tell me how a critical relationship can be unknowable... but first put down the bong.
Religion can explain the empirical world fully
What. The. Fuck. Religion can't explain jack shit. Religion's explanation for almost everything is "goddidit" (the explanation for the rest is "fallofman"). This apparently counts, in Farley's mind, as an explanation. I hope he's equally charitable grading his students' work.
But I'm probably wandering farther into philosophy than I should on this question...
Ya think?
we're in danger of granting science a bit too much credit when we put it up against religion in debates like this. Science was made, not found; it is a mode of inquiry that was created by human beings, and it has had and continues to have many of the flaws that those human beings had.
Science was created by man! Completely unlike religion which comes from God, Praise the Lord! Oh wait... religion comes from man too, but from that paragon of human history, that Golden Age, when we were all perfectly wise, and before we became corrupted by all that worldly stuff like agriculture, fire, or the wheel. How can mere science compete?
I most certainly prefer to have science taught in public high schools than religion, but that is in large part because I think the teaching of religion to be illiberal, and the teaching of science to be a part of the liberal/Enlightenment project.
This is not the kind of endorsement we want. We teach science because it is better (much better: religion is bullshit through and through) not because it was endorsed by the priests and prophets that Farley prefers.
If I actually agreed with Dawkins that a commitment to science required atheism...
I've never read that sense from Dawkins. A true commitment to science entails atheism, but doesn't require it. You do not have to first purify your mind to conduct science: You merely have to observe and think precisely and honestly. Of course, such an exercise does tend to purge the mind of bullshit, but that comes afterwards.
And one more bit on the rational/irrational point; most of the commitments we feel are, in some sense, irrational. I love my wife, and I'm not sure that there's a version of rationality that can sufficiently explain what that means.
This is simply retarded. Love is an ordinary human emotion. It's complicated, and I doubt a complete reduction to neuro-biology would be worthwhile, but there's nothing unscientific and irrational about love. Just because I love my wife (and I do) doesn't mean I have to believe anything actually false or unprovable about the world. I don't believe I can literally read her mind, or violate the laws of physics. I just have a lot of groovy, but entirely natural, emotions working in my brain when we're together.
Moreover, it seems to me that evaluating and condemning such [irrational] convictions is absolutely the last thing that we should want the state to do.
Again, it is only Farley's lying insinuation that has the state condemning irrational convictions. Dawkins has never, to my knowledge, advocated the state condemning irrational convictions. He, and I, and Farley himself (when he's off (on?) his medication) condemn irrational convictions as terribly all the time, in our capacity as citizens and rational people.

But if you say it's about God, that's different. I guess.


  1. Dude, step away from the LOLCats.

  2. I'm copying Carlin's template:

    "War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption, and the Ice Capades."


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