Archived blog post

Darwin's Misguided Missiles

Posted by Ben on Friday, April 14, 2006 | Permalink

"The European Enlightenment was a unique event in human history in which all the founding principles of western secular democracies were forged. All our scientific developments, the importance of reason, religious tolerance, the rule of law, rationality, a secular state, progress in human rights and our atheism can be traced back to this momentous period of intellectual history. This is the legacy we must hold fast to, and assert unapologetically against the challenges it faces from Islamism." Agree with all that? If so, you're on very shaky historical ground but you've got plenty of company.

Shorter Madeleine Bunting - "watch me demolish this straw man with one hand tied behind my back!" I could be wrong, of course; maybe there are tons of Enlightenment cheerleaders out there saying this very thing. But the lack of any kind of linkage/sourceage is a bit suspect, no?

The Bunting is a much maligned character in the blog circles I haunt, and it's always good fun to read her latest article and try to guess which bit will appall people the most.

Still, nothing she's written is quite as entertaining as this in the comments:

"When I see Richard Dawkins fly an airplane into Danial Dennett [...] I'll admit she has a point."

It is, of course, a slip of the keyboard. Still, quite an image and as the commenter says, it would be highly convincing evidence in favour of the fundie claim that acceptance of evolution leads to immoral behaviour, including but not limited to putting pineapple on pizza. Which, as anyone knows, is all kinds of wrong.

*The title of this post, by the way, is based on Dawkins' brilliant post 9/11 article, Religion's Misguided Missiles.*

Comments [ hide comments ]
Oh man, you just flew a plan into my favorite pizza! The Horror!

We need some sort of enlightenment over here across the pond. If it gets much worse, I might sneak aboard a ship and move in with Tim.
JGJ, 15.04.2006, 1:40am #
Please move in with Tim. You guys were made for each other.
RHF, 15.04.2006, 4:29am #
Please move in with Tim. You guys were made for each other.
RHF, 15.04.2006, 4:29am #
ok, rhf, wtf is wrong with you? you go around accusing people of being homosexual without any evidence to back it up. unless they start moving for a marraige, your statement is about as low as you are.

and stop double posting, it gives me an image of this twitchy little man sitting in some dark room, his fingers spazzing out everytime he touches the keyboard or something.
Shaggy, 15.04.2006, 9:16am #
Don't give the pud the satisfaction of acknowledging his existence, it's obvious his only gratification in life comes when people respond to his rants. He's a mixed up little kid who isn't getting enough attention from his mom and probably too much from his dad.
JGJ, 15.04.2006, 11:54am #
Dude, you not only tolerate but actually enjoy, nay, favour pineapple on pizza? That's it, you're off the blog, you're giving atheism a bad name.
Ben, 15.04.2006, 12:30pm #
Yeah, and don't think you're moving in with me either!
Pineapple on pizza indeed *shakes head in disgust*
Tim, 15.04.2006, 3:20pm #
DISCRIMINATION! i can't go on....i can't live without my barbeque chicken pizza with pineapple...
JGJ, 15.04.2006, 4:17pm #
May you find the Lord Jesus Christ as your saviour.

Just kidding.
Aaron, 15.04.2006, 7:08pm #
aw c''s kinda fun, like dangling a cookie over a dogs head.

and what sicko thought of pineapple on pizza?

lol XD
Shaggy, 15.04.2006, 7:40pm #
What\'s wrong with Hawaian pizza\'s?
Got something against ham, cheese and pineapple?

I only pushing the button once. Sorry about that JGJ. Don\'t know why it\'s posting twice.

Get to church. Our saviour has risen.
RHF, 15.04.2006, 11:09pm #
Glad we finally agree on something RHF. Keep it up and I might give you your "human" status back. I love Hawaiian Pizza's, add a little bacon on it too. But unfortunately I'm on the tail end of a diet, can't cheat now. I've lost 65 lbs and have only 10 to go.

Don't worry about the double post, it's not like it happens all the time. I was pretty sure you didn't do it on purpose.
JGJ, 16.04.2006, 12:46am #
[Rambling insomniac attempts to get back to the point]

Bunting has some bizarre views that have been ... interesting ... to follow recently. I don't think that the "Age on Enlightenment" was as big a thing as people now think though, at least with regards to the affect it had at the time (was there an "Islamic version"? my history is a little shaky there). A few intellectuals brave enough to start questioning arguments from authority, but having to hide their message in irony to avoid censorship (or worse) so you have to read between the lines to get the point (something that you can only really do with hindsight, so social changes were inevitable anyway?)
Tim, 16.04.2006, 1:21am #
BTW, who was it ... Hume? Kant? ... who pointed out the dangers of putting pineapple on a pizza?
Tim, 16.04.2006, 1:24am #
I'm not sure Tim, but I know that if you start asking people over here who David Hume is maybe 1 out of 3000 might have a clue.

The Muslim world is so far behind the rest of the world it probably hasn't entered an Enlightend phase yet. In the book, "What Went Wrong" by Bernard Lewis says "For centuries the world view and self-view of Muslims seemed well grounded. Islam represented the greatest military power on earth- its armies at the very same time, were invading Europe and Africa, India and China. It was the foremost economic power in the world.." But the Muslim world shut itself off from the rest of the world to be alone with Islam and their ways and in doing so fell way behind in everything. It was a virtually unchanging society that shut its doors and when they opened them again, they found themselves sitting in third-world countries.

Only now is the Muslim world westernizing to catch up and some Muslims don't like being at the ass-end of the world but are torn between keeping their traditions or westernizing. For some extremists it is just a case of Islamizing the the rest of the world instead of conforming to the rest of the world.

I doubt if they have had their "true" Age of Enlightenment yet. It is going to take something pretty big to change the way they are now.

I think China and India had their Age long before Europe did. Hopefully, we here in the US are starting ours, which seems possible given that people are getting fed up with what they have been fed for years regarding religon. Lots of the younger generation are getting disgusted with organized religion and taking their beliefs home instead of to a church. I'm in college in the Bible Belt for the second time and I have yet to meet a student who says they go to church regularly. I would be willing to bet that the US's Age comes full when the baby-boomers die out.

BTW, Hume, at first, thought that putting putting pineapple on pizza was evil, but after a meeting with Papa John and discovering that Papa wasn't evil, since evil is what evil does, that he would have to write a paper on the problem of evil pizzas. In an early draft of Hume's paper he says,"I must confess, Philo, I am not ashamed to admit that pineapple on pizza
totally kicks ass and that you must be sensible, and agree that common sense commands that everyone likes it."

Kant, on the other hand, argued the morality of putting pineapple on pizzas. I quote, "It is impossible to conceive anything at all in the world, or even out of it, which can be taken as good without qualification, except a good will and pineapples on pizza."
JGJ, 16.04.2006, 2:01am #
i just can't get over pineapple on a pizza...i don't know why, but it just feels so...weird...

what would a pizza racist be called for that matter?

a pizzacist?
Shaggy, 16.04.2006, 2:54am #
Happy Easter! Our saviour has risen.
RHF, 16.04.2006, 5:28pm #
Risen? Really?
Then it'll be shower, shit, and shave time!
Pinchbeck, 17.04.2006, 10:16am #

Happy Easter!

I have to say that the Easter story is one of the most fantastic narratives ever handed down to the present age. True or not, it is a brilliant and inspiring story.

What has say Islam to offer in return? A list of victories in battle.

Bunting is a bear of little brain, typical of the appeasing class in the UK.

Without the Enlightment our world would be a sorry mess. The Enlightment is any many ways the fulfilment of the promise of Christianity. However, it does of course carry the seeds of its own destruction and potentially the destruction of humanity.

I think the 21st century we need
"Enlightment Plus". The Plus is that we need an "industrial strength" culture - somethign that can withstand the shocks and strains that will come our way. We need to hark back to the Greek polis - the Greeks understood the importance of their culture - political and artistic and how to weave it into the fabric of life. More importantly, it needs to be a human-centred, philosophically based culture that does not look at knowledge as a one way street. In other words, we are now mature enough to see that science can do us great harm if we let it.

Science has reached the point where it can deconstruct humanity. We need to guard against that. Religion isn't a sufficient guard. But a philosophically based culture that places consciousness at the pinnacle of our values can.
field, 17.04.2006, 3:05pm #
Putting pineapple on pizza is clearly wrong. The only reason the Bible doesn't say so it because it's so obvious and because no-one at the time could even have conceived of such an evil act.

Not that I'd be in favour of a law against pineapple pizza. Just because it's wrong doesn't mean it should be illegal; that's missing the point of having laws in the first place.

Besides - is it really sensible for those of us with taste to seek to enforce it on other people? Shouldn't we try instead to win their hearts and minds by educating their palates?

I don't think of myself as narrow-minded, I eat lots of different toppings, but pineapple on pizza? That's only one step down the slippery slope from Sardines Chantilly.

On a couple of lesser points, if Islam went from being the pinnacle of world achievement in e.g. Maths and Art in the 1300s to the backwater it is now by shutting itself off from the outside, perhaps a note of caution is needed on Field's "Enlightenment plus" which looks like it's trying to do the same. Ironically one of the keys to the enlightenment was opening our minds to influences from the Islamic world (and their foundations in ancient Greece).

And on evolution - I think it's both illogical and potentially dangerous to try to draw ethical conclusions from evolution. (That's partly what the link says). Actually I'm not convinced that any kind of moral judgement is logical without belief in God - even using "the golden rule" (aka Jesus' 2nd commandment). Why should I be nice to people? Because it's in my own interests as well as theirs? To promote the species, or my own genes? But why should I think of those things as good rather than bad?

Anyhow, back to the point. Pineapple + Pizza = Euch. I will pray for you.
Tom di Giovanni, 18.04.2006, 11:48am #
"I think it's both illogical and potentially dangerous to try to draw ethical conclusions from evolution" - who is doing so? Evolution has nothing to do with ethics.

"I'm not convinced that any kind of moral judgement is logical without belief in God" - I always find this line disturbing. Do theists only do good things out of a fear of God's wrath? I'm far from perfect, but if I do something good it's because I genuinely want to help someone - doesn't that make me better than you in this respect?
Tim, 18.04.2006, 1:53pm #
Tim - How do you decide what is good and what is bad? That was my point. To me good is defined by God. If you don't believe in God, you need some other definition of Good which somehow implies a moral imperative. Where does that come from?

This isn't a question of motivation (about which you make a valid point). It also isn't a question about whether specific things are good or bad; the question is, what makes those things good or bad?
Tom di Giovanni, 19.04.2006, 11:53am #
hmm, i myself don't beleive in a universal rule of good and evil. what's good? what's evil? i don't know, and it's pretty hard to give a clear definition.

hmm...i'll have to think on this one. been a while y'know?
Shaggy, 19.04.2006, 7:51pm #
Tom, to steal from Socrates via Julian Baggini - does God choose what is good because it is good, or is good good because that's what God chooses? If option 1 is true, good is independent from God, and he merely "enforces" it if you believe in him/her/it/whatever. If 2, good is entirely arbitrary, and if your God told you murder was good, that'd be your definition.
Ben, 19.04.2006, 9:11pm #
I use my own moral compass. And my moral compass isn't controlled or influenced by any religion or god. It is the judgement after I weigh the sitiuation, pros and cons, and make a choice.

Attributing, to a diety, the things we don't yet understand is no different than prehistoric peoples attributing light to the sun god and thinking floods come as punishment. It is simply primitive thinking that there is some concious unknowable diety out there who makes things happen. And before you start, yes a diety is unknowable, we know what others have said before us, we may have personal experiences that lead us to believe they were caused or influenced by something greater than ourselves, but like I said, personal experience is not admissable as evidence, proof, logic, or whatever else you want to call it.

Argument from Design and all the other ones just don't cut it with me. They might be good enough for other people but that is there business and not mine. We, Tim, Ben, and I don't ask people to post their views on this blog, we don't throw it into their faces, but we welcome people to say what they please within certain guidlines. Unlike Christianity and Islam which has had a history of violently, condesceningly, and vainly thrown it in our faces for almost 2000 years. They have denied rights to those who do not agree, imprisoned, tortured, maimed, and executed people for disagreeing with them, innocents as well. They have acted way too much to out of fear of being wrong for me to have any respect whatsoever from me. When I say fear of being wrong, I mean that if it were the truth, they would not fear those who disagree. They are afraid that those who disagree will spread thier non-beliefs to others and losing followers hurts their pocketbooks.

Plain and simple.
JGJ, 19.04.2006, 9:13pm #
i agree with ya JGJ
Shaggy, 20.04.2006, 2:56am #
Yeah, me too.
As an non-theist, one of the things that makes me most angry is when people with 'faith' imply that without religion, you are somehow left in a moral vacuum. Yet in my opinion, good people without a magic sky-man to please are morally superior. They have formed their own moral framework through self-exploration and thought. A far nobler thing than merely using a pre-set rulebook. Though in the case of fundies of any stripe, the rulesbook seems as irrelevant as the thought...
Pinchbeck, 20.04.2006, 11:03am #
JGJ - Your first para answers my question, but I don't understand the answer (sorry!) I can see two quite contradictory interpretations of "Moral Compass". One (like a physical compass) means that there is an external (absolute) good and bad which you try to discern and follow, and which presumably holds some moral force in some way; the other being purely relativistic, where the compass is internal to you and everyone has their own equally valid compass. Sorry if it should have been obvious from what you said, but I don't really understand which (if either) of these you meant. No doubt it's a third which I haven't grasped, in which case all the better if you can explain it to me!

If the former - you weigh up a situation based on pros and cons with reference to what you hold to be your best understanding of some hidden, absolute good and evil - then where do those absolutes come from?

If the latter - you form your own judgements without any external influence - then doesn't that mean that anyone else's set of beliefs as to what are good and bad are no more or less valid than your own? That fails what I call "The Auschwitz test": since at least some of the perpetrators followed their own "moral compasses", a true relativist would be unable to attach any moral value good or bad to Auschwitz or anything else. That's a logically consistent position but one I think most people find quite difficult.
Tom di Giovanni, 20.04.2006, 11:15am #
Relativism is not absolute and Absolutism is relative. Each person is the product of their environment, upbringing, and events that have shaped their lives. They use this combination, called experience, to weigh any given situation to their moral standing. Christianity does not own morality since it existed before Christianity and before the general concepts of the Christian God existed.

Old Testament morality is very differnet from New Testament morality and to think otherwise is quite contradictory. One cannot say that morality came with the New Testament or that the period of time before the gospels is amoral.

In the same lines of thinking, one cannot say that all societies that existed before being evangelized by Christians were amoral. One cannot also say that after Christianity came to power that Christians became morally good. Since, without the Bible, you cannot say that people would be more or less morally good than they are today if they had no knowledge of the Christian concepts of morality, nor would they be aware of what God defines as morally good one cannot say that morally good behavior comes from God.

My 'compass' has absolute good and evil and relative good and evil that depends on the situation. Child molestation is absolutely evil. The killing a child is relative to the situation. Killing six-million Jews because of their religion is absolutely evil. Killing one Jew is dependant upon the situation.

There is no single statement that can fully describe my moral compass. I fail to see why morality has to be completely absolute or completely relative. Anything that is either only absolute or relative is fundamentalism, which I abhor. There are fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Atheists and both in my book are nuts. My moral compass is more like my own guide to morality and not like an actual compass, it would be more like a Moral Geiger Counter with a positive and negative scale than an actual compass if you are needing a picture of it, where almost all situations have degrees of where I stand.
JGJ, 21.04.2006, 10:47am #
Ok, you make two points I agree with. (1) people who aren't Christians still have morality and had morality (i.e. were not completely amoral) before Christianity or even the Torah, so Christianity doesn't own morality in that sense. (I happen to believe that the Christian view of morality is the correct one, but that's a totally different issue, being just my perception of what things actually are moral). (2) Yes, absolute and relative morals can coexist. I agree; for me the key question is whether all morals are relative (what I call absolute relativism) or whether at least some morals are absolute.

As you'd hope I totally agree with you that the holocaust was absolutely evil. My question is, why was it evil? I.e. what was it about the act which made it evil?

Another thing I'd agree with on the compass thing - all anyone ever has is their own perceptions / impressions of good and bad, wherever we get them from. Although I believe in the Bible, I wouldn't claim it gives me perfect perception. After all, GWB and I apparently read the same Bible and yet we can't even agree on the meaning of "thou shalt not kill".

On fundamentalism - being "devil's advocate" here, although obviously in a strictly metaphorical sense - isn't a fundamentalist merely one who takes a belief to it's logical conclusions? Is it not, therefore, illogical (or lazy) to be anything other than a fundamentalist? Isn't any other position really a lack of conviction in one's own beliefs? Isn't that kind of what your piece about agnostics was saying?

Ok, that's partly a joke and partly serious. I do that a lot, if you haven't picked that up already - I like deadpan too so there's no way of knowing how serious I'm being.

The serious point being (and I'm a little touchy about this), that sometimes people broaden their definition of "fundamentalism" in order to make people like me look bad, by creating the impression that we are all abortion clinic bombers and terrorists. I know that wasn't your point, of course. But when people do, one way I react to it is to say that if that's their definition of fundamentalist them I'm glad to be one.

As GWB might say: "The difference between us and the Arabs is that we're fundamentally right and they're fundamentally wrong." If the "us" becomes you, or me, then I guess we might both have some sympathy with that statement.
Tom di Giovanni, 21.04.2006, 1:37pm #
"Christian view of morality is the correct one"

I'm glad to see you added "being just my perception of what things actually are moral" since you would seem to follow a moral set within Christianity that you deem appropriate. Or even better, that you follow the code of conduct and beliefs that you agree with and that was set down in the Christian Bible but with the exclusion of those in which you disagree with. Unless one knows all "sets" of moral codes (and I don't agree with having a written "set" in stone) within and without of Christianity; no one can say which is the '??correct' one for all, but only the individual determining its value for themselves. I may be nitpicking but it holds true with my beliefs that individuals set their own morals regardless of absolute '??sets' that may be out there.

"...what was it about the act which made it evil?"
Any act of murdering/killing people because of religious belief alone, in my view, is evil. That is not to say that people who comit acts of violence in the name of their religion and are killed for it is amoral. Morality has many grey areas and I, just like everyone else, have to weigh the evidence available to us and make a decision. A child that steals medicine for his dying mother is, by law and Christian values, a thief and the action of stealing is evil, ??Thou shalt not steal, yet the act of saving one's mother regardless of the penalty to yourself is not. So even within a single action there can be good and evil and moral conflict, hence, not absolute. If there is a god, especially a Christian God, then I would hate to think that his moral code is in absolutes and he would be considered by myself to be a tyrant fundamentalist. Could his outlook on good and evil be worse than mine? Could he be as ignorant in the philosophical paradox's of morality as fundamentalists who cannot deal with anything but absolutes? I don't think so.

If you had a daughter, and you may have one, and that she was corrupted by the beliefs of others and ended up hating you, despising you, or even denying that you were her father and vowed never to see you again, but while on her death bed or yours, or even in an afterlife she asked for your forgiveness because she was confused by all that conflicting beliefs presented to her, would you forgive her? I would. Does that make me more forgiving than God? Isn't the deity you are supposed to worship supposed to be more than yourself? Or does he deal in absolutes only and make himself a tyrant? Would you tell your own daughter it is too late for forgiveness and punish her for all eternity, mentally or physically, when she asked for forgiveness regardless of the circumstances of when, where, why, or how?

For me, fundamentalism is taking absolutism to it's extreme. The dictionary definiton - "A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism."

I broaden it when I add Fundamentalist Atheists who take thier version of the truth to the extreme. I know it when I see it according to my own moral compass.
JGJ, 21.04.2006, 4:13pm #
Honestly, why are we even accepting the argument of ethics being born out of religion, specifically Christian, or not?

Ethical behavior, laws and morals were around long before any organized religion any idiot able to read should know that.

History has shown that ethics, laws, and morals being born out of religion is just nonsense. It's untrue. Period.
James, 22.04.2006, 6:12pm #
James, that's what I said.
JGJ, 22.04.2006, 8:13pm #
Tom -

The moral imperative comes from what we understand humanity to be.

You wouldn't I presume accept that a God could ever require us to do cruel or wicked things to people. Actually the Bible is full of such wicked commands, but you will I guess argue them away.

BY my way of thinking we don't have to follow all of God's commands, even assuming God exists. The so called "imperative" does not actually exist. If there was a God who issued commands which we found conflicted with our values we should of course ask ourselves why but there is no absolute imperative.
field, 24.04.2006, 1:59pm #

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