Rev. Giles Fraser Catches Out Richard Dawkins in Dispute about Christianity in Britain


On Tuesday, BBC 4 hosted an occasionally heated exchange between Richard Dawkins and Rev. Giles Fraser. In their exchange, Fraser takes exception to the design of a survey conducted by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. He suggests that the survey, which purports to establish that Christianity is rare in Britain, shows no such thing. The Dawkins survey revealed that nearly two out of three who consider themselves Christians were unable to name the first book of the New Testament. (The correct answer is supposed to be the Gospel According to St. Matthew, but that depends on what you mean by “first”!) Fraser put the Dawkins test to work on Dawkins himself and asked if he could name the full title of The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin. Though he said he could, Dawkins stumbled when trying to quote the full title of his own secular Bible. Some British journalists are having laugh at Dawkins’s expense.

For audio of the interview (less than 7 minutes) click here. The story is reported at the Huff Post, with a transcript of the embarrassing bit, here.

Many, no doubt, will remark with glee on the embarrassing incident. But this isn’t quite fair, in my opinion. True, Dawkins should know the full title of Darwin’s seminal work. Dawkins is, after all, a former Oxford University professor who has published extensively in defense of Darwinian evolution. He is also the author of a 23-page Introduction to the Everyman’s Library edition of The Origin of Species and the Voyage of the Beagle, published by Alfred A. Knopf. But it surely is a sad commentary on the state of literacy in Britain that so few who call themselves Christians can name the book that appears first in most copies of the New Testament.

There is a larger point that should not be missed. There was a time when knowing that sort of thing was widespread among believers and non-believers alike. But the fund of “common knowledge” has been compressed to the dimensions of a thimble so that now what counts as literacy is up for grabs. Christian or not, shouldn’t a literate person know enough about the world’s great literature to be able to declare with confidence the name of the first Gospel of the New Testament?

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Two Bad Ideas—Building a Mosque & Burning the Qur’an


Two big items in the news today: first, Imam Feisal Abdul’s article congratulating America on its religious tolerance of Islam; second, an American pastor’s plans to burn copies of the Qur’an on the anniversary of 9/11.

Building a mosque at Ground Zero is a bad idea. So is burning the Qur’an.

The media and politicians on the Left are obsessed with the differences between the two intentions. Putting it mildly, they condone the erection of the controversial mosque. But let’s be honest. Those who haven’t been silent—including President Obama and NYC mayor Bloomberg—have expressed unequivocal support for building the mosque (even though they have equivocated following their unequivocal expressions of support).

What about the pastor, with plans of his own? He is angrily denounced.

Ahem. What about the striking similarity between the two men and their “projects”?

Whatever else can be said about their true intentions, their plans appear to be deliberately provocative. That’s the point that ought to be stressed in the great conversation we’re having about “tolerance” and “rights.”

Within the framework of this likeness—that is, both are deliberately provocative—we can make more useful distinctions between the men and their plans. We should acknowledge their similarity, then ask: as deliberately provocative acts, how do they differ?

Here’s one salient difference. A mosque will have a longer term effect, with direct bearing on more people, than the singular act of burning copies of the Qur’an on 9/11. The minister’s action, if he goes through with it in a few days, will soon be forgotten—even by Muslims, I dare say. But if the mosque is built, it will stand as a permanent monument to—well, what?

For non-muslims, the mosque would not be a monument to anything at all. But can this be said of Muslims? Hmm?

BlogLogic: “Christian Fundamentalist Terrorists” Outed?


It would happen at The Huffington Post. Contributor Shannyn Moore shocks the world today with her post warning us all about “Christian fundamentalist terrorists.” Her contention is that Jim D. Adkisson is a Christian fundamentalist terrorist. He’s the scurrilous individual who killed 2 people at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church as a result of firing 76 rounds and a shotgun.

Her complaint is that this Adkisson guy, who was charged with murder, “should have been charged with terrorism.” This suggests that she believes that terrorist acts are distinguishable from murder in general, that terrorist acts are in the category of worse or worst, and that perpetrators of such acts should be regarded and treated differently, i.e., more severely.

On the face of it, this is an odd thing for someone on the far left to say. Liberals on the far left are better known for rubbing out such distinctions. So it is initially heartening to see one of their own take up this cause.

It is disconcerting, on second thought, that this apparent shift is more likely an expression of the left’s characteristic animosity toward a certain brand of Christianity—the “fundamentalist” brand.

Moore thinks she’s making a sound argument for a definite position. But really she sounds angry, rather than calmly rational. In her post for today she spools out another specimen of BlogLogic. “BlogLogic” is the endearing term I use to denote digitally viral fallacious reasoning spread by bloggers and infecting unsuspecting readers who are ill-equipped to pick out the flaws.

The first problem with Moore’s argument is that her conclusion is too vague to be useful. She doesn’t define this term that she’s applying with such gusto to specific individuals: “Christian fundamentalist terrorist.” Maybe she thinks the meaning of her label is obvious—a Christian fundamentalist terrorist is a Christian fundamentalist who happens to be a terrorist; or maybe a Christian fundamentalist terrorist is a terrorist who happens to be a fundamentalist Christian.

It’s doubtful that this is quite what Moore means. She seems to be plugging for a stronger link between terrorism and Christian fundamentalism. Part of what makes this murderer, Adkisson, a terrorist is that he is a fundamentalist Christian. Otherwise, he would simply be a murderer. It’s as if he killed in the name of, or for the sake of, or out of commitment to Christian fundamentalism.

I’m not sure this is quite a strong enough link to satisfy Moore. Adkisson could be more of a nutcase than a Christian fundamentalist, and still kill in the name of, or for the sake of, or even out of (fanciful) commitment to Christian fundamentalism.

It seems, then, that Shannyn Moore deliberately employs the phrase “Christian fundamentalism” in connection with terrorism in order to shame Christian fundamentalists. And this, it has to be said, is itself shameful. Moore is simply poisoning the well against a block of conservative Christians who do not, as a group, sanction the heinous crimes of Adkisson and others. If she thinks there is something inherent in the belief system of people broadly considered Christian fundamentalists that incites the exceptional and incalculably immoral behavior of persons such as Adkisson, then she needs to demonstrate that with evidence. She, of course, cannot.

So Moore’s conclusion is vague because her use of the phrase “Christian fundamentalist terrorist” is vague—or not. If not, then her reasoning is specious and onerous, because it is maliciously ad hominem.

There are more problems with Moore’s thesis. She does not say precisely what distinguishes an act of terror from any other murderous act. There’s also a confusion in her understanding, both of the law and of ordinary application of the concept of terrorism. Clearly she believes that Adkisson should be tried as a terrorist. But one need not commit a murder to perform an act of terrorism. There are terrorists who do not commit murder, nor even conspire to commit murder. And whether or not Adkisson’s action was a form of terrorism, it was an act of murder. He can and should be tried for murder; he almost certainly will be found guilty.

Moore isn’t satisfied with the charges. They don’t go far enough. Why? Surely things wouldn’t be any worse for Adkisson if he was tried for terrorism rather than murder. So how does Moore calculate that more would be accomplished, as she seems to think? Well, for starters, it would stigmatize a large segment of the Amerian population. It would place them under suspicion. Is that really what Moore wants?

Shannyn Moore seems to confuse hate crimes with terrorism. She should consider the difference. Terrorism, as that concept is applied most broadly today, constitutes a threat to national security. Terrorist acts may be motivated by hatred, but they are not merely “hate crimes.” They usually involve conspirators whose ideology entails a denunciation of all other ideologies, and violent action against those ideologies.

Use of the term “terrorist” has evolved considerably since 9/11. Shannyn Moore would like to see the concept stretched even more broadly to encompass those she calls “Christian fundamentalist terrorists.” If she wants to make her case rsponsibly, she’ll need to tidy up her definitions of key terms, locate incentives to perform acts of terrorism within an ideology that can justly be called “Christian fundamentalism,” demonstrate that Adkisson and similar characters are appropriately affiliated with Christian fundamentalists and not lunatics who can call themselves whatever they want, and establish her generalizations on the basis of a sufficient (i.e., far greater, number of cases).

Meanwhile, she should cease and desist her use of the phrase “Christian fundamentalist” in connection with terrorism. And, consistent with the culture of the left, it seems reasonable to ask that she apologize to Christian fundamentalists nationwide for carelessness in her use of this phrase.

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Note to Shannyn Moore: I’ve linked this post to the comment section of your post with a trackback. If I’ve misrepresented your position, or you wish to add the clarification that I claim is needed for your argument to work, I welcome your response.

President Obama’s Argument for Bipartisan Support for the Confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor


A few days ago, President Obama announced his first nominee for Supreme Court Justice. Among the various tools the President has used to get his message out is his website, where a 4-minute video announcement is posted here. I encourage you to view this video. I also encourage you to think carefully about what the President says at each stage in his announcement.

Here’s a specific question to consider:

  • Can you identify President Obama’s argument that Sonia Sotomayor should be a bipartisan slam dunk for confirmation by the Congress?

He makes an argument toward the end of his speech. He doesn’t say, “Let me give you a good argument for this.” But he does make an argument. If we’re paying attention, we’ll recognize the argument. And if we’re critically engaged, we’ll make a sober judgment about the plausibility of his argument.

So the second question I have for you is:

  • Does the President make a good argument that Sonia Sotomayor should be a bipartisan slam dunk for confirmation by the Congress?

These questions are rooted in my goal to encourage greater understanding of media messages—whether from the President, or anyone else.

By greater understanding I mean deeper awareness of what the message is and whether that message is reasonable. The President’s speech, because it is addressed to ordinary citizens and because it can be viewed very conveniently online, presents us with a great opportunity to hone the skills needed to be responsible citizens of a fragile democracy.

Book Recommendations:

If you have any questions about these recommendations, please use the comment box below.

Related Posts by Doug Geivett:

Child Crusaders in the Anthropogenic Global Warming Campaign


Sometime soon, the Climate Cops may be pounding on your door, if not breaking your windows, to make you answer for your anthropogenic global warming (AGW) misdeeds. Who are these Climate Cops? Three animated kids named Skye, Will, and Oscar, and a polar bear called K’eyush—together with their recruits from the world of real children.

To join the Climate Cops Academy, your children are urged to go to climatecops.com. There they will meet Charlie, Chief Instructor of New Recruits. To become a member of the elite group of cadets, they must first complete three missions. As the Training Site says, “Only the best make it into the Academy. Prove

your worth by completing these three missions.” Each mission is played online.

I learned about this from a post by Anthony Watts, titled “Hey Kids! Be a ‘Climate Cop’—rat on your family, friends, and classmates.” Watts re-posts an item from the EU Referendum blogspot. This item, titled “Climate Nazis,” reports on full-page ads that appeared in Britain’s Sunday papers yesterday.

To their credit, the EU Referendum and Anthony Watts have posted these items to make people more aware of the ludicrous, and indeed shameful, effort to lure children into a campaign to spy on family members and others. They are truly alarmed by this, drawing analogies with Hitler’s propaganda campaign Deutsches Jungfolk. And the folks at the EU Referendum are answering the newspaper ads with an official complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK.

The ASA describes its mission as follows:

“The ASA is here to make sure all advertising, wherever it appears, meets the high standards laid down in the advertising codes. Our website will tell you more about the rules for advertising, let you complain online, and explain how the ASA is working to keep UK advertising standards as high as possible.”

It is heartening to see the many comments responding to these posts by Anthony Watts and the EU Referendum. Most express disenchantment with the Climate Cop concept and the whole AGW paranoia for which we can thank former Vice President Al Gore.

I believe our schools are deliberate accomplices in the effort to stigmatize the behavior of parents. This is a serious matter. It requires the substitution of education with indoctrination. It feigns respect for critical thinking, but reinforces sloppy and irresponsible judgment.

This presents parents with an unprecedented responsibility and a severe dilemma. Parents cannot count on the schools to educate children in the skills of critical thinking. It is now their responsibility to instill virtues of the intellect, without the help of our educational institutions. Here’s the dilemma. If parents educate their children to be critical thinkers, their children will begin to wonder why they’re being sent off to school, where the values of critical thought are disregarded, if not distorted.

Quotes on Culture Warfare


“We are living in a culture of extreme advocacy, of confrontation, of judgment, and of verdict. Discussion has given way to debate. Communication has become a contest of wills. Public talking has become obnoxious and insincere. Why? Maybe it’s because deep down under the chatter we have come to a place where we know that we don’t know . . . anything. But nobody’s willing to say that.” —John Patrick Shanley, Preface to his play Doubt: A Parable.

“No matter what side of an argument you’re on, you always find some people on your side that you wish were on the other side.” —Jascha Heifetz

Do You Have Mixed Feelings About ‘Expelled’?


Ben Stein’s movie Expelled opened last weekend. I’ve got a question for those who have seen it and liked some things about it, but are reluctant to give it an unqualified endorsement:

What are its major strengths and its major weaknesses?

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