Dinesh Does Cosmology

Dinesh D’Souza has discovered the Anthropic Principle, after reading an article in Discover magazine.

It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, just more God-of-the-gaps:  “Here’s something we’re having real trouble understanding. Must be the hand of God!” Dinesh does not follow through with any of the further inquiries that arise in an unbeliever’s mind, e.g.:

  • Which God? Thor? Vishnu? Allah? Unkulunkulu?
  • Why only one God?
  • Who fine-tuned Him?
  • How come He waited a quarter million years to intervene in human history?
  • Is it your recommendation that these cosmologists cease their inquiries and their theorizing, shut up their labs, sell their equipment on eBay, and sign up for Divinity School? I mean, since the answers to their questions are already known? Will you make this recommendation in public? Or is it your intention to just sit there with a knowing smile on your face while the cosmologists pursue their futilities, until the day when they finally throw up their hands, say “Gosh dang it, you believers were right all along — it’s the hand of God!” and mail off for the Div. School application forms?
  • Etc., etc.


Dinesh’s piece does, though, illustrate that other gap that plagues us:  the gap between the curious, skeptical thought style of the empiricist (Wow, the universe sure is a weird place! Wonder if we’ll ever understand this? Good luck to those guys trying to figure it all out!) and the person of faith (Those guys are blind fools fumbling in the dark! It was all revealed to us long ago! Why can’t they see?)

That gap is at least as challenging as figuring out why the Fine Structure Constant is what it is and not some other number.

My own view of the Anthropic Principle is awestruck wonder at the inexplicable fact that my legs reach so precisely from my hips to the floor. What if they were an inch shorter?

Posted in Science & Faith | Tagged , | 12 Comments

Smiling Secularism

James Dobson has responded to Kathleen Parker’s oogedy-boogedy editorial. He says that when people such as Obama ask the religiously motivated to translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values, that this is “secularism with a smile.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 19 Comments

Religion and War

This is from the HBO show Generation Kill. The scene, which contains some adult language, is about what role, if any, a clergy-man should have among Marines. The last line – “Now Brad has just pissed off God” – follows a series of amusing events.

[Update: it seems to me that the shirtless soldier’s comments are an effective and ideal secular critique of the clergyman’s place in the military].

It reminded me of this editorial and this politician. The editorial is worth quoting:

As we enter the twenty-first century, we are at a crossroads on the issue of military service and Christian service. Can a church that sees itself as a “contrast society” accept the values and activities of the political status quo and its military machinery? Can a church that acknowledges the centrality of nonviolence in the New Testament accept the use of violence to defend or extend an empire that it exists to replace as the world’s guiding light?If we accept this new understanding of the church’s vocation—which is not new at all—then we must be courageous enough to accept the theological and practical consequences of it—divorcing Christian faith and military service. Carrying out this divorce will take creativity and energy, so much so that some will claim that the divorce is impossible even if it is right. After a century of horrific violence and bloodshed, and careful consideration of the New Testament texts, we need finally as a church to recognize that those who seek justification in the New Testament for Christian participation in violence of any kind, including military action, will always seek in vain. Why? Because violence is part of the false gospel of the world’s counterfeit lords and empires—Herod, Pilate, Nero, Domitian, and the like. It is not the way of the true Lord, whose gospel and empire give to us—and demand from us—an alternative allegiance and vocation.

The question this editorial also raises is what connection, if any, do reformers within religion have with secularists.

(Btw: Hi! I’m going to be contributing pseudonymously).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 15 Comments

Welcome Ann Althouse readers

The blogger hails this site as a “welcome addition to the Blogroll” and reflects on the term unbeliever, quoting commenter Balfegor who recalls this choice passage from Albrecht Durer:

Eyeball in soup

enough to spoil the appetite

O God please smite the unbelievers with your holy wrath. Make them as toads in the garden eating dirty flies. Let them pluck out their own eyes and cook them in a holy broth.

Her response @albrechtd:

Sorry, Albrecht! We’re going vegetarian this Thanksgiving. And we prefer renewable local foods.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

A broad church, god willing!

A follow up on John’s comment, speaking for myself only I see this as being a place which is both very latitudinarian in religious and political opinion (within reasonable bounds of course!).  One reason I saw a need for this sort of weblog is that many people equate conservatives who are not part of the Religious Right with libertarians; but this is not necessarily so.  My own particular concern is that the modern Right seems to be turning into a religious sectarian movement, specifically an evangelical Protestant one, due to its demographic makeup.  John is more worried about the influence of Roman Catholic thinkers, who provide much of the intellectual superstructure of American social conservatism.  Ultimately, I think we are united by a methodological approach which privileges human reason and empirical data, in concert with a conservative disposition.  Other Right-of-Center websites often take evangelical claims as presuppositions in the debate implicitly.  As I said, this is due to simple demographics, but it does affect the character of discussion.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 14 Comments

Who are the Secular Right?

Well, this is has been one unexpected day.  I’ve fixed the RSS I hope.  More fixes no doubt to come.  But I decided that looking at the comments some data might be warranted.  Who are the Secular Right?  To answer that question I looked at the General Social Survey.  The GOD variable has the following options:

Don’t Believe

No Way To Find Out

Some Higher Power

Believe Sometimes

Believe But Doubts

Know God Exists

I classified the first 4 as “Secular,” and the last 2 as “Religious.”  I then split the Seculars into the Right and Left half politically (so moderates are excluded).  Additionally, I took the Religious and limited them to avowed Fundamentalists who were on the political Right.  Therefore, I constructed 3 categories, “Secular Center-Right,” “Secular Center-Left” and “Religious Right,” and compared a host of variables.  You can see the results in the charts below.

Note: The geographic divisions are from the Census.

Continue reading

Posted in data | Tagged | 10 Comments

Corner Feedback

Some reaction to the new site after I posted a link from NRO’s blog The Corner:

Reader A:

Mr Derbyshire — many thanks for helping provide an outlet for secular conservative views. I think you’ll find there are quite a few of us out there, and while I do share some of the Balkanization concerns from hyphenated conservatism (watch the Democrats eat themselves from within for a preview of that type of coalition), I still think there’s a need for some back-to-basics serious conservatism — and this is where the ideas will come from. I’ve registered and look forward to the site’s growth.

Reader B (a Mormon):

John: I was happy to see that you have participated in creating a new blog that features non-cranky thought from secular conservatives.

I approach my conservatism from a religious perspective, but there is a lot more to it than religion. I find that I agree with you far more often than not, which suggests that our shared view on such issues may just be good old-fashioned common sense.

Your British compatriot Theodore Dalrymple is one of my favorite thinkers (I find myself nodding my head in agreement with just about everything he says), and Heather Mac Donald is likewise smart and convincing. I believe Mr. Dalrymple says he is an agnostic and Ms. Mac Donald says she’s an atheist.

For conservatism to re-assert itself, we need a big tent. The conservative outlook on life makes sense, I believe, within the context of religion and from a secular perspective as well. Religious conservatives should work at being non-cranky as well.

[Me]  While we’re making lists, let’s not forget George Will, a declared agnostic.

Reader C:

Dear John — Is your blog limited to atheists and agnostics or will it take in believers who think God is more worried about the next world than how government should work in this one?

[Me]  That’s nicely said. As usual with enterprises of this sort, we haven’t really worked out the limits yet. We are definitely hospitable to apatheists (i.e. no opinion about God & couldn’t care less) as well as agnostics (not sure) and atheists (sure not).

Reader D:

Mr. Derbyshire — Thank you and your colleagues very much for starting a secular blog with a conservative bent. I have tried many times (unsuccessfully) to convince friends and coworkers that having conservative political leanings does not necessarily mean being a theocon or an anti-science, know-nothing evangelical yahoo. I hope you can provide ammunition for my skirmishes. Maybe you can comment on Robert Ingersoll’s Thanksgiving “sermon.”

[Me]  Thank you, Sir, and thanks for introducing me to Ingersoll’s sermon, which I did not know about,  but … lots of evangelicals are very nice people, useful and productive citizens, and staunch supporters of conservative principles. Plenty of them know stuff, too: One of my regular evangelical correspondents is an accomplished engineer and an appreciator of my math books. We’re not here to tick evangelicals off, so I’m going to rule “yahoo” over the civility line, and censor further occurrences. Our motto will be something like:  “Believe what you like, but don’t impose.”

Reader E:

I think taking your secular stuff to a separate blog is a good idea. Those who feel a need to talk about this stuff now have a place they can commune, and your worst emailers (I think you’ve included me in that group … not sure) have no basis to complain if they choose to go to your blog. I imagine you’ll have more of the kind of exchanges you are looking for at your own blog, and likewise Corner readers won’t see posts that they find off-topic.

One rule though — no cross-posting! And no Corner posts telling Corner readers to run over to your blog for some must-see post. I think today’s general  announcement, however, is perfect.

[Me]  I shall cross-post to The Corner if someone here makes a good political point, or if a contributor here comes up with politically interesting data about the connections between religion and politics. I think most Corner readers will appreciate that and not mind its
having come from a heathen website.

Reader F:

 … but didn’t Russell Kirk say that you can’t be a conservative unless you believe in a transcendent reality?

[Me]  Did he? If he did, we obviously disagree with him. To be perfectly honest, I’ve always found Kirk unreadable.

Posted in debate | Tagged , | 7 Comments

From comments

A sampling of comments of potentially wider interest among the many posted so far:

  • I love the Corner and am thrilled you’ve started this blog. I think ‘Religious Based Values’ will lose the party more elections. However, please note, one can be a secularist and still believe in God…. Ryan K., from Politics & God
  • …I wish my fellow religious conservatives were not so anti-reason. Glad you are blogging. –Braden Bell, from What is the Secular Right?
  • Thanks for the blog. I knew I wasn’t the only secular conservative, but it’s nice to have it confirmed. I am an anomaly to friends and acquaintances all along the political and religious spectrums. When all is said and done, I definitely feel comfortable with religious conservatives; and they are comfortable with me as well, though they find it hard to square my atheism with conservatism. As I have explained to them, I am not anti-religion, just non-religious. As a secular conservative, I feel a greater burden to understand and justify my conservatism (particularly on social issues) since I do not have a “specific set of supernatural claims” to fall back on. — Baldy, from What is the Secular Right?
  • …I am a Christian who opposes using the power of the government to further any religious agenda. It’s a simple proposition really. Following the laws of a government is not the same thing as following the laws of God. The results may be similar, but it is the intent behind them that matters. If I choose not to kill someone because Jesus said we should love our neighbor as ourself, from a religious perspective, that is wholly different than not killing someone because I may go to prison…. — Jonathan Schafer, from The H.L. Mencken Club
  • Finally! I think I emailed Derb suggesting this very idea several times. I have been a National Review and Commentary reader for decades and, though enjoying and agreeing with most of the political stuff, I always felt turned off by the subtext implying that, as a reader, I could be assumed to be religious. It always bothered me also that, though the logic behind a particular article might be impeccable, it was bundled together with other pro-religious stuff that was laughably weak and credulous.

    So: three cheers for this website. Let’s not cede the intelligent skeptical community to the Left.

    By the way, though an atheist, I am pro-Life. This is a question of morality, not science. I would be interested to know what proportion of other readers share this particular narrow segment of the population. — John, from Open thread for suggestions, etc.

  • While I agree that NRO and elements of “conservatism” are too overtly religious, I’m not sure I follow the logic that suggests an “unbeliever” conservatism. Derb introduced this as “Godless Bloggers” on NRO. Why? Isn’t there a way this could be framed so a discussion of “conservatism” takes center stage, and the role of faith and religion simply takes a subordinate role? — Don in Tucson, from Open thread for suggestions, etc.
  • I’ll follow this blog for a while, but I’m afraid it will turn, inevitably, into the usual snickering at Creationists and God Botherers. For the record, I am conservative and a lapsed Methodist. I’m still a believer, though. — Mesquito, from A note on civility
  • Scott: I have a suggestion for members of the secular right: become Democrats. Republicans don’t want you. They are very happy replacing their politics with theology. They fundamentally reject the idea of a division between church and state.

    Guess what? I’m a Republican because I agree with them on the overwhelming majority of issues. I don’t particularly care whether or not they don’t see much of a division between church and state, as that’s not a huge issue for me. Unlike so many atheists, and you apparently, I make my decisions over a wide range of issues, not just one. … — Andy, from A Note on Civility

  • …I advocate a grand treaty on the Right: Christians don’t quote the Bible in arguing politics, just argue your values and their implications for policy; and secularists listen to what’s actually being said rather than assuming that Christians are out to impose a theocracy. — russab, from The H.L. Mencken Club
  • To stray away from the other commenters here, I’d like to express my hope that this blog will not delve into a Dawkins-Dennett-Hitchens kind of anti-religious forum. As an atheist conservative who could not care less about the modern pop-God debate, I’d just want to see a site that focuses primarily upon what we would call conservative conclusions arrived at via logical reasoning and empirical evidence. I like religion and religious people, but it is so difficult to find a place where there is no space wasted on those arguments. — A Milder Despot, from Open thread for suggestions, etc.

Sorry about the formatting problems, still in the shakedown phase of site design.

Posted in Odds & Ends, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 5 Comments

A note on civility

Well, this started with a bang.  I implore readers to disagree and discuss in a civil manner.  Otherwise, do not be surprised if your opinions are excised during periodic bowdlerizations….

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 24 Comments

RSS Feed

Several mentions of the RSS problem, I’ve set up a Feedburner link:



I’ll update the links in WordPress this evening.

Posted in Administration | Tagged | Comments Off on RSS Feed