Monday, June 29, 2009

Richard’s Holiday Camp

New Atheists like Richard Dawkins feign outrage at any suggestion that their creed itself amounts to a kind of religion – even as (for example) they issue their own suggested revisions of the Ten Commandments (see The God Delusion, pp. 263-4). Now, a reader informs me, Dawkins has decided to sponsor his own version of Bible Camp. I kid you not. All Dawkins needs now is a camp song; have fun coming up with your own lyrics.


  1. I think I once read about this at the "brights" page. Founded my some couple I don't care about.
    Let's go on the streets and shout "child abuse"!

  2. I thought any affiliation of children concerning theism, atheism, etc. was the gravest sin one could commit in Dawkins playbook. Anyway...

    Crispian Jago, an IT consultant, is hoping the experience will enrich his two children.

    “I’m very keen on not indoctrinating them with religion or creeds,” he said this weekend. “I would rather equip them with the tools to learn how to think, not what to think."
    End Quote:

    Really? The following sounds like indoctrination to me:

    While afternoons at the camp will involve familiar activities such as canoeing and swimming, the youngsters’ mornings will be spent debunking supernatural phenomena such as the formation of crop circles and telepathy.
    End Quote:

    The Unicorn Challenge (it pains me even to say it) is also a subversive move:

    Children will be told by camp leaders that the area around their tents is inhabited by two unicorns. The activities of these creatures, of which there will be no physical evidence, will be regularly discussed by organisers, yet the children will be asked to prove that the unicorns do not exist.
    End Quote:

    Needless to say, Saman-tha Stein, as quoted in the article, assures readers that “The unicorns are not necessarily a metaphor for God, they are to show kids that you can’t prove a negative."

    I believe you, Ms. Stein.

    As a palate cleaner, I will refer the reader to the most recent Q+A over at Reasonable Faith:

    Question 115: Santa Claus, Tooth Fairies, and God

  3. Its almost comical, I'm crying with mirth just reading about it.

  4. If you search fundy atheist "Dan Barker," you'll find that he already has the camp songs ready to go. One of the funniest has got to be "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist." :-)

  5. Ricky 'The Hitman' HattonJune 29, 2009 at 3:23 PM

    That's kind of sad. This really hits home with me.
    I wasn't religiously indoctrinated as a child. I think, as a family, we only attended church on Christmas and Easter (the highlight was always getting pasteries afterwards)....
    but, as a kid you just have a sense for the mysterious.

    Some of my fondest memories are from my youth... walking along with a close friend and exploring forests, following streams to see where they lead, staring up at the stars and thinking about what it all means.
    Thinking of what purpose is ultimately in store for you in the opaque stretches of the future as your mind drifts.

    Is it child abuse to fill a kid's mind with fantastical tales of purpose and true meaning to life? That there are some mysteries that are very real?

    Or to fill that same mind with ideas of irrelevance, cold mechanical-like workings of the world and life itself. That, if you're lucky enough you might be able to fool yourself too as you superimpose some veneer of meaning over your life.

    As I got older, passing from youth into adolescence I suffered from severe bouts of depression. Throughout high school, college and beyond....occassionally medicating myself with prescriptions of prozac to paxil and back to prozac.
    I know exactly what brought it on. It was the belief that there was no purpose in life to speak of. Any small bit of significance would be quickly consumed in the infinite stretches of time and space.

    The one thing that ultimately pulled me out of this was a belief in God that somehow found it's way into my mind.

  6. “The unicorns are not necessarily a metaphor for God, they are to show kids that you can’t prove a negative."
    Embarrassing, especially coming from a Uni postgrad. Particular negatives "There's no dog in the kennel" are eminently provable. Universal negatives "There's no such thing as aliens" are harder to prove, but not impossible. Even non-empirical universal negatives could be proved by demonstating a flaw in the concept of what is being negated.

  7. Interestingly, 'You can't prove a negative' is itself a negative. Hence, they're teaching kids at Dawkins's atheism camp to believe at least one thing that can't be proven.

    Darn faith-heads!

  8. Hmm. Unfortunately, too, philosophers have been pointing out that you can, in fact, prove a negative for something like two hundred years now; it's only in unusual circumstances where standards of proof are different (like certain legal contexts) where the maxim is true.

  9. Brandon - again, no you cannot prove a negative. Russell's teapot is the example you're looking for. see

    Also, Dawkins is NOT setting up Camp Quest in the UK, but his name does give it some darn good publicity. See

  10. Here's a paper defending the thesis that you can, in fact, prove a negative.

  11. Something doesn't exist if its definition consists of an inherent contradiction.

    A married bachelor and a square circle both consist of inherent contradictions.

    Therefore, married bachelors and square circles do not exist.

    Speaking of Russell's Teapot, Bill Vallicella has a nice post:

  12. Anonymous,

    No, it's often trivially easy to prove negatives; if we take it to mean negative statements, then Eric is right that "You can't prove a negative statement," if itself provable, proves that you can prove a negative statement. Moreover, every affirmative statement has a corresponding negative statement to which it is equivalent; if the affirmative can be proven, so can the negative.

    If we take it simply to be that you can't prove that something doesn't exist, Aaron's right that you can prove that things don't exist by showing that they involve or imply a contradiction; you can also do it by showing that something exists, if the existence of that something is incompatible with the existence of something else. Moreover, we can prove that things don't exist on the basis of causal reasoning. Russell's teapot can be proven not to exist by showing that a teapot in orbit requires certain causes and that those causes do not obtain. (Russell's own analysis of the teapot case seems to depend on his rather controversial views about causation.) But even that aside, you can prove that there is no fluffy white polar bear on your kitchen table simply by going and looking.

    So, again, you can prove a negative unless circumstances require that the standards of proof are unusual. Nor is this a difficult thing to determine. And, as I said, this has been pointed out by philosophers and logicians for nearly two hundred years now. It's difficult to see the "You can't prove a negative" line as anything other than an attempt to wiggle out of having to give an argument.


    Thanks for that link!

  13. To the tune of "God Bless America", with apologies to an old Anglican camp song"

    "I am an atheist
    I bow no knee
    to an altar
    or a sacrament
    I reject each and every deity.

    'Not a Christian
    nor a Muslim
    nor a Buddhist
    with his koan;
    I am an atheist
    in the universe, alone;
    yes, I am an atheist
    in the un-i-verse a-lone!"

  14. What about "A New Freethinker"?

    "John Grubby who was short and stout
    And troubled with religious doubt,
    Refused about the age of three
    To sit upon the curate's knee;
    (For so the eternal strife must rage
    Between the spirit of the age
    And Dogma, which, as is well known,
    Does simply hate to be outgrown).
    Grubby, the young idea that shoots,
    Outgrew the ages like old boots;
    While still, to all appearance, small,
    Would have no Miracles at all;
    And just before the age of ten
    Firmly refused Free Will to men.
    The altars reeled, the heavens shook,
    Just as he read of in the book;"

    And so on. Not very complimentary, Gilbert, though.

  15. I've just started Feser's Summer Camp -- I'm on page 3 of TLS. I just had to let you know right now that I think I'm going to get a lot out of this book.

    Goodness, Mr Feser! You sound (and seem to think) much like me ... but better educated.