About Me

My Photo
Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Church Times review of Does God Hate Women?

This is a thoughtful and favourable review of Does God Hate Women? by 50 Voices of Disbelief contributor Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom. One thing that I especially like about it is that the reviewer appears to be a genuinely liberal-minded and sensible religious person. Which leads me again to the observation that such people are not our enemies - quite the contrary. What's more, I'm sure that many such people exist. It's just that we see so few of them in public life these days. It's especially encouraging that no attempt is made in this review to defend religion by claiming that Benson and Stangroom have missed the point, or that it is only a few extremists who act on their religious beliefs by oppressing others.

If all our fellow citizens who happen to have religious beliefs were like this, books such as Does God Hate Women? and 50 Voices of Disbelief would not be needed. Issues about the truth or otherwise of religious claims would still be of academic interest, and philosophy of religion would not disappear as a sub-discipline, but there would be no social or political urgency about it all.

It's at this point that some will complain that I'm too soft on religion, but I'm going to keep stating - whenever opportunities arise - that I don't have any problem with genuinely liberal religious people. I'll always count such people as allies and potential friends.

I am not an "accommodationist" towards religion, in that I think only the most liberal, non-literalist kinds of religion - together with rarefied views such as deism and pantheism - are at all philosophically compatible with science. I.e., I think that the emerging scientific picture of the world is incompatible not only with fundamentalisms of various kinds but also with many supposedly "moderate" views. But my anti-accommodationism doesn't entail that I'm personally hostile to those religious people who - unlike the Vatican hierarchs - are genuinely moderate. In fact, I wish there were more of them.

15 comments:

John said...

You wrote:
``I am not an "accommodationist" towards religion, in that I think only the most liberal, non-literalist kinds of religion - together with rarefied views such as deism and pantheism - are at all philosophically compatible with science. I.e., I think that the emerging scientific picture of the world is incompatible not only with fundamentalisms of various kinds but also with many supposedly "moderate" views.''

With ``science''? Why the specificity? It isn't religious nonsense vs. science, it is religious nonsense vs. reasoning, rationality, math, logic, and so on--what we humans have *actually* learned. Science, is just an off-shoot of those. So, blithering idiocy vs. not so much. Or completely twisted, phucked-up thinking vs. some room for rationality?

Ya think? Why do apologists for rational thought buy the premises of the insane? All you have to argue is that we are one small bit less insane than the obvious nutbars (i.e., religious believers), and leave it to them to show that they aren't. After all, the burden of proof is on them.

Tom said...

John,

I would argue that maths and logic are not incompatible with religion, they are both on the same, clean, prong of Hume's fork. Science deals with the other prong, the dirty, real world one where knowledge is contingent on evidence and pure deduction doesn't work.

That is why science is so important and unique, it is the only tool we have that allows us to systematically generate and check knowledge about the world, and that is why it ends up incompatible with religions that make claims about the world.

Tom said...

Russel,

Have you come across the Sea of Faith? They might be people you could call "allies and potential friends".

John said...

My point was simple: why science? Really, why does science carry this burden (especially as the religious nutbars repudiate it anyway)? Why not logic? Why not math? Why not philosophy, more broadly? I mean, why does ``science'' matter. If what the nutbars are advocating had any basis in reality, it wouldn't be science that was the issue, but politics. Oh, wait, isn't that it?

Russell Blackford said...

Tom, I've heard of that group but have had no dealings with them. From what I've heard, and from what I see on their website, I might well get along with them.

The expression "the sea of faith" always reminds me of Arnold's "Dover Beach", and I've used the expression in that sense in an as-yet-unpublished essay that I wrote recently. Hopefully this piece will see the light of day, as it explains quite a bit of my thinking at more length.

One of the annoying things about the current accommodationism debate is that I often find myself being characterised as someone who is extremely hostile to all religion, when in fact that is not the case (which may be why I seem to disappoint some people who really are much more comprehensively hostile).

My position is simply that all but the most espistemically thinned-out kinds of religion are inconsistent with well-established outcomes of rational inquiry (John, I'm happy to say "rational inquiry" instead of "science", while noting that much of what we know about the world has been discovered relatively recently, e.g. since Galileo, and does depend on those kinds of rational inquiry that are distinctively scientific). Therefore, to talk without a lot of caveats and qualifications about a "compatibility" between religion and science (or rational inquiry in general) is, at best, simplistic and misleading - and is probably just plain wrong.

I think that a lot of harm is done by religion, but I also concede that good is done, and that the good may outweigh the harm in some situations. In many others, though, the harm outweighs the good. I'm not out to destroy all religion by any possible means, but I do think that societies benefit when the epistemic content of influential religious organisations gets scrutinised and contested. Sometimes that may require the use of comedy, satire, even ridicule.

I don't see the above as an extreme view, but obviously a lot of people - including a lot of unbelievers - find even this rather moderate view too "strident". Conversely, some deists, non-literalists, and so on probably agree with it.

So be it, I guess.

Tom said...

Russell said:

The expression "the sea of faith" always reminds me of Arnold's "Dover Beach"

That is probably because the Original "Sea of Faith" TV series Don Cuppit made was inspired by the poem ;)

I don't think you would find much to disagree with them on, they are a bit like Karen Armsrong without the Apophatics and the claims that this is what religion was originally like.

Russell Blackford said...

Some odd things in my last comment, notably the extra "s" I managed to put in the word "epistemically".

Eh bien! :)

Anonymous said...

Typo: the book title no verb ;-)

Russell Blackford said...

Thanks! Fixed!

OB said...

Yes, I must say, I certainly warmed to that particular liberal religious believer - not (as a perceptive commenter reminded me) because the review was favorable but because it got the point, in fact the points. A review that gets it is the really gratifying kind to get.

If only there were more like her. The public face of the C of E doesn't seem all that liberal these days.

J. J. Ramsey said...

OB: "A review that gets it is the really gratifying kind to get."

To be fair, you didn't make the book easy to get. Of course, the factual content is bound to put many theists on the defensive, and there is no way around that. However, when you lace the book with B.S. like "But one human institution that has always cast its lot with the stronger side ... is religion," you can pretty much guarantee that defensive theists (and also non-theists who are suspicious of anti-theist screeds) are going to glom on to the B.S. and attack it. You were lucky that the author of Church Times review was charitable enough to look past the B.S.

OB said...

"To be fair" we didn't lace the book with "B.S. like" the phrase you quote - which is probably why you quote that phrase in all the venues where you hasten to correct anyone who says a good word about the book. Taner Edis, for instance -

http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2009/09/does-god-hate-women.html

You're right about that phrase, that "always" should be "nearly always" or similar, and the overstatement is mine. But the book isn't laced with overstatements - so it's just barely possible that one overstatement isn't so egregious and appalling that it justifies a dedicated effort to make everyone see it the way you see it.

you can pretty much guarantee that defensive theists (and also non-theists who are suspicious of anti-theist screeds) are going to glom on to the B.S. and attack it.

Oh I don't think so - you're the only non-theist who's been spiteful enough to do that - not to point it out or deplore it but to glom onto it and attack it.

J. J. Ramsey said...

OB: "You're right about that phrase, that 'always' should be 'nearly always' or similar ..."

But it wasn't. You got carried away, and you got careless. And it's hardly the only place where you've been careless. We had a conversation a few months ago about that, when you quoted some careless bits from your book--even before I had a chance to read it--in a poor attempt to show how Bunting quoted you out of context. And boy, did that conversation spiral. Ugh.

OB: "who's been spiteful enough ..."

I haven't said anything more cutting to you than you have to me.

J. J. Ramsey said...

OB: "you're the only non-theist who's been spiteful enough to do that"

It isn't about spite so much as it is cynicism. When I started deconverting, I found that atheists were just as capable and willing as the religious to demonize their opposition and distort the facts for their own ends. The Jesus-mythers are a prime example of this. There may not be "fundamentalist atheists" per se, but there certainly are atheists seem little different from fundamentalists except for their metaphysical beliefs, and I find such atheists kind of scary for the same reasons that I find that fundies are scary.

Accordingly, when I look at advocates for nonbelief, I look for signs that indicate whether they are reasonable nontheists who try to put rationality first and let their nonbelief flow from that, or if they are the scary kind of nonbeliever who is anti-religion first and foremost and doesn't try very hard to get the facts right.

Taner Edis, Massimo Pigliucci, Robin Lane Fox, John Wilkins, John Pieret, Julian Baggini, Greta Christina, and our host here seem to fall into the former category. That doesn't mean that I always agree with them, but I think they try to get their facts right and try to be fair.

Bill Maher, as funny he can be, is an example of a scary nonbeliever. Brian Flemming, perpetrator of the "documentary" The God Who Wasn't There, is another example. Christopher Hitchens probably falls in this category. Dawkins, I think, is a marginal example of this category.

When I look into info about you and your book, I look to see whether you are scary or not. This is probably not the perspective of most nontheists, who probably aren't on their guard against other nontheists. This is probably also not the perspective of the Church Times reviewer, who is probably trusting that you've got your facts mostly right and is also probably on guard against her own biases that would encourage her to be defensive about your book.

Anonymous said...

[url=http://brazil.mcneel.com/members/lopid.aspx]lopid[/url]