Tuesday, February 14, 2012

... but I just want to say this

With the shrill cries of new atheists ringing in my ears (you would not believe some of that stuff, but I won’t go there), I read John Gray’s review of Alain de Botton’s book Religion for Atheists in the New Statesman and it is as though someone has opened a window and let in some air – not because of the book, which I’ve not read, but because of what John says. Sadly you can’t get it online: the nearest thing is here.


Allen Esterson said...

Here is Simon Blackburn's view of Dawkins' approach to religion:

Why should anyone ‘respect’ the belief that there is a china teapot orbiting the sun? It is just dotty, and there is an end of it. But if we see a religious tradition as a record of a culture’s ongoing attempts to cope with fear and hope, life and death, gain and loss, then it becomes a candidate for respect, just as much as the other poetry and songs of our ancestors.[...] Becoming a possible object of respect, a religious tradition also becomes a target for criticism, and Dawkins, of course, is quite capable of mounting the true criticism of most current religiosities, including that of all the monotheistic religions of the desert, which is that they are frequently cruel, misogynistic, divisive, intolerant, life-denying and that they warp for the worse the emotions and practices of countless people across the globe...


Maxine said...

It never ceases to amaze me how the topic of religion (even if tangential) always brings out the extremes - on any side of the fence. Very sad, as what we need is rationality not abuse.

JimmyGiro said...

Tell me Maxine, is that your view, or did you pick it up from Women's Studies?

Philip Ball said...

On both sides of the fence indeed Maxine. I pick up the Times today and find Allison Pearson comparing Dawkins to the people who apparently stepped heedless over a schoolboy collapsed with a head injury recently. I don't need to agree with all that Dawkins says to find that offensive - he's a humane man, whatever one thinks of his views on religion. He's put up with far worse, of course, but it's dispiriting to see that sort of vicious twaddle in a supposed quality newspaper.

Allen - thank you for pointing me to that. It's one of the sanest assessments of these issues that I've seen, as indeed one would expect from Blackburn, and it's nice to be able to agree with every word.

Allen Esterson said...

Philip, thanks for the thanks. But without wanting to go off topic, I'm going to take issue with you on one element of your comment on Allison Pearson's article. I entirely agree that the statement you took exception to is vicious twaddle. However a Google search failed to bring up the article, so I decided to leave out the Times in my search terms, and found that the article was actually in the Telegraph:

I thought perhaps it was alluded to in the Times, but then it should still have shown up in my search. Just to make sure, I searched specifically for the offensive sentence, and it only comes up in the Telegraph.

But what I take issue with is your writing "a supposed quality" paper. I've read some pretty obnoxious stuff in the Guardian over the years, but I would not describe it as a "supposed" quality paper. I also recall that around 2005 the Guardian employed a journalist writing on Islamic affairs who was a member of the extremist Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. I find that pretty offensive.

Philip Ball said...

I'm very sorry - I picked up the paper from a pile in the foyer at Random House, and clearly got confused about the provenance. And no, to be fair the Telegraph is capable of good reporting, and has in the past been particularly good on science. That's why it's all the more the case that they let themselves down with this sort of thing. But all the papers do it from time to time, and the Guardian is absolutely no exception.

Allen Esterson said...

"I picked up the paper from a pile in the foyer at Random House, and clearly got confused about the provenance."

Easily done when one is relying on memory! I've long been in the habit of checking original sources, mostly to see the context of a quotation. While on the subject, I could cite the Guardian for a couple of quite recent examples of gross misrepresentation of the facts as evidenced by comparison of the main assertions in the article with the items they were allegedly based on. In one case it was picked up by other UK newspapers and by news agencies, and the misleading headline sentences went round the world. I could find only one journalist (Sam Leith in the Evening Standard) who had actually checked the orginal source and exposed the hollowness of the claim in the original Guardian article.

In my experience of more specific research, it is surprising how often I find statements that misrepresent the original source (and, on occasion, even misquote it). Unfortunately the misrepresentations are often recycled, especially now we have the internet, and become purported fact. Here's a fine article by the historian of science Alberto Martinez on my latest hobby-horse, the "Einstein's Wife" myth, which gives examples of such misrepresentations, including one by the reputable chief science correspondent of the New York Times, Dennis Overbye:

Incidentally, Martinez recently published a book that examines (and undercuts) numerous widely-held beliefs in science history: "Science Secrets: The Truth About Darwin's Finches, Einstein's Wife, and Other Myths". Unfortunately it hasn't received the notice it deserves.