Anglican Samizdat

February 28, 2010

Richard Dawkins apologises

Filed under: Richard Dawkins — David Jenkins @ 8:42 pm

For his prior emotional outburst. The apology is here:

The controversy caused by our decision to close the forums on has greatly upset me. It has been raging for several days now and I have spent that time – frustratingly hampered by long haul flights, jet lag and the need to consult people in several different time zones – talking to colleagues and trustees, and reading a multitude of emails as well as open letters, blogs, internet comments and even newspaper articles, and I am now finally in a position to respond publicly. Please forgive me for replying collectively rather than individually. I am engaged in a strenuous book promotion tour of Australia and it would take too long to write separately to everybody who has written to me.

I would like to start by apologising for our handling of this situation. We have not communicated well with our forum volunteers and users (for example in my insensitive ‘Outrage’ post, which was written in the heat of the moment). In the process we have caused unintended hurt and offence, and I am very sorry about that. In a classic case of a vicious circle, some of the responses to our announcement also caused considerable hurt and distress to us, and in the atmosphere of heightened emotion that followed, some of our subsequent actions went too far. I hope you will understand the human impulses that led to this, and accept my apology for them. I take full personal responsibility.

Someone in the comments to this post in Dawkins’ forum pointed out that Dawkins Deniers have been making hay with the Dawkins Debacle; and I confess to having experienced a satisfying sense of schadenfreude. The rest of the comments are devoted to expressing a strange sycophantic gratitude – reminiscent of the Stockholm syndrome – to the One who has revealed to his disciples that life is entirely pointless.

There are but few dissenters. Here is one:

What a hypocrite. At first he called the whole thing a ‘storm in a teapot’, now he’s changed his tune? And everyone here wants to drink the kool-aid that he did this for noble reasons?

Of course he didn’t. It’s because he stood to lose money, pure and simple, because the most offended where his hardcore fans that contribute to his living. He didn’t want to damage his marketable brand name.

He’s the equivalent of politician who gets caught with his pants down. Like Harold Ford, all of a sudden changing his tune about gay marriage, for the sake of winning votes in a place where the gay vote matters.

It’s all a pathetic show.

Yes, I’m well aware that this comment is going to be deleted, but I have no shame in speaking the truth.

It couldn’t really be all about the cash, could it?


Homosexuals protest that the Roman Catholic Church is too Roman Catholic

Filed under: Christianity,homosexuality — David Jenkins @ 8:09 pm
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From the BBC:

Hundreds of Dutch activists have walked out of a Mass in protest at a Roman Catholic policy of denying communion to practising homosexuals.

On this occasion, the church, in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, had already decided not to serve communion, so the protesters left, shouting and singing.

The dispute began earlier this month when a priest in a nearby town refused communion to an openly gay man.

This dispute began during Dutch carnival celebrations earlier in February, when the man chosen to be carnival prince in nearby Reusel was refused communion because of his open homosexuality.

The refusal offended many in the local community.

Several hundred demonstrators, dressed in pink wigs and clothes, left the church in protest.

The man at the centre of the row has said he just wants equal treatment – if he is regarded as a sinner, he wants the priest to refuse communion to all other sinners too.

The man at the centre of the row, rather than come to the Lord’s table as a penitent sinner, wants to argue with God about his particular sinfulness which, presumably, he thinks is so special that it deserves to be affirmed rather than forgiven. That is equal treatment?

February 27, 2010

Toxic TV

Filed under: Pop-Culture — David Jenkins @ 6:51 pm

Leo Tolstoy in his later years was taken to see a film by a friend. His response was, “why would anyone watch such rubbish?”

Malcolm Muggeridge, after a lifetime of making his living from television, retreated to a small English village and had his television aerial removed. I met him in the early 1980s and mentioned how much I enjoyed his writing. He said that that was music to his ears; I doubt he would have responded similarly had I said how much I enjoyed his TV appearances.

Theodore Dalrymple isn’t swayed favourably by the pernicious twaddle that emanates from the electronic purveyor of mental pollution either:

Shortly before Mr Blair was elected Prime Minister of Great Britain, a newspaper discovered that I had not had a television in my home for about thirty years. This struck the editor of the newspaper as an extraordinary circumstance; so extraordinary in fact, rather like having been an anchorite in the Syrian desert subsisting on locusts and honey, that he contacted me to ask whether I would agree to having a television installed in my home so that I could tell readers, after a week of watching it, what I thought of it. This I consented to do on one very firm condition: that the newspaper took the television away at the end of the week. The newspaper agreed.

When the television arrived, I plugged it in and turned it on. The picture was grainy, for something else was required, evidently, to have a good reception. But it was good enough to know what was going on.

The programme was one of those in which a degraded family, or perhaps I should say a group of human beings who have lived in close association for some time or other, airs its appalling behaviour in public in return, I should imagine, for money, and for the prurient delectation of a voyeuristic audience.

A fattish woman approaching middle age was complaining in a monotonously high-pitched voice, halfway between a harangue and a wail, about her three daughters who were aged twelve, thirteen and fourteen respectively. According to her, they ‘did drugs’ and had left home to be prostitutes.

At this point, the presenter of the show interrupted her and asked the audience to give a warm welcome – with, of course, a round of applause – to the three young trollops in question, who came tripping down the steps to the television set with smirks of self-satisfaction on their faces. No lack of self-esteem there, I thought; rather too much, in fact.

Of course, mother and daughters began at once to trade high-pitched insults and accusations, and generally behaved like a dog and a cat enclosed in a sack. There was undoubtedly a morbid fascination in all this, though the spectacle was disgusting; suffice it to say that I was not encouraged by it to take steps to ensure that the television had a permanent presence in my home.

The newspaper had given me a timetable of programmes to watch, though it did not inform me as to the criterion it had used in their selection. Whether what my wife – who likewise had had no exposure to television for years before I met her – and I watched was better or worse than the average that was on offer to viewers, we could not say; but it seemed terrible pabulum to us, having approximately the same effect on our consciousness as a food-mixer on vegetables. It turned it into a kind of soup.

Apple using child labour

Filed under: Computers — David Jenkins @ 2:11 pm
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Apple’s Steve Jobs believes in trendy causes like equality and fundamental rights and, for that reason, donated $100k to support homosexual marriage in California:

Steve Jobs’ company Apple Inc. released a statement in October 2008 opposing Proposition 8 and donating $100,000 to the No on 8 campaign. Said Apple, “[We] strongly believe that a person’s fundamental rights — including the right to marry — should not be affected by their sexual orientation.”

Oddly enough, until the prospect of bad publicity loomed large, Jobs’ enthusiasm for fundamental rights did not extend to avoiding the use of child labour in the making of iPods and iPhones:

Technology giant Apple has admitted that child labour has been employed at some of the factories that build its iPods, computers and mobile phones.

An audit found that at least eleven 15-year-old children were found to be working in three factories that supply Apple in the last year.

It said that child workers were now no longer being used at the sites, or were no longer underage.

High-tech piety is no match for profit.

Rifqa Bary: a few more twists in the plot

Filed under: Christianity,Islam — David Jenkins @ 1:14 pm
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US law enforcement adroitly illustrates the Mr. Bumble Principle.

Read it all at American Thinker:

A girl flees from her home in fear for her life — and law enforcement goes after the people who helped her. That’s the situation in the Rifqa Bary case. The Columbus Dispatch reported this about Rifqa’s friend Brian Williams: “An Ohio minister accused of driving a teenage runaway to a bus station last year has retained a lawyer as police say they’re investigating whether anyone broke the law in helping the Christian convert leave home for Florida.” And why did she flee to Florida? Because, she says, when her devout Muslim father found out she had become a Christian, he said to her, “I will kill you.” And with Islam’s death penalty for apostates, she had to take that seriously. But Rifqa’s father is not in danger of being prosecuted. Brian Williams is.

Law enforcement, in a perverse twist of reality, continues persecuting the Christians in Ohio who helped a teenage apostate escape the death threat (in line with sharia law) made by her family. They are investigating any “criminal wrongdoing with anyone involved in getting her from one location to another.” How many other runaway cases are pursued in this way? How many other teenage girls in America have this attention paid to them by law enforcement? How many teenage girls who sell their bodies for sex and drugs for an adult pimp are pursued this way? And their pimps?

February 26, 2010

Diocese of Niagara: chipping away at the divinity of Jesus

Filed under: Diocese of Niagara — David Jenkins @ 5:52 pm

The diocesan newspaper is a beacon of enlightenment – on how Niagara got to where it is today:

A friend recently asked me, out of the blue, “Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?” I could have simply said, “Yes,” but hesitated instead.

Of course you did: why build faith when you can sow doubt. This is, after all, what Western Anglicans mean by Evangelism.

Why? I felt that it was a simple question to which I should, as a Christian, have an immediate and satisfactory answer. Racing through my head, however, were various interpretations of these words, some more valid than others. Furthermore, what answer would be most useful to my friend at her stage of questioning? Other progressive Christians joke about being labeled heretic.

Being labelled a heretic in the Diocese of Niagara is no joke: it is a condition of employment.

Back to the question of the identity of Jesus. He called himself “the Son of Man,” a more modest label than “Son of God.” Like “Messiah,” with its overtly warlike associations, “Son of God” was an aggressive, politically loaded term from the Old Testament that some of Jesus’ followers must have pressured him to claim. They also called him “Teacher,” “Rabbi,” and “Lord.” The Christian Church has used all these titles as well as “Christ” and “Emmanuel.”

First we employ Anglican bafflegab and confuse the issue of Jesus’ divinity by focussing on the irrelevant: warlike associations and aggressive, politically loaded term[s].

By the time I had realized that this information was merely the tiniest corner of the scholarship on the topic, days had passed. I began to consider that the key word in my friend’s question was “believe.” That posed a second challenge. Have I any business expressing my ideas let alone my beliefs if I do not believe in Jesus in an orthodox way?

Then clinch the muddle by casting doubt on the meaning of common words: in this instance believe.

This is a variation on the Nicene Creed debate. Many church leaders have stopped reciting it during church services because they can no longer believe it to be literally true. No wonder many loyal Anglicans feel torn! Another friend said recently, “I like to recite the Creeds because they remind me of what I believe. If I throw out these beliefs, which I realize are limited in terms of common sense, it’s like jumping from the familiar into the unknown and I don’t know where I’ll land.”

And the coup de gras: almost no-one in the Anglican Church of Canada believes the Creed any more; if you do happen to find yourself in a parish that defies common sense and still says, “Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father”, you can always cross your fingers.

As Søren Kierkegaard, the early 19th century Danish theologian, put it, to be a Christian requires a leap to faith because of the logical absurdity inherent in orthodoxy. How else, for example, can we assert that Jesus is both God and man when our rational minds say that this, let alone the doctrine of the Trinity, doesn’t make sense? To take a leap to faith requires a leap of faith. The pervasive 20th century response to the claims of religion was the existential despair of nihilism.

It’s just as well Kierkegaard is no longer with us since he spent much of his life inveighing against clergy who lived lives contrary to their professed beliefs. His solution to this hypocrisy was for the clergy to live up to their beliefs; the contemporary Anglican solution is for the clergy to abandon them.

I called my friend and gave her my rather long answer to her question about my belief in Jesus as the Son of God. She said, “Oh, really, I didn’t know it was so complicated! I’m sorry to put you to all this bother. What matters to me is not right or wrong theology but that we are friends!” As Paul put it, “if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

Jesus’ divinity is mysterious; it only becomes complicated to those who don’t believe in it.

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus seems to have been pleased by Peter’s prompt response: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Two millennia later, the question, “Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?” should not be asked as a test of orthodoxy. It deserves an answer only if asked in the spirit of friendship.

Who needs a test of orthodoxy? Not the Diocese of Niagara.

February 25, 2010

The Diocese of Toronto urges action on poverty

Filed under: Anglican Church of Canada — David Jenkins @ 6:40 pm
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The important word in the headline is “urges”. The diocese would rather not do anything itself; after all, why would it when it is so much easier to urge.

Anglicans join Archbishop to urge action on poverty in budget.

While agreeing that the government faces a major fiscal deficit, the brief notes society’s “colossal human deficit, of needless suffering, hardship and lost opportunity.” Foodbank usage soared by 19 per cent in Ontario in 2009, so that 374,000 Ontarians now use foodbanks.

Ontario’s government was also praised for positive steps, such as a commitment to reduce child poverty by 25 per cent by 2013.

Anglicans across the diocese are adding their voices in support of the brief. St. Martin, Bay Ridges, Holy Spirit, Dixie North, and St. Barnabas, Chester, passed vestry motions supporting the brief. St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Toronto, produced a bulletin insert.

St. Matthew’s Anglican Church makes this curious confession:

In their letter to Mr. Duncan, members of St. Matthew, Islington, said “it is immoral to live in a society in which the top 10 per cent of families now receive 75 times more income than the bottom 10 per cent.”

By their own lights, these members of St. Matthew, Islington are living an immoral life. Never fear, intrepid St. Mathews’ members, a moral life awaits you in a damp cave in the remote mountains of Afghanistan; bon voyage.

February 24, 2010

Richard Dawkins keeps attracting the wrong sorts of people

Filed under: Atheism,Richard Dawkins — David Jenkins @ 9:28 pm
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Richard Dawkins is re-vamping his forum – which he modestly calls “a clear thinking oasis” – and, because of that, people have been calling him names.

Dawkins puts this down to there being something rotten in the Internet culture. He might have a point to a degree, but, comically, the rather obvious thing he has overlooked is that a forum devoted to atheism attracts a lot of people who are more interested in irrationally venting their spleen than in calm reasoned argument.

From the exchanges with atheists on this blog, I have noticed that most atheists – all who have commented here – are emotional atheists: their belief system is based mainly on feeling. When a visiting atheists is asked to explain himself, one is confronted by a torrent of chaotic, emotive, unexamined aphorisms and clichés.

Just as he overlooks the obvious reason for Creation, Dawkins overlooks the obvious reason for the name-calling. Here is some of Dawkins’ response:

A Message from Richard Dawkins about the website updates

Imagine that you, as a greatly liked and respected person, found yourself overnight subjected to personal vilification on an unprecedented scale, from anonymous commenters on a website. Suppose you found yourself described as an “utter twat” a “suppurating rectum. A suppurating rat’s rectum. A suppurating rat’s rectum inside a dead skunk that’s been shoved up a week-old dead rhino’s twat.” Or suppose that somebody on the same website expressed a “sudden urge to ram a fistful of nails” down your throat. Also to “trip you up and kick you in the guts.” And imagine seeing your face described, again by an anonymous poster, as “a slack jawed turd in the mouth mug if ever I saw one.”

What do you have to do to earn vitriol like that? Eat a baby? Gas a trainload of harmless and defenceless people? Rape an altar boy? Tip an old lady out of her wheel chair and kick her in the teeth before running off with her handbag?

None of the above. What you have to do is write a letter like this:

Dear forum members,

We wanted you all to know at the earliest opportunity about our new website currently in development. will have a new look and feel, improved security, and much more. Visits to the site have really grown over the past 3 1/2 years, and this update gives us an opportunity to address several issues. Over the years we’ve become one of the world’s leading resources for breaking rational and scientific news from all over the net and creating original content. We are focusing on quality content distribution, and will be bringing more original articles, video and other content as we grow.

The new will have a fully-integrated discussion section. This will be a new feature for the site, similar to the current forum, but not identical. We feel the new system will be much cleaner and easier to use, and hopefully this will encourage participation from a wider variety of users.

We will leave the current forum up for 30 days, giving regular users an opportunity to locally archive any content they value. When the new website goes live, you are welcome to submit these posts as new discussions. The forum will then be taken down from the web. You will not loose your username on the new system.

The new discussion area will not be a new forum. It will be different. We will be using a system of tags to categorize items, instead of sub-forums. Discussions can have multiple tags, such as “Education”, “Children”, and “Critical Thinking”. Starting a new discussion will require approval, so we ask that you only submit new discussions that are truly relevant to reason and science. Subsequent responses on the thread will not need approval—however anything off topic or violating the new terms of service will be removed. The approval process will be there to ensure the quality of posts on the site. This is purely an editorial exercise to help new visitors find quality content quickly. We hope this discussion area will reflect the foundation’s goals and values.

We know that this is a big decision. We know some of you will be against this change. We ask that you respect our decision and help make this transition as smooth as possible.

We’re confident that these changes will improve the site experience and we look forward to seeing what you do with the new system.

Many thanks again.


Surely there has to be something wrong with people who can resort to such over-the-top language, over-reacting so spectacularly to something so trivial. Even some of those with more temperate language are responding to the proposed changes in a way that is little short of hysterical. Was there ever such conservatism, such reactionary aversion to change, such vicious language in defence of a comfortable status quo? What is the underlying agenda of these people? How can anybody feel that strongly about something so small? Have we stumbled on some dark, territorial atavism? Have private fiefdoms been unwittingly trampled?

Be that as it may, what this remarkable bile suggests to me is that there is something rotten in the Internet culture that can vent it. If I ever had any doubts that needs to change, and rid itself of this particular aspect of Internet culture, they are dispelled by this episode.

If you are one of those who have dealt out such ludicrously hyperbolic animosity, you know who should receive your private apology. And if you are one of those who are as disgusted by it as I am, you know where to send your warm letter of support.


Update: Ruth Gledhill has more on this here and here.

Cuban hypocrisy

Filed under: Politics — David Jenkins @ 8:16 pm
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Raul Castro wants us to think he is sorry a political prisoner has died:

Cuba’s leader Raul Castro “laments” the death of a detained activist who had been on hunger strike for nearly three months, its foreign ministry says.

It marks a rare expression of sorrow by the country’s leadership, often rebuked over its human rights record.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo died in hospital in Havana on Tuesday, 85 days after he began refusing food, sparking criticism of Havana from the US and EU countries.

The 42-year-old was arrested in 2003 in an crackdown on opposition activists.

But the Cuban president said neither Mr Tamayo nor anyone else on the island had been tortured.

Mr Zapata, who was declared a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International, had been refusing food in protest at jail conditions and died in the capital’s Hermanos Ameijeiras hospital.

Anyone remotely interested what happens to you in Cuba when you express opinions contrary to the government owes it to himself to read Against all Hope by Armando Valladares. Valladares was a guest of the Communist paradise’s prison system because had the temerity to express doubts in Cuba’s expression of Communist perfection. Here is an excerpt from the end of the book when he was released:

As the cars sped along, a flood of memories rushed over me. Twenty-two years in jail. I recalled the two sergeants, Porfirio and Matanzas, plunging their bayonets into Ernesto Diaz Madruga’s body; Roberto Lopez Chavez dying in a cell, calling for water, the guards urinating over his face and in his gasping mouth; Boitel, denied water too, after more than fifty days on a hunger strike, because Castro wanted him dead; Clara, Boitel’s poor mother, beaten by Lieutenant Abad in a Political Police station just because she wanted to find out where her son was buried. I remember Carrion, shot in the leg, telling Jaguey not to shoot, and Jaguey mercilessly, heartlessly shooting him in the back; the officers who threatened family members if they cried at a funeral.

I remembered Estebita and Piri dying in blackout cells, the victims of biological experimentation; Diosdado Aquit, Chino Tan, Eddy Molina and so many others murdered in the forced-labour fields, quarries and camps. A legion of spectres, naked, crippled, hobbling and crawling through my mind, and the hundreds of men wounded and mutilated in the horrifying searches. Dynamite. Drawer cells. Eduardo Capote’s fingers chopped off by a machete. Concentration camps, tortures, women beaten, soldiers pushing prisoners’ heads into a lake of shit, the beatings of Eloy and Izaguirre. Martin Perez with his testicles destroyed by bullets. Robertico weeping for his mother.

And in the midst of that apocalyptic vision of the most dreadful and horrifying moments in my life, in the midst of the gray, ashy dust and the orgy of beatings and blood, prisoners beaten to the ground, a man emerged, the skeletal figure of a man wasted by hunger, with white hair, blazing blue eyes, and a heart overflowing with love, raising his arms to the invisible heaven and pleading for mercy for his executioners.

“Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” And a burst of machine-gun fire ripping open his breast.

Think about that before you take your next vacation in Cuba.

Primate Fred Hiltz wants to lobby parliament

Filed under: Anglican Church of Canada,Fred Hiltz,TEC — David Jenkins @ 6:51 pm
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It’s reasonably clear that Canadian Primate, Fred Hiltz, marches in lock step with TEC Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts-Schori on same-sex blessings and leftist social justice obsessions.

Here he goes again. Hiltz, in his new-year’s day sermon, said he wants to lobby the Canadian government through a church Secretariat for Government Relations:

Churches need lobby office here.
The government’s recent whack at the social justice group KAIROS has made churches realize that they’re no different than anyone else when it comes to lobbying in Ottawa. If you are not here, you are not heard. Fred Hiltz, head of the Anglican Church in Canada, floated this idea in  his New Year’s sermon at Christ Church Cathedral, a stone’s throw from Parliament Hill: “We believe the cut of … funding for KAIROS denies hope for millions of people throughout the world and damages our reputation among the nations. … This crisis highlights the need for the Churches to have a Secretariat for Government Relations here in the nation’s capital. Given the multicultural and multi-religious complexion of our country, such a secretariat could reflect a strong partnership in the interest of human rights, among people of a variety of faith traditions. I believe that a secretariat of this kind would enhance our capacity to have a stronger voice in influencing the shaping of public policy, both domestic and international.”

Funnily enough, TEC has allocated $6.6M in its budget for a government Advocacy Centre:

If you had 6.6 million dollars and wanted to do something good, what would you do?

If your answer is “hire lobbyists to get the government to solve problems for you,” then you might be an Episcopalian.

What in the world does the Episcopal church want to communicate to our elected officials? Those silly resolutions passed by General Conventions of course, and it takes money to get these important messages across.

Another example of imaginative leadership from Fred Hiltz; Fred, apparently, is going to show the world the way out of the same-sex blessings mess. Stop sniggering:

If Canadian Anglicans can find a way to break through the impasse over sexuality “it could well become a vibrant model of the kind of renewed Christian community that has much to teach the wider church,”

February 23, 2010

Richard Dawkins likes the King James Bible

Filed under: Atheism,Richard Dawkins — David Jenkins @ 1:23 pm
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In speaking of the King James Bible, Richard Dawkins makes the extraordinary claim that “religion must not be allowed to hijack this cultural resource”.

Evidently it hasn’t occurred to him that he is the one doing the hijacking.

To rob the Bible of “religion” is to expunge its meaning and make it merely aesthetic. Someone should tell Richard that he is too late: this has already been tried by the Anglican Church.

Mindful things

Filed under: Atheism — David Jenkins @ 1:02 pm

The existence of Mind presents one of the greatest problems for atheists. In attempting to understand the universe, Descartes began with what most certainly exists – I think, therefore I am – and then used the ontological argument to demonstrate the next most certain thing to exist: God.

Materialist atheists, though, start with the assumption that all that exists is the material; mind must be explained as a result of the material. Although some softer atheists like Christopher Hitchens like to claim that the material, in producing Mind, has created the numinous, the Dawkins breed of atheist would not agree – and, indeed, Hitchens’ position doesn’t make much sense. So the atheist is left with this problem:

If God does not exist:

Mind is the product of the material
No thought can exist that is not the product of the material
Belief in God is a thought
Some people believe in God
The material creates thoughts that are unreliable
Thought that claims to explain the working of the universe is unreliable

Another way to look at this – although it doesn’t solve the above problem – is  that without the transcendent, to explain conciousness we have to resort to something called panpsychism; if Mind is real and there is nothing other than the material, then the material must contain consciousness and all things must posses a degree of being conscious. Thus the atheist’s never ending quest to seek the least likely explanation for existence reaches new depths of unbelievability:

Daniel Dennett is a panpsychist. He wouldn’t admit it in public, and he might not even realize it. Yet Dennett, one of the foremost materialists in the early part of the 21st Century, advocates views regarding consciousness, biology, and philosophy that unavoidably lead to that most ridiculous of philosophical views: that all things have some degree of consciousness, otherwise known as panpsychism.

For those who don’t know, Dan Dennett is a professor of philosophy at Tufts University in Massachusetts. I had the good fortune of meeting Dennett recently and found that he is in fact a very pleasant man, courteous and with a great sense of humor.

Dennett has written numerous books, including, most recently, Breaking the Spell, an anti-religion screed that places him firmly among the “new atheists” school of thought. The new atheists, which include Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and others, take as their primary target the traditional view of God as a creator and patriarch who exercises an ongoing role in his creation. This traditional view, known as theism, is quite hard to defend for anyone who has scientific or philosophical training. But Dennett and the rest of the new atheists go too far, rejecting most notions of divinity as part and parcel of their rejection of traditional religion.

Dennett has also written books on Darwinian evolution (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea) and consciousness (Consciousness Explained and Brainstorms, among others). He is, with the British biologist Dawkins, probably the best-known proponent of what I call “crude materialism.” Crude materialism is the hardcore – some would say dogmatic – version of materialism. It is the view, in essence, that the universe is all just matter and space, there is no God, and all things can in principle be explained fully through human inquiry and theorizing.

Crude materialists believe, to speak very generally, that mind (consciousness) is “merely” what brains do. Once we explain the brain’s various functions we have then explained all that there is to explain. Explain the brain and we have explained the mind.

Dennett has acknowledged, however, that “subjective experience” is real. The phrase subjective experience refers simply to the first-person perspective (I, we) as opposed to a third-person (he, she, it, they) perspective. It is the sense of being here—right here, somewhere behind my eyes and between my ears, or so it seems. When philosophers talk about explaining consciousness, or when they speak of the mind-body problem, this is what they are trying to explain.

Dennett has also argued forcefully against the idea of conscious experience being something fundamentally different than what is simply matter. Dennett seems to be most opposed to what is called “dualism.” Descartes was the best-known dualist and he argued that there is physical stuff and there is mental stuff. There is also some organ in the body, most likely the pineal gland at the base of the brain, which allows these two different stuffs to interact. For Descartes, only humans had mind, so all other animals were considered mere automatons devoid of any kind of consciousness or spirit. Dualism is not a common position today among philosophers or scientists, but it’s still fairly common in religious views of the world which refer to “spirit” or “soul” as something separate from mindless matter.

Dennett often mentions the history of “vitalism” in biology, as an argument by analogy, to show why dualism is wrong. Vitalists argued that there is something special, some élan vital, imbuing certain kinds of matter with properties that make it “alive.” Vitalism was a fairly common view until the early 20th Century. This argument has long since been (rightly) discredited because we have found that there is nothing else to explain about “life” once we explain the functions of living organisms. In other words, according to anti-vitalists like Dennett, “life” isn’t a quality or a thing, it’s just a label we give to certain types of matter that exhibit more complex behavior than what we generally think of as being not alive. But there’s not a clear dividing line between life and non-life.

Now here’s my main point, though it’s admittedly a fairly subtle point. If Dennett is a materialist, and he admits that subjective experience is real—and he is an anti-vitalist and anti-dualist—then he must also be a panpsychist. This is the case because if materialism is true, and at the same time subjective experience is real, then matter must include subjective experience—consciousness itself.

If anti-vitalism is true, life does not suddenly appear where it was not present before. It must exist in a continuum from the simplest forms of matter through the chain of being all the way to us, human beings. As an anti-vitalist, Dennett can’t argue consistently that consciousness materialized at some arbitrary point in the history of the universe. Ergo, life and consciousness are present, in some amount, in the simplest forms of matter as well as the most complex forms we know of today. In other words, all things are alive to some degree, and all things are conscious to some degree. This is panpsychism.

A difference between what we consider to be “life” and what we consider to be “consciousness” is that explaining the functions of consciousness does not explain consciousness itself. The various functions of human consciousness, such as sight, dreaming, etc., we may explain, but these functions presuppose a first-person point of view, subjective experience. We must explain this first-person point of view if we’re seeking insight into the nature of the universe—or “merely” of consciousness.

I have in recent years come to the position that panpsychism is the best explanation we have of mind, matter, and spirituality, after pondering these issues for over 20 years. The best-known panpsychists in western history include Spinoza, Schopenhauer, William James, Henri Bergson, Alfred North Whitehead, Teilhard de Chardin, J.B.S. Haldane, David Bohm, and many others. Unfortunately, panpsychism is still not taken seriously by most scientists or philosophers. But it should be.

So why does all of this matter (pardon the pun)? It matters because it shows that crude materialism, an increasingly common worldview in the Western world, holds inherent contradictions, the surest sign that a theory or paradigm is problematic.

And it shows that consciousness is not, as materialists generally argue, a property particular to complex forms of matter (such as human beings). Consciousness is in fact a property of all matter. As matter has complexified, through the process of evolution, consciousness has complexified. This can form the basis for not only a satisfying and consistent philosophical and scientific worldview, it also forms the basis for linking science and spirituality in a rational framework that incorporates areas more traditionally left to faith.

California Dreaming

Filed under: Photography — David Jenkins @ 11:57 am

Winter has finally arrived in Southern Ontario:

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February 22, 2010

Danny Williams: let them eat cake

Filed under: Politics — David Jenkins @ 7:19 pm

Canadian health care is good enough for average Canadian citizens, but the political elite demand something better; something that can only be found in the US:

Danny Williams, the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, has broken his silence on his decision to undergo heart surgery in the U.S., and the controversy it caused.

Williams, who is recovering at his condo in Sarasota, Fla., said people shouldn’t take his decision to seek medical help outside the country as a reflection on health care in Newfoundland and Labrador. He said he has the “utmost confidence” in the province’s health-care system.

“It’s a bum rap … for someone to try to turn around and say, ‘You know, Williams doesn’t have confidence in his own health-care system because he had to leave the province.’ Well, I had to leave the province because it was recommended to me by my own doctors that for this particular type of surgery I should leave the province.”

So sorry you had to leave the province, Danny; and thanks for the vote of confidence in Canada’s health care system for everyone but you.

Update: Apparently the treatment Williams received is available in Canada.

This unsporting life

Filed under: Sport — David Jenkins @ 11:44 am

Although most of my friends have given up any hope of persuading me by now, I used to get invited to attend meetings where prominent Christian sportsmen would speak about their faith. Presumably the principle is that if someone can hit a white ball into a hole with an assortment of sticks carried around a field by a paid lackey, what he has to say about Christianity is bound to be rivetingly interesting. I do miss the invitations: I enjoyed the blank stare that confronted me when I broke the bad news that I had never heard of the prominent sportsman. I have heard of Tiger Woods, though; I imagine he will soon be on a highly paid lecture circuit expounding the benefits of Buddhism.Add an Image

I have a Facebook group called “Down with Sport”. Although I think the reasons for its existence are self evident, it isn’t wildly popular for some reason:

Yes, down with sport, all sport – including Canadian hockey.
First, because there is nothing like sport to induce the most asinine behaviour in otherwise normal people.
Second, because sport produces the most unsportsmanlike behaviour of any known human activity.
Third, because I don’t like it.
Fourth, because “sport” is a monosyllabic oxymoron.

Christopher Hitchens doesn’t like sport much, either:

Meanwhile, genial, welcoming, equable Canada, shortly to be the host of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, is now the object of a stream of complaints from British and American sports officials, who say that their athletes are being denied full access to the venue’s ski runs, tracks, and skating rinks. Familiarity with these is important in training and rehearsal, but the Canadians are evidently determined to protect their home-turf advantage. According to one report in The New York Times, the Whistler downhill skiing course was the setting for an astonishing scene, as “several medal contenders were left watching over a fence as the Canadian team trained. ‘Everybody was pushing to get on that downhill,’ said Max Gartner, Alpine Canada’s chief athletic officer. ‘That’s an advantage we cannot give away.’ ” Nah nah nah nah nah: it’s our mountain and you can’t ski on it, so there, or not until we’ve had the best of it. “We’re the only country to host two Olympic Games [Montreal in 1976 and Calgary in 1988] and never have won a gold medal at our Games,” whined Cathy Priestner Allinger, an executive vice president of the Vancouver Organizing Committee. “It’s not a record we’re proud of.” But elbowing guests out of your way at your own party—of that you can be proud.

I didn’t have to read far to find the comment I knew would be made about this spiteful, petty conduct. A hurt-sounding Ron Rossi, who is executive director of something snow-oriented called USA Luge, spoke in wounded tones about a supposed “gentlemen’s agreement” extending back to Lake Placid in 1980, and said of the underhanded Canadian tactic: “I think it shows a lack of sportsmanship.”

On the contrary, Mr. Rossi, what we are seeing is the very essence of sportsmanship. Whether it’s the exacerbation of national rivalries that you want—as in Africa this year—or the exhibition of the most depressing traits of the human personality (guns in locker rooms, golf clubs wielded in the home, dogs maimed and tortured at stars’ homes to make them fight, dope and steroids everywhere), you need only look to the wide world of sports for the most rank and vivid examples. As George Orwell wrote in his 1945 essay “The Sporting Spirit,” after yet another outbreak of combined mayhem and chauvinism on the international soccer field, “sport is an unfailing cause of ill-will.” As he went on to say:

I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield. Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.

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