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← Baby Bear's lament: James Wood in the New Yorker

Baby Bear's lament: James Wood in the New Yorker - Comments

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 1 by Richard Dawkins

PZ, please write a book. And then another. And another. Irreverence of this kind is such gloriously liberating fun. Strident? No. Shrill? No. Arrogant? No. Just wonderfully FUNNY, the sort of style (as I once said of Peter Medawar's) that makes me want to rush out into the street, waving the page, to show somebody -- anybody.


Thu, 27 Aug 2009 16:34:00 UTC | #392135

MarcCountry's Avatar Comment 2 by MarcCountry

"A don defends the Supreme Being from the new atheists."

I think that's a typo: it probably should read, "A dong defends..."

Thu, 27 Aug 2009 16:45:00 UTC | #392140

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 3 by mordacious1

I want PZ to write a book also...on Cephalopoda!

Thu, 27 Aug 2009 16:57:00 UTC | #392144

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 4 by Steve Zara

Comment #409946 by mordacious1

A book on cephalopods by PZ would be something really special. He is also a really fine explainer of evolutionary development.

Thu, 27 Aug 2009 17:07:00 UTC | #392148

Stuart Paul Wood's Avatar Comment 5 by Stuart Paul Wood

Well, I thoroughly enjoyed that. Well done PZ.

Thu, 27 Aug 2009 17:33:00 UTC | #392158

SaintStephen's Avatar Comment 6 by SaintStephen

...he wants a good old fleshily incarnated, interventionist and activist god who did not impregnate Mary with "aristocratic philosophical vapor", but presumably got busy with a Lordly wang...

You're killing me, PZ!

Thu, 27 Aug 2009 17:36:00 UTC | #392160

TIKI AL's Avatar Comment 7 by TIKI AL

Shorter James Wood: The enemy of my enemy is also an idiot?

Thu, 27 Aug 2009 17:44:00 UTC | #392163

Koreman's Avatar Comment 8 by Koreman

Thu, 27 Aug 2009 18:34:00 UTC | #392179

Dr. Strangegod's Avatar Comment 9 by Dr. Strangegod

PZ said it all. Zero to add.

Thu, 27 Aug 2009 19:10:00 UTC | #392193

Bonzai's Avatar Comment 10 by Bonzai

The only thing that amazes and amuses me to no end is how genuinely stupid these arguments for gods are. I don't have a problem as long as people keep their crazy, infantile beliefs to themselves.

But as soon as they try to intellectualize about it, I cannot help but say "wtf, are these guys serious??!!" They just highlight their own insanity by opening their mouths.If it is not for the fact that religion is somehow respected and the agendas of religious people are often forced on the rest of society, I would think that we shouldn't really debate them, just be entertained by their inanity.

Thu, 27 Aug 2009 19:16:00 UTC | #392196

Beachbum's Avatar Comment 11 by Beachbum

Is this a sign that people of faith are in some sort of Cannibalistic mode of deconstruction from within or another example of some hog at the trough complaining about the vittles? I mean, James Wood is a Critic, a literary critic that should be critiquing the over used metaphor or the crass use of regional colloquialisms.

PZ Meyers is an inveigler in comparison to my disdain for this Daffy Duck style ("block-spin-parry" [whack!]) of religious self-defense. The reason learned philosophers are retreating to the vaporous deism of the immeasurable is precisely because any other stance is untenable, and exactly why theological field mice are high tailing it to the hedge rows of their field [Eagleton].

So, James Wood (in the spirit of PZ's article), go ahead and stick your god's fleshy vestige out there and we will [whack!] it, too.

Thu, 27 Aug 2009 19:41:00 UTC | #392206

MelM's Avatar Comment 12 by MelM

Oh dear! After all these centuries, the pious haven't been able to come up with a concept of their god that they all agree with. This only serves to show the great divergence of views to be expected when studying something that doesn't exist. This is the downside. The upside is that the pious drivelmeisters are free of the terrible constraint of having to conform to fact; they are free to invent unsupported hacks to cover the problems created by prior hacks. I'm finding the thing tiresome; just as I finish picking apart one "reason to believe", up pops another piece of nonsense. And, maybe this isn't the only way to proceed. Maybe there's a more positive "teach reason" way--an additional strategy; I believe there is. Anyway, it isn't so much an end to religion that's needed: that's a means to a world of reason. Meanwhile, the U.S. has a great herd of "Papa Bears": the "Christian Nation" cult. They're nasty and they what power.

Thu, 27 Aug 2009 21:59:00 UTC | #392256

Crazycharlie's Avatar Comment 13 by Crazycharlie

The more you read of the Eagleton, Ruse, Stanley Fish types, the more you're struck by how weak their criticism's of the "New Atheist's" are. Eagleton's ideas are a muddled, mish-mash as are Fish's defence of them. And now we have Wood.

Thu, 27 Aug 2009 22:14:00 UTC | #392265

Crazycharlie's Avatar Comment 14 by Crazycharlie

Not only is PZ funny he's ,as always, wonderfully refreshing.

Thu, 27 Aug 2009 22:31:00 UTC | #392272

MelM's Avatar Comment 15 by MelM

The pious holy men are irrationalists and it shows all over the place. But, they don't see their irrationalism as a problem. "We know because of "reasons of the heart" sounds completely sane to them. Taking "the truth of the Scriptures" as an axiom seems quite rational to some of the "presuppositionalists". The holy men have built a grossly shabby and poorly constructed house of the intellect; they show it off as beautiful and fly into a snit if people point out how ugly and dangerous it is.

Thu, 27 Aug 2009 23:36:00 UTC | #392285

Crazycharlie's Avatar Comment 16 by Crazycharlie

Some of Wood's criticism of Eagleton are right on; that a very large portion of religious people think their beliefs are literally true so to create some high-minded abstract philosophical defence of religion like Eagleton does is ridiculous; but still he's (Wood) also another one of those saying - Dawkins, Harris etc. are "fundamentalist".

Fri, 28 Aug 2009 01:10:00 UTC | #392307

TheVirginian's Avatar Comment 17 by TheVirginian

The inability of theists even to agree on how many gods there are, what they (it, he, she?) want, and how we have/can acquire knowledge of them is one of the reasons I threw theism overboard at pretty much the same time I chucked religion over the railing also.

The funny thing to me is that Christians (and Christian derivatives such as Eagleton) always talk about "god" as if it has been proven that there is only one such critter, for certain. Yet the majority of people in history were polytheists (and Christianity's Trinity, rape victim/goddess Mary and evil god Satan look like polytheism to me).

So if atheists are blind to the reality of "God," as Christians say, then Christians are vision-impaired to the reality of the many gods of the Hindus, American Indians, Asians, Africas, Greeks, Egyptians, Mesopotamians, etc.! Also, monotheists that claim their god is all powerful and all good and all knowing then cannot explain why so many bad things happen in this world. Please, try to justify the Holocaust, the Gulag Archipelago or Bush's Iraq War in a world run by such a god.

By contrast, polytheism is less irrational than such monotheisms because at least a polytheist can argue that the gods disagree with each other, and their conflicts cause misfortune here. A smart Hindu could mop up the floor with any honest Christian theologian on this point. Of course, both still fail the "How do you know any f this stuff?" test. But given Christianity's historical contempt for polytheism, I get some amusement at a monotheist's discomfort in trying to explain the indefensible.

Fri, 28 Aug 2009 05:29:00 UTC | #392349

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 18 by Jos Gibbons

Comment #410165 by TheVirginian

The Hindu is a hilarious if bad example since the "different gods" are different "aspects" of the one deity Brahman (not to be confused with Brahma, one of said aspects). It's like the Trinity only much worse. (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva are a trinity, the Trimurti, but then there are some more!) So I guess the Hindu's excuse would be that Brahman's efficacy is undermined by a split personality disorder - which does make worshipping, or even trusting, the guy much harder. One recalls a patient of Niles Crane with two personalities, each claiming the other had sent him the bill for their sessions.

Fri, 28 Aug 2009 06:11:00 UTC | #392354

PERSON's Avatar Comment 19 by PERSON

"15. Comment #410098 by MelM on August 28, 2009 at 12:36 am
... The holy men have built a grossly shabby and poorly constructed house of the intellect; they show it off as beautiful and fly into a snit if people point out how ugly and dangerous it is."

As Al Gore said (roughly) "It's very hard for someone to see something when his job depends on not seeing it".

Fri, 28 Aug 2009 07:32:00 UTC | #392365

jonjermey's Avatar Comment 20 by jonjermey

When I was at school forty-odd years ago we studied something called 'The Essay'. 'The Essay' was a personal expression of the author's views, often very well-written and highly entertaining. I don't remember anyone suggesting that it ought to be backed up with facts or reasoning.

Most of us have moved forward since those days, I hope, and at my kids' school they expect their essays to have a firm foundation in fact (and, of course, these days facts are much easier to come by).

It seems to me that apologists like Wood are just trying to relive the golden age of essay-writing when you could simply assert your views with reasonable articulacy and automatically get a round of applause from the initiated. Obviously they are out-of-date; but honestly, their arguments are no worse than those in the famous essays I cut my teeth on all those years ago. Evidence-based dialogue is a relatively new phenomenon.

Fri, 28 Aug 2009 08:07:00 UTC | #392375

Tyler Durden's Avatar Comment 21 by Tyler Durden

"A don defends the Supreme Being from the new atheists."
What kind of "Supreme" being needs a puny human to defend him?

Fri, 28 Aug 2009 08:35:00 UTC | #392380

Tumara Baap's Avatar Comment 22 by Tumara Baap

Comment #410165 by TheVirginian

Hinduism is a loose word that spans a number of beliefs across the eons. But I do think you are correct the shift from polytheism to monotheism was for the worse - and not just in elegance of explanation. Some Vedic texts estimated the age of the universe in billions of years. They posit a cycling rhythm to the universe, growing and collapsing. They dally with ideas of Maya, that reality may be much more spooky than the illusion that meets the eye. And that gods may exist only in the dreams of men. Likewise some of the beliefs in ancient Egypt were not correct but exhibited a remarkably supple imagination. In terms of ethics, the Egyptian book of the Dead is way more sophisticated than the puerile Ten Commandments. Christianity was backward even for its time. But it had an effective meme: blood and gore. It promised the slaves salvation (though not from slavery). Among the trodden this primitive faith festered, and like a disease, a pandemic gathered steam as Rome collapsed into economic and intellectual decline. The infestation was fully set in with burning of the pagan works at the library of Alexandria.

Interesting then where our judeochristian nation gets its values. One influence on Thomas Jefferson were the heretics of the enlightenment. But possibly even more important were the works of Cicero and Tacitus. Without a doubt it is an appreciation of these polytheistic pagans that compelled him to famously remark that it neither picks his pocket nor breaks his leg if someone believes in one god, twenty gods, or no god.

Fri, 28 Aug 2009 09:04:00 UTC | #392390

flying goose's Avatar Comment 23 by flying goose

I'm so sorry, Baby Bear. All we've got here are hordes of triumphal atheists who think the whole enterprise of religion is hairy effin' bollocks, and we aren't at all sad about our loss of faith, a loss that we've found liberating and joyous. The Goldilocks of the 21st century are going to eat all your porridge, romp on your furniture, and turn all three of you out of the house to live in a nice wildlife preserve, where you belong. Won't that be lovely? Try not to eat each other, but don't expect the humans to think you are members of modern civilization.

Is he being ironic here? Or is there really an 'ubermensch' undertone to this? Perhaps I am just being paranoid.

Fri, 28 Aug 2009 10:08:00 UTC | #392405

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 24 by Steve Zara

Is he being ironic here? Or is there really an 'ubermensch' undertone to this? Perhaps I am just being paranoid.

I would not worry. Although he can be sharp and witty, I would not read too much into such posts. I am sure he does't actually think of theists as sub-human, and it is all clever irony.

Fri, 28 Aug 2009 10:16:00 UTC | #392408

ColdFusionLazarus's Avatar Comment 25 by ColdFusionLazarus

23. Comment #410222 by flying goose on August 28, 2009 at 11:08 am

FG, just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they are not out to get you ;-)

I sometimes feel uncomfortable with the seeming suggestion that atheists are intelligent and anyone clinging on to some fantasy of god-existence in this day and age is too dumb to take part in proper debate.

I certainly don't think that disbelief is instant evidence of cleverness. But to be fair, it's not an "ubermensch" race, it's "ubermensch" thinking and ideas that are being discussed.

Fri, 28 Aug 2009 10:20:00 UTC | #392409

flying goose's Avatar Comment 26 by flying goose

Steve, CFL

I don't do irony well, and being the resident semi theist paranoia goes with the territory.

I do find PZ hilarious, mostly.

Now I must get back to TGD. I've got to the boeing.

Fri, 28 Aug 2009 10:26:00 UTC | #392412

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 27 by Steve Zara

A resident theist appreciates PZ more than I do.

I'm not sure what to make of that!!

Fri, 28 Aug 2009 10:31:00 UTC | #392415

TheVirginian's Avatar Comment 28 by TheVirginian

#18 Jos Gibbons et al
I know that Hindu gods purportedly are aspects of a single higher being. Educated Romans developed a similar idea about their gods, a proto-monotheism that probably made it easier for many to accept Christianity.
But these seem to be the attitudes of "sophisticated theologians" in those religions, as popular versions continued to worship individual deities as if independent.

Similarly, Christians today talk monotheistic but act polytheistic. When they invoke angels (or demons) to explain events, that's functionally polytheistic, whatever the sophisticated theologians say. Similarly, calling the Rape Victim Mary the Queen of Heaven invokes an ancient name for goddesses.

I think you and others got my point though, that it's less irrational to suggest multiple entities (or as Jos put it, a kind of multiple personality disorder) might explain the world's disorders, which is hard to do with a single, omnipotent, omnibenevolent entity in charge.

Fri, 28 Aug 2009 16:07:00 UTC | #392614

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 29 by Jos Gibbons

Comment #410433 by TheVirginian

I can't speak for the "et al" but I did get your point, and a good one it was, and you seem to still be going strong. The idea that only the more "sophisticated" Hindus think of their deities monotheistically intrigues me, since it casts the RE lessons of my childhood in a bad light, which I can well believe. I'm also amused by your quite good case that the polytheistic beliefs, while typical of the "less sophisticated" believers, make more sense in the long run. I have often suspected the same is true of theologians in general!

Fri, 28 Aug 2009 16:25:00 UTC | #392618

TheVirginian's Avatar Comment 30 by TheVirginian

Thanks. Someone else had made a somewhat similar comment, so I was covering anyone else.

I was poking a little fun at the claim that skeptics must engage the "sophisticated theologians." They seem to be rather scarce, somewhat self-selected bunch! I consider polytheism to be irrational too, but at least it doesn't have to worry about the "problem of evil," like some monotheistic claims.

Fri, 28 Aug 2009 17:42:00 UTC | #392667