Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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( 'Nother Solent is this blog's good twin. Same words, searchable archives, RSS feed. Provided by a benefactor, to whom thanks.
I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

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Friday, January 27, 2006
Professor Grayling himself sent a second email in reply to my earlier post. Here it is:

"Thank you very much for your email, and for the very interesting response posted on your website. I compliment you on your formidable skills as a debating partner, and I_m glad therefore that you acknowledge that in the constraints of polemical newspaper articles (and as you say, in blogs too), enthymeme is often called for: for yes, my argument was enthymematic on the question of the outweighing balance of harm attributable to religion in history, though not (as you suggest) as regards the arguments in support of points unfavourable to my case, but as regards the arguments against the points themselves _ which I take to be, after all, well enough known.

"Straight away, though, I must comment on what you say at the very end of your remarks: _Since Prof. Grayling is an atheist he naturally holds that religion is false and counts this as one more tick on the bad side of its scoresheet._ The massive and systematic falsity of views to the effect that supernatural agencies operate in the universe with express reference to the lives of human beings on this planet, given in addition that they are so often and widely invoked to direct, dominate and often distort those lives, is scarcely describable in so offhand a way as _one more tick on the bad side of the scoresheet._ In fact, this is the very core of the matter between us. Consider the contrast. Science labours towards an understanding of things, testing itself vigorously and on the way (_directly and indirectly_ to re-employ my phrase - this latter via technologies) affecting the lives of billions every day. I confidently asserted before, and do so again, that the good versus harm balance lies hugely in its favour in this, as witness the commonplace example of its effects - say, electricity: the electricity that pumps water to your house, lights and heats it, cooks your food, puts you in touch with your family and friends, brings you news and entertainment - all and every day. When last did it guide a missile your way, or communicate itself to you via a torturer_s cattle prod? These things tragically happen, and they are indeed applications - misapplications - of science: but though you rightly say that the numbers game is crude, it is relevant. For the dozens of mutually blaspheming and non-rationally-based religions, each claiming final and uncontestable truth on the basis of supposed revelations communicated two or more thousand years ago, live off their falsehood continuously, invoke it and rely upon it daily, and use it to motivate antipathies and conflicts as well as to encourage benignities: though even as regards this latter one would surely wish to see people encouraged to kindness and concern by feelings of humanity rather than by fairy stories (or rewards in heaven: seventy-two virgins &c).

"This acknowledges your point that religion - these false views of the universe - can give comfort and inspiration, and prompt an _uncountable number of acts of benevolence_. I should wish comfort and inspiration to everyone, and applaud any act of benevolence with all my heart: but still prefer that their motivation not be falsely based. And of course, uncountable acts of benevolence are performed by non-believers too, perhaps more admirably still, since humanity alone (if it is truly benevolence in the case) is the impulse.

"It is in the light of this contrast between science and religion that my original piece was written. Hence the complete confidence that if one throws the net wide (your _whoa_ point about the Holocaust), what it catches in the respective cases is very different indeed in overall character. The argument that _Communism, an ideology officially dedicated to scientific atheism, has killed more people than all the holy wars and holy tortures ever made_ is a canard that itself deserves the full Natalie Solent treatment of forensic deconstruction. Was it the _scientific atheism_ aspect that prompted the massacre of Kulaks or the starvation of Chinese peasants in the Great Leap Forward, or might it have been the ideology of class war, theories about collectivisation, and the like? Where did Communism learn its lessons about prophets and holy books, orthodoxy and conformity, the putting to death of heretics, and the like again? On what did it model is eschatological picture of human history, its call for suffering now in the interests of a utopian future, its preparedness to kill and die for the faith? Those less reflective about the nuances of history blame communism (and fascism) on the Enlightenment, failing to see that the secular, democratic and humanist offspring of Enlightenment refused to accept either fascism or communism, and defeated the former in seventeen years and the latter in seventy. For both are in fact counter-Enlightenment movements, sharing more in common with the forms of religion from which they borrowed their lineaments - the oppression of a monolithic world-view premised on a fairy tale about origins, destiny, and the right morality required for salvation - than with the pluralist, open, educated, liberal society based on rights and opportunities envisioned by the eighteenth century_s philosophes (and yes: which is yet to come, if ever it will; but look at the forces opposing it even as we write: Southern Baptists, radical Islam).

"Your remarkable comment about the United States as a religious but benign country I will leave to your second thoughts or other bloggers to respond to.Our disagreements in part flow from the very brevity of my original article. With proper diffidence, might I ask if you can get hold of a copy of my book What Is Good? which sets out my case at full length? (I'd be happy to send you a copy, but without wishing to foist it on you.) I should be pleased to see anything you have written at greater length too.Thank you for your points and views, which I much appreciate. Again my good wishes"

- Anthony Grayling