Afternoon InquisitionReligion

AI: Did the Swiss Miss?

Hey folks, don’t forget, if you’re in the Atlanta area tomorrow night, swing by the Thinking Man Tavern and hang out with Skepchick’s own Maria and a bunch of really cool skeptics for lots of drinking and merriment. Oh, and if my flight leaves Houston on time, I’ll be there, too. Get all the deets here.

Okay, so I know you all are just dying to talk about Alex P. Keaton’s mom being gay, Tiger Woods’ affairs, Ron Wood’s arrest, the White House party crashers, and all the other major news stories of the day*, but I thought I’d go in a different direction today and ask you about something potentially more serious.

Swiss voters recently supported a referendum proposal to ban the building of minarets. The Swiss government initially opposed the ban, saying it would harm Switzerland’s image, particularly in the Muslim world, but voters upheld it anyway. Some are already saying that the action of the Swiss people was a grave mistake.

What do you think? Is there justification for the ban? What are the implications of such a move? Short/Long term effects across Europe?

*Crap the media treat as major stories.

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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51 Comments

  1. Its more of a “losing face” problem than anything. From what I understand, the Swiss already had a law stating that structures couldn’t be more than…150? feet hight. This law is pretty moot.

    If I’ve screwed up something, let me know.

  2. If there was already a ban for Christian church steeples, and this just evens things up (or anything like that), then it would seem more or less sensible.

    But otherwise it just strikes me as weird and arbitrary.

  3. @Sam Ogden: The minarets in Switzerland are pathetic when it comes to height, I mean take a look at this one. But regardless, I’m pretty sure the ban covers all minarets (excluding ones already constructed) because according to the SVP:

    “It is a symbol of the religious and political claim to power that calls basic constitutional rights into question. The democratic rule of law and Sharia law are opposites. The minaret basically evokes the primacy of Sharia.”

    and:

    “If we want to prevent Sharia law, we have to forbid the building of minarets.”

    So, I think no minaret could be short enough to please these guys.

  4. NPR had a story on this. There are a few minarets in die Sweitz already. The referendum came from one of the far right wing political groups in Switzerland who are concerned that Muslims are trying to be a political force there. Another concern was that in some other European countries where there are a large population of Muslims, they tend to stick to their own and follow their own rules… disregarding local rules in general. There might be a podcast on NPR, I am sure my memory of the story is not 100%.

  5. Ok, the Egyptian PM? He’s using what a friend of mine calls a “glass pipe argument”, in that you have to be on crack to believe it.

    “Europe can’t lecture us on human rights. Sure, we throw people in jail for disagreeing with the government, and only allow one political party, but you WON’T LET PEOPLE BUILD TOWERS! Sure, we’re complicit in the torture of prisoners from around the world, ’cause, hey, what’s a little water-boarding between friends… but you have enacted the equivalent of Home Owners Association building restrictions, so obviously you are the great Satan, and we are the beacon of the New Freedom. Insallah, may you feel the burning ass-raping of a million ifrit.”

  6. Leaving aside the question of whether all religions should receive the same treatment, it seems certainly reasonable to disallow actions going against social cohesion. Given a community, newcomers must adopt the values of that community if they are to be accepted. Diversity is fine as long as it does not conflict with preexisting belief systems.

  7. @Skepthink:

    Does putting a tower on a building go against social cohesion?

    “Diversity is fine as long as it does not conflict with preexisting belief systems.”

    Are you actually serious?

    I can’t even begin to think of a legitimate reason for a blanket ban on all minarets.

  8. @Skepthink:

    …it seems certainly reasonable to disallow actions going against social cohesion.

    I, uh- r…really? Building some sweet-lookin’ tower thingies goes against social cohesion? I have a hard time figuring out how an architectural feature, albeit one with religious baggage, itself conflicts with any belief system at all.

  9. @jtradke: I assume if a nerd lobby built a Death Star in the middle of Paris, you wouldn’t take it to be symbol of geekdom.

    Of course not. It’s just an orb of iron and steel. Human brains do not associate concepts or symbolic meanings with things, that would be crazy.

    Really? Is that the best argument this issue evokes in your mind? Wow.

  10. Provision of cool architecture to admire is the only thing organized religion has ever done for me. Take that away and it’s got nothing for me.

    And why would anyone think that the banning of a structural adornment would lead to a reduction in extremism or cultural isolationism? Basically, all it does is allow people who live more than 1/2 a mile away from a Muslim neighborhood pretend that it doesn’t exist because they can’t see it.

  11. I’m not sure if this is targeting a religion, or targeting foreigners. (Probably a little from column a and a little from column b) But I think it’s retarded either way.

    Also according to my friend who just moved to Switzerland this law is un-necessary. Apparently all buildings in Switzerland can be denied building consent for aesthetic reasons (such as not matching the surrounding area) so if anyone didn’t want one built in their town they could object under existing laws.

    But unless you ban all architecture with religious significance you should ban none. Even given my status as a devout atheist I can’t advocate that though. Far too much of it looks way too cool.

  12. @Joshua Zelinsky: False. Skepticism, the same as the scientific method it is a playful variant of, is not a belief in itself but a methodology.

    Practicing it and deriving conclusions on the basis of it which may then make it advisable to change our own belief systems does not commit one to any specific belief system (as religion does). Correcting must never be confused with denying.

  13. I don’t have any problem with the minarets. However, they are supposed to be used for 5 daily calls to prayer, and I just hope this will be done parcimoniously, if it’s done. I mean, not more disturbing than the chuch’s bells ringing. It would be my only “concern” if I had to find one. But overall the swiss have made a wrong decision there.

    But they definitely should make the call to prayer on twitter or facebook, nowadays. Minarets are a bit too old fashioned for me :P

  14. @Skepthink:

    And yet it is highly damaging to social cohesion. By your logic, there should be nothing wrong with banning it. It is afterall, quite damaging to religious beliefs which provide much of social cohesion.

    (Incidentally, the claim that skepticism is merely an extension of the scientific method is inaccurate. There are aspects of philosophy and mathematics which go into it that is only marginally part of the scientific method).

  15. @Joshua Zelinsky: You keep stating that skepticism damages social cohesion and I don’t see how. It redefines social cohesion, it cannot possibly damage it because what damages social cohesion is what a skeptic attitude aims to correct in the first place.

    Also, if anything, it would be whatever actions which happened to be taken on the basis of whatever new set of beliefs happened to have been defined by a particular display of skepticism what may cause some actual behavioral result. But, as a mindset, skepticism does not entail any particular state of affairs or course of action in the real world, it’s just on your mind, the same as religion. Personally, privately, you’re entitled to whatever shit you want, but when you turn that into a public display, normal rules apply.

    As for that weird stuff about philosophy and mathematics that you claim is associated with skepticism, I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about, but even if you had a point, notice that I used the term “variant” and nothing prevents a variant from having features not shared by its original theme. It would be like saying that a dog is not a living being because dogs have features that not all living beings share, like fur. Non sequitur.

  16. This is an issue that makes me squirm.

    Because on the surface, I like the idea of minarets (or steeples, for that matter) either being taken down or not being built in the first place. Irreligious, antitheist, militant, call it what you will, but that’s just how I’d like the world to be.

    However – and this is one of those big ‘howevers’ that pretty much negates my previous statement – not like this.

    Freedom of religion is just as important as freedom from religion. And as strongly critical and opposed as I am to religion in general and Islam in particular, I don’t like the feel of banning minarets.

    I may disagree with what Muslims want to build, but I defend to the death their right to build it.

    That said, they clearly have to fall within the boundary of the state laws anyway, such as the 150 meter high rule. But a law excluding one religion but not others is a bad move. It’s a step away from the secular state.

    So although I sympathize with the Swiss who voted against the construction of minarets (and I really, really do sympathize, I feel the same way) – I have to criticize this new law as unsecular and unjust.

    I strongly agree with Paula Kirby’s article ‘Tilting at Symbols’ at the Washington Post.

    http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/panelists/paula_kirby/2009/12/tilting_at_symbols.html

  17. I just got back from Switzerland. 2 weeks in Bern and 2 in Zurich. I have to say I was SHOCKED at the open prejudice against followers of Islam. How open? Well there is a huge bill board campaign, with an Islamic man that has built his “dream hotel”. The hotel looks like a kebash meat slab and the windows of the hotel are all open and laundry is strung out the windows. The photograph of the Islamic man is as much a stereotype as Aunt Jemima. I was horrified that it wasn’t defaced (this is Switzerland, no graffiti), and it was everywhere. It takes a lot to mortify me, but every time I saw this ad I was shocked. This would never happen in France (mind you the majority of Parisians are now foreigners). Switzerland was beautiful. I kept walking around Bern looking for homeless people or beggers. Or even trash of any sort. Its a way of life that is almost Stepford, yet also appealing. I wanted to move to Bern, but there was this feelign that they wouldn’t want me even if I had the money to afford to live there. I think the Swiss are very protective of the wonderful clean and rule abiding land they inhabit. Also they can get away with a lot of this stuff because a lot of Islamic nations have stashed cash there. It’s safe because it’s got all the secrets. Switzerland, great for a visit, but live there? I’m not so sure.

  18. @Skepthink:

    Yes, I am well-aware that a minaret is symbolic. It’s a benign symbol of the Islamic religion, or perhaps the importance of prayer to Muslims. It’s not a huge middle finger, or a Death-Star-type monstrosity ruining the aesthetics of its surroundings, or a historically charged symbol of oppression like a swastika.

    Therefore the only way that this sort of symbol could possibly be oppositional to social cohesion is within the sort of society that wishes to exclude Islam. I fail to see the cohesiveness in excluding a sizable chunk of your countrymen.

    Perhaps you’d have a point if minarets were historically, say, sniper towers. Or if they’d chosen to ban the hijab and/or niqab, which are exclusionary in themselves.

  19. I don’t see how anyone can see this as a good idea. It’s only gonna make the Muslims of Switzerland feel more oppressed which will only lead them to isolate themselves more from the broader culture, working against the process of assimilation. This hardly helps the social cohesion of Switzerland, and will likely radicalize the Muslims in the area.

    Of course there is also the whole violation of freedom of religion issue that others have commented on. The Swiss really dropped the ball here as far as I’m concerned and I hope they come to their sense and reverse the ban.

  20. @Skepthink:

    You wrote that:

    “You keep stating that skepticism damages social cohesion and I don’t see how. It redefines social cohesion, it cannot possibly damage it because what damages social cohesion is what a skeptic attitude aims to correct in the first place.”

    This should be clear. Religion in most forms promotes social cohesion. Skepticism damages that. Indeed, I would be inclined to see Islam as generally a force for social cohesion. Indeed, using your language of “redefining” the devout Muslims could argue that Islam merely redefines the existing system of social cohesion to something new.

    As to whether skepticism is a variant of the scientific method, it may well be that I’ve read too much phil sci, but simply put, skepticism involves many things that aren’t part of the scientific method. The main issue is that there is a demarcation between science and non-science (there is disagreement about where exactly that line is, but pretty much no one disagrees that such a line exists and roughly where it is). Many things that are not within the realm of science (for example general critical thinking about historical or other claims, thinking about the overall plausibility of certain claim types, looking at what procucts are sold and evaluating their likelyhood to work, all are very hard to put on the science side of the line.) Your comparison to the dog doesn’t work, because the dog is still living. It is very hard to claim that skepticism is a type of science or the scientific method (as a dog is a type of living thing) (I’m being deliberately vague here as to what we mean by “type” but we should have some shared notion). Skepticism uses the scientific method and science as a whole, but it is much broader than just a variant.

    To extend the analogy a bit, someone using a hyper-Baconian approach might be said to be doing a variant of science in the same way that the dog is a living thing.

    (Frankly, I’m not really interested in discussing in detail what the exact nature and definition of skepticism is, because that has easy potential to get bogged down in simply disagreeing over the definitions).

  21. @kittynh: Man, that does sound really disturbing… and it really makes me not want to visit Switzerland any time soon. I wonder how many other European nations would join the Swiss on this issue if it were put up to a vote? I sincerely hope the answer is zero.

    Interestingly, with the exception of Basel-Stadt, the only parts of Switzerland that voted against the minaret ban were the French speaking regions. link

  22. @jtradke: “””It’s a benign symbol of the Islamic religion, or perhaps the importance of prayer to Muslims.”””

    None of which is a reason to allow the construction of a building. Religion, in any modern state, is private stuff. It is true that some other religions must still be entirely removed from some European states, but that we haven’t finished getting rid of our own demons does not mean that we have to accept other people’s demons.

    “””It’s not a huge middle finger”””

    Of course it is, against the values of the Illustration and all European values in general (Europe is historically, and for all purposes, the antithesis of Islam, starting with the Romans and the Greeks). Regressive, misogynistic hate speech must be hosted at no public building. Arguing that e.g. Catholicism as a religion is founded on or promotes similar values won’t work, because, precisely as a result of the social conflict triggered by those values, there is virtually no single practicing Catholic left in any European country (prosperity and welfare have been made possible by abandoning religious crap).

    “””a Death-Star-type monstrosity ruining the aesthetics of its surroundings”””,

    Death Stars rock, if you have a taste for sci-fi. That Muslims want to build their brainwashing factories in Switzerland is exactly the same as a group of nerds lobbying for having a replica of the Enterprise installed in the American Senate, it’s simply absolutely nonsensical.

    “””or a historically charged symbol of oppression like a swastika.”””

    Muslim countries even asked for the White Moon instead of the Red Cross because of the symbolism of the Red Cross (templar sign), and we have to accept their minarets in our countries? Rationally impossible. It’s like evolution, adapt or go extinct.

    “””society that wishes to exclude Islam. I fail to see the cohesiveness in excluding a sizable chunk of your countrymen.”””

    It is actually the contrary, it’s Muslims who exclude themselves from integrating in the normal practices of the community they’ve joined, precisely by importing their cults and temples.

  23. @Joshua Zelinsky: You wrote that:

    “””Religion in most forms promotes social cohesion. Skepticism damages that.”””

    False and false. Religion does not promote social cohesion in any way; cohesion is just an indirect corollary following from the true goal of religion, namely, intellectual homogenization and denial of different views. Skepticism opposes the latter, but that does not mean that it opposes cohesion, which as I said is only indirectly related to the goals of religion. And although some forms of unstable cohesion stem from homogeneity and denial, that’s not true for all forms of cohesion (actually the more robust).

    “””devout Muslims could argue that Islam merely redefines the existing system of social cohesion to something new.”””

    And yet again they would be wrong because no religion redefines anything at all, precisely due to their well-known resistance to change and their fondness of dogmas. That you’re even trying to compare skepticism or the scientific attempt of proving and disproving claims and dynamically adapting to the resulting conclusions to belief systems whose objective is to remain constant for centuries and smash dissidents, is appalling.

    “””skepticism involves many things that aren’t part of the scientific method”””

    Which still does not affect my claim that skepticism is a variant of the scientific method (that is, even if it has additional features which the scientific method in itself does no share. Actually, you can’t expect a variant not to have some feature which makes it different from whatever it’s a variation of, by definition).

    “””Frankly, I’m not really interested in discussing in detail what the exact nature and definition of skepticism”””

    Yet you were the first one to bring up the issue.

  24. Skepthink, ok. First, how are you defining cohesion? Second of all, how do you know other forms of cohesion are more robust? Third of all, even if they are how does that give you a right to tell consenting adults what to do?

    “Which still does not affect my claim that skepticism is a variant of the scientific method”

    I think we are using the word variant to mean different things. I am using variant to mean a subtype of a broader category. Here you seem to mean variant to mean something similar or related to the original thing. I’m confused because this further clashes with your dog analogy. How are you defining “variant”?

    “Yet you were the first one to bring up the issue.”

    Um, yes, in a parenthetical remark that started with the word “incidentally.”

  25. Skepthink:
    Do you have a robust definition of “social cohesion”, or are you simply using it in the traditional sense: as a catch-all term used to oppress minorities.

    Racial integration, gender equality, teaching evolution and emancipation were all argued against using the “social cohesion” argument at some point. As a concept its almost entirely without merit and given how easily it can be abused its probably better to avoid using it in arguments at all.

  26. @Joshua Zelinsky: “””First, how are you defining cohesion?”””

    As the middle of the following cause-effect chain (right on “political stability”):

    Intellectual honesty > social equality > political stability > economic prosperity > social welfare.

    “””Second of all, how do you know other forms of cohesion are more robust?”””

    E.g. Iraqi society is not “socially robust” (i.e. shows no cohesion in my interpretation of the term), whereas the Swiss society is. I know that as a function of the number of assholes per capita.

    “””Third of all, even if they are how does that give you a right to tell consenting adults what to do?”””

    Every time you pay attention to traffic lights you’re a “consenting adult” being told what to do and I think there’s no problem with that.

    “””I think we are using the word variant to mean different things. I am using variant to mean a subtype of a broader category. Here you seem to mean variant to mean something similar or related to the original thing. I’m confused because this further clashes with your dog analogy. How are you defining “variant”?”””

    The dog analogy still applies, but I thought you had had some problem with it because, behaviorally, it did not elicit the response I predicted. As a matter of fact, yes, I still hold that skepticism is a variant/subtype of the scientific method even if it has extra features of its own which don’t belong to the scientific method. Again, that a car has four wheels (vs. e.g. a sixteen-wheeler truck) does not prevent it from being a vehicle. Ergo, that skeptics debunk bogus claims more often than average scientific method practitioners, does not mean that skeptics are not scientific method practitioners themselves. They are, with the added feature that they spend relatively large amounts of time debunking bogus.

  27. Wait, what? That chain is not a definition. That’s a whole set of claims smuggled in as part of a definition that itself relies on vague terms. Each of those terms isn’t even very well-defined and the claim that each one leads to the other isn’t at all obvious.

    I also have no idea how you measure “assholes per a capita.” What do you mean by an asshole? And what does assholes per a capita have to do with your chain?

    Every time you pay attention to traffic lights you’re a “consenting adult” being told what to do and I think there’s no problem with that.

    Bad comparison. Barring circumstances where there a) negative externalities or b) a need for arbitrary agreed conventions we generally let people do what they want. Traffic laws fall under both a and b. (There may be other circumstances but these two cover the big ones)
    People would be allowed to build a tower. Because we’d say “yeah, sure. They’ve got the money, it doesn’t interfere with anything, so why not?” Yet, this tower isn’t ok. What’s the difference? Purely a basis of belief. This is discriminating based on that belief.

    The dog analogy still applies, but I thought you had had some problem with it because, behaviorally, it did not elicit the response I predicted.
    I cannot parse the end of this sentence and get a result that makes any sense in context. Can you clarify what you mean?

    In any event, you seem to be conflating two types of variant. The first, say variant_1, is when something is a subtype of the other. The other, variant_2, is when something is similar to the other but has possibly other parts. A Toyota is a variant of a car under variant_1. A truck is not a variant of a car under variant_1 but might be under variant_2. Your analogies seem to be hung up on this.

  28. “””Wait, what? That chain is not a definition.”””

    In my previous comment: “[I define cohesion] As the middle of the following cause-effect chain”. I never said the chain was the definition. Come on, I’ll help you: roughly, you’re left with the fact that, for me, “cohesion is political stability”. There you go, defined. Example? The Iraq case: given a country, if 50 people die every day in terrorist attacks, that means the country is not politically stable, therefore it lacks cohesion.

    I don’t think it takes Einstein to understand this very basic body count. It’s an approximation, but, all things being equal, from the definition it follows that, given two countries with the same population, the one with less terror deaths has more cohesion. Personally, this works for me.

    “””I also have no idea how you measure “assholes per a capita.””””

    It was a rhetorical device. To be understood as “number of terrorists per capita”.

    “””Bad comparison. Barring circumstances where there a) negative externalities or b) a need for arbitrary agreed conventions we generally let people do what they want. Traffic laws fall under both a and b.”””

    a) Giving religious fanatics a place to spread BS has both negative externalities and “internalities”, so my example holds for the case of the minarets; b) the Swiss people arbitrarily agreed the convention not to allow Muslims building minarets. Arbitrary? Yes. Convention? Also. Therefore my example applies? Again.

    “””Yet, this tower isn’t ok. What’s the difference? Purely a basis of belief.”””

    Yes, but not on Swiss part, but on Muslim part: ask Muslims what they’re building, whether a “tower” or a “minaret”. If they themselves deny the religious nature of the building, I’ll be all for it. Else, it’s not the Swiss people who have prohibited a tower, but Muslims who are building a minaret.

    “””I cannot parse the end of this sentence and get a result that makes any sense in context. Can you clarify what you mean?”””

    Yep, I was saying that I expected you to agree with me after I gave you the dog example.

    “””you seem to be conflating two types of variant. The first, say variant_1, is when something is a subtype of the other. The other, variant_2, is when something is similar to the other but has possibly other parts.”””

    The dog example clearly exemplifies variant_1, whereas at no point have I talked about “similarity” or “parts” (only “variant” and “features”, and even then I still was using “variant” as a synonym of subtype, if you check the relevant fragment).

    If you go back to the thread, you were attributing skepticism features not shared by the scientific method in general (which may be true). However, you were doing so in an attempt to dispute my claim that skepticism is a variant of the scientific method (so that skepticism is all that the scientific method is, plus something else); please notice that such statement cannot be disputed under any of the meanings that you proposed: skepticism is both a subtype of the scientific method and a variant of it (in the “similar” sense, or variant_2). Hence I cannot understand your disagreement.

  29. I have been living in Switzerland for about 4 years now, and it seems that the SVP (that roughly translated with “democratic party”, but that is very much a far-right party) is gaining more and more consensus with xenophobic initiatives.
    This last one against minarets is pretty much a symbolic one, as there are currently four minarets (of which one built by a Swiss only for aesthetic reasons) and, as far as I know, no plans to build more. Also, as far as I know, there are no prayer calls.
    Unfortunately the result of this ballot started a new wave of racism across Europe: Italy’s racist party “Lega Nord” is now proposing something similar in Itlay too (I’m very ashamed of being Italian – *puke*).
    So, this result is not going to affect anything practical, but it is a sign of an underlying racism that is quickly spreading. No good will come from this.
    An interesting aside: I’ve heard (I have no proof, unfortunately) that the Swiss Jews voted AGAINST this!

    BTW: I COTW the “glass pipe argument”

  30. My 2 cents: the ban is based on the wrong reasons, however, I do think that European countries should start thinking about the aesthetic aspect of new cultural influences when combined with the efforts to restore and maintain the historical architecture of European cities.

  31. @Skepthink:

    a) Giving religious fanatics a place to spread BS has both negative externalities and “internalities”, so my example holds for the case of the minarets;

    So why not just ban the religion? That appears to be the ultimate goal.

  32. I certainly don’t agree with the decision to ban. I think it only serves to divide people even more than current events already have.

    However after reading the article I am struck by the reaction of the Muslim community. They ignore all relevant issues that create these problems and just cry foul. The Muslim community seems determined to fight for anti blasphemy laws and to have Sharia laws practiced even in countries were it violates civil rights, and then stand in awe when these reactions happen.

    All Muslims and for that matter all Christians need to understand that when they don’t stand publicly against the injustices being done in the name of their religion. Then they are condoning those actions, and inciting the reaction from the opposing side.

    I strongly oppose any free nation passing any law which limits the freedom of its people. However whenever an act is committed in the name of the muslim/christian religion. We have all heard the immediate response of simply saying. ” They’re not real muslims/christians” and then pretend that fixes everything.

  33. @Skepthink:

    In my previous comment: “[I define cohesion] As the middle of the following cause-effect chain”. I never said the chain was the definition.

    You are assuming as part of your definition that that chain exists and is meaningful. You haven’t shown that any of them cause any of the others.

    Example? The Iraq case: given a country, if 50 people die every day in terrorist attacks, that means the country is not politically stable, therefore it lacks cohesion.

    You keep going back to the Iraq example. While this clarifies what you meant by “assholes per a capita” it doesn’t help you very much. Iraq is in bad shape now in a large part due to the ongoing invasion. Many other Islamic countries don’t share the same high degree of “assholes per a capita.”

    Moreover, if all you care about is political stability then you should favor authoritarian governments in general. I’m curious then, are you in favor of democracy at all? In fact, some of the Islamic countries have some of the world’s most stable dictatorships (Brunei for example) . I’m incidentally curious, would for example, people who engage in honor killings also count as contributing to assholes per capita?

    a) Giving religious fanatics a place to spread BS has both negative externalities and “internalities”, so my example holds for the case of the minarets

    Externality is a technical term. Sorry if it wasn’t clear. An externality is something which impacts the utility of not directly involved people. Thus for example, pollution is the classic externality. I don’t see how allowing Islam creates negative externalities in the form that governments normally regulate.


    b) the Swiss people arbitrarily agreed the convention not to allow Muslims building minarets. Arbitrary? Yes. Convention? Also. Therefore my example applies? Again.

    You seem to be misunderstanding what is meant by arbitrary conventions. The classic necessary arbitrary convention is which side of the road people drive on. It is necessary that a convention be adopted. It also isn’t relevant which is. But the one that is adopted needs to be enforced. You seem to confuse arbitrary convention with arbitrary prejudiced law with no rational basis. If that were sufficient justification then we wouldn’t need to have this discussion at all.

    Yes, but not on Swiss part, but on Muslim part: ask Muslims what they’re building, whether a “tower” or a “minaret”. If they themselves deny the religious nature of the building, I’ll be all for it. Else, it’s not the Swiss people who have prohibited a tower, but Muslims who are building a minaret.

    This seems like doublethink and in any event missing the point. The primary point is that this is unambiguously religious discrimination. Indeed, the fact that you need to then blame the Muslims makes it all the more clear. Consider the hypothetical of a country that had a prohibition on signs promoting atheism. Suppose further that someone put up a sign that said “The Bible is full of contradictions” and then someone blamed them for putting up a sign that promoted atheism. How would you react?


    skepticism is both a subtype of the scientific method and a variant of it

    No. At multiple levels. First, skepticism is not a subtype of the scientific method. At very minimum, skepticism in any sense as we use it is not a subtype of the scientific method. Certain highly limited forms of skepticism may be used in science, but that’s a very different claim. Thus for example, debunking bad claims about alternative medicine is simply not part of science. It might use science but it isn’t part of it. Unless you are changing your definition of skepticism, it certainly cannot be a variant of science under both v_1 and v_2.

  34. @devcat: Yeah, apparently even before this law was passed, building minarets wasn’t actually allowed in practice.

    @jtradke: Exactly. It’s about excluding Islam, and a symbol that attacks on it are OK. For example: “On Thursday the Geneva mosque was vandalised for the third time during the campaign, according to local media” (and I don’t think that was the only act of anti-Islamic vandalism as a result of this law).

  35. @Joshua Zelinsky:

    You are assuming as part of your definition that that chain exists and is meaningful.

    As a matter of fact, there is no such assumption. The chain is not part of the definition in any meaningful sense of “part” or “definition”; the definition was equated to one of the nodes in the chain, which in itself is a referring expression. To learn more, please refer to any standard dictionary and the conventional use of the terms involved.

    Iraq is in bad shape now in a large part due to the ongoing invasion. Many other Islamic countries don’t share the same high degree of “assholes per a capita.

    Irrelevant and irrelevant. Please note that neither observation affects in any way the objective fact that Iraq lacks cohesion (even under my definition) when compared to e.g. Canada.

    Moreover, if all you care about is political stability then you should favor authoritarian governments in general.

    Non sequitur again, as well as a straw-man, amounting to saying that if hospitals are to take care of the sick, they must make people sick. The same as there is more than one way to get sick (e.g. being poisoned at a hospital), there are ways other than tyranny to reach social cohesion (e.g. socio-economic prosperity and the rest of nodes in my chain which you take to be irrelevant for social cohesion against virtually all our documented knowledge of history). Ergo, I can be pro cohesion without being pro dictatorships as the means to achieve that cohesion. Your statement is further false according to all political science I know, since no single scholar will take authoritarian regimes to be “stable” in any politically meaningful sense of the term. That they kill opposition precisely implies that they give rise to such opposition.

    pollution is the classic externality.

    Cultural and religious pollution is a form of pollution.

    You seem to confuse arbitrary convention with arbitrary prejudiced law with no rational basis.

    Please note that this cannot possibly have been my confusion because I have taken this Swiss law to be fully rational all the time (it’s you who’s arguing against the reasons behind it and labeling them invalid; for me they’re valid reasons and the measure based on them is, therefore, rational). That you refer to my notion of “arbitrary” by attributing it your own viewpoint shows that you cannot even tell your own claims from another person’s, which is rather serious. I was using “arbitrary” in its common sense, that is, as referring to the result of a choice between alternatives where there is no practical argument which favors either over the other. Incidentally, rationality is excluded by the very definition, which makes me wonder again what exactly, if anything, you were trying to argue.

    Look, I would like to continue to refute all your non sequiturs, misconceptions and misrepresentations, but for a fee. Now I must really check my email.

    First, skepticism is not a subtype of the scientific method.

    Okay, I’ll address that last one: that could only be true if skeptics needed not to: a) base their claims on facts rather than opinions, b) accept to disregard falsified hypotheses and to hold standing hypotheses c) follow the rules of logic. I would assume this to be a rough characterization of the scientific method and I know no skeptic that, as such, fails to fulfill a-b, which means that all skeptics apply the scientific method, even if they may do so less often than scientists. In that case, all the time they did not apply the scientific method would also be time for which they could not be considered skeptics either, the same as a policeman not on duty is not considered a policeman regarding e.g. drinking alcohol.

    But were you a prototypical example of a skeptic, I would then stand refuted.

  36. The chain is not part of the definition in any meaningful sense of “part” or “definition”; the definition was equated to one of the nodes in the chain, which in itself is a referring expression.

    I’m a bit confused. So you gave this whole chain why?

    Please note that neither observation affects in any way the objective fact that Iraq lacks cohesion (even under my definition) when compared to e.g. Canada.

    So to make sure I understand you, Iraq is being used only as an example of your social cohesion metric at work? Iraq is not intended as an example of your broader thesis that religion in general and Islam in particular damages social cohesion?

    Non sequitur again, as well as a straw-man, amounting to saying that if hospitals are to take care of the sick, they must make people sick. The same as there is more than one way to get sick (e.g. being poisoned at a hospital), there are ways other than tyranny to reach social cohesion

    I’m not sure I understand your hospital example. Do you mean something like “one can get sick at a hospital but one can get sick other ways as well?” That seems to fit closer to what you seem to be arguing. In any event, am I to understand that you care about something in society other than “social cohesion”? If so, what?

    Please note that this cannot possibly have been my confusion because I have taken this Swiss law to be fully rational all the time (it’s you who’s arguing against the reasons behind it and labeling them invalid; for me they’re valid reasons and the measure based on them is, therefore, rational). That you refer to my notion of “arbitrary” by attributing it your own viewpoint shows that you cannot even tell your own claims from another person’s, which is rather serious. I was using “arbitrary” in its common sense, that is, as referring to the result of a choice between alternatives where there is no practical argument which favors either over the other. Incidentally, rationality is excluded by the very definition, which makes me wonder again what exactly, if anything, you were trying to argue.

    I’m confused by this statement and I’m not sure you are keeping track of the flow of the discussion. On my list of what purposes a government should intervene I listed ” a need for arbitrary agreed conventions.” The example type used is something like what side of the road people drive on. We need a convention but it doesn’t matter which, as long as we stick to it. You then said:

    “b) the Swiss people arbitrarily agreed the convention not to allow Muslims building minarets. Arbitrary? Yes. Convention? Also. Therefore my example applies? Again. “

    I replied to that. Given that, I’m a bit confused by your statement that “have taken this Swiss law to be fully rational all the time.” For that matter, I’m further confused where you say that “I was using “arbitrary” in its common sense, that is, as referring to the result of a choice between alternatives where there is no practical argument which favors either over the other.” So is this rational basis or is this arbitrary? And if it is arbitrary, how is this the sort of thing like traffic laws that require some convention to be chosen?

    Cultural and religious pollution is a form of pollution.

    The classic form of pollution is environmental pollution. It causes real, measurable harm. How do you intend to define “cultural and religious pollution” and how do you decide whether something is in that category? I have trouble comparing industrial pollutants to changes in culture that you and I might happen to not like. I’m suspect that in say Sedona, skepticism would be considered culturally polluting.

    Okay, I’ll address that last one: that could only be true if skeptics needed not to: a) base their claims on facts rather than opinions,

    Excuse me? Humans by nature use facts as well as opinions. Skeptics too. Skeptics might try to base their opinions on facts, but ultimately well-meaning people can both be skeptics and yet still have different opinions, even different opinions based on the same data set (to use a non-controversial example, you and I might disagree how much of evolution is attributable to neutral drift. Or we might disagree on whether Bayesianism or frequentism provides a better model of how the universe operates (or for that matter, we might even disagree over whether that controversy is at all meaningful)). These are all matters of opinion. They can be based on facts, but they ultimately are opinions.


    b) accept to disregard falsified hypotheses and to hold standing hypotheses

    This is not well-defined. While naivePopperianism might be fun, it is frequently not clear what it means for a given hypothesis to be falsified. There is for example the problem of the construction of defensive hypotheses to explain data rather than reject a current pet hypothesis. A few historica and contemporary examples might help: cosmologists have constructed the hypothesis of dark matter rather than throw out the hypothesis of general relativity). Similarly, people added successive additional epicycles to the Ptolemaic model rather than reject it. And later Copernicus did the same. Later, to preserve the work of Kepler and Newton, the existence of Neptune was posited. In one of these cases, the construction of defensive hypotheses turned out to be not a great idea, in another it turned out to be correct and for the third, the jury is still not completely done deliberating.

    So what does it mean to disregard falsified hypotheses? That really isn’t an easy thing. There’s some very interesting work on this subject by Quine and Lakatos. (I can’t do justice to their works in this thread so let me merely suggest that you go read them).

    I also don’t know what you mean by agreeing “to hold standing hypotheses.” What do you mean? Do you mean that one must accept hypotheses that have not been falsified? That seems non-ideal since the vast majority of hypotheses have not been falsified. Do you mean to accept hypotheses that have undergone many attempts at falsification and passed successfully? That runs into issues connected to the earlier addressed issue. Moreover, it has little to do with science. Most scientists and philosophers of science would agree that acceptance of hypotheses should always be tentative. So what do you mean?


    c) follow the rules of logic. I would assume this to be a rough characterization of the scientific method and I know no skeptic that, as such, fails to fulfill a-b, which means that all skeptics apply the scientific method, even if they may do so less often than scientists. In that case, all the time they did not apply the scientific method would also be time for which they could not be considered skeptics either, the same as a policeman not on duty is not considered a policeman regarding e.g. drinking alcohol.

    The fact that skeptics might use the scientific method is not the same as your claim that skepticism is itself a variant of the scientific method.

    Regarding however your your apparent notion of what constitutes a “skeptic” I’m inclined to ask whether Francis Collins a skeptic? It would seem so given your notion of a skeptic. But I suspect most of us would agree that that isn’t the case. Similar remarks could (arguably) be made about others like say Dean Radin.

    It seems clear that what you have listed is neither necessary nor sufficient to define either a “skeptic” or for that matter to demonstrate your earlier claim that skepticism is a variant of the scientific method.


    But were you a prototypical example of a skeptic, I would then stand refuted.

    Are you saying that I lack which of the criteria? That I’m not being logical, not rejecting/holding the proper hypotheses, or not basic claims on facts? Or some combination thereof?

  37. Oh sorry and regarding this:

    Look, I would like to continue to refute all your non sequiturs, misconceptions and misrepresentations, but for a fee. Now I must really check my email.

    One of the amazing things about the internet is that it doesn’t go away if you do something else. So you always have the option of coming back later after you’ve checked your email and walked the dog and maybe read Lakatos or Quine, or someone else who isn’t Karl Popper. By all means take your time.

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