EA’s Political WorldView Podcast: The Pope and Putin Edition

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PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pope Francis, November 2013


In this week’s Political WorldView podcast, we take on two world leaders with very different approaches, looking at Pope Francis’ pontificating in the US and Vladimir Putin’s bluster and bombing in crises from Ukraine to Syria.

Between the Pope and Putin, there are the Numbers of the Week: what do 785, 20 million, and 11 million mean for the world?

The panel is Adam Quinn, Christalla Yakinthou, and Scott Lucas of the University of Birmingham.

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20 COMMENTS

  1. Scott, it’s actually the Pope’s job to pontificate. Those who don’t wish to be pontificated at should not invite him to visit.

    As for Putin’s ‘bluster’, is that really all you’ve got?

  2. The Birmingham University Library classification system pretty much has Theology correct: its code is ‘BS’.

    Several statements in this podcast are incorrect. To start with the minor ones. Pope Francis’ organization is the Roman Catholic Church. Catholic meaning universal, we have at least 4 Pope-types. We have the Bishop of Rome, the Patriarchs of the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, the leader of the Coptic Christians: and maybe even Justin Welby himself if on a particularly curmudgeonly day he was being consistent within the doctrine of the Church built on the family values of Henry VIII.

    Religion is disappearing in parts of the world. Look at Scandinavia. Even in the U.S. figures show the rise of the ‘nones’: not enough, the tendency is in that direction.

    Pope Francis, like David Beckham, has mastered the art of smiling and waving at people as if that were a signal of moral seriousness. It takes a lot more than that. He has raised the issue of climate change in order to subvert it.

    Here he is on climate change:
    ‘…it must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development”. To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues.’

    Here’s the physicist, Prof. Lawrence Krauss, on the Pope’s encyclical:

    ‘An encyclical wouldn’t be an encyclical without theology however, and that is where problems arise. In a chapter entitled “Gospel of Creation” Francis ruminates poetically on the nature of man, the mystery of the cosmos (my own area of study) and the special duty Christians have to respect nature, humanity and the environment. It’s beautifully presented and sounds good in principle. However, his biblical analysis leads to the false conclusion that contraception and population control are not appropriate strategies to help a planet with limited resources.

    . . . Here, ideology subsumes empiricism, and the inevitable conflict between science and religion comes to the fore. One can argue until one is blue in the face that God has a preordained plan for every zygote, but the simple fact is that if one is seriously worried about the environment on a global scale population is a problem. A population of 10 billion by 2050 will likely be unsustainable at a level in which all humans have adequate food, water, medicine and security. Moreover, as this pope should particularly appreciate, the environmental problems that overpopulation creates also disproportionately afflict those in poor countries, where access to birth control and abortion is often limited.

    . . . The Catholic Church and its leaders can never be truly objective and useful arbiters of human behaviour until they are willing to dispense with doctrine that can thwart real progress. In this sense, the latest encyclical took several steps forward, and then a leap back.’

    Prof. Steven Pinker, the linguist, responded:

    ‘I’d say several steps back, actually. It’s not just reproductive rights. The pontiff continues in the millennia-long Catholic tradition of vilifying technology, commerce, and ordinary people enjoying the fruits of material progress. So he puts the blame on economics and consumerism. But the solution to climate change is not to moralize from on high and implore people—particularly the poor people who he claims to sympathize with—to learn to be abstemious for the common good and do without central heating, electric lights, and efficient transport. Billions of people aren’t going to do that. Not even the Pope—especially not the Pope—is going to do that. The solution is economic and technological: a global carbon tax, and investment in the development of new energy technologies. The Pope shows no signs of acknowledging this, because it leaves him and his church no special role.’

    With a few scraps the Pope appears to care for the poor while actually doing the opposite: and all his ideas are still based on theology – a subject without an object, as James Joyce said. Furthermore, as far back as 2009, Francis as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, publicly came out as anti-gay marriage. He sees the devil at work in that issue. Yes, he really believes that.

    It would have been a far more just use of Obama’s time to request the extradition of the ex-Archbishop of Boston, Bernard Law. He it was who covered up the Massachusetts priestly child torture scandal and who was whisked away to the Vatican. Francis surely knows where he is now.

    It is disappointing to see the repetition of the slur of Dawkins and Hitchens’ intolerance. This is plain untrue. You probably know as well as I do that they are criticising ideas. And the intervention of the Pope in a realm of statements about the universe and reality is an explicit attempt to privilege religion over science. In the spirit of the First Amendment that boils down to what Hitchens and Dawkins are saying and liberals and socialists should always defend that right.

    As for the smear of Islamophobia, it really is getting pretty tiresome hearing academics repeat it. The liberal Muslim Maajid Nawaz, quoting Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, points out that semantic infiltration is ‘the process whereby we come to adopt the language of our adversaries in describing political reality’. ‘Islamophobia’ fits that definition to a T. It is the euphemistic and sly manner of imputing racism to an interlocutor in order to shut down debate. We must be able to discuss ideas. Because beliefs have consequences in the real world.

    If you really believe that the soul enters the zygote at conception you will be against stem cell research – I wonder if Obama asked the Pope to change his mind on that. Btw. Islam is off the hook on that, because its theology believes that the soul enters the foetus on the 80th or 120th day, depending on which hadith you read. If you really believe that martyrdom through jihad gets you a short-cut to the 72 virgins of heaven – and presumably to 72 mothers-in-law – then that’s what you will do. x

    • The Pope isn’t the only person who thinks Indians and Africans shouldn’t have fridges to keep their food in. It is a common attitude among “Greens” too.

    • “The Catholic Church and its leaders can never be truly objective and useful arbiters of human behaviour until they are willing to dispense with doctrine that can thwart real progress”

      The doctrine of “real progress” is as fanatic as any extreme form of catholicism and we should dispense with that also.

      “In a chapter entitled “Gospel of Creation” Francis ruminates poetically on the nature of man, the mystery of the cosmos (my own area of study)”

      Someone should inform Lawrence Krauss that physics is not a science about the “mystery of the cosmos” but just an insufficient and non-independent reduction of one of its lowest aspects and this is not a “theological” evaluation, people like Paul Feyerabend had also made the same critique. These is the cult of the zealots of die-hard positivism, a preaching as abominable as the worst jihadism.

      • I see nothing wrong with the concept of “real progress”.

        It includes, for instance, a reduction in the number of people living on less than a dollar a day, reduction in child and maternal mortality, suppression of diseases such as smallpox and polio, an increase in literacy and education generally, the spread of electricity, clean water and sanitation. None of these are automatic.

        • “I see nothing wrong with the concept of “real progress”.

          It includes, for instance, a reduction in the number of people living on less than a dollar a day, reduction in child and maternal mortality, suppression of diseases such as smallpox and polio, an increase in literacy and education generally, the spread of electricity, clean water and sanitation. None of these are automatic.”

          Here I don´t argue against those individual aspects but against the overall effect of a mentality wich essentialy assumes that we are living under the umbrella of an ongoing beneficial process wich improves with the passage of time. A mentality wich manifests a cuasi-religious attitude towards the potentiality of thechnology and reduces everything else to the domain of sheer obscurantism.

      • Bs As, what a spectacularly stupid comment.

        On ‘real progress’, yes it is progress that the RCC no longer burns women at the stake for being a witch. And that’s because secular ideas, the Enlightenment, reason have pushed theology out of the public square.

        Explain how Physics is one of the ‘lowest aspects’ of the cosmos. If the pharse means anything at all. Presumably, Allah is above and beyond all that, the Creator. Well, I’d have a little more respect for that position if I could find one example of Allah’s understanding of the size of the universe, relativity, quantum mechanics, the Big Bang: rather than his pathetic desert-superstition nonsense about the moon splitting in 2.

        Excuse me, ‘positivism as abominable as the worst jihadism’? As the murder of innocent children on the promise of getting into heaven? As the decapitation of aid-workers? As the kamikaze murder of 3,000 workers as you slam into the wall at 500 m.p.h.?

        What is the ‘best’ jihadism? The inner struggle with a God that Physics has not found? Now that we know the rules of the universe from a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a second after T = 0. Get serious.

        I could find the words to express my contempt for your moral relativism and apologetics for jihad: but I assume that you are consistent about eschewing real progress, so you will probably have thrown away your computer by now and retreated to the Middle Ages where your ideas belong. x

        • “On ‘real progress’, yes it is progress that the RCC no longer burns women at the stake for being a witch. And that’s because secular ideas, the Enlightenment, reason have pushed theology out of the public square.”

          You mean for example “enlightened” people like Robespierre and the likes?, or maybe you refer to the same enlightened secular ideas wich operated as a point of departure for communism and nazism and?.

          “Explain how Physics is one of the ‘lowest aspects’ of the cosmos. If the pharse means anything at all. Presumably, Allah is above and beyond all that, the Creator. Well, I’d have a little more respect for that position if I could find one example of Allah’s understanding of the size of the universe, relativity, quantum mechanics, the Big Bang: rather than his pathetic desert-superstition nonsense about the moon splitting in 2.”

          Physics is one of the ‘lowest aspects’ of the cosmos because its method enables to study nothing but quantifiable matter thereby ruling out the qualitative aspect of existence -wich to every human being is the most primary-.

          “Allah is above and beyond all that, the Creator. Well, I’d have a little more respect for that position if I could find one example of Allah’s understanding of the size of the universe, relativity, quantum mechanics, the Big Bang: rather than his pathetic desert-superstition nonsense about the moon splitting in 2.”

          I´m not a muslim so I will not made an apology of islam but obviously for what you write I can clearly see that you are poorly qualified to approach such a scripture. Maybe you should start doing some basic research into Quranic exegesis, for example you could try to explore the scope of shiite concept of “taʾwīl”.

          “Excuse me, ‘positivism as abominable as the worst jihadism’? As the murder of innocent children on the promise of getting into heaven? As the decapitation of aid-workers? As the kamikaze murder of 3,000 workers as you slam into the wall at 500 m.p.h.?”

          Worst than that. I´m talking of the complete erradication of whole cultures.

          “What is the ‘best’ jihadism? The inner struggle with a God that Physics has not found? Now that we know the rules of the universe from a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a second after T = 0. Get serious.”

          Jihad is not struggle against God but against “nafs” -the ego-.

          “Now that we know the rules of the universe from a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a second after T = 0. Get serious.”

          Lol. Not even Ziad Fadel´s blog would dare to engage into those levels of delusion.

          “I could find the words to express my contempt for your moral relativism and apologetics for jihad: but I assume that you are consistent about eschewing real progress, so you will probably have thrown away your computer by now and retreated to the Middle Ages where your ideas belong. x”

          Are you real??

          • Ah, I see Bs As, the Gish Gallop, the usual desperate apologia.

            Did I mention Robespierre, Communism or Nazism? No. Name me one polity based on the ideas of Thomas Paine, Jefferson, J.S. Mill, Charles Darwin, Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, which led to the horrors of Communism, Nazism or Islamo-fascism. By the way, you might like to consider the horrors of the small, secular, democratic countries of Scandinavia.

            Physics teaches us this. From the point of view of the universe, why we exist may even be a stupid question. We just do and the universe just exists. It’s up to us to attribute meaning to our lives: as a minimum that we owe each other social solidarity, some version of the golden rule and that we must recognize that we all die. There is no need to submit to the totalitarian impulse to determine what God wants us to do – the psychological underpinning of Stalin and Hitler – nor to the disturbing human impulse to obey, as Orwell pointed out.

            As a matter of fact, I know quite a bit about Islam. Your argument is a version of the ‘no true Scotsman’ gambit. You can go round and round being logical within the confines of any theology you choose: but it all boils down to the fact that exegesis is just making things up. Nothing in the literature of the monotheisms can tell us one fact about the world. Don’t waste my time with Islam, Shi’ite or otherwise.

            When you discuss jihad, try at least to understand my point.

            So, the latest findings of cosmology are comparable to the propaganda of the Syrian Goebbels, Ziad Fadel? I stand by my second post: your comments are spectacularly stupid and sinister beyond measure.

  3. ok, I want to hear the arguments against the concept of intelligent design seeing that many, many scientist and mathematician’s argument”s that say the odds of life and or the creation of man being accidental are astronomical.

    I can’t remember the exact number but it’s a 1 to the power of 10xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. How can this be ignored by the GREAT SCIENTIFIC minds of Today.
    From what I understand (with my feeble mind) is that not to believe in Intelligent design is WAY more Ignorant (and mathematically impossible) than those who believe life was an Accident.
    Please debunk me so I will feel more intelligent.

    Humbly,
    an extremely unintelligent and scientifically foolish person.

    • By the way,
      Issac Asimov being an extremely ignorant person as well as the fool Einstein who spent his Entire life searching for what he called the God particle, were absolute ignoramuses as well, so I don’t feel so alone.

      fortunately , I have done a minuet (sp) amount of time studying physics (quarks and such) as well as the Big bang theory (which I believe in), I just don’t understand what happened PRIOR to the Big Bang. Was there nothingness? If so where did something come from? did something come from nothing? this concept has me rather bamboozled.

      I think I will be able to understand big words and such. so don’t feel that you can’t explain these Really complex and deeply scientific concepts… Hey I can look up big words.

      Thanks again for enlightening me.

    • GIYF: http://www.talkreason.org/

      … I’m sure you will make many converts over there, instead of spamming this place up with ‘Texas Thinking’ on every ‘born-again’ glossolaliac Bible-Thumper’s favourite topic, for which your Supreme Leader GWB is the best debunking.

      Just ask yourself, would a product of Intelligent Design have invaded Iraq? [… and have blamed it on HeyZeus?]

      BTW, I still await your verdict on this gala display of ‘american intelligence’ from other top Texas Thinkers:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0RH0cYs4lw

      • Barber, Your big words and fantastic intellect are hurting my head.

        You have convinced me. I shall no longer speak to you. Your amazing and totally fabulous comments have SILENCED me
        I bow to you, O great knower of all.
        There, is that caustic enough of me?

        I am really trying to be like you.
        my wonderful friend who has EVERY thing figured out. and really knows how to make friends and influence EVERY one.

        Sigh.

        By the way. Intelligent design is not Bible thumping. I think those that believe in any theological concepts without trying to determine at least a modicum (oops big word again dagnabit) of reason are not really very intelligent. I would be thrown out of any Religious (by the way I am not even remotely religious by any standards of any highfalutin (that means people who think they are really smart) church).

        But thanks for putting me in my place O mighty one.

        • Very funny, Tx Thinker, in the absence of a response from Barbar, I’ll take a punt at some of your deranged points. I’ll take them in order starting from the top of the thread.

          On intelligent design and your religiosity: the 2005 Dover School Board case proved that Intelligent Design was merely another word for creationism. The judge in the case, John E. Jones, a Lutheran, was sponsored by Rick Santorum the deeply Catholic Senator. When presented with the evidence, the honest Judge Jones could only conclude that Intelligent Design is a creationist attempt to usurp science. All the advocates of ID are creationists with the possible exception of David Berlinski: so, unless you are a follower of Berlinski, you will forgive me if I am dubious of your claim that you are not religious.

          On your response to my point about the universe not caring about the why, you simply respond to an idea I didn’t make and therefore your comment ‘does not deserve the compliment of rational opposition’.

          On the odds of life and/or the creation of man being accidental, no, that’s not the science. You conflate 2 things: the odds of life and the emergence of Homo sapiens. The odds of most events in the universe are ‘astronomical’, both literally and figuratively. I suggest you watch the physicist Sean Carroll’s video in which he schools your hero William Lane Craig (yes, I can tell) on cosmology.

          On what happened before the Big Bang: BB is defined as time = zero. There was no ‘before’ before the Big Bang. Most physicists agree that is probably a stupid question. .

          On your sneer at Barbar’s use of ‘big words’. Firstly, good luck with your self-congratulation on your own ignorance. Secondly, you refer to Barbar’s use of the term ‘glossolaliac’: given that you are in all likelihood a Christian, you should be ashamed of yourself. Glossolalia means speaking in tongues, something I knew straight away, having studied the Bible, and a gift which was used by the early Christians in ‘Acts’ as ‘proof’ of the truth of their message. While we’re at it we should congratulate Barbar for coining a neologism as I have never seen that derivation of the term.

          I will say one thing in contradiction to Barbar’s meme of Texan stupidity. Steven Weinberg, the Nobel Prize winner for Physics and noted atheist, works at the University of Texas in Austin: the man who said, “In normal circumstances, good guys do good things and bad guys do bad things. But to get a good guy to do a bad thing, you need religion.”

          We may live in a purposeless universe, Tx Thinker, but may I suggest one for you? To improve your spelling and grammar.

          I am aware that posts such as mine and Barbar’s always injure religionists at the core of their deepest fear: that there is no afterlife, that we die and that is it. That is why they, and possibly you, get so upset. Well as adults we just have to deal with it and share the common solidarity of human life, the dispassionate search for knowledge and the human conversation, based on what we can know and not on what we would wish. x

    • Those stupid, stupid, Inquiring minds, we need to stop!!! inquiring. Gravity JUST exists!!! Atoms JUST split!! We just need to stop studying because things just exist and we are STUPID to try to figure out why. Heck we need to shoot all scientist. (the fools they are). thanks for that enlightenment.

      from a stupid inquiring fool

  4. Barbar

    O great thinker and Knower of all, I bow at your feet and will no longer attempt to reply to you. your knowledge and intellect blind me. How can I compare to you? Please forgive this lowly subject.

    (by the way I am in no way a bible thumper. I would be thrown out of any respectable place of religiosity). (woa is me)…
    Heck, I think any person who study’s and expounds on theology without even a modicum (big word again, dagnabit) of intellectual thinkoligy lol, is a total fool)

    There, is that caustic enough?

    I am trying very hard to be just like you so I too can be a great influence on others and make friends and be respected.

    Your humble admirer,

    TX

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