Friday, January 9, 2015

charlie dawkins tweets

Here's Dawkins, tweeting:
No, all religions are NOT equally violent. Some have never been violent, some gave it up centuries ago. One religion conspicuously didn’t. 
Religions do things, apparently. Religions believe things, act certain ways. Some act violently, some peacefully. Some religions love their kids, others wish they'd never had kids and shower them with abuse. Some religions kiss their partners...

Dawkins would likely say "oh, it's just a figure of speech, get over it," but nice religion/nasty religion,  where these are taken as agents, with the simple, perfectly efficient causal chain implied is exactly the model that Dawkins and his Islam-fearing allies use to make claims about religion. When he says these religions are not equally violent, he's supposedly taking on those who'd say "all religions are equally violent." It's assumed that his opponents claim that religious brands are causal factors that just happen to have (roughly?) equal causal implications. To be fair, alternatives to the incredibly simplistic model Dawkins implies -- where religious words cause beliefs which cause actions, like Reggie Jackson in Naked Gun walking in, zombie-like, from the outfield to kill the Queen because an alarm triggered his brain -- are perhaps a bit nuanced and varied. And maybe it's too much to expect a world-renowned scientist to follow such things. But one thing you, reader who is not Dawkins, might notice if you read prominent anti-Islamophobes is that they don't make the claim for strong but equal causality among religious brands. Rather, far and away the most common approach is to say that religious brand plays either no causal role or a possible role that's both minor and incredibly difficult to pin down. Prominent anti-Islamophobes tend to suggest that major religions are fungible, that you can make them say whatever you want. Again, Dawkins' "all religions are NOT equally violent" has religious brand causality as a built-in feature, where religions can be violent or not violent. And apparently it's the only variable that matters.

But there's no significant difference in the violence promoted by the texts of Christianity and Islam, so it's not a simple text to ideas to action chain. If Muslims are especially violent, but it's not the texts, then why? As a matter of methodology, would it be better to look at official religious doctrines, considering that they're closer to home than ancient texts? How about the explicitly espoused beliefs of individuals? OK, but then you'd have to deal with the fact that humans, let alone religions made out to be agents, don't follow a simple (words to) belief to action model. In fact, for the past few decades, neuroscientists have been exposing intentionality as something of a useful fiction. Even where there's reason to believe self-reported motivations are honestly reported, these should be treated as low resolution, biased, post hoc models. Models about cognition, about a series of neuronal processes that necessarily remain quite opaque to the modeller. But still. It might not be absurd on its face to take some combination of self-reported motives, official religious doctrines, and texts as sources in analyzing the etiology of violence as it pertains to religious brand. But who's doing that? And why would they? In the meantime, differences in access to technological and other resources, recent history of violence, wealth gap, infrastructure, and other measurables present themselves for much easier analysis. Differences that matter, that are already established as mattering.

Why are Muslims so violent, then, if we're looking at high resolution phenomena (as opposed to metacognition)? Being on the receiving end of imperialism? Democracies being replaced by dictatorships? Sanctions? Drone strikes? Interesting leads, sure, but the real answer is...the easy access Muslims have to high-tech weapons. No, not really.

Because it turns out that Christians have been behind considerably more violence than Muslims by any reasonable measure. So while imperialism no doubt plays a significant role in inspiring violence by self-identified Muslims (with relatively low-tech weapons), the claim (or more often, the assumption) that Islam causes exceptional levels of violence is wrong not only because religions don't cause violence (they don't, as far as anyone knows) but because Islam is not even correlated with higher rates of violence to begin with.

Given that Christianity correlates more strongly with violence than Islam does, maybe Dawkins would be interested in telling us why. While some theory of texts, doctrines, individual beliefs/psychology might appeal to someone trying to demonstrate the unique evils of Islam, does it sound as interesting when applied to "Christianity" or atheism? I suspect nominal religion would be about as useful in explaining the actions of Anders Breivik as his genetic whiteness would be. You can get the equivalent of phenotypic correlations (Muslims may be more likely to use machetes whereas Christians and Jews tend to use tanks and F-16s) but you're unlikely to find much that's useful outside direct lines of influence.

Anyway, instead of following what's measurable, and Occam's razor, Dawkins places the causal mechanism out of sight, hopelessly riddled by equivocity, in a murky intentionality called Islam. Did I just describe the way religion works? Yes, I did.

OK, just a little more Dawkins:
Of COURSE most Muslims are peaceful. But if someone's killed for what they drew or said or wrote, you KNOW the religion of the killers. (Dawkins)
Using the same formula while changing the names, we get:
OF COURSE most white guys are peaceful, but if a government building in the U.S. gets blown up, you KNOW the skin color of the killers.
OF COURSE most Americans are peaceful. But if a wedding gets blown up in the 'Stans, you KNOW the nationality of the killers. 
OF COURSE most Jews are peaceful, but if a whole neighborhood gets demolished by high-tech weapons in the Levant, you KNOW the religion of the killers. 
OF COURSE most right-wing European Christians are peaceful. But if a bunch of kids are massacred at a campground, you KNOW the political leanings of the killer.

Bury the causation lede, present a no-duh correlation. Like I've said, Dawkins isn't just an asshole. Also bad at logic, at least when it suits him.


davidly said...

Thanks, this is very well done.

I'd respond to the last tweet you cite with your responses.

Devin Lenda said...

Much appreciated, davidly.