Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Further point re Ibrahim Lawson correspondence


Here’s another, hopefully more accessible, way of making the same point I made in my reply to Ibrahim below.

Suppose Ted buys an astrology book. The first line of the book says he must accept the basic principles of astrology without question. They must not be subject to critical scrutiny. Ever. Ted accepts this.

As a result, whenever Ted comes up against any apparent evidence against astrology, he always attempts to explain away the evidence, or, if he can’t, says it’s simply a “mystery” that such evidence should exist given astrology is true. The one thing he never does is question the basic tenets of the book.

Ask him why he does not question the book, he simply answers: because the book says he mustn't.

Ted has made acceptance of the principles of this book part of his foundational beliefs – his first principles, if you like.

Given you reject astrology, as I do, would you nevertheless accept that, because Ted has made acceptance of these principles "foundational", we have here a rationally “unresolvable disagreement over first order issues”? Do you suppose that reason cannot reveal whether or not the principles of astrology are true? That reason cannot reveal whether or not its Ted, or us, that's mistaken?

I’m sure you wouldn’t. The fact is, astrology can be shown to be false. By science and reason.

Would you consider Ted’s position intellectually respectable and honest?

Again, surely not. I think we’d both agree that Ted is a fool.

Ted’s position, epistemologically speaking, is worthy of about the same level of respect as that of someone who, when told about something they don’t want to have to consider, sticks their fingers in their ears and shouts “Nya, nya nya! Can’t hear you!”

But if that’s true – then why aren’t those who take the same attitude to the Koran not similarly foolish?

P.S. Ibrahim, having just read these last two posts, they strike me as a bit brusque, which wasn't my intention. Tend to get brusque when I have my philosophy hat on - apologies.

70 comments:

anticant said...

Because astrology books are a load of old cobblers but the Koran is 'sacred'.

Weasel your way out of that one!

Ron Murphy said...

Anticant,
You really shouldn't besmirch the work of the prophet with sarcasm. You should instead consider the ultra-hyper-sensitivity that all followers of sacred works are entitled to call upon to denounce such sarcasm; so consider yourself admonished, and retract your words, and in future self-censor yourself in fear of violent recriminations fueled by religious hatred of the anti-religious. Peace be upon you.

anticant said...

Well, Ron, fear of violent recriminations is the elephant in the room where this whole business is concerned, isn't it?

As Roosevelt said, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself".

If we succumb to fear, it's curtains for our democracy and open way of life.

During WW2 the British weren't frightened. We never knew when we left our homes in the morning whether they would still be there when we returned, but that did not deter us from standing up to Hitler.

I have nothing but contempt for those who seek to close argument by threatening violence.

dd said...

I dont believe in any religion, but I believe in astrology. Maybe it is irrational, but to me it makes sense because 1) I believe in deterministic future 2) Hindu Astrology predicted in 1998 that I would become a millionaire in a few years and I have become one. It predicted in 1990 my mother will die in 1998, and she died in 1998 due to an heart attack. I have seen many such predictions come true. Once you have seen predictions come true many times and gone false very few times, you will start believing in it. And no I dont believe in hindu gods or anything only in hindu astrology.

dd said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Stephen Law said...

I removed that comment because it was pointlessly insulting to Muslims.

dd said...

sure ok, sorry....

I am saying sorry to you for abusing your blog. But not to the muslims for offending and insulting their religion. I believe in my fundamental right to offend and question.

They always claim that they do not worship mohammed, but only allah. They claim they are monotheistic but they worship mohammed, koran, kaaba and mecca and will not denigrate any of those four. But they do not worship allah because they will allow others to denigrate allah.

Denigrating Mohammed is insulting to muslims? But without denigration it is impossible to prove that you do not worship something. It is the muslims themselves who MUST denigrate mohammed FIRST to prove that they worship only allah and nothing else. Worshiping anything else other than allah is forbidden according to Islam. But they do not follow that, and have become the worst idolators on earth by worshipping kaaba and mohammed and mecca.

My point in denigrating mohammed was simply to point out that they are worshipping mohammed and not allah.

Ok you can remove this comment too... if you want.

Stephen Law said...

No, that one I'll accept! Apology accepted also.

Stephen Law said...

d.d. By the way, if you think astrology has something to it, just change the example to flat-earthism, or phrenology, or whatever. Will work just as well...

Ibrahim Lawson said...

Firstly an apology that I haven’t found time to reply to all the points that have been made by the contributors so far. I wonder whether this kind of communication is very well suited to the project of increasing mutual understanding.

Stephen, I completely agree with you that this is basically the issue, and I would not want to hide from it. My intention in suggesting belief as a foundational principle was not to remove it from critical scrutiny – that would be dishonest. It was to try to explain how a Muslim feels about his/her belief and why they may see no point in discussing it. I do find it fascinating however. On my own blog I recently recorded the following (in reference to ANY metanarrative claiming explanatory hegemony):

“Am I just making it all up?! I am! Oh no!- nothing is true!”

Something memorable from Rorty: the world is indifferent to our descriptions of it!

So, apparent evidence against Islam. Here I have to interject a thought that asks to be voiced: if I were to judge Islam on the basis of the way particular Muslims behave, I would come to the same conclusion that very many people today have – these Muslim’s belief system is over the horizon of my understanding, it doesn’t make any sense. I, and I believe many millions of Muslims today, are just as sickened by the violence and stupidity we see committed in the name of Islam. Some have concluded that this is inherent in Islam; I do not believe it is, but that is another discussion. I think there are many, complex reasons for this violent stupidity. I sense though that your argument that Islam is dangerous rests on the point you have raised about Ted the astrologist – that if we, as a society, open the door to irrational beliefs we end up with violent confrontation.

Skip to one of the most cogent arguments against theistic belief: the problem of evil. This presents the purely logical objection that God cannot be all-merciful and all-powerful and all-knowing if there is any evil in the world; and there is evil in the world; therefore….

I don’t think a theist has any reply to this. We can resort to all kinds of magician-style hand-waving, but none of it works as far as I can see. All you have to do is ask whether the inhabitants of paradise have free will yet just happen to choose never to do evil. If the answer is yes, then why did God also create this less perfect world which now includes only contingently the need for evil to exist in order for there to be the free will to choose between good and evil.

The option of re-defining ‘evil’ leaves us wondering what ‘evil’ means in that case; and the ‘evil is an illusion’ argument still begs the question of why even ‘illusory’ evil is necessary.

So I don’t even have to start on the evolution/creationist ‘debate’, or wonder whether an infinite succession of finite universes is logically possible and whether that would mean that God is redundant as a first cause.

I can read with enjoyment Maimonides’ ‘Guide for the Perplexed’ which purports to show that God cannot logically have any knowledge of His creation nor His creatures of Him.

I can agree with Russel that existence is not a logical predicate; puzzle with Plato over whether things are right because the gods made them so or vice versa.

Miracles? Depends what you mean, but we’re either Humean agnostics, at best, or puzzled by God’s apparent capriciousness.

Experience? Surely what we make of it?

The point is that there is still a (foolish?) part of me that is saying – so what?

Why? Why, even after the bathwater has been thrown out, do I still have the impression that I am left holding a baby?

At this point a purely ad hominem suspicion tends to creep up on me: other people have trodden this path before (from both ends, as it were: mystics and philosophers); what have they had to say about it? And are they the sort of people worth suspending judgement for a little while longer?

Thank you for being patient while we think this through; I have the impression Richard Dawkins would not be so forebearing.

dd said...

duh? I dont get you. Flat earthism has no proof. But I have seen with my eyes astrology being proved many times... Anyway you dont have to convince me to reject religion, i have already rejected it.

True Brit said...

Damn right, Anticant. If people don’t like the p**s being taken out of them they shouldn’t live in a free country. Lawson is nothing but an apologist for terrorism however he may try to wriggle out of it. Sooner or later, he’s going to get to the point of revealing his true colours. When all the fancy arguing is done the only thing these people have left is - shut up or I’ll kill you.

dd said...

ibrahim,

do you worship mohammed, kaaba and mecca?

If not will you denigrate him/it/it just to prove that you dont worship him/it/it?

If yes why do you worship a man, a stone and a city, instead of worshipping allah?

If you say mohammed and kaaba and mecca are just representations of allah so you will not denigrate them then how is it different from a hindu claiming that his stone idol is a representative of his god?

dd said...

"Sooner or later, he’s going to get to the point of revealing his true colours."

They do that only when they become the majority or atleast 33% of the population. (once they are 33% they will demand partition like they did in india) Till then they will practise Taqqiyah, pretend peace and reasonableness and wait for the day when they will outnumber us. They will even denounce the punishment for gibbons, but you should note that not a single muslim majority country denounced it, only muslims in muslim minority countries will do that (to get the good will of non muslims till they outnumber).

Woba said...

Mr. Lawson,

Do you think, honestly, that if you were the child of christian parents in a christian country that the 'baby' you refer to being left after the bath water is thrown out might have been revealed to you as Jesus Christ or the christian God instead of Allah?

If so, does this not show the unreliability of a 'sixth sense' or 'feelings' about God.

Stephen Law said...

Let's keep focus - on issue of how we educate kids about religion.

The focus, remember, is on Ibrahim's comment that in any good Islamic school, "Islam is a given and never challenged".

I think Ibrahim just made a pretty major concession on that front, a concession liberals like me might usefully exploit. In short, I think we're actually getting somewhere..(!)

But if you don't want to do that, and just want a space to slag off Muslims instead, go elsewhere...

Ibrahim Lawson said...

DD

You are confused about the teachings of Islam. I do not worship other than Allah, nor does any Muslim. Why on earth would I have to prove that by insulting anyone? In fact, part of my worship of Allah includes respecting the things you invite me to denigrate.

People like yourself and true brit seem to me to have confused respect for freedom of speech with the obligation to prove it by insulting anyone and everyone. Clearly, for some, nothing is sacred. Is that really a good thing?

Ibrahim Lawson said...

Woba:

Good point. This is more or less what happened to me in fact. When I started to determine the nature of the baby, at around the age of 13, I found the bathwater getting in the way. Turned out that Christianity was part of the bathwater long before I had ever heard of Islam. In plain English – I kept on looking for the truth and rejecting what I found until I came to Islam. I know it’s hard to see – though all the nonsense – but the Islam I found 30 years ago has still not been found wanting.

I did come across a Christian woman on one of the many blogs I wandered into having started with this one, and she seemed to be speaking about ‘the holy spirit’ in much the same way as I experience Allah. If I were her, I would probably end up finding something wrong with Christianity and have to keep on looking until I found a better explanation. In this, we are not immune to our social surroundings; it took me while to find Muslims I could identify with. For me, Islam is not an ideology or a philosophy or even a religion: it is an identity. Lot more to say on that point probably.

dd said...

"I do not worship other than Allah, nor does any Muslim. Why on earth would I have to prove that by insulting anyone? In fact, part of my worship of Allah includes respecting the things you invite me to denigrate."

There is no other way to disprove worship except by denigrating. So your claim that you do not worship mohammed is a sham unless you denigrate him and allow others to denigrate him. Allah is just a straw man in whose name you worship mohammed and kaaba (your stone idol).

Woba said...

Ibrahim,

Thank you for the response. I think it brings up an interesting point. Just as you found that Christianity did not hold the truth you sought, might not someone else have the opposite experience. Might they find that Islam does not hold the same truth for them, reject it, and find christianity. If you acknowledge this is so, then would you go so far as to teach alternate religion in your school and allow the children to decide for themselves if Islam fits for them in the way it did for you.

Had you been raised in an enviornment that taught Christianity as unquestionable fact, you might not have found Islam. I sure you would consider that a negative.

The main objection that many Athiests would have with religious indoctrination is that it imposes an idea on a child's mind before the child is equipped to make their own judgements about it.

Most children who are told that santa claus is going to fly around the entire earth delivering free toys to all the children in a single night do infact believe it.
This simple fact alone should provide ample evidence that young children are not equipped to determine what is true and what is false.

I doubt most Athiest would have a problem with religious education if it was for adults who choose it. If it must be taught to children then at the very least they should be allowed, even encouraged, to question.

anticant said...

Mr Lawson: I believe that free speech, freedom to question, and freedom to criticize, are the bedrock of a civilized and tolerable society. Such a society must therefore also be culturally open and pluralist, and government must be neutral between different religious beliefs and non-beliefs.

Islam, however, as I understand it, does not believe this and aspires to a theocracy where there is no distinction between the faith and the law. Am I correct in this?

I would also like to know what you teach your children about 'infidels' - those of other faiths, and non-believers. Are we all 'kufar' who are morally inferior to Muslims, and would be legally inferior to them in a British or European Muslim State? Is the 'respect' which Muslims are always demanding from others a two-way street?

My difficulty with Islam, you see, is not that I have any hostile feelings towards Muslims as fellow human beings, or want to stop them believing whatever they wish: it is far more fundamental, namely that I cannot for the life of me see how Islam is compatible with the democratic freedoms which I regard as my birthright and for which my parents' generation fought in World War 2.

Ron Murphy said...

Mr Lawson,

In an earlier post you said "None of the children or parents would have considered themselves for a minute to be the enemies of British society or any of its other members." That may be true for the ones you know, but can you be sure, and what about others?

This Telegraph article (and its links to previous articles) gives examples where this isn't the case, at least within mosques. And since for Muslims in general, and I presume for Muslim teachers, the local mosque is their source of the interpretation of Islam, then isn't there a clear danger of these attitudes being passed on to school children? And, aren't some of the perpetrators of those views parents, uncles or brothers of those children?

You say above that "...the Islam I found 30 years ago has still not been found wanting." For you maybe "it is an identity", a personal way of life, but to be honest that's not how you've portrayed it previously, in wanting to indoctrinate children. And anyway, can you be sure this is 'true' Islam? Has Islam really not let you down with regard to the role of women, for example?

All this is reason enough to ban religious teaching from schools, and to include critical thinking, so that, at least somewhere in their lives, children are able to receive a more balanced view.

I realise that this could (and in my opinion would) reduce the number of teenagers and adults that remain within their parent's faith, and in this case could reduce the numbers of followers of Islam. I appreciate that you and many other British Muslims might like the whole of Britain to become Muslim, just as I might like everyone to become an atheist - because we both think our point of view is correct and would like to share it with others - an admirable wish. But that doesn't mean we should indoctrinate children with our views.

I can sincerely say that I don't want Britain to become an atheist state. I don't want it to ban religion, or impose laws that would be prejudicial in favour of atheism and against religion. I positively want free choice, and the freedom of 'world view' or 'philosophical' expression (rather than just religious expression - for those that believe in astrology, for example).

But from what you have said in your previous posts I don't think you are so tolerant. You have said you want to indoctrinate children into your faith. You have said you would like Britain to become an Muslim Ummah (which isn't as tolerant as simply 'wishing' as 'hoping' all Britons become Muslim).

I think all religions based on faith, mystique and limited and distorted reasoning are genuinely dangerous. And this applies to the non-religions too - any dogmatic system that rejects reason and dissuades criticism. I also include some of our own government institutions that at times act as if they are faith systems. And the same applies to other 'democratic' systems - read any of Noam Chomsky's articles. I therefore agree with an earlier point you made, about the lack of critical thinking in (non-denominational) UK schools, and as a consequence the voting British public. The answer is more not less, to arm children, the future voting adults, against these distortions. I think the indoctrination into a faith is harmful in this respect.

The Barefoot Bum said...

I'm coming late to the game, but I have a few fundamental questions.

If there is some sort of unresolvable disagreement over first order issues, then in what sense can we be talking about promoting mutual understanding? Either there must be "zeroth" order issues on which we can base our mutual understanding, or the points of disagreement are not first order issues.

If the disagreements really were of the first order, then how can we consider each other anything but irredeemably insane, and any apprehension of meaning (much less truth) from one to another would be entirely mistaken.

So in what sense are we even communicating?

Second: let me assume, for the moment, that we actually can communicate, that at some fundamental level, there are no first level disagreements (i.e. disagreements about meaning), only second level disagreements (disagreements about, for instance, epistemic method).

Let me also set aside — for the moment; I'll come back to them in a moment — the specifically ethical implications of Islam. Aside from these ethical implications, does Islam have any meaning at all? Does it have, for instance, empirical meaning? Does Islam or the Koran make truth claims that could be falsified by logically possible observations? In other words, could we in principle observe the difference between a universe where Islam was true from a world where Islam was false?

Does Islam have logical meaning? Does the denial of any of the premises of Islam lead to a logical contradiction?

Does Islam have literary meaning? Should we evaluate Islam on the same basis on which we evaluate (for the good) Shakespeare or (for the bad) Cooper? On the one hand, it seems uncontroversial that the actual truth of at least some of what appear to be truth claims in literary fiction are irrelevant. On the other hand, deconstructionism, postmodernism and much of modern literary criticism have rendered the notion of literary meaning obsolete or at least opaque. (On the gripping hand, I have no problem at all throwing Islam to the tender mercies of academic literary critics — they may love you today, but they'll rip you apart tomorrow.)

Does Islam have some other kind of meaning (other than ethical meaning) that can be apprehended by an ordinary language-using entity such as myself? If so, please explain. Before I can think about whether Islam is true, I have to understand what it means.

Third: Let us examine the specifically ethical meaning of Islam. Does Islam actually have ethical meaning: Does it state, in an understandable way, that there are things you should or should not do? Based on my admittedly limited investigations, it would seem that Islam does indeed have ethical meaning, not always obvious (problematic in itself), but some definite ethical meaning in itself.

The fundamental tenet of humanism is that "happiness" is good and "suffering" is bad. With suitable definitions (e.g. "suffering" is that which a person inherently wants to avoid), humanism requires no objective justification: I don't have to persuade or convince a person to do what he already wants to do. (The difficulty of humanism lies negotiating situations where the same physical state of affairs entails happiness for one person and suffering for another. But that's an issue for another day.)

The question is this: Is Islam humanist? Do all of its ethical principles correspond to what a normal human being would want to do, if he or she knew all the empirically available facts? If so, there's no reason to invoke any sort of supernatural justification. If Islam is not humanist, it must by definition diminish happiness and/or promote suffering. Is Islam really in the business of making people less happy?

Ron Murphy said...

Sorry, broken link in my previous post. Try

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/11/19/nofcom219.xml

The Barefoot Bum said...

P.S.: I don't think this post is particularly good philosophy. You're begging the question: To determine that Ted is being epistemically disreputable, you have to presume a definition of epistemic respectability. But that is precisely the issue we are here to resolve.

If we are going to take Lawson at his word, we can say only that Ted is epistemically disreputable only relative to a differing definition of epistemic reputability. But that's just saying that different epistemic systems are indeed different: not exactly a profound conclusion.

Ibrahim Lawson said...

Woba -

just a brief point.
I would acknowledge that an adult might reject Islam in favour of Christianity and that in our society they have a right to do that. But I don’t think it follows that we should expect children to make that kind of decision for themselves for the very reason that you mention: that a child’s mind is yet not equipped to make judgements about these things, about what is ‘true or false’ about religion as you put it. And in that case, why should we encourage them to question such things? I agree with fostering an inquiring mind, but to ask children to critically evaluate the beliefs of their parents – well I think that has to come later.

At this point, someone may well say, teach them nothing about religion until they are old enough to make up their own minds. My point would be that ‘no man (sic) is an island’ and that if we do not teach our children to become Muslims until they are old enough to accept or reject it intellectually, then in the meantime all kinds of other beliefs will have been instilled into them one way or another, mostly unconsciously. A ‘false consciousness’ is implanted in all of us by the means of socialisation and it takes a very clear mind to resist without extensive practice; that’s what school should be for. The Islam that we teach to children is a protection against all kinds of cultural memes that are floating around like viruses today in this sick and degenerate culture of ours. Even so, I have to say, the results are mixed. The influence of secular, materialist consumerism is all but dominant to be honest.

Oh, and if anyone objects to ‘sick and degenerate’ I will cite just one piece of evidence: 50% of the children in the third world suffer from malnutrition while 25% of children in the 1st world are obese.

dd said...

"The Islam that we teach to children is a protection against all kinds of cultural memes that are floating around like viruses today in this sick and degenerate culture of ours. Even so, I have to say, the results are mixed. The influence of secular, materialist consumerism is all but dominant to be honest."

So far as I know people who recruit suicide bombers use the koran to convince the people who have been vaccinated with islam as a "protection against all kinds of cultural memes". Because they have been vaccinated with islam they are more susceptible to recruiters from the alquaida. You may not call these recruiters as muslims but these recruiters do not use the english dictionary or the nursery rhyme book to do their recruiting. They use the koran, your most sacred holy book to do the recruiting.

Now if and when your son or daughter (or grandson or great grandson) is recruited by the alquida and he blows himself up on some thing, will you shed tears for your son and lament the fact that you did not vaccinate him against being recruited by fostering an inquiring and questioning mind or would you continue to maintain that the koran is a harmless piece of ancient literature and be proud that your son managed to kill 20 infidels?

Don't say that it wont happen to your son or daughter. It has happened before among muslims so it will happen again.

The Barefoot Bum said...

I agree with fostering an inquiring mind, but to ask children to critically evaluate the beliefs of their parents – well I think that has to come later.

But by indoctrinating children into the belief that their parents' beliefs are not subject to critical examination as children, you're making it more difficult to subject those beliefs to critical examination as adults.

Better to assert neither the truth or falsity of those beliefs; that way the adults the children will become will at least have a fighting chance.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Your second paragraph is, by the way, no defense. There's nothing wrong with teaching particular values; we're talking about something completely different: indoctrinating the epistemic methods underlying those values. Or, worse, literally lying to children to support those values.

dd said...

"sick and degenerate culture of ours"

You mean the sick and degenerate culture of the secular-materialistic infidels, dont you? You consider islamic culture to be superior and all other cultures to be sick and degenerate. This is precisely the world view that creates suicide bombers. You are inculcating the value that anything unislamic is sick and degenerate, and the alqueda recruiter will take the argument further and say to your child/teen/pupil that such a sick and degenerate culture must be destroyed according to the koran and they must be proud to serve allah by blowing themselves up to remove the degenerate infidels and they will not question that because you have brainwashed your child/pupil into unquestioning obedience and would have also taught them to hate the 'sick and degenerate culture' of the infidels, so history will repeat itself...

dd said...

And if you think that ours is such a sick culture why don't you emigrate to arabia or pakistan where you can find your ideal islamic culture and thus preserve the minds of your children from becoming contaminated with secularism?

Whats or Whos stopping you?

Skippyx said...

Dear Mr Lawson,

I really do appreciate your postings on the blog, they are a very useful insight into your beliefs. Thank you.

I find it interesting that you have reached the conclusion that we live in a ‘sick and degenerate’ society using statistical data. Why do you believe that this is true? On what grounds could anyone come to believe it? Surely only epistemelogical data can tell us this and I suspect you live most of your life believing things because they appear epistemically true. Why then believe that you are holding a baby after the bath water is thrown out?

I hope that you would agree with me when I say that, as detectors of what is independently true and false in the world humans are pretty bad. Take memory for example; it has been shown that people’s memories can be altered by showing them a doctored photograph of what happened. We confabulate and lie to ourselves to keep ourselves sane (I note the very interesting case of a brain-damaged man in a hospital who believed it was his house; he had to explain to others just how much the lifts and drinks machines cost to install).

If what I say above is true (true in the same sense that you claim that “50% of the children in the third world suffer from malnutrition while 25% of children in the 1st world are obese”) then are you not right to check that you are actually holding something pretty carefully?

Thanks again, P.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Wow... you almost slipped this zinger right past me: "[A] child’s mind is yet not equipped to make judgements about these things, about what is ‘true or false’ about religion as you put it."

That's exactly the point, is it not: Law is arguing that we should be equipping children's minds to make precisely these sorts of judgments, judgments about what is true or false about everything, religion included.

And it seems to me that you're making the opposite argument: We should not be equipping children's minds to make judgments about what is true or false about religion. But why religion? What makes true or false about religion substantively different than true or false about physics, or biology, or political theory, or ethics?

The Barefoot Bum said...

Indeed, one must ask Lawson why we should teach children to make any sort of judgment at all, why we should teach them to think critically about anything. Why not just teach them the truth and insist they believe it?

</sarcasm>

The Barefoot Bum said...

Gah. I'm really slow today; I've found yet another contradiction: If Islam is a way of making judgments about the world, if it is indeed a set of first (or even second) level principles, then by teaching children Islam you are in fact asking children to make judgements about what is ‘true or false’ about religion as you put it. Which, as you claim, they cannot do.

anticant said...

"Why not just teach them the truth and insist they believe it?"

That's exactly what religious indoctrinators do, isn't it?

[Hi, Larry, hope our recent misunderstanding is forgiven!]

The Barefoot Bum said...

anticant: I'm not one to hold a grudge. I'm definitely willing to bury the hatchet if you are.

I do hope you're continuing the vein of sarcasm I began in the post you quoted.

anticant said...

I don't bear grudges, Larry - and we are all irrational sometimes!

Re the dangers of sarcasm directed at the humourless, see the first three comments on this thread. I am well aware of such dangers, but - unlike the Politically Correct brigade - I do not intend to be deflected from speaking my mind in what is still - just about - a free society.

I think we should all appreciate the rare opportunity that Mr Lawson has provided of a civilised and courteous debate, even though we don't end up agreeing with one another. It is a refreshing change from the shouting matches and stupid exchanges of insults that one finds on other blogs.

All credit, too, to Stephen's courage in providing the forum. I hope he does get invited to speak to Muslim audiences, as nothing but good will come from such events. Muslims are always demanding 'respect' and complaining that they are victimised, but if they wish to be understood they must be prepared to listen to non-Muslims and understand our objections to aspects of Islam.

Ron Murphy said...

anticant,

Now you're worrying me. Hope you're not implying the second post was serious - i.e. did you have a sarcasm detection failure?

The Barefoot Bum said...

The sarcasm of my earlier post has an actual argumentative goal:

Should we teach critical thinking to children at all? It seems difficult to defend that we shouldn't teach it at all.

If we should teach critical thinking about some things, then why not everything? Lawson merely asserts, but does not argue, that children are "not equipped" to think critically about religion.

Ibrahim Lawson said...

Reply to all contributors - I’m going to have to back down a little on this blog due to pressure of time, but thank you all for giving me a lot to think about. In reply to some of the many overnight points:

BB-

Mutual understanding, the zeroth level. If I understand you, I don’t see that it follows that zeroth, first and 2nd order disagreements are necessarily COMPLETELY unresolvable given the huge amount of shared hermeneutic context. We disagree about the meaning of words all the time, just not all the words, all the time. But having said that, I am more and more convinced that I will never understand where some people are coming from. By that I mean people from cultures different from my own, and by never I mean it would take more time than I expect is available to me. This is why I feel we have to be pragmatic about handling socially divisive issues, but that will be easily misinterpreted by idealists on every side, including my own. If the principles of action research have anything to offer us here, it may be the idea that we don’t HAVE to bring all our principles to the table and insist on winning every time.

Reading your words, it seems to me you are adopting a strictly verificationist position on the meaning of words. Islamic teachings would not count as meaningful in those terms it seems to me. Similarly, one can detect logical contradictions quite easily. For example, every individual is accountable to Allah for his or her actions: actions which, nevertheless, Allah Himself has created.

In literary terms, the Qur’an has the power to reduce one to tears, to leave you trembling on the abyss of awe, although it only works in Arabic for me; the English translations are some help, but not much. And as regards postmodernists’ theories of literary meaning, I tend to a radical view myself: the meaning of no text is immune to revision, including this one, as far as I can see (and the eye cannot see the limits of vision).

Ethical meaning? I am sceptical about ethics, I think there is a knot in our thinking somewhere. The mainstream Sunni theological position is that Allah is not bound by any constraints and could therefore have made things that we think are bad, good, and vice versa, and that’s all you can say. Just rejecting the debate, I guess. Obeying Allah = right and disobeying Allah = wrong – that’s the Islamic moral position as I understand it at the moment.

(Don’t get me wrong – I do think lot of things are wrong, but I also think Allah’s creation is perfect. I also think I can resolve the contradiction.)

Happiness = good by definition?! Is the question: what’s so good about being happy? really meaningless? Problems there I think. Can we weigh different kinds of happiness? Or amounts of happiness? If not, how does that help us decide what is or isn’t good?

I would say Islam is not ‘humanist’ or empiricist. It might be presented as such by way of apology, but that’s other peoples’ thing, not mine. Incidentally, on this point, the Sufi, Rabia al Adawiyya is famous for asking Allah to keep her out of paradise if that was her motive for obeying Him, and to send her to hell if that was her motive for not disobeying Him. So from this point of view, whatever Islamic ethics is, it’s not teleological; we don’t do good for what we can get out of it.

Yes – what does ‘epistemically respectable’ mean? Without referring to the concepts of ‘epistemic’ and ‘respectable’.

DD…
There are some dead dodgy vaccines out there, some of which are past their shelf life. As for recruiting for Al Qaeda, I am one of those who suspect that the foreign policy of the American administration has had quite a lot to with it. I think the whole issue is more to do with anti-globalisation than religion. Did you see the film ‘Swordfish’ by the way? I couldn’t work out whether we were supposed to support the Travolta character or not. He got away with the money and the girl, so reading Hollywood, I would have to say yes: it is OK to sacrifice a few for the good of the many. How is that different from Al Qaeda? (Of course, Travolta didn’t MEAN to do it, his hand was forced, unfortunately). The point is not that both ‘sides’ have their faults so much as that human nature will out, using whatever pretext is finds convenient. I don’t find the results of the liberal enlightenment project very encouraging for all the fine rhetoric.

On your next points – if you think that there is an ideal Islamic culture in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan then you haven’t any either first or second hand experience of those places. And I certainly don’t think that anything un-Islamic, in the general sense of coming from a non-muslim, is sick and degenerate. I think you are deliberately misinterpreting me.

Skippyx – I am not at all against the use of statistical data, with certain well-known caveats. Neither do I find empiricism inconsistent with my non-empirical beliefs. I am even prepared to believe that my religious intuitions may be interpreted as the result of some kind of chemical event in my brain, as you appear to be suggesting.

BB – indoctrinating children? We have to teach them that Islam is true. Actually, in practice it kind of goes without saying. Telling them that it might be true or false would only be confusing I think: they wouldn’t really understand what we meant. Is it lying to save part of the truth until it can be properly understood? And quite a complicated part of the truth too, when it involves understanding the concept of truth itself.

Yep, let’s equip away. We might, and do, even prepare children for making thermonuclear devices, and some of them end up doing that. I wouldn’t see the point of having one in the classroom though.

How do you equip a child to make reasoned judgements about religion when most adults seem to have such difficulty in doing so? I like to teach children to argue and I have many years experience in teaching philosophy to children, mostly teenagers but some primary. I believe, with Rudolf Steiner, though, that the kind of analytical thinking that fine arguments about epistemology require only start to be available at around the beginning of adolescence. At that point, we have to deal with whatever beliefs they currently hold, and there won’t be a void. If Islam is not there, then something else will be, and it won’t be a finely worked out rational belief system.

The kinds of judgements children make about the world do not generally include truth and falsity in the same way as adults’. I don’t believe that there is merely a quantitative growth process involved in growing up, there is a qualitative development also. We don’t have to INSIST they believe, they just do, in their own way. I think if we suggested to them that we were telling the truth as we believe it but that it might not be true after all (setting aside all the concomitant explanations as to ultimately why we believe this, which would not be understood if we went to the lengths a liberal seems to think appropriate and necessary), then only confusion would result. Yes, we are teaching them to make judgements about their religion, but not in the fully-fledged, truth functional, logical way that may come later. Later, I may teach about rationalism and empiricism to those who are interested, and I will also teach them why there are doubts about this approach to human problems.

Anticant – most people demand respect when they feel they have to. For some, that means not being the butt of the kind of humour that finds disrespect amusing. I am sure you can appreciate that, when the vast majority of public utterances about Muslims and Islam are found to be negative (see recent GLA press release), Muslims feel victimised. The experience of most Muslims in the UK, I believe, is that non-Muslims only ever seem to want to denigrate them and rarely to understand. Every Islamophobic comment is greeted with a kind of ‘what did you expect’ weariness. Some non-Muslims will not accept that Islamophobia exists, but the Runnymede Trust’s report on this seem fairly convincing to me; it’s so deeply ingrained sometimes as to be invisible (like being ‘white’ is to ‘white’ people).

anticant said...

No, Ron, I didn't think your second post was serious, but the issue it addresses is. Lots of people - including the government - are pulling their punches over justified criticism of Islam, because they fear violent personal or social consequences. Remember Theo van Gogh.

I notice that Mr Lawson hasn't yet answered my enquiries about the compatibility of Islam with pluralist democracy, free speech, and an open society. I still hope that he is going to do so either on this or the next thread.

dd said...

"As for recruiting for Al Qaeda, I am one of those who suspect that the foreign policy of the American administration has had quite a lot to with it. I think the whole issue is more to do with anti-globalisation than religion. "

Is that so? Has it nothing to do with religion? Then how come every single suicide bomber not excepting a single suicide bomber is a muslim or someone who follows his version of the koran?

The Barefoot Bum said...

With all due respect, there's no way to respond to your remarks other than to call them turgid doubletalk. There's not even a trace of any kind of logical reasoning.

But there are some gems: It's nice to know that you're explicit about Islam being empirically meaningless, logically contradictory, absolutely authoritarian, unconcerned with human happiness or suffering, and deaf to literary merit. (My wife, an apostate from Islam who speaks and reads Arabic fluently, laughed out loud when she read your line, "the Qur’an has the power to reduce one to tears, to leave you trembling on the abyss of awe." She considers the Koran boring, repetitive, tone-deaf and markedly inferior to contemporaneous literature.

You're completely off-base when you accuse me of being a strict meaning-verificationist. Verification is one type of meaning, but my question to you, which you artlessly dodged is simply this: What does Islam mean, under whatever theory of meaning you care to invoke. I offered a few suggestions, but I explicitly invited you to employ an alternative.

One function of ethics is to construct mutual trust. Your comments have given me no assurance at all that I can trust any Muslim who adheres to your standard of ethics, especially given the repeated instances of violent, aggressive declaration in both the Koran and the Hadith. The weaselly, evasive doubletalk of Islamic ethicists is no substitute for the universal humanist's unequivocal, unambiguous declaration that your happiness has positive value to me, and I will take active steps to promote it, so long as it doesn't interfere with the happiness of another.

Leaving ludicrous, puerile fantasies about an afterlife aside, perhaps Islam's illogic, lack of empiricism, authoritarianism, indifference to happiness, is part of the reason why a billion Muslims have not been able to create a technological society capable of feeding its people, and protecting them from crime, exploitation and violence. This failure is even more astonishing given a five-century head-start over the West as well as a boatload of oil underneath Mohammed's homeland.

You guys have really failed big, and your only response is to blame the West for all your ills, and try to make us as miserable as you are.

dd said...

"the universal humanist's unequivocal, unambiguous declaration that your happiness has positive value to me, and I will take active steps to promote it, so long as it doesn't interfere with the happiness of another"

I am on your side, I am a humanist but just a doubt. Will you allow me to have many wives? It will not interfere with your happiness. It will not interfere with the happiness of my wives then why do you support (I assume you do) monogamy through democratically enacted laws and punish polygamy with criminal penalities? If you support gay marriages (Again I assume you do) shouldn't you support polygamy and even polyandry (many husbands)? What has your objecting to polygamy to do with your happiness?

Off topic I know, but this thread has been superceeded anyway.

Woba said...

Ibrahim,

You have asserted the belief that true critical thinking skills are generally only available to adolescents. I agree that this is the case. My original objection to teaching religion in schools is that you are making up the child's mind for it before it has the skills to evaluate the evidence.

It could be argued that Christian values would also make a good 'vaccination' against the harmful social memes you refer to but I suspect you would not want to teach those values in your school. The reason I suspect is that reference to the teaching of these values as a defence is a cop out. Good secular values could also be instilled but I suspect won't be. You want the children to believe in the same supernatural superstitions that you do. I do not use the word 'superstitions' in a denegrating way, that is simply how I view religion.

To make my point clear.
Imagine if most adult Christians believed that Santa Claus was real. Would children ever learn the truth?

My objection can be boiled down to this. You might be wrong. Allah may not exist, Muhammad may have just been a man who wanted power.
You do not KNOW the koran is true, you simply believe it is true. You have ZERO objectively verifiable evidence of any supernatual involvement in the Koran or the life of Muhammad. You are basically teaching an completely unfounded opinion to children and advising them that they should live their entire lives by it.

The ONLY reason that you do not find this situation bad/harmful/objectionable is that you happen to share the opinion.

The Barefoot Bum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Barefoot Bum said...

Will you allow me to have many wives?

So long as everyone is freely consenting and not being exploited, of course I would allow it. What business is it of mine? I think the laws against polygamy and polyandry are ludicrous. And mostly irrelevant as well: so long as you don't actually try to enter into legal marriage, you can make an equivalent or similar contract with any number of sexual partners.

I really am a humanist, dd.

dd said...

Good, thank you for clarifying.

anticant said...

Mr Lawson: On Islamophobia, please see my post

http://anticant.blogspot.com/2006/12/phony-phobias.html


On teaching children about religion and truth, you say: "We have to teach them that Islam is true. Actually, in practice it kind of goes without saying. Telling them that it might be true or false would only be confusing I think: they wouldn’t really understand what we meant. Is it lying to save part of the truth until it can be properly understood? And quite a complicated part of the truth too, when it involves understanding the concept of truth itself....If Islam is not there, then something else will be, and it won’t be a finely worked out rational belief system."

If you teach them that Islam, or any value system, is true - ie. a fact to be believed simply on your authority as an adult and their teacher- before they understand the concept of truth you are being dishonest. And I strongly disagree with your assertion that children aren't capable of knowing the difference between truths and falsehoods. To imply that any belief system is better than none, and that Islam is better than any other, is prejudging the issue.


And you still have not answered my queries about the compatibility of Islam with pluralist democracy, free speech, and an open society. Your and other Muslims' answers to these questions are far more crucial to a better understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims than any amount of philosophical dialogue and academic debate.

Anti-globalist said...

I have been following this blog with interest. I am of no particular religious belief, though I can understand why many people are. I wanted to comment anticant’s views on the wonders of ‘pluralist democracy’. Many people today seem to share his na├»ve view that this is somehow a functioning piece of political practice rather than a fairy story designed to allow westerners to feel superior to the benighted hordes of the 3rd world. There is no way the governments or the citizens of the west are ever going to share the resources of this planet fairly with the whole of the world’s human population – that’s the bottom line. ‘Pluralist democracy’ will only ever be for the few. Just look at the statistics – 20% of the world’s population (us) consume 80% of the world’s resources. The bottom 20% (them) make do with just 1%. No wonder they’re pissed off.

anticant said...

anti-globalist: My view of the essential necessity of an 'open' society may be naive in your eyes, but your economic points are simply irrelevant to this issue. I would agree with a great deal of what you say in another context, but if you are advancing these arguments here to assert that democracy, Western style, is just a hollow sham, or scam, to bamboozle the allegedly dispossessed, and that freedom of thought and speech don't matter, you are talking through your hat.

Red said...

Anitcant - if voting ever changed anything, they'd have abolished it years ago. (Ken Livingstone)

anticant said...

Ideas are more powerful than votes.

Paul said...

"Then how come every single suicide bomber not excepting a single suicide bomber is a muslim or someone who follows his version of the koran?"

Except of course for the suicide bombers of the LTTE, who pretty much invented it. Still, don't let that stop you from fulminating madly against your favourite enemy.

While you're fulminating, however, can I suggest you read Robert Pape's research on the motivations behind suicide bombing, which suggest that the primary motive is nationalist.

anticant said...

In general I prefer to take what people say about their own motives at face value, and there's abundant evidence from Islamic suicide bombers that they do it "for Allah".

Abdullah said...

Comment on Ted's situation - how is it any different from Mr Law's? All concepts and ideas are based on grounding principals - "nothing is without reason' we are told is the principal upon which rationality is based. But we have an infinite regress here - because what ground is that principal based upon, etc, etc ad infinitum? Therefore it seems to me that this is just as as arbitrary as Ted's grounding principal.

Paul said...

"In general I prefer to take what people say about their own motives at face value, and there's abundant evidence from Islamic suicide bombers that they do it "for Allah"."

You appear to be saying that you're not prepared to apply critical thinking to this particular issue - you'll just accept what they say "at face value".

Can you explain how you reconcile the point of this discussion (that we need to inculculate critical thinking in our children at the earliest stage possible) with your refusal to apply those skills in your own life?

anticant said...

Paul, please don't make unjustified assumptions about my life, or how I manage it.

On the point at issue, I am not a postmodernist or deconstructionist, and consider that it is arrogant to presume to know what other people think and believe better than they do themselves.

Of course, people aren't always honest. Sometimes they are deliberately deceitful and conceal their true beliefs and intentions. There is an abundance of shameless liars in the world.

But if someone says "I am doing this for Allah", we may consider him mistaken and self-deluded, even unaware of some of the actual motivating factors, but what grounds do we have for saying he is dishonest?

A Muslim said...

Anticant - if a Muslim is doing something unIslamic - like suicide bombing - and then says he is doing it for Allah, then he is lying

The Barefoot Bum said...

Abdullah: You are conflating deductivism with foundationalism. Infinite regress is a problem only for deductivism removes the problem of infinite regress at the relatively small cost of absolute certainty.

Really, if you're going to critique Western philosophy, you should at least have heard of Karl Popper.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Paul: anticant defends himself ably, but I'll venture a more formal description of his reasoning.

The hypothesis of sincerity — a person sincerely believes what he says he believes — is the simplest possible candidate to explain any particular declaration. All else being equal, if a person believes something, he will affirm it verbally.

The simplest possible candidate is not always correct, but we must have additional reasons to exclude it.

A Muslim: "[I]f a Muslim is doing something unIslamic - like suicide bombing - and then says he is doing it for Allah, then he is lying."

You are, of course, begging the question of what constitutes "Islamic" and "unIslamic". There is considerable latitude (some might assert infinite latitude) in the literal, declarative meaning of the Koran and Hadith, and there are no small few self-described Muslims whose interpretation of these texts differs from your own.

Why should I take your interpretation as correct and take another's — like a suicide bomber's — as incorrect?

Paul said...

Hmmm. My previous comments appear to have been eaten by blogger, so I will try again.

Anticant: I wasn't making any assumptions, I was merely quoting your own words in an effort to understand an apparent contradiction. That contradiction still appears to be in place.

"But if someone says "I am doing this for Allah", we may consider him mistaken and self-deluded, even unaware of some of the actual motivating factors, but what grounds do we have for saying he is dishonest?"

I didn't suggest that anybody was being dishonest. However nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks "Today I'm going to be a suicide bomber - for Allah!" - suicide bombers always have goals, usually political-military in nature. Now you may disagree with their goals, and with the way that they seek to achieve them - but your focus on their religious justifications rather than their political motivations reveals more about your views than theirs.

A Muslim: "if a Muslim is doing something unIslamic - like suicide bombing - and then says he is doing it for Allah, then he is lying"

This is not true. You may disagree with their reasoning, but there seems to be little doubt that they sincerely believe that they are doing it for Allah. At best, as anticant says, we can say that they are misguided.

Barefoot: "The hypothesis of sincerity — a person sincerely believes what he says he believes — is the simplest possible candidate to explain any particular declaration. All else being equal, if a person believes something, he will affirm it verbally."

As I try to explain above, I think you are mistaking the justification for their actions (Allah approves of this and will reward me) for the motivation behind their actions (we must drive out the occupiers from our land, etc). It's not a very helpful approach.

anticant said...

Paul: You say 'nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks "Today I'm going to be a suicide bomber - for Allah!" - suicide bombers always have goals, usually political-military in nature....your focus on their religious justifications rather than their political motivations reveals more about your views than theirs.'

You evidently have privileged access to the minds of suicide bombers which is denied to the rest of us. In my understanding of Islam, there is no distinction between the religious and the political. The whole thrust is towards theocracy, a universal ummah, the global caliphate [which Lawson professes to desire].

That, in my opinion, is what makes Islam so dangerous, and incompatible with democracy as we in the West understand it.

Paul said...

I have access to the same resources that you have access to - or could have access to if you were sufficiently interested. Suicide bombing is a political-military strategy, which individual bombers find their own justifications for. You are mistaking the motivations that cause them to do this for the justifications they provide for doing it. As I said, this is not very helpful, and reveals more about your attitudes than theirs.

anticant said...

One attitude of mine that you don't appear to share is that irrespective of motivation, suicide bombing is evil, inhuman, utterly immoral and disgusting. And please don't come back with stale old "the other side's crimes are worse" stuff.

You assume too much about my opinions and interests. My attitude to both sides in the Middle East conflict, and to imperialism of all political, economic, and religious stripes, is "a plague on all their houses".

Perhaps we can now get back to the ostensible purpose of this discussion, which is supposedly about whether Ibrahim Lawson's version of Islamic education is a healthy and wholesome one not just for Muslims, but for the wider good of society as a whole.

Paul said...

I agree that this issue is off-topic and should be discontinued. However I must note that, while you insist that I must not make unjustified assumptions about you, you feel comfortable stating definitively that I am not opposed to suicide bombing. Nothing I have written could or should have given you any such indication, and I find it sad that I need to state for the record that suicide bombing is never justified, no matter what the motivation underlying it.

anticant said...

My apologies, Paul, if I drew a mistaken inference from your previous remarks, and wrongly gathered that you thought motivation affected the moral culpability of suicide bombing, Understanding it and justifying it are two separate issues, and I'm glad we agree about that. I hope we would agree, too, about the immorality of ALL violence in settling disputes.

anomynous said...

I hope we would agree, too, about the immorality of ALL violence in settling disputes.


Yeah, like WW2 was well out of order.

anticant said...

Self-defence against an immoral aggressor is not out of order.