Halton District Catholic School Board Officially Bans Pullman Books

 For daring to criticize Catholicism, Philip Pullman’s books have officially been banned from Halton Catholic School shelves. The most notable of the three books is The Golden Compass, which has recently been made into a movie and has been dignified by readers around the world as the best children’s book in the last 70 years.

“After yanking The Golden Compass from its library shelves for review, a Toronto-area Catholic school board has decided to make the removal permanent.

At a board meeting Tuesday evening, the trustees of the Halton District Catholic School Board voted to ban the title as well as the remaining two books in atheist author Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy: The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.

A committee struck to review The Golden Compass had proposed moving the book to the young adult section of school libraries, but the trustees rejected that proposition and approved a ban instead.”

Something tells me that the Halton Board probably would not be in as much of a rush to ban books condemnatory of other religious or secular groups. It’s seems, to me, to be an incredible sign of weakness that rather than simply presenting an alternative perspective to what is being said or implied in Pullman’s books, the board feels that it needs to ban the book altogether. I only hope that this results in more of their students wanting to read it just because they’ve been discouraged from doing it.

On the plus side, this turn of events will probably increase the number and vigor of Ontarians against the public funding of Catholic schools, which was already a majority. So a big “Thank You” to the Halton District Catholic School Board! Your spineless insecurity and Big Brotherish ways are a continuing source of inspiration.

146 Responses to “Halton District Catholic School Board Officially Bans Pullman Books”
  1. Nick Boaz says:

    Bunch of idiots. Typcial church trying to force everyone to follow their example of pure ignorance. Pullman hits everything right on the nail and they can’t stand it.

  2. Derek Rushforth says:

    Freedom of speech applies both ways, to allow someone to say or write whatever they want as long as it is not baseless and libel, yet also to allow someone to listen and read what is written. It saddens me that these individuals would choose to embrace an authoritarian stance on this and disgrace the freedom of free speech.

  3. Chris White says:

    Hitler would be proud!!

  4. unitedinsolitude says:

    …which, of course (Derek), is exactly what Pullman’s books pokes at with the Catholic church! Not just an authroitarian stance, but also the political weight the Catholic church feels comfortable throwing around to control, vs. allowing people to be educated and decide for themselves.

  5. David Scott says:

    What about freedom of choice? Please remember that school libraries have only limited amounts of space as well as limited budgets. It is physically impossible for them to have all books in their libraries. Given that fact, the boards must therefore choose what books to purchase and have in their libraries.

    Would school boards be censored for not purchasing books for schools if they contain sexually explicit material? I would think not. Would it be wrong of schools to not include books that attack others, say in a racist manner? Very doubtful. Why, then, should faith-based schools be expected to support those that attack them?

  6. ronbrown says:


    Thanks for writing.

    Freedom of choice? The school is removing that from the student. The type of freedom of choice that you are advocating for in your statement, though perhaps not intending to, is freedom to censore.

    This is clearly not about budget and space. The Golden Compass and Pullman’s 2 other books were selected for a very clear and well-specified reason: because they were viewed as anti-Christian, anti-religion, and anti-God.

    You raise good questions about offering books that are racist, sexually explicit, and so on. Those are tough issues, indeed. One could argue that racism is socially destructive and based on lies. But one could make the same arguments for religion–not everyone would agree with it, of course, but not everyone would agree with the statements about the same statements about racism. Regarding sexually explicit images, one thing I’ve suggested before is that perhaps our society would be more mature about sexual issues if it wasn’t for the many years of living with a dominant religion that views sex as something taboo, but that I suppose is beside the point. I’m personally not sure if we can make a coherent argument that does not allow for discrimination of religious views but does for these issues of race and sex. However, lets consider the relevant political context here. In a nation that prides itself on its secularism, should we be allowing a publicly-funded Catholic school boards—which shouldn’t even be funded in the first place on the tax payer’s dime, but that’s another issue—to disallow books that are derogatory toward their religious views? To fund them in the first place is already directly antithetical to secularism, but to allow them to ban books that disagree with their religion just takes that another step further.

  7. ANONYMOUS says:

    Haltoin region doesnt want leftist filth in its schools.

  8. wolfshowl says:

    While I dislike all religions, it is a Catholic school. I can see why they would pull the [amazing!] His Dark Materials trilogy from their library shelves.
    No religion encourages its followers to read other opinions or points of view beyond attempts to discredit them. Children are usually considered “too vulnerable/gullible” to attempt such a thing.
    On the other hand, there’s no better way to ensure that a book is read than to ban it. Google “banned books list” and see just how many books that were banned back in the day are now required reading. It’s a lot. Heh-heh. Gotta love how attempts at censorship backfire.

  9. ronbrown says:

    I will definitely love how this attempt to censor will backfire.

    But as to your defense of the banning, I have to speak against the position you offered. The thing is, yes they are a Catholic school, but they are *publicly funded*. While they shouldn’t be getting these public funds in the first place, it is a step further into unsecularism for them to be able to ban books on the grounds that the book may present views that are contrary to their beliefs. The public funding of the Catholic school system already constituted the unsecular act of using public dollars to fund religious proselytization. Allowing them to ban books on the basis that it could interfere with their proselytization is another big leap further past the line.

    Another point that I should’ve mentioned in the original posting: How would Catholics–or any persons of any religion, and many nonreligious people, for that matter–feel if the Bible was banned from public schools. I mean, given the Halton Catholic board’s impetus to ban Pullman books–that they are supposedly antithetical to Catholicism, religion and belief in God–the secular system’s banning of the Bible would be easily defensible. Does the Bible not say that the fool has said in his heart that God does not exist? From what I understand, this is a far more explicit slam on the godless than anything that Pullman said in The Golden Compass about Catholics or religious persons generally–from what I understand, he never really said anything explicit about Catholics or religious persons; the commentary was all indirect and many children (and some adults) would not even notice the references had they not been prewarned about them.

    Anyhow, the statement that only the fool doesn’t believe in God is an explicit generalized insult to all non-Christians. In fact, it might even be classifiable as hate speech, in the same way that statements that all Muslims/Jews/gays/Blacks/Mexicans/Females are fools could be so construed. Ergo, ban the Bible!

  10. wolfshowl says:

    Ahhh, I missed the fact that the school is publicly funded. That is really messed-up. How does that even happen? Sorry, I know very little about the Canadian education system, being American.

    As to the how would Catholics feel if public schools banned the Bible, though. I feel like religious schools are automatically saying that they are intolerant, whereas public schools are supposed to be tolerant. Thus, I would be much more upset if a public school banned Pullman’s books or the Bible, because they are supoposed to encourage independent thought. I just don’t expect independent thought from a bunch of people who follow a man who supposedly has a direct link with god. lol

  11. Feepster says:

    Clearly, you all are not seeing the real meaning of the story. Because this is a religious and Catholic school, it is allowed to follow its own principles. What this school has done is completely acceptable, as they were only following what they believed in. Catholic teachings, like other teachings, ban what they need to ban. If it wasn’t allowed to follow Catholic principles, it shouldn’t even call itself Catholic. Schools are called ‘religious’ because they believe in religious teachings. If a book is against those teachings, then they have the freedom to ban it for they are merely following principles.The school is there to teach what it belives, and that is not against freedom of speech. If having a religious school follow secular thoughts is right, then secular schools should also follow religious thought.

  12. ronbrown says:


    Clearly it is *you* that is missing several main points.

    Firstly, “Because it is religious it is allowed to follow its own principles. What this school has done is completely acceptable, as they were only followed what they believed in. Catholic teachings, like other teachings, ban what they need to ban”. Okay, so whom else could we apply these rules to? Could an extremist Muslim open up a school and select for books that present the West as a land of evil sinners and secularism as inherently evil, banning all books that present the West and secularism positively? Could the Black Panthers, a black supremacist organization, open up a school that only teaches that Blacks are supreme and Whites are scum, no dissenting materials allowed? Just calling yourself an X school does not, in my opinion at least, grant one justifiable authority to present only information consistent with ones worldview, banning all educated alternative perspectives altogether. This is bad for the children and bad for society, as it is a deliberate act which stunts the child’s intellectual growth and impedes their ability to see the world and society from views other than that in which they were indoctrinated into. An inability to see things from various perspectives and appreciate the views of others is unadaptive to individuals and can be very dangerous for societies. So congratulations for arguing in favour of creating a closed-minded ignorant and intolerant society.

    2. “The school is there to teach what it believes, and that is not against freedom of speech”. Umm, yeah it is, because they are exhibiting their “freedom of speech” by stifling that of others. That is not freedom of speech at all. That is freedom of censorship. Real freedom of speech would be allowing the book to stay in the library, but presenting their alternative perspective and inviting someone in to defend the opposing perspective. That’s what we call–and you might have heard of this before–RATIONAL DISCOURSE!

    3. You seem to think it is good that people in society steadfastly hold to ideas that can so easily be argued down–good enough, at least, to warrant that society aids and abets some of these people by providing tax dollars to fund them. This leads us to the next important point: these schools are publicly-funded! They are using public funds to fund the religious indoctrination of students into Catholicism, a direct afront to secularism. And now they are taking it to a new level by banning books by an atheist because he has strong personal reservations about the Catholic church and organized religion.

    4. The last point brings us to the next one: lets ban the Bible in secular public schools! After all, the Bible does say that only the fool says in his heart that God doesn’t exist. This is an insult to every non-Christian (as clearly it was referring to the God of the Bible). Given that this statement is on par with hate speech in that it casts aspersion on people because of their religious affiliations, it needs to be banned from public schools. We cannot have such unjustified aspersions in our publicly-funded school libraries–or any library for that matter that is publicly-funded. Do I believe any of this? No. I don’t think that the Bible should be banned. But if I’m following your train of thought–that a school should be able to ban what it needs to in order to teach what it wants to–then it is very banable, as passages like this run against the motive of public schools to create environments that welcome people of different religious affiliations and that promote tolerance and mutual understanding. Well, perhaps it shouldn’t be banned by your train of thought, as it does have many positive messages, but it should at least be accompanied by a warning sticker warning the readers of violent, intolerant content.

    5. Your last point is pretty ridiculous, too: “If having a religious school follow secular thought is right, then secular schools should also follow religious thought”. So what else can we apply this, too. How about, if a school of Christian fundamentalists was required to teach evolution, would public schools be required to teach that the earth is 6000 years old, that homosexuals are evil, and that one will go to hell should they not follow every dot and titter of the Bible? Look, there are an infinite number of perspectives one can take on reality, we can’t teach all of them. So what is the criteria? Well, one good one is EVIDENCE. There is no evidence for young earth creationism, or Jesus being born of a virgin in Bethlehem, but there is mountains of evidence for evolution. Education is about expanding the minds of people. It is not about indoctrinating people into archaic irrational belief systems that no one has ever provided good evidence for, but that for some reason, hundreds of millions of people still believe in. Education is about promoting the development of intelligent, thoughtful, productive people that can relate well with their neighbours; not about promoting popular baseless ideology. By prioritizing religious belief over all other forms of ridiculousness–racism, astrology, alchemy, Scientology, homeopathy, etc.–which I assume you are doing (but correct me if I’m wrong that you would support the existence and public funding of an astrology school), and placing religious education on par with public education which, ideally, is based on dispassionate analysis of evidence as to what is true and what would contribute to a successful and just society, you are essentially saying that you prioritize adult politics over the well-rounded and enriching education of children. (Side note: Yes, I am aware that politics goes into designing the curricula of public schools. I am not for politics superceding rational and balanced education in any school, and would thus argue against it in the public school. In the case of religious schools, I am arguing because they have a patent systemic source of prioritizing politically popular beliefs over evidentially and rationally based beliefs).

  13. cmadland says:


    Some questions for you…

    1. Does the idea of free speech justify any speech? Do we have the license to say anything we want regardless of the consequences? It seems to me that you would wish to stifle the speech coming from the Church.

    2. Do Ontarians have the option of choosing where their taxes go? In Alberta, property owners are given the option of funding either the secular schools or the catholic schools, consequently, the catholics fund their own education system.

    3. What is tolerance? How can ‘content’ be intolerant? In order for tolerance to exist, there must be a disagreement in views. How does simple disagreement now bring about charges of intolerance? Is there anything that we should not tolerate? Seems to me that most Canadians think that tolerance means that we all have to agree and if you disagree then you are automatically intolerant. That lead to the funny situation that Canadian ‘tolerance’ is completely intolerant of any dissenting viewpoint.

    4. You ask for evidence…what qualifies as evidence? Must evidence be material? Or can we allow for an immaterial basis for what we know? As a secularist, you MAY be tempted to only allow material evidence, but that would leave you on very thin ice. If you toss out immaterial evidence, then you must toss out the laws of logic which are immaterial yet very real. You must also toss out numbers, letters, math, science (which are all based on immaterial things and assumptions). I think you understand well that if you try to make your case without using the laws of logic, you are being very irrational indeed. But by using the laws of logic, you must toss out materialism and then secularism will soon follow.

    Believing in leprechauns is irrational and baseless. Believing in God is like believing in quarks or atoms. We follow EVIDENCE that we can see to come to conclusions about what we can’t see.

  14. ronbrown says:


    I’m sorry, but your arguments leave much to be desired.

    1. I’m under no obligation here to say what should or shouldn’t be allowed to said, or if any limitations should be set. Given that Canada is a member of the secular United Nations and touts itself as a secular nation, the situation at hand is wrong in two ways. Firstly, no religious school at all in Canada should be funded, as this is a direct contradiction of the secularism upheld by the UN and supposedly by Canada. And it will come as no surprise that the UN has officially condemned Ontario for the funding of the Catholic Board twice for this. Secondly, given that we have this unsecularism in place, to allow Catholic boards to ban books that conflicts with their religious views is stepping over the line that much further. Free speech is one thing. Having public funds used in a religiously biased manner by a country that is a member of the UN and that endorses secularism is another.

    2. Do Ontarians have the ability to determine where their tax dollars go? No, we don’t. It’s not like we fill out our tax forms and say “Okay, I would like 31% of tax dollars going to cancer research, and 40% to medical care, and 10% to education, and the other 19% to social assistance”. And if you’re referring to education dollars specifically, the answer is also No. Ontarians don’t choose where their education tax dollars go. CATHOLIC ONTARIANS choose where their education tax dollars go–well, they choose it in the sense that they have more than one guaranteed option that doesn’t result in them funding a particular denominational education that is not of their own religious group. I hope that this sounds unjust to you. It certainly does to me and the majority of Ontarians, as polls showed this past Summer. Catholics have a luxury that no other social group–excluding the English and French linguistic groups–have. NO other faith group has this option. No other secular community has this option. Wealthy people who want to put their kids in secular private schools do not have this option.

    To recap, No, Ontarians don’t pick where their tax dollars go, and in the one case that such choice is enabled, it is blatantly unsecular and discriminatory–not to mention economically and logistically irresponsible.

    3. The Halton board has exhibited blatant intolerance. If this was simply about disagreement then here’s a really easy idea that doesn’t involve just throwing out the views of people that you don’t like: leave the books in the library and also provide along with the book a presentation of the Church’s or school boards views, and when students ask questions, the teachers can simply engage them in discourse to discuss the issues. Having heard different perspectives and having been able to discuss them would be a good educational opportunity–though, for fairness, it would be good if non-religious speakers were invited to give the secular side once in a while.

    4. What qualifies as evidence. Well, I’ll tell you what doesn’t qualify: 1) A bunch of people saying that they know God exists without being able to back it up with anything but their personal experience and that of the person next to them; 2) thousands-of-years-old books that make fantastic claims but fail to provide strong argument or evidence for their truth that would not satisfy anyone if the arguments were for anything but religion. What is evidence? Evidence could be many things. Evidence could be logical argument (i.e., syllogistic arguments) that shows that a God must exist–though, this wouldn’t suggest who the God is and thus would be completely meaningless for issues of religion . Evidence could be evidence directly from the material world. This could include clear signs of God–not ambiguous ones that everyone views differently, but clear signs of God like God coming out from the clouds and saying “Hi, I’m God and I wrote the Bible (or Qur’an, or the book of Cult X, which holds meetings on Wednesdays at the East Des Moines Community Centre)” to everyone. I would also say that numerous highly improbable accurate prophecies would be strong evidence, but I’ve been told by a very knowledgeable source–a philosopher who was raised in a devout Christian family, and who has studied the Bible, other Christian texts, and the texts of other religious traditions extensively–that the prophecies were never meant to be prophecies, but simply foretellings of what would happen if something else happened–so more like cautionary forewarnings. But if prophecies were meant as such, then they would serve as good material evidence. However, the Biblical statements cannot be vague and thus multiply interpretable, prophecies cannot be said to come true if a bunch of fundamentalists enact them so as to deliberately fulfill the prophecy, and any true prophecies must be compared with the huge number of Biblical statements that could be viewed as prophetic statements that did not come true. If the Bible passes this type of test, we could take the finding as a very serious piece of evidence.

    Next, your differentiations between leprechauns and God is clearly a case of one-sided thinking. Leprechauns and God are both things we have no real evidence for other than hearsay. There are at least two differences between them–though these differences do not conform to your way of differentiation. One, the leprechaun idea doesn’t serve as an answer to unanswered questions for us like all of the world’s God theories. Secondly, the leprechaun doesn’t have billions of believers. Lets address these differences. While the leprechaun doesn’t answer big questions for us, lets use a different supernatural claim that would: invisible martian fairies created and control human consciousness. This would be a HUGE discovery! We’d figure out with absolute certainty the origin and perpetual source of our conscious life. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence for this. Next, while the leprechaun isn’t believed by billions, that doesn’t make the billions of people correct. A baseless idea believed by 1, 10, or 100000000 people is still a baseless idea. As I have described in my December 23 posting on the American Psychiatric Association and religious delusion, humans have a strong proclivity to project human-like mindedness onto various entities in nature. We also have confirmation biases and tend to trust and organize our conceptual/belief systems around what is taught to us as youths by trusted elders. Consider also that over the course of human history humans have believed in thousands of different gods, and even more spirits and demons. Considering all of this, the case for God–yours or anyone elses–is not looking very good at all.

    Thanks for writing.

  15. jross says:


    Your condescending tone implies a very subtle authoritarianism. I would like to point out that you are bordering on emulating one of the things which Pullman is criticizing – indoctrination. Just because you don’t believe in “God” (a secularist as you so like) does not mean you are immune to making claims that are based in outdated and Christian ways of thinking – namely, western civilization is progressing towards an era of neo-enlightenment based in the current mode of secularism. What you are arguing is not much different from the proselytizing you condemn – let’s replace relgious authority with secular authority! Yeah! And if you don’t agree then I’ll attempt to silence you with rhetoric.

    Thanks for writing.

    But I do love rhetoric.

  16. ronbrown says:


    Thanks for commenting.

    My concern in this is that this Catholic school is receiving public funding–which is already unsecular–and is now taking it a step further in their religious indoctrination. And this, I presume, is what you’re addressing. So here we go.

    First off, you can call my writing rhetoric if you want, but that can be said of anyone endorsing any view. So I’m not going to take it all that seriously. But I’m glad that you enjoy it and hope you will come back as there is surely plenty more to come, if that’s what we are going to call it.

    The thing is, though, that we have to organize our society in some way or other. We can’t just do nothing. We have to do something. Given this, different people are going to argue for different approaches to the way we run our society, spend our tax dollars, define morality and legality, educate our citizens, treat our ill, and on and on and on. When it comes to education, I personally favour secularism because it does not involve uncritically accepting a particular religious tale—and yes, it is uncritically accepting the religious tale; if it wasn’t, then we wouldn’t have the schools in the first place because an honest critical thinker who has learned the various angles of the theistic debate will plead agnosticism. As a consequence, it brings people together from different perspectives to address questions and issues of common concern critically and cooperatively. It is more efficient economically and logistically. And it avoids issues of which religions get funding, which don’t, and which count as religions—calls that cannot be made satisfactorily.

    As for the proposed commonality between what I am doing and religious proselytization, there is a link but there is also a great divergence. The link is that I am encouraging (or proselytizing) intellectual honesty and strong critical thinking skills, a defragmented society in which people of different backgrounds come together in a religiously neutral place (secular does not mean atheist), a fair way of allotting education tax dollars, and not shielding students from religious and non-religious perspectives other than the one their parents are attaching to them. I am proselytizing people to not believe things just because someone tells them it is so, to not divide and shield our children from people with ideas different than their own, and to not support an unfair, inefficient, and divisive educational system.

    The divide between myself and religious proselytizers is that whereas they are encouraging the adoption of specific beliefs, I am encouraging students not to accept any belief for which good reason is not given.

  17. Colin (cmadland) says:


    I asked questions, I didn’t try to put forth significant arguments. You ignored most of my questions.

    1. Free Speech…Some exerpts from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:

    Guarantee of Rights and Freedoms
    Rights and freedoms in Canada

    1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

    Fundamental Freedoms
    2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

    (a) freedom of conscience and religion;
    (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
    (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
    (d) freedom of association.”

    What do we make of this?

    For one, your statement that Canada is a secular society is completely without merit or basis in our fundamental legal document. The charter is explicit that our rights and freedoms are based on principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.

    Two, given my previous statement, your argument that religious schools should not be funded is also completely unjustified.

    Three, the charter is also explicit that our fundamental freedoms are “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” Freedom of expression does not allow for any and all speech. There are limits to freedom of expression. Given the nature of your blog, it is entirely reasonable of me to ask what speech should be censored.

    2. Taxes…thanks for your answer. I think Alberta has a better system.

    I agree with you on the Board’s decision. Banning a book that disagrees with your position is silly, but it is not intolerant. Please explain your view of what tolerance is.
    What qualifies as evidence…I agree with your statements regarding things that do not constitute evidence, now you have to show that your statements have anything to do with Classical Christianity. Perhaps you think that Christianity is really based on the ‘personal experiences’ of a bunch of nutters and that the Bible is a bunch of baseless fairy tales, on those counts, you would be very mistaken.

    I am glad to hear that you would consider a logical syllogism. The Cosmological Argument is just such a thing…here it is,

    1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its
    2. The universe began to exist.

    2.1 Argument based on the impossibility of an
    actual infinite.

    2.11 An actual infinite cannot exist.
    2.12 An infinite temporal regress of
    events is an actual infinite.
    2.13 Therefore, an infinite temporal
    regress of events cannot exist.

    2.2 Argument based on the impossibility of
    the formation of an actual infinite by
    successive addition.

    2.21 A collection formed by successive
    addition cannot be actually infinite.
    2.22 The temporal series of past events
    is a collection formed by successive
    2.23 Therefore, the temporal series of
    past events cannot be actually

    3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its

    I recognize that this formulation says little explicitly about the character or nature of the cause, but much can be inferred.

    Prophecy is another area that we agree can provide positive evidence for the existence of God. Where we disagree is on the nature of prophetic passages in the Bible. While I gather a list of specific, fulfilled prophecies concerning one single event in the bible, the birth of Jesus, would you be willing to gather a list of prophetic statements that did not come true?

    We both agree that believing in leprechauns is irrational because we have no evidence for them. You think that believing in God is like believing in leprechauns, I think that believing in God is like believing in atoms. That is the only difference that I am trying to highlight. Believing in God is not like believing in leprechauns because we DO have good evidence for believing in God.

    You say that humans tend to anthropomorphize. I agree, but this is trivial in a discussion about religion. Worse than that, it is a logical fallacy. You have committed the genetic fallacy in saying that something is false because of its origin. If I say that a certain bridge will collapse because the engineer who designed it is a cad, I have committed a genetic fallacy. You say that there are psychological reasons that can explain religious belief and the inference is that religious belief is therefore delusional. The problem is that you have said absolutely nothing about the truth or falsity of the beliefs which is the very thing you are trying to determine.

    Considering all this, the case for God is much stronger than you think.

  18. jross says:


    You must love that you are getting all this attention. Of course arguments are rhetorical. I did not mean to suggest otherwise or that you were unique but rather to point out that you were using some pretty simple devices to assert authority. Also, thanks for the update on why society needs to be organized.

    To be clear, I am in agreement with your views concering the books, the school board, and so on. Perhaps the rum and egg nog fogged my message. The connection between your view and the line of thinking that has been used for centuries is crucial. I am, however, not placing any ‘good’ or ‘bad’ value on this. What you claim to be a great divergence is simply a change in content.

    Perhaps I have misread you here. Are you suggesting that everyone should buy into secularism because of the rationalism of it all? It seems that you are anticipating that secularism will fix society if everyone buys in. Can and should everyone buy in? What I am reading from you is verging on utopic. Correct me if I am wrong.

  19. ronbrown says:


    Greetings. Hope you’re well.

    Firstly, I’d like to clarify I misunderstanding that I made. Whereas you were simply asking questions in your earlier post, I thought that you were using questions as rhetorical/argumentative devices. Apologies if I came off overly aggressive.

    As to the issues you bring up, clearly I won’t be able to answer them in a 10 minute write-up. So I may or may not get to it today. If I do not get done today, I will tomorrow.

  20. ronbrown says:

    I will, however, reply to JRoss right now as his response was much shorter and can be replied to quicker.

    As for loving the attention, I’m actually very happy about it, as I’m hoping that this will become a very active blog discussing a number of important issues with multiple contributors with different bases of expertise and interest. So yeah, it’s something I am pretty excited about.

    The reason I specified the ubiquity of rhetoric in argument and the need for society to be organized in some way was to say that I’m not how anyone could endorse a political position, whatever the position, and not be accuseable of rhetoric. Consequently, I wasn’t really sure if your claim that I was using rhetoric even really meant much. I mean, even Bush could accuse his detractors of using rhetoric, even if they were simply speaking in terms of fact. And a lot of people–particularly those who weren’t up-to-date on all the issues–would take that as a worthy comment and come to view his detractors with skepticism.

    Could you specify some things I’ve said that seem to involve the use of simple rhetorical techniques. If you do this then I’d be happy to look at them with you and we can discuss how I presented my case.

    You say that the divergence I claim between myself and religious proselytizers is only one of content. Can you lay this claim out more specifically? Is it that I endorse reason and skepticism whereas they endorse specific beliefs? More specifically, is it that I am arguing for some sort of superiority of reason over faith? I just want to be very clear about what we’re talking about so that I can respond appropriately.

    As for secularism being the road to a utopian society, no, I’m not under such illusions. I fully appreciate that there is more to life than being rational–things like community, personal development, self-awareness, and a framework for the pursuit of meaning that promotes stable internal strength, happiness and purpose, as opposed to the more vulnerable, anxiety-provoking and externally-dependent social frameworks of direction like the pursuit of status. A society that is secular does not necessarily nurture these critical needs for well-being. An ideal world might be one that integrates the adaptive elements of Buddhism and ancient Greek philosophy academies. Such a society could promote in individuals and communities self-awareness, a sense of connection with others and decreased self-world separation and the consequent ego-insecurity and selfishness, decreased personal emotional attachment to one’s beliefs which would allow for increased openess to other points of view and learning, and through all of this greater well-being of individuals and societies. Do I view this type of world as springing up? No, I’m not optimistic at all about such a thing happening on a grand scale. The mere global inequality of power and wealth, the ways that some countries and people have to so much to gain from the exploitation of others, and the years and years of bad blood, individualistic living, and personal commitment to individual and cultural beliefs and practices poses an incredible obstacle.

  21. ronbrown says:


    First off, a clarification of a misunderstanding. I interpreted your initial questions not as simple questions but as rhetorically-phrased arguments. I’m clear now, though.

    So, I’m going to begin with a concession: Yes, the supremacy of God is surely a part of our constitution. While it is a part that I personally would like to see removed, it is surely a part of it.

    I just finished speaking with Justin Trottier, Director of the Center For Inquiry Toronto, and one of the leaders of the One School System Network, ONESSN, a coalition of many secular, religious, political, and education organizations promoting the discontinuation of public funding of the Catholic Board and the establishment of a unified secular public board. He is going to be commenting on this issue in this comment section in the next few days. But here is a general overview of what he has to say regarding these matters, some of which I have already touched upon, and all of which I agree with:

    * As you said, yes, our Charter specifically references God (comment from me: however, it doesn’t indicate which God, though one could argue that it’s pretty clear what was intended);
    * However, in the specific issue of the public funding of religious schools, Canada has signed on with the UN which has as one of its agreed upon standards that member nations should either fun no religious schools or all of them (which is an impossible task–how does one determine what a religion is, versus a sect or cult?). Ontario is in direct violation of this and has been called on it twice by the UN with official condemnations in the late 90s and again in 05. On one particular occasion in which the Canadian UN ambassador was stating rule infractions by Iran, the Iranian delegate retorted that Canada is in no place to criticize as they’re currently in violation of the secular education policies.
    * As Justin will elaborate on a bit further, there are legal precedents favour secularism in Canada. I, however, don’t know of any of them.

    The second point is a point cited constantly by ONESSN.

    Next, what is tolerance?

    From Dictionary.com, tolerance is a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own.

    The Halton Catholic board has clearly not been fair, objective or permissive. Rather than allowing Pullman to present his views to students through his books (and infact, these views in his books are apparently pretty hidden in metaphor and indirect allusion–though with some more specific references in one of the books after The Golden Compass)–that is, being permissive–they have flat out excluded his views, the opposite of permisiveness. Rather than being objective—considering Pullman’s arguments (which, again, are I hear made in allusion rather than with clarity) in an open, rational and honest way, and replying to them, they have excluded his arguments. Fair is a far more nebulous concept to define and so I won’t even bother addressing it as 2 of the 3 main tenets of tolerance have already been argued down, and so it’s not even necessary to address the third. One could argue, however, that fairness is indirectly disqualified through the demonstration of inobjectivity.

    What qualifies as evidence? I’m pretty sure that I’ve addressed this elsewhere since you posed this question.

    Next, “Therefore, the universe has a cause of its

    I recognize that this formulation says little explicitly about the character or nature of the cause, but much can be inferred.”

    What can be inferred from this? This cause could be an infinite array of things other than your God. It could have been your God, but it could have been another God that people believe in, or a God that no one has ever thought about. It could be an unintelligent unconscious cause. All you’ve really said is that there has to be something that explains all of this, but you haven’t given any reason to select your preferred explanation over the infinity of others.

    On to prophecy. Firstly, I am not ready to accept prophecy from OT to NT without unbiased third-party collaboration, as there is every reason to believe that writers of the NT would have had strong motivation to confirm the OT’s statements. Second, were the prophecies even intended as prophecies, rather than statements of what would happen if something else happened? Third, any supposed confirmed prophecy–if this even means anything over and above a conditional if-then statement rather than an actual statement that “this will happen”–should be one that didn’t happen simply because people acted deliberately to carry out what the Bible said. Fourth, there must be specificity rather than vaguery in intepretation.

    As for me pulling together a list of disconfirmations, after you post your confirmations I’ll go search around for a website that has assembled a list of disconfirmations, alternative intepretations of supposed confirmations, and so on. I already know of a few websites that do this that are run by former evangelists turned atheist.

    “We both agree that believing in leprechauns is irrational because we have no evidence for them. You think that believing in God is like believing in leprechauns, I think that believing in God is like believing in atoms. That is the only difference that I am trying to highlight. Believing in God is not like believing in leprechauns because we DO have good evidence for believing in God.”

    And I am still arguing for the parallel between leprechauns and God. Well, actually, I am more partial to comparing God-everything to Cupid-love, or the idea that martians have created and control our consciousness, as these latter cases answer a question for us (the existence and experience of love and consciousness), whereas I’m not sure if belief in leprechauns does anything like that. Belief in God, as far as I can tell, is not like belief in atoms. There is strong evidence in favour of the atomic model; I have yet to see any good evidence for God, either a generic God or your particular God.

    Regarding my cognitive approach. As I said in another thread today, my cognitive approach needs to be considered in conjunction with the facts that humans have believed in thousands of Gods and supernatural agents, many of which are mutually exclusive, humans are known to have provided anthropomorphic explanations for things that they didn’t understand at the time (e.g., thunder, the movement of the sun, sickness), we have a general bias toward anthropomorphism (we attribute human-like cognition to animals, insects, and so on), young humans readily trust what is told to them by elders, there are strong social and individual psychological drives resisting the rejection of belief (I can go into this more if you’d like), and on top of all of this, as I’ve said before, I’ve yet to see a compelling case for the existence of a generic God or a particular one. Considering all of this together, I disagree with you that the case for God is much stronger than I think it is.

  22. Colin says:

    The universe has a cause…what can be inferred?

    1. The cause is immaterial as it existed without the universe.
    2. The cause must be atemporal (not in time) without the universe.
    3. the Cause must be personal (an agent or mind) as an agent is required for an effect to happen at one time rather than another. A mechanical set of causes would have to exist eternally, leaving us with an eternal universe…already discounted.

    In these three inferences, we have already discounted a huge number of possible causes.

    Gotta run.

  23. Rob Stugs says:

    Well, I’d say that also our friend Rob Brown has got a religion and the first commandment of this religion is ‘God does not exist and Ron Brown is his prophet’.

  24. ronbrown says:

    Well, Rob, I’d like to say that you have a very warped view of what I say and what exactly my position is. My position is one of rationality and intellectual honesty, something that today’s organized religions fail at miserably. I don’t say “God doesn’t exist”. I say “I don’t know if God exists or not, but to believe that God does exist seems to make about as much sense as believing in Zeus or Thor given the complete lack of evidence.” I’m saying that given the remarkably poor evidence provided over thousands of years of effort to justify these beliefs, it is beyond unreasonable to have any confidence in the truth value of these beliefs–e.g, that the Christian God exists, that Jesus was born of a virgin, etc. Do I think that all aspects of religion are equally ridiculous? No. I see great value in many aspects of religion–establishing supportive social communities, promoting good will, providing a context within which to pursue wisdom. But today’s religions have many very destructive qualities. They encourage firm belief in the ridiculous, and they encourage personal attachment to those beliefs that can create vulnerability for the believer and thereby create divisions between people of different beliefs. My hope is to see things like Buddhist meditation and philosophy, ancient Greek academy philosophy, and the curiousness and rationality of modern science integrated in communities, so as to have communities that provide contexts for the personal and social cultivation of wisdom, compassion, cooperation, prosociality, and wonder.

  25. ronbrown says:

    Colin: Why do we need an agent? Given that we’re stepping outside of our framework of understanding by leaving the universe as we know it, we have no way of inferring what could have brought about the universe. Just as it is common to say that God is beyond human comprehension/conceptualization, it is perfectly reasonable to suspect that whatever the answer is to the question of the origination of the universe, we may not currently–given our conceptual structures–or ever be able to comprehend it.

  26. Colin says:


    An agent is necessary because non-agent causation leads to an infinite regress of mechanical causes, something which is actually and logically impossible.

    Your statement “given that we are stepping outside of our framework…by leaving the universe as we know it…” assumes that God is not accessible from inside our frame of understanding. How do you know that IF God exists, he would be inaccessible?

    According to Classical Christianity as taught in the Bible, God has spoken and he is present and intelligible. Therefore, it is inaccurate to say that we are leaving our universe to talk about God. Now, if Christianity is true, there is nothing irrational about those preceding statements.

    It is time to get away from the ‘Christianity is irrational and therefore false.’ argument that isn’t really an argument. The real question is whether Christianity is true or not. If it is true, then it is perfectly rational to live accordingly. Only if it is proven false can the charge of irrationality be leveled.

  27. Scott says:

    Why would the catholic church want to supress a story about an organization that secretly does horrible abusive things to children? Hmmm. . .

  28. jross says:

    Hello Ron,

    Sorry, I have been on vacation. To begin, would it be possible to get you to prepare a short statement (250 words max) on why the books should not be banned. I would like to use (with proper citation of course) this in an upcoming meeting dealing with the issue. I think the committee would benefit from your arguments. If not, understandable.

    Rhetorial Devices.

    I was only referring to the way in which you asserted your authority not what you were arguing. For example, you wrote; “I’m sorry, but your arguments leave much to be desired’. And later, “Thanks for writing”.

    You have interrupted the regular grammatical flow of the statement, “Your arguments leave much to be desired” with “I’m sorry”. This is an expletive. Combined with the hyperbolic use of the word “sorry” (unless you were genuine) the whole statement has the effect of a euphemism. Some readers will then interpret the statement as an uncalled for criticism or a sort of psuedo-apophasis asserting the legitimacy of your own thoughts and ideas while dismissing others. On top of that, some readers might see the apology itself as a way of casting doubt over the arguments that you were presented. This is an example of aporia. Unfortunately, you end your arguments with “Thanks for writing”. Once again this might be viewed as hyperbole and euphemism because clearly you are not thankful because of the rhetorical organization of your first statement “I’m sorry…”

    I do not mean to say this is bad or good and I am sorry for the offence

  29. ronbrown says:


    Greetings. To get the best statement possible, I would contact the Center For Inquiry Toronto. As a leading organization in Canadian secular activism, they could do better than I.

    As for rhetorical devices. Some of this is simply misunderstanding, though understandable misunderstandings. The sorry was genuine. I used it to come off a bit gentler than just saying “Your arguments leave much to be desired”. And the “thanks for writing” was certainly genuine. I had just started up the blog a few days before and so I was glad that people were reading it and commenting on it. And I still am. When I created the blog I was hoping that it would become an active place of discussion and readership, so I am genuinely happy to have people come, whether they agree with me or not.

    However, your explanation does help paint a picture as to how one could reasonably assume that I was engaging in deliberate rhetorical means of asserting authority.

  30. Nilah says:

    If students are allowed to read non-fictional history books that talk about millions of people dying and non-fictional books like The Diary of Anne Frank then they should definately be able to read this trilogy.

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  1. […] How to deal with criticism the Catholic way: censor it. (Via The Frame Problem) […]

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