Miscellany, January 29

  • Ross Douthat doesn’t like Bertrand Russell’s “orbiting teacup” analogy and its modern Flying Spaghetti Monster descendant; Andrew Sullivan and readers then proceed to go ’round and ’round with the question [first, second, third, fourth posts]
  • In the Roman Catholic Church’s latest public relations setback, Pope Benedict XVI has revoked the excommunication of four schismatic Lefebvrist bishops including Holocaust denier Richard Williamson. Some reactions: Rod Dreher (“You won’t believe what a malicious fruitcake Williamson is”), Yoni Goldstein/National Post, Dallas News religion blog, Amy Alkon, Allahpundit, Orac, new Damon Linker blog at TNR.
  • Totally unrelated to above item, even if it sounds as if there might be some connection: “Our Lady of Mercy entered a $4.5 million settlement with prosecutors….” [NY Post] It was a hospital billing scam.
  • According to an approving Polly Toynbee in The Guardian, Britain’s Labour government “will create a new over-arching law creating a duty on the whole public sector to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor”. It’s enough to make Paul Dennett of A Progressive Viewpoint (“A journal of Classical Liberal and Neo-Conservative commentary”) wonder whether the U.K. is heading down the road of the society in Atlas Shrugged.

About Walter Olson

Fellow at a think tank in the Northeast specializing in law. Websites include overlawyered.com. Former columnist for Reason and Times Online (U.K.), contributor to National Review, etc.
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10 Responses to Miscellany, January 29

  1. David Heddle says:

    Russell’s teapot is almost always misapplied. It is typically used in a juvenile FSM way: this supposition of the inscrutable and undetectable is just as good as yours. But Russell was more sophisticated and far superior to “new Atheist” challenges to theism of our day. He wouldn’t and didn’t make such a simpleminded playground argument. His teapot was to point out, correctly, that is absurd for theists to place the burden of proof that God does not exist on atheists. And perhaps to mock that challenge which he no doubt encountered often.

  2. Caledonian says:

    “He wouldn’t and didn’t make such a simpleminded playground argument.”

    If a simpleminded playground argument is sufficient to utterly demolish theism, the “more-sophisticated” arguments… aren’t.

  3. Prof Frink says:

    The Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) is a deity created as a satirical protest to the decision by the Kansas State Board of Education to require the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to biological evolution.

    As such, Bobby Henderson was not saying “the Christian God and the flying spaghetti monster [are] equally ridiculous hypotheses” as Douthat is claiming. It was a direct response to intelligent design, not God.

  4. Am I the only person who thinks that Benedict did the correct thing? Holocaust denial has nothing to do with why the members of the Society of Saint Pius X were excommunicated. The Church wouldn’t excommunicate members for engaging in Holocaust denial so it shouldn’t apply a different standard to Williamson and his compatriots in determining whether they should be brought back into the fold.

  5. Polichinello says:

    I agree with you, Josh. Williamson’s views on history may be wacky, but they’re not a religious heresy. The move is more than just about Williamson, anyhow. It’s intended to bring in the SSPX people, who would likely drift further into cranky whackiness outside the fold.

    As for the teapot argument, while it’s logically correct, emotionally it never really appealed to me. If we did discover a celestial teapot, what effect would it have on our lives? None really. If there’s a God, however, that has far more impact, so the issue of possibility has a bit more salience.

  6. Polichinello, the point of Russell’s teapot is twofold: 1)where the burden of evidence should be and 2) a comment about the level of separate evidence for the existence of any deity. Those issues come in independently of whether a celestial teapot has more impact on our lives or not.

  7. Polichinello says:

    Josh, you’re exactly right, and I agree. My trouble with the argument is on an emotional level, and there’s no reason-based appeal to that.

  8. Donna B. says:

    Hey, I’m with Ratzinger on belief and doubt. I really would like to believe, I’d like to be comforted. I’d like to think my belief protects me from some unknown. But I doubt it to the point that I cannot believe.

    I wonder about those who have never entertained a doubt about their belief in any deity. It seems reasonable to me that the belief was never important enough in their life to actually think about. And that saddens me.

  9. ◄Dave► says:

    @Donna B.

    It seems reasonable to me that the belief was never important enough in their life to actually think about.

    You will find that the majority of people don’t “reason” or “think” for themselves. They prefer to “feel.” When confronted with a new idea, you undoubtedly ask yourself, “Does this make sense? What do I think about it?” Others will ask themselves, “How does this make me feel?” Or worse, “How will others feel about it?”

    Why should I care what others “think?”
    Too many can’t and don’t.
    And more who could and clearly should;
    Believe” or “feel” and won’t.

    Sad indeed… to a Reasonable Rational; but it wouldn’t even occur to a Fervid Feeler. :)◄Dave►

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