About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Michael's Picks

Note: Apologies for the delay in posting a new essay, but I'm currently wrapping up my master's thesis. I should have a new piece up soon.
* Sam Harris has a new (and long) essay up on The Huffington Post, titled "Toward a Science of Morality," in which he defends his thesis that science can answer moral questions. 
* An interesting piece that argues the National Day of Prayer does exactly the opposite of what its supporters claim it does, dividing instead of uniting.
* Not that the above, or the fact the NDP has been ruled unconstitutional, really matters: South Carolina lawmakers are trying to create a State Day of Prayer
* Where does Obama's Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan stand on church and state?
* Richard Dawkins performed admirably in a recent panel discussion on ABC Australia that essentially featured Dawkins against five others, including one creationist. I suggest watching the entire 60 minutes. 

* A Polish pop star is facing charges in her home country for stating the Bible is full of "unbelievable tales" that are hard to accept because "it's hard to believe in something written down by someone drunk on wine and smoking some kind of herbs."
* Sarah Palin doesn't know the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. 
* Controversial new Oklahoma abortion legislation has been temporarily blocked
* A proposed federal workplace religious freedom bill, which would "revise and strengthen the existing requirements imposed on employers to accommodate the religious practices of their employees," is receiving renewed interest. 
* Christopher Hitchens on France and the burqa
* Kate Fridkis says atheists can be unreasonable, too, citing a conversation she had with the leader of an atheist organization in New York City (there's only one atheist organization in NYC, you do the math).


  1. Awful Hitchens article "my right to see your face".......I'd really much rather see articles by Muslim women about this stuff. There must be a better way to go than a ban. I have (male) friends who make this point abot a right to see peoples' faces, and I find it (I'm female) rather disturbing, as I find any male statements about their rights over other beings' behaviour. Haven't we had enough of ths stuff over history? Is this really about not oppressing women? I wish......

  2. "I find it (I'm female) rather disturbing, as I find any male statements about their rights over other beings' behaviour."

    Do you find any female statements about their rights over other beings' behaviour equally as disturbing?

  3. Yes - if that had been the issue here, I would have said, but you're right, I should have made myself clearer. I've never heard any female make statements about rights to see others' faces, but perhaps they do. It seems to me that Hitchens is being (to say the least) disingenuous in his rant about seeing faces without masks. A look is not just a look, it is an evaluation.
    Why don't they just make the burqa a must-have fashion item? all the problems would go away.

  4. Good Fridkis article.

    Its not that we all say stupid things and behave stupidly, its more that some groups have a reputation for being more stupid than others. Re (harsh atheism or god stances) vs (reasonability and listening), yes the issue can be debated ad infinitum, but what I've always managed to come up with was that atheism is an expression of hostility towards "God Classic" if you will, and if that goes too far, well at least represents a challenge to populist conception of suzerainty out of our control, and everyone sees smarter people as non-populists.

    I have in the past kept private this view of atheists as generally hostile people - until others started saying it :) but also because I also believe that TALKING is also in many ways a manifestation of that same aggression, and need to work out how hostility and aggression inform not only our beliefs but our makeup.

    Also, its just plain wrong to label

  5. Although I sympathize with the concerns of Chris Hitchens and the ban-the-burqa bunch, his reasoning is inadequate:

    • “Society is being asked to abandon an immemorial tradition of equality and openness in order to gratify one faith, one faith that has a very questionable record in respect of females.”

    However, Hitchens is very ready to “abandon” other “traditional” ethics. Why should tradition trump other concerns? Does “equality” mean that children should have equal say-so with their parents and teachers? As a pragmatist, what makes his values any more valid than the Burqa –wearers? They believe that they are pragmatic! Besides, since when does a “questionable record” invalidate a moral stance? Later, however, Hitchens brings forth his underlying concern:

    • “The burqa and the veil, surely, are the most aggressive sign of a refusal to integrate or accommodate.”

    However, removing the “sign” is not the same as removing the threat – something that secularism is unwilling and unable to confront. It will simply drive the manifestations of Islam’s refusal to integrate into other areas.

    Historian Arnold Toynbee wrote that civilizations crumble because of internal decay, not fundamentally because of external threat. Similarly, we succumb to disease, not because of the external pathogen, because our system has become vulnerable to it. Western secularism is a sick beast, defenseless against a variety of pathogens, lacking the resources and convictions to counteract them. Hitchens concludes:

    • “Religion is the worst possible excuse for any exception to the common law.”

    However, good religion and its accompanying moral absolutes might be the only defense against pathogenic religion! (And we all have a religion!)

  6. @DaveS,

    Do you think atheism inherently includes "hostility towards 'God Classic,'" or do you think it just so happens many atheists act in that way?

  7. That is a tough question, Michael. All in know is that I have had conversations with a number of professed atheists who would tell God to f off when on their deathbed. In fact, the first time was in the in the only philosophy class I've taken. Some guy in the back of the class told him "Well didn't you just acknowledge "his" existence?" Forgot what the retort was.

    As far as the way whether this points to hostile behavior, would not go that far.


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