(Because I’m a human, and there’s nothing humans like better than to spread their downers through the medium of technology)

OK, here’s the deal: I don’t ask you to agree with me, and all I ask in exchange is that you offer me the same courtesy.

I’m happy to go to the wall to defend your right to not agree with me, and all I ask in exchange for that is that you don’t put the boot in on the assumption I’m retarded.

I’m happy to talk things through with people in a rational, open discussion (although I’ve yet to have such a discussion that changes anything for anyone involved), but I’m not happy to sit there and be made to feel got at.

This has come up before, although I’ve not mentioned it on the blog, because I really don’t like to be showy about this stuff, it does nobody any good, but come on people. You’re a mix of avowed atheists and agnostics, and I believe in God. The rest of the time I can believe that you like me, so I don’t see why this has to be such a big deal.

[Religion, they say, causes wars, but we all know that’s not true: what causes wars is having two or more groups who refuse to show respect to beliefs contrary to their own.]

I’m not really trying to get into a “Why You Should Prove Everything Scientifically” debate, because that’s the same problem from a different side, it’s not about what you can prove, but about what you believe (and, again, I’m quite happy for you to believe you shouldn’t think anything unless you can prove it and peer review it, as long as you’ll just let me think something different).

I just wanted to explain that I don’t like it when people have a go at who I am, and it really feels like that’s what you’re doing, not by targetting me specifically, but by dismissing anyone you can pattern-match to be like me as being idiots, alongside us all.

[I think this was particuarly starkly illustrated this evening, when everyone was more than willing to lay into Film #1 as being stupidly and deliberately couched in one-sidedness, but shut up as soon as Film #3 arrived and said things they agreed with. That’s kinda scary.]

Some of them really are idiots, I’ll agree with you on that. But mostly I don’t agree with them, and I keep my thoughts to myself and while they affect how I treat people and how I act, I don’t try and shove them down your throat.

It works for me. I don’t believe I hurt anybody by my beliefs (in fact, they pretty much proscribe it), so this kind of blind attack puts the boot in; I’m not up for an evening of careful edits designed to show what a thickwitted twat everyone like me is, thanks.

…And really, I don’t post this in a bid to make you feel guilty, or wrong, or like I don’t respect what you believe. But I do post it because, just sometimes, it feels like I’m the only person in the room who is OK with the idea that we can think different things without being spiteful to one another, and when I feel like that, it hurts. Because it’s becomes apparant that the consensus is anyone who thinks what I think is stupid. And that hurts, and I’d much rather I had friends who liked me, and it feels like you really never could. (I’m an antisocial bastard but I honestly like you all, and I just got burned, so I figure it (hopefully) won’t hurt if I ask you to at least tell me when you’re switching on the hob)

[Yeah, I’m fishing for some recognition that you don’t mean me. Assuming you don’t, I figure that’s allowed.]

I don’t ask you to agree with me, and all I ask in exchange is that you offer me the same courtesy.

But this is who I am, and so far neither insolvency, nor death nor lawyers has changed that. I’m pretty dug in here; don’t imagine I’m about to change just to satisfy your unwillingness to make the effort to understand.

I’m probably not being coherent, but I’m tired, and my shoulder and my elbow and my hip have been hurting me since I woke in pain at four am, and I really am feeling upset, so that’s why.

Final thing, because it made me laugh this morning, and I could really do with a pick-me-up right now:

Link, to today’s Abstruse Goose (I want that final scene on a T-Shirt)

I really thought about disabling comments on this, because amongst the things I want least is a pointless circular theological debate (closely followed by flaming trolls), but I haven’t. So play nice, alright?

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  1. On February 21, 2009 The Pacifist says:

    Sorry. I hadn’t seen it before and didn’t know it would be quite so aggressive. And for what it’s worth, as the film went on, Maher became somewhat evangelical in himself, trying to convince everyone of his belief in the absence of God…. That sat rather uncomfortably with all of us. And as for the ending… it kind of gave the impression he didn’t have a point to any of it, other than to deliberately provoke people.

    Oh, and I’m not an atheist or agnostic. I’m a deist.

  2. On February 21, 2009 Statto says:

    I think, stripped of the careful, sentimental preamble, that final frame of Abstruse Goose in isolation on a T-shirt could be as needlessly offensive to us scientists as Film #3 was to you.

    You should love science. Science is brilliant. It is not in any way incompatible with God as you define Him, and it is quite simply the most important field of human endeavour, ever.

    I don’t wish to put the boot in while you’re down, but I can’t stand by whilst you write a ‘blog post about the importance of mutual respect which ends with a note about how you’d like ‘fuck science’ on a T-shirt. It’s not my delicate sensibilities or belief system we’re talking about, here—you’re saying ‘fuck way the entire Universe is assembled’, ‘fuck our only tool for understanding it’ and ‘fuck the only field of knowledge whose study leads consistently to human betterment’.

    And, quite apart from that, God made this Universe such that it could be dissected by the empirical method but He couldn’t, and so surely you might as well cut out the middle-man and say ‘fuck God’?!

  3. On February 21, 2009 Claire says:

    JTA: I’m sorry you were upset and I can see how you felt like the odd one out in that room. It can’t have been comfortable. As Paul says, we did get annoyed at it later on, it just took a bit longer for us. One thing to remember is that the situation in America is quite a lot worse than here if you’re an atheist, it’s difficult to even admit to it there, from what I hear. Also, the creator of the programme mostly visited extremists (of several religions, iirc) and I’m pretty sure none of us think you’re extremist or a crazy fundamentalist or anything like that. That some of your beliefs overlap with theirs in no way leads me to tar you with the same brush, and I hope the same goes for others. I like you regardless of what you believe, because you’re a nice person. I don’t think I know anyone well who doesn’t have some belief that I find pretty stupid compared to what I think, but that doesn’t seem to get in the way of anything much. (Sorry, everyone I’ve ever talked with at length.)

    Statto: you are pretty evangelical for a scientist. “You should love science”? You should evaluate science on its merits, surely? I think it *is* your delicate sensibilities that would be offended by such a shirt, for what else has the capacity? Surely you don’t arrive at being offended by logical argument or by testing a hypothesis? We all have some thought or belief of which we are defensive, usually because we are in a minority or because it is so important to how we think that we don’t like it being challenged, whether well or ineptly. The filmmaker was defensive of atheism because in America, he is in a minority. JTA is defensive of his beliefs now because last night he was practically on his own, and because it is important to who he is. You are being defensive of science because you feel that it is the most important thing humans have done, and to have it reduced to “fuck science” upsets you.

    Let’s all bitch about stupid strangers and be nice to our friends, ok?

  4. On February 21, 2009 Statto says:

    Yes, you should evaluate science on its merits—and that’s exactly what I have done, detailing why it is important and why we should love it. It is because of centuries improvements in human living conditions almost entirely down to science that we should be evangelical as scientists.

    In this case, I do arrive at being offended by logical arguments—if someone said ‘fuck not murdering people’, I would be justified in being upset. ‘Fuck our only path to human betterment’ is, if anything, worse!

  5. On February 21, 2009 Mister JTA says:

    Pacifist, Claire: thank-you. I’m feeling better today, which is in no small part down to people taking a minute to check I’m OK. Nice cure for paranoia, that is.

    Statto: Without getting drawn into the whole Science Vs. T-shirts thing too much, you make a really helpful point: stripped of its context that image on a T-shirt would be really offensive to some people. (Although I still think it’s a fantastic cartoon; my comment regarding the final panel assumed a universe populated by people who can instantly recognise the context of a final panel, even when a tubby librarian is wearing it as clothing!)

    Science probably has consistently improved man’s lot (for all that it’s frequently permitted Bad Things to happen on a more efficient scale than previously). It’s probably also worth noting that for a long time religion was what drove science*, which I think is why the attitude that they’re not compatible is one I find so annoying, from whichever side it comes.

    Again, apologies if there is incoherence, there…

    *Islam, especially, drove astronomy and the like, because when you pray to Mecca at specific times each day your life can be much simplified if you get off your arse and perfect the astrolabe

  6. On February 21, 2009 Statto says:

    I realise that last comment was intended as an even-handed response to my potentially inflammatory remarks, and I’m glad they didn’t inflame—but I’m going to have to come back argumentatively again!

    I’m not sure it’s fair to say religion has ‘driven’ science except very occasionally, and, even then, only to further its bizarre ends. Taking the example of Islam and astronomy, I’d rather have had the scientists involved looking into cures for the countless maladies of the day than gaining an unnecessarily precise knowledge of the motions of the heavens.

    Then, there is the catalogue of examples of religion holding science back: from the locking up of Galileo to George W. Bush’s only-just-repealed bans on state-funded stem cell research.

    Any positive connection religion has had with science—that it funded many early educational institutions, for example—is merely a reflection of religion’s total stranglehold over human history. Institutions from the pharaohs to the modern Catholic church have held the reins of power, and the purse-strings, for so long that most human achievements, from symphonies to statues, can be pinned in either inspiration or commission to religion.

    That science was also so enslaved is no endorsement of organised worship.

  7. On February 23, 2009 Rory says:

    I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have one’s beliefs questioned a bit, what ever side of the fence you sit on. At the same time I appreciate that it’s not fun being the odd one out in a group who have strong opinions on something as personal and potentially inflammatory as religion. I personally don’t think you should have just walked out on us though without saying something because we could have changed the film to something else or had a discussion about it at least.

  8. On February 23, 2009 Anne says:

    I’ve been away from the internet for a few days so am only just catching up, and I know it’s rather late, but I’ll send hugs and say that I have felt exactly the same way before. The following explanation might not support that statement but I do know what you mean. I find that people who quite rightly slate dangerous fundamentalists generally don’t make any connection between the extremists and their more moderately ‘religious’ acquaintance, but because the extremists use the same terms I do – God, faith, sin, etc – it’s inevitable that when comments are made about something an extremist has said, I sometimes wonder whether, if I said something using similar words, people would think those things about me or think I might be a dangerous fundamentalist myself. Convoluted but true, I think. I don’t know what the context is, of course, so I apologise if that was irrelevant. The hugs remain.

    More tangentially, it wasn’t just astronomy and mathematics where Islam’s scientific force was felt. Islamic doctors were among the best in the world in the middle ages, in great part (I believe) because they didn’t see disease as a punishment from God, as too many European Christians were apt to do. Not universally benign, of course; I wonder if science ever can be – even today a lot of my scientist friends seem to have to approach companies with suspect agendas, and find suitable and sometimes just as suspect results, if they want any funding at all. Wherever the money is, there also seems to be the science.

  9. On February 23, 2009 Scatman Dan says:

    [Only just got down to this post in my RSS reader. Sorry if I seem to have missed the boat.]

    I actually take offence – albeit only a little – at the implication that I (a) am not comfortable with people believing different things and/or that I (b) somehow treated either of the two “documentaries” watched last Troma Night significantly differently because of my own personal convictions. To the contrary, I (a) am particularly interested and, in fact, fascinated with the particular scope of human beliefs, and (b) gave a comparable amount of skepticism to the content presented in both pieces [not that you could have known this, because you left before any of the real content of the second film came in; we were still in the middle of the comedy sketches that were used as a framing device and to appeal to the masses]. It’s possible that you didn’t mean me specifically when you said those things, but I nonetheless feel somewhat that I’ve been pattern-matched as being intolerant.

    I also think that it’s perhaps a little hypocritical to make the claim that everybody was more than happy to lay into film #1 but sided with film #3 because it happened to coincide with their own beliefs, when it could be argued that you behaved in the same way – or, at least, could outwardly have appeared to – by sitting through film #1 which outrageously and disgustingly slated the beliefs of others, but not through film #3 which mocked beliefs that were closer to your own. Isn’t this just the same thing from different directions?

    On the other hand, I’m not the victim here. I can understand that being in the situation of being in that room could leave you feeling persecuted: these “documentaries” which blur the line between comedy and reporting, with their deliberately political editing and their mocking tones, can certainly do that. I know that I’ve been offended before by similar videos which have challenged or rejected my beliefs. I shan’t make claim that the two are the same, becuase they’re not, and I shan’t say that my response to propoganda against my beliefs is any more or less valid than your response (perhaps you’d be interested in my experience of these, and to compare how your experience is different, sometime). All I wanted to do was to say that I can comprehend how it can have been uncomfortable for you to be there.

    I’m pretty sure that by now you know what my stance on religion is, in general (but if not, I’m happy to share it and, in fact, pretty much anything else about my – somewhat unusual – beliefs and philosophy in general). All I’ll say now, though, is that I’m also puzzled by the same question that many contemporary nontheists and theologians have raised, that is: why is it (just about) ethically acceptable to mock any group for any characteristic, whether chosen or chance – whether race or gender or political affiliation or career or education level or figure – but as soon as it is religion that is the target, it is somehow taboo? I honestly don’t know the answer to that question, but I’d love to find out.

    I’m glad you’re feeling better now that you’ve been reassured that we all care about you and we respect your beliefs. I hope that you understand that this comment isn’t an attack on those beliefs, just on my interpretation of some of the things mentioned in this post. I also hope your achey bits are feeling better, now, too.

    I also fully support your choice to watch or not watch anything the hell you like at Troma Night or any other night, for whatever reason you like. And I think it was wrong for Paul to put on something so contentious without warning people in advance (although I’m glad he put it on – it was the best film of the night, in my opinion).

    See you during the week, my friend.

    [I’m not likely to end up remembering to check back here for comments, but feel free to e-mail me or we can get together in a bar or something.]

  10. On February 23, 2009 Mister JTA says:

    Rory, I (almost) entirely agree, questioning your beliefs is a good thing. But I don’t go in for questioning in the form of job interviews, I go in for cozy one-on-one-or-two chats, ideally with whisky and time to pause and think. Running debates alongside a slanted agenda (especially when it looks like you’re the only person who thinks that making a 2000 year-old sarcastic comment is just a little bit tragic, in the sense of ‘have you not got the time to look behind that and find something better to score cheap laughs over?’ ) is not so much my thing.

    I went with “leaving” because I could tell, at the point when I left, that I wasn’t going to be watching sensible and thought-inspiring use of questions, I was watching someone who was going in to as many situations as possible knowing he was right, and everyone else was wrong, so bring on the chance to poke fun. (Interestingly, it sounds rather like I wasn’t too far off the mark.)

    And I didn’t make you change it, because that would have made the whole lot of us feel bad; I went with the “slip off and hope nobody notices” routine, which I guess didn’t work (especially since you were sat next to me) but it seemed best at the time to leave you to it…

  11. On February 23, 2009 Mister JTA says:

    Dan: Yeah, I may well have ended up sounding like a bastard. That was mainly an excercise in trying to set down how come I got all wound up; I hope it mostly comes across as such, and I’m sorry if you were concered I was having a go at anyone in the room. (Maher, though, gave the distinct impression of being a tit; if it reads like I’m angry with people, it’s probably people like him.)

  12. On February 23, 2009 Statto says:


    Islamic doctors were among the best in the world in the middle ages, in great part (I believe) because they didn’t see disease as a punishment from God.

    More grist t’mill: Islamic doctors were the best because they were unshackled by religious prejudice. (I confess to not being very up on Islamic science, so I will take on trust that they were indeed good…)

    I wonder if science ever can be [benign]—even today a lot of my scientist friends seem to have to approach companies with suspect agendas, and find suitable and sometimes just as suspect results, if they want any funding at all.

    Anecdotal evidence of poor scientific conduct is not a reflection on the discipline. Your half-story is evidence that money corrupts, and that we should therefore be looking into how we fund research, compulsory registration of medical trials, and so on. It is in no way a blight on science as a practice.

  13. On February 23, 2009 Mister JTA says:

    More grist t’mill: Islamic doctors were the best because they were unshackled by religious prejudice.

    Perhaps surprisingly, not true. They were, along with all other Muslims of the time, encouraged by the Mosques to study science & medicine to gain a greater understanding of Creation.

    From a modern Western standpoint, where the Islamic countries are outputting marginally less science than I bothered with for GCSE, that sounds really weird, but for really quite a long time Islam’s attitude was that it was pretty much the duty of every good Muslim to learn as much as he could about how Allah had glued everything together. (Sounds like a thoroughly rotten edict, to me, but it takes all sorts)

    Quite what happened to that attitude, I’m not sure. There was a dead good program about this on Radio 4 the other week*, with a really irate physics professor who works in, er, Saudi, or somewhere, lamenting the Golden Age, and the fact that these days the education system doesn’t encourage people to ask enough questions, although, apparently, it’s starting to get better now Iran and places have made the connection between “asking questions” and “getting a rocket to not only go up, but come down and make a helluva mess as well.” Progress, huh?

    *Hence all this knowledge all of a sudden.

  14. On February 23, 2009 Statto says:

    Terrifyingly plausible.

    Much of the rise of environmentalism in the States is down to promulgation of the belief that, as Christians, we should be custodians of the Earth. As a consequentialist, perhaps this doesn’t worry me too much—and as a pragmatist, it’s got to be a softer sell than telling Texans to abandon their faith in order to save the planet.

    It does, however, make one wonder if we would (hypothetically, of course) be better off without religion, and therefore freed of the need for cynical persuasive tactics…

  15. On February 23, 2009 Statto says:

    Anyway, the real point of the Middle Ages Islam anecdotes is not that you want us all to adopt Middle Ages Islam. Therefore you must be extrapolating that ‘religion is good’ from the narrow premise ‘hang on, there are occasional instances where religion isn’t all bad’! Of course, what it really illustrates is that some aspects of old-fashioned Islam—namely, encouraging science—are worth adopting.

    The very fact that you’re using a religion’s encouragement of science as a proxy for its quality is surely a tacit admission that I’ve won this argument.

  16. On February 23, 2009 Mister JTA says:

    I wasn’t aware we were having an argument! I was just mentioning something I heard on the radio that I thought was interesting!

    On the other hand, I think the attidue of mediaeval Islam sounds reasonably OK. ‘Here is this stuff we’d like you to believe, and it’s OK to ask questions’ is pretty good for organised religion (though I’m always going to be more of a ‘here is what I believe. You think something different, huh? Fair enough.’ person, I think)

    I figure science and religion are both things we’re all “stuck with,” as it were, and they’re things that can probably go either way on such a 2-D scale as “Good——-Bad,” depending on what people are doing with them.

    I certainly don’t think they’re mutually exclusive, and I don’t object to either of them, as long as they’re not used to browbeat other people – it’s once you get people who insist they are mutually exclusive then, whichever suddenly-constructed side those people are on, you’ve got a problem.

    Personally, I’m always going to find science kinda… Useful in a background way I rarely bother to think about, I guess. I don’t deny that it does good things, but it doesn’t really interest me the way things involving people interest me (I am, of course, massively generalising; I find the development of things like the telegraph network and the safety advances made in the early-mid years of the railways absolutely fascinating, and I find things like football, which seems to be all about being among people who support the same people you do, mind-numbingly dull), but basically my brain is wired up in such a way that I’m happy to leave science to people that are interested by it.

    (I’m really not trying to wind you up, here, I’m just trying to explain that my response to most of science is “Huh. Kay.” or “Heh. That’s clever and kinda cool,” and, just occasionally, “Awesome! I guess that will make some people happy who might otherwise have died of cancer, or something. Win!” I find it hard to get excited about. I guess you could say that’s a win on the part of science for integrating so much with my life that I’m no longer awe-struck the way people were when we first got, flight, or something. That or it’s just that I’m too lazy to read up on very many things… Probably both, I guess.)

  17. On February 23, 2009 Statto says:

    Ha ha! ‘I wasn’t aware we were having an argument!’ Brilliant. :)

    Your attitude to science does occasionally wind me up, but so long as it’s not ‘fuck science’ (which we established some time ago it wasn’t), I can understand, if not empathise with it. I mean, thanks to science we know that it’s our badly-evolved-for-science human brains that target our interests so arbitrarily in the first place.

    I’m not so sure about the integration of science and religion, though—I think they can be mixed, but only when the religion has progressed from your ‘Here is this stuff we’d like you to believe, and it’s OK to ask questions’ to ‘it’s OK to ask questions’ which seems to me to be watered down too far to merit describing as religion.

  18. On February 23, 2009 Anne says:

    Statto: Having religious prejudice is different from having religion, which is different again from having a set of beliefs. Of course religious prejudice is bad. I’m afraid my entire knowledge of science has to be anecdotal because, like JTA, I am one of the people who deal in People Studies and leave Scientific Pursuits to people who are good at and enjoy them, and my People Studies attention frees up Scientific Pursuers to pursue science some more, cure diseases, map the physical universe, etc. I’ve always wished I were more adept at useful things like science or plumbing but it takes all sorts, including arts majors. I won’t assert that ‘religion is good’ – it’s an irrelevant generalisation, and is just as invalid as generalising to say ‘religion is bad’. I don’t know whether your knowledge of religion is anecdotal like mine of science, but it doesn’t matter. One of the things I like about studying faith and philosophy is that it’s personal, there aren’t many ‘right’ answers, if any. I see how that might not appeal to everyone, but I like it.

  19. On February 23, 2009 Tom says:

    Randomly weighing in for no particular side… the idea that ‘religious prejudice is bad’ is not a right answer, either.

    Scientific results are only ever right within the paradigm and structure they are being investigated within, so ‘objectivity’ should always be considered as a huge list of small print that is running in the background.

    Finally, I’d add that the nexus of People Studies and Scientific Pursuits needs some attention, from people on both sides. Whilst promulgating misunderstanding and prejudice is useful for fighting for one’s own camp, it’s not great for the far more useful aim of Human Progress. Or at least that was my overwhelming impression garnered from studying the philosophy of science as an arts student with minimal scientific knowledge.

    That may all be irrelevant, but hey.

  20. On February 23, 2009 Anne says:

    No, you’re right. This is a bad medium for expressing some things.

  21. On February 23, 2009 Tom says:

    Agreed. Such discussions are much better with alcohol.

  22. On February 23, 2009 Mister JTA says:

    What, you people are reading my blog sober!? Jeez…

  23. On February 23, 2009 Statto says:

    The idea that ‘religious prejudice is bad’ is not a right answer, either.

    Yes, it is. At least it is in the sense that I would understand that sentence.

    I would define religious prejudice as any faith-based (ie evidence-free) exclusion of a possibility. Science deals in evidence, and discarding evidence for any reason other than proven falsehood is therefore bad.

    If faith turned out somehow to be consistently right, it would no longer be faith as I define it—it would be transmuted into evidence, and back into the domain of reason.

    Scientific results are only ever right within the paradigm and structure they are being investigated within.

    This is something that arts students (boo, hiss) tend to run away with, rather. Science can never deal in absolute truth or the matter of fact, because we can never know when we have reached the bottom layer of the reality onion, but to accuse models of ‘only ever [being] right within the[ir] paradigm’ makes things sound worse than they are, like there’s some relativism of reality, which scientists can perhaps manipulate to their evil ends. We can now describe fundamental reality to absurd precision in many domains of science. As soon as a result deviates consistently from theory, we will revise normal science, have a revolution, or conclude that the bizarre oasis of fluke that allows us to describe the Universe with mathematics has finally dried up.

    Science and mathematics are the only fields within which there is any meaningful definition of ‘right’—that which has not been contradicted. To deny that is to consign yourself to the selfish slide into solipsism. If you are going to engage with the reality around you at all, then the scientific method, applied to whatever field you are interested in, is the only meaningful way to do it. I think this could be the foundation of an improved arts–science nexus.

  24. On February 24, 2009 Tom says:

    My comment about ‘religious prejudice is bad’ being not necessarily right was for Anne, rather than my own claim. By which nonsensical first sentence I mean that, according to the idea suggested by Anne in the end of her post – that there are no right answers in matters of faith and philosophy – the claim that religious prejudice is bad is nothing more than a personal opinion.

    Objectivity: granted, but for people of faith, the existence of God is something that might cut through the surrounding questions and required levels of external evidence within any scientific paradigm. If that belief is something supported by something personally accessible with its own, private justifications, then would it not be in line with the scientific method? After all, I trust that my imagination can produce images, though I don’t know how or why, nor have any way to prove it to you.

    I would suggest that scientists should at least be more openly agnostic about matters of divinity. Being that you can only deny belief in the existence of deity/es through a lack of the mystical ‘faith’ element that gets people to believing in them, that doesn’t really rule them out.

    Also, complaining about the potential fallibility of scientific paradigms isn’t like relativism, it merely says that when scientists claim “this is fact”, then that phrase has a rather more complicated definition. I think there may be some risk in enshrining the current models of science, in any case. (That’s not to say we shouldn’t use and appreciate them) …though perhaps (some) arts students just like to reassure themselves by keeping the fact that science *could* all be just a ‘bizarre oasis of fluke’ somewhere in mind.