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Posts Tagged ‘New Humanist’

A few weeks ago, I was annoyed by a piece about New Atheism by the editor of New Humanist magazine, Caspar Melville.

This week, New Humanist themselves published a counterpoint by Ophelia Benson which I heartily endorse. It’s titled “Friends like these” – a reference to the fact that modern atheism’s enemies are already numerous, and so some of the criticism coming from within the community is distinctly unhelpful.

It’s obviously not the case that internal criticism and debate should be stifled, but it’s disheartening to see so much venom, and so many of the same old straw men being burnt, from the people who are nominally on our side of the discussion that actually matters. Remember, the one about the invisible sky-man who some people think talks to them and cares how we behave.

She also makes the point well that people’s idea of this “new” atheism being militant, strident, and aggressive often seems to be based on things like the discussions in blog comment threads – something which doesn’t exemplify “atheists” so much as “people with an internet connection and an opinion”. Everyone is a dick on the internet. It’s science. SCIENCE.

Case in point: I just read the comments on that very article and now my head hurts. Why do I find this all so frustrating?

Update: Russell Blackford is also busily being right about this.

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Russell Blackford sums up the problems I had with that piece by Caspar Melville, editor of the New Humanist, about the state and direction of New Atheism.

Which is handy, because it means now I don’t have to.

Well, okay, just a bit. Here’s one bit which resonated with me:

Melville seems to think there is something “dangerous” about any degree of solidarity among people who are “critical of religious power and authority and theocracy and irrationalism and superstition and religious exploitation”.

This is what’s annoyed me before about certain anti-Dawkins atheists, who not only like to describe him as some sort of frothing fundamentalist, but pick up on any instance of more than one person agreeing with him simultaneously, and paint it as some kind of sinister rally.

Many of Dawkins’s fans are sensible people. When they agree with him, it’s because they agree with him, not because he is the Leader Who Must Not Be Questioned. He can be fairly criticised, and often is even by those within “the Dawkins camp”.

Of course, not every member of every demographic will always succeed in acting rationally, or arguing without resorting to misplaced emotion and fallacy. No doubt he has supporters who are more fanatical than most of us would see as entirely healthy, and for whom fair criticism might not always get through and be taken on board as it should. But that doesn’t make us all a rabble of fundamentalist sheep.

Caspar wasn’t going that far, certainly. But he seems to be on the verge of siding with those who call it dangerous groupthink whenever there’s a group of people who, well, think the same. The fact that a crowd have gathered to foster a sense of community and express their shared views is not, in itself, antithetical to rational thinking. People are capable of holding onto themselves, even in the midst of other people shouting. Give us some credit.

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The new Carnival of the Godless is up! And I’m in it! No, really, I am. Right down there at the bottom. It helps if you squint a bit.

And, the New Humanist has some good info on the reaction to the ridiculous new Irish blasphemy law, and the fabulous campaign of unfettered, over-the-top blasphemy which is in the process of ensuing. Oh, and the Amateur Scientist has just posted about this too, the filthy jowl-fetishist. (And if that’s not a phrase that’ll make you click a link out of curiosity for the context, I don’t know what is.)

I’m certain there was something else I wanted to say, but it’s completely gone. I’ll come back to it later if it was anything important.

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So last night I went to the latest of Robin Ince’s science-themed, rationalist, comedy and music shows, A Night of 400 Billion Stars (And Maybe Some String Theory). Here are some scattered thoughts about it, loosely strung together in a way that can’t really be called a “review”.

Robin Ince is still utterly superb. The many hours of sleep he hadn’t got over the last couple of days since Glastonbury didn’t seem to slow him down at all, although I’m pretty sure he did introduce the show at the very start as “A Night of 40 Billion Stars”, which might have meant we were being short-changed on an unprecedentedly vast scale. (Seriously, that’s 360,000,000,000 massive balls of roiling nuclear energy which were on the bill but weren’t provided. If that doesn’t merit a partial refund, I don’t know what does.)

The music was pretty consistently good, I thought. None of it spectacular, but a nice mix of stuff. I spent much of this morning muttering “Schnapps… Schnapps…” and feeling haunted by Martin White’s scary eyes. Darren Hayman was fun too, and Gavin Osborn, though I’ll probably have forgotten their names and what they were singing about fairly soon.

The comedy was what mainly made it worthwhile, though, with most of the great stuff coming from the young female performers (and not just because I’m a young male comediphile). I don’t remember seeing Josie Long’s name on the bill, so she was a lovely surprise. Lucy Porter was as adorable as ever, and completely won at life both for a Tycho Brahe / Michael Jackson joke, and for a poem which was almost certainly the most lyrically awesome thing to happen to the periodic table since Tom Lehrer. Someone I didn’t know, and whose name I’ve just had to look up to find out that it’s Helen Keen, was a lot of fun to listen to talking about her list of favourite rocket scientists throughout history. Something about her style of speaking was a little reminiscent of Boris Johnson, which in my book (but possibly not everybody else’s) = awesome.

And, speaking of odd celebrity comparisons which are probably as undeserved as they are unflattering: Christina Martin (her wot invented the God Trumps card game that Robin Ince played with someone from the audience who’d brought her own deck along) is also fab, and I don’t want to say anything derogatory about her because she’s really nice and very funny and a splendiferous force for good in the world, but this is supposed to be about recording the thoughts I had about stuff, so I’m going to say it anyway. Something about her reminded me somewhat of a Catherine Tate character. Not any particular one, just generally. There’s not really anything to it, just something in her style of delivery happened to prod my brain into making that connection. My flatmate looked at me like I was a freak when I suggested it, though, so it’s almost certainly just a quirk of my oddness than anything she needs to worry about. Sorry, Christina. You’re much funnier than her. I’m subscribing to the New Humanist right now. Please don’t block me on Twitter.

The only quibble of any import that I had was about the odd chunk of recycled material. Robin Ince barrels along with all his material at such a rate, and straddles the divide between being funny and scientifically informative so expertly, that it hardly matters, but there were a few lines I’d heard before at the godless show at Christmas (or possibly his stand-up gig more recently), and the closing extract from Feynman’s book was the same one as had closed the previous show. You have to know that a fair slice of your audience are going to be return visitors like me, who’ve seen the last show already, right?

And Simon Singh’s always great to hear speaking, but I’d been assuming that we’d get to hear something about the BCA case, as that’s what’s extremely topical in his life right now. I know there’s only so much that he’s at liberty to talk about, but some sort of update or summary of thoughts might have been good, of the type that he’s been giving in some of the interviews he’s done lately. (I didn’t manage to attend his recent appearance at Skeptics in the Pub, and kinda want to know exactly what I missed.) He’s still fun to see, but anyone who was there at the Christmas show doesn’t really need to revisit the Katie Melua story again, especially when there’s spine wizards to be mocked (a task mostly left up to Robin, and which he took to with his usual gusto).

He did get his gherkin out, though. I couldn’t see it when it went orange, because the podium was in the way, but I’m told it was an impressive sight.

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