A Selection of Quotes from the Linguistic Genius of Christopher Hitchens

Hitchens

The clue is in the title.

www.buildupthatwall.com

On the importance of reaching agreement

I’m not looking for consensus, baby, I’m just not in the mood.

On the Church of England

It not only calls itself a flock, it looks very sheep-like.

On Mother Teresa

I would describe Mother Teresa as a fraud, a fanatic and a fundamentalist.

Everything everybody thinks they know about her is false.  Not just most of the things; all the things.  It must be the single most successful emotional con-job of the 20th century.  She was corrupt, nasty, cynical and cruel.

I would say it was a certainty that millions of people died because of her work and millions more were made poorer, stupider, more sick, more diseased, more fearful and more ignorant.

When Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, few people had the poor taste to ask what she had ever done, or even claimed to do for the cause of peace.

What’s motherly about her by the way?  Hideous virgin and fraud and fanatic and fundamentalist.  Shrivelled old bat.  As far from the nurture of motherhood as a woman could decently get!

MT was not a friend of the poor.  She was a friend of poverty.

On which side bears the burden of evidence

What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.

On fairness of the ad hominem argument

A man once accused me of trying to assassinate his character.  I said, “No, your character committed suicide a long time ago”.

On the intrinsic value of religious debate

Time spent arguing with the faithful is, oddly enough, almost never wasted.

On the death of controversial American televangelist, Jerry Falwell

I think it’s a pity there isn’t a hell for him to go to.

The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing.  That you can get away with the most extraordinary offences to morality and to truth in this country, if you’ll just yourself called ‘reverend’.”

He woke up every morning, pinching his chubby little flanks, thinking ‘I’ve got away with it again’.

From his wobbly base of opportunist fund raising and degree-mill money-spinning in Lynchburg, Va., he set out to puddle his sausage-sized fingers into the intimate arrangements of people who had done no harm.

If you gave Falwell an enema, he could be buried in a matchbox.

On religious faith as a guide to morality

My mother’s Jewish ancestors are told that until they got to Sinai, they’d been dragging themselves around the desert under the impression that adultery, murder, theft and perjury were all fine, and got to Mount Sinai only to be told it’s not kosher after all.

The Hitchens Challenge on whether there is a divine source to human morality

Name a moral statement or action, uttered or performed by a religious person that could not have been uttered or performed by an unbeliever.  I am still waiting for a response to this.  It carries an incidental corollary: think of a wicked action or statement that derived directly from religious faith, and you know what?  There is no tongue-tied silence at THAT point.  Everybody can instantly think of an example.

On the Bishop of Carlisle’s remarks that the 2007 floods in England were divine punishment for society’s acceptance of homosexuality

If there was a connection between metrology and morality, and religion has very often argued that there is, I don’t see why the floods hit northern Yorkshire.  I can think of some parts of London where they would have done a lot more good.

On his need for a soapbox

It’s the old demagogue in me.  I need the pulpit.  I need the podium.  And if I can’t be erect, then at least I can be upright.

On the Church’s co-operation with Fascism throughout the 1930s and 40s

Up to 50% of the Waffen-SS were confessing Catholics; none of them was ever excommunicated, even threatened with it, for taking part in the Final Solution.  But Joseph Goebbels was excommunicated.  For… marrying a Protestant!  You see, we do have our standards!

On Dubya’s contribution to the evolution –v- creationism/ intelligent design debate to “teach the argument” to school children

There isn’t an argument.  You don’t hear people saying, ‘Well children, chemistry class is over and then we’ll have a break and then there’ll be the alchemy period.’  ‘After we’ve done our astronomy, darlings, it’ll be the astrology class.’  You don’t get that and it would be ludicrous and hateful if it were.  But under the cover of religion, there is no stupidity that can’t be advocated.  But if that’s going to be the case and we’re going to teach the argument: then any church that gets a tax break or any church that gets any subsidy from the Faith Based Initiative, has to teach Darwin in Sunday school.  Is the President aware of this implication?  I take leave to doubt it.

On incitement to religious hatred law

Somebody said that anti-Semitism and Kristallnacht in Germany was the result of ten years of Jew bating.  Ten years?!  You must be joking!   It’s the result of 2,000 years of Christianity, based on one verse of one chapter of St. John’s Gospel, which led to a pogrom after every Easter sermon every year for hundreds of years. Because it claims that the Jews demanded the blood of Christ be on the heads of themselves and all their children to the remotest generation.

On the human condition

Our problem is this: our prefrontal lobes are too small.  And our adrenaline glands are too big.  And our thumb/ finger opposition isn’t all that it might be.  And we’re afraid of the dark, and we’re afraid to die, and we believe in the truths of holy books that are so stupid and so fabricated that a child can – and all children do, as you can tell by their questions – see through them.

On the Koran

It makes quite large claims for itself, doesn’t it?  It says it’s the final revelation.  It says that god spoke to one illiterate businessman in the Arabian peninsula three times through an archangel, and the resulting material – which as you can see when you read it – is largely plagiarised from the Old and the New Testament.   Almost all of it actually plagurised, ineptly – from the Old and the New Testament – is to be accepted as a divine revelation and as the final and unalterable one and those who do not accept this revelation are fit to be treated as cattle, infidels, potential chattel, slaves and victims.

Well I tell you what, I don’t think Mohammad ever heard those voices.  I don’t believe it.  And the likelihood that I’m right, as opposed to the likelihood that a businessman who couldn’t read, had bits of the Old and the New Testament re-dictated to him by an archangel, I think puts me much more near the position of being objectively correct.

On the Bible

Look anywhere you like in the world for slavery, for the subjection of women as chattel, for the burning and flogging of homosexuals, for ethnic cleansing, for anti-Semitism, for all of this, you look no further than a famous book that’s on every pulpit in this city.

On people’s expectations of other people

If you hear the Pope saying he believes in God, you think, well, the Pope is doing his job again today.  If you hear the Pope saying he’s really begun to doubt the existence of God, you begin to think he might be on to something.

On the importance of having your views challenged

How do I know that I know this, except that I’ve always been taught this and never heard anything else?  How sure am I of my own views?  Don’t take refuge in the false security of consensus, and the feeling that whatever you think you’re bound to be OK, because you’re in the safely moral majority.

On being well-travelled

I’ve been to all three Axis of Evil countries…

On endearing oneself to an audience in the Deep South

You know what they think about you people where I come from in the north.  You know what they think.  They think you’re just living in a wasteland of piety and prohibition, snake-handling, punctuated only by offences against chastity with domestic animals.  You and I know better.  We know that quite a lot of that’s not true.

On the Catholic Church’s policy of relocating priests guilty of paedophilia

In the very recent past, we have seen the Church of Rome befouled by its complicity with the unpardonable sin of child rape, or, as it might be phrased in Latin form, “no child’s behind left”.

On the fundamental element of telling good porkie pies

A good liar must have a good memory.  Kissinger is a stupendous liar with a remarkable memory.

On religious faith as a source of consolation

I shall simply say that those who offer false consolation are false friends.

On the value of blind faith

Faith is the surrender of the mind; it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals.  It’s our need to believe, and to surrender our scepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me.  Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated.

On the appeal of Michael Moore

Europeans think Americans are fat, vulgar, greedy, stupid, ambitious and ignorant and so on.  And they’ve taken as their own, as their representative American, someone who actually embodies all of those qualities.

On divine intervention

Miracles do not occur.  Dead people do not cure living people of disease.  It doesn’t happen, it’s a scandal.  There’s no tooth-fairy either.  There’s no Santa Claus.  I have to keep on breaking this stuff to people and every time they say, “Well, are you sure?”  And I say yes, absolutely I am.

On being a tad inebriated live on air

The woman is dead: D-E-A-D, it’s a four letter word.  There’s another four letter word.   All her biological and medical lines are flat: F-L-A-T.  She is the ex W-F-I-E of the wretched, luckless Michael Schiavo who has had to put up with great deal of innuendo and abuse also from your guests.

On freedom in religion

I don’t think it’s any more optional than Abraham saying to his son, “Do you want to come for a long and gloomy walk?”

On the Catholic Church’s moral equivalence of contraception with abortion

Aquinas believed that every single sperm contained a micro-embryo inside it and thus if you like – I hope I don’t offend anyone – hand jobs are genocide.  As for blow jobs; don’t start.

On the meaning of life

Well, I can only answer for myself.  What cheers me up?  I suppose mainly gloating over the misfortunes of other people.  I guess that has to be it, yeah, mainly crowing over the miseries of others.  It doesn’t always work, but it never completely fails.  And then there’s irony.  There’s irony, which is the gin in the Campari; the cream in the coffee.  Sex can have diminishing returns, but it’s amaaaazing.  No, that’s pretty much it and then it’s a clear run to the grave.

On the Archbishop of Canterbury

Dr Rowan Williams – who does the most perfect impersonation of a Welsh sheep I have ever seen – can go love his own fucking enemies; I don’t want him loving mine.

On the virgin birth

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was in this wise.  When his mother, Mary, was espoused with Joseph, before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.’  Yes, and the Greek demigod Perseus was born when the god Jupiter visited the virgin Danaë as a shower of gold and got her with child.  The god Buddha was born through an opening in his mother’s flank.  Catilus the serpent-skirted caught a little ball of feathers from the sky and hid it in her bosom and the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli was thus conceived.  The virgin Nana took a pomegranate from the tree watered by the blood of the slain Agdesteris, and laid it in her bosom, and gave birth to the god Attis.  The virgin daughter of a Mongol king awoke one night and found herself bathed in a great light, which caused her to give birth to Genghis Khan.  Krishna was born of the virgin Deveka.  Horus was born of the virgin Isis.  Mercury was born of the virgin Maia.  Romulus was born of the virgin Rhea Sylvia.”

Even the Koran agrees that the Virgin Mary was born by an immaculate conception.  By the way, the Koran says that Jesus was not crucified at all, the Jews crucified someone else in his place and he never died.

There’s no end to the way that this kind of thing can be fabricated, but those who say you just tell by the potency and pungency of the story, for the memorability of it, that there must be something true about it, are simply inviting you to rely, not on your thinking faculties, or your intellectual capacity at all, but on straight-out credulity and on the repeated manufacture of things that appear to be part of the hard and soft wiring of legend in our mammalian primate history.

Apparently if you want to have a prophet, it’s better if his mother is a virgin.  Want to fabricate another one, that’s what will happen.

Actually, Joseph Smith [founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Mormons], as far as I know, never made that claim.  But I think Mrs Smith was well enough known to the local newspaper reporters of the greater New York area, in which you can read up the whole history of that family, to make it rather unlikely that that thing could be sold.

On brotherly love

It’s awful to hear a member of the Hitchens family sounding like Harold Pinter on a bad day.

On credit where credit’s due

That was terrible, Dinesh.

[Ten minutes later, when D’Souza has sat through a humiliating rebuttal of the historical reliability of the New Testament and has had a second go in an attempt to repair the damage...]

Ok, so it goes on getting worse…

On the only safe way of getting oneself excommunicated by the Vatican

Pius Ncube goes.  The Vatican says, “That’s it, you’re no longer the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo.  You have to go, you’ve gone too far.”

Robert Mugabe, the communicant, the daily Catholic communicant, who thanks God for his electoral victory, which you may have seen, recently, celebrated so warmly by his people has not been forbidden the sacraments, hasn’t been excommunicated.

Now, Pius Ncube, the Bishop of Bulawayo, had an affair with his housekeeper.  Robert Mugabe has subjected his entire country to torture, famine, theft, expropriation, death, death squads and the rest of it, but it seems to me there is nothing he can do to get himself outside the church.  He’d probably have to recommend condoms or abortions at the rate he’s going before anything would be said about him, any condemnation would be thundered from the pulpit.

On choosing your words carefully

The phrase “mind-torched whack-jobs” that’s in the introduction to the paper this evening naturally upset me very much; I hate to be offensive or see religion lampooned, that’s why I didn’t call my book on Mother Teresa “Sacred Cow”, though something in me will always feel sorry that I didn’t do that.

On receiving the news that a screaming rabbi once held a chair at Oxford

I am bound to say that it seems there’s been a bit of a collapse of standards at my old university…

On Thomas Jefferson’s take on the Good Book

You can buy at any Unitarian book store to this day the Jefferson Bible which was what he found was left if he took a pair of scissors and cut out everything in the Bible that could not by any intelligent person believed be believed.  Makes for a slender, convenient read; I recommend it.

On the Torah as a moral guide

It’s true that genocide isn’t recommended in Genesis.  You have to read several books on before you are commanded to leave not one child of the Amalekites behind…  There are learned debates between rabbis in Israel, including rabbis of the Israeli defence force, on whether or not that commandment is still extant.  In other words whether the fact that there are no more Amalekites means that the commandment doesn’t work any more and learned commentaries are published on the possible applicability of this genocidal commandment to present-day conditions.  To know this is to tremble at the effects of religion on a people who are not supposed to have a reputation for bovine stupidity, let alone for racism, let alone for superstition.

On the inner-workings of Der Führer

I personally think I probably could overthrow the arguments for National Socialism in a fairly short time.  I would have great difficulty persuading myself that its founder and leader was a rational person.  I wouldn’t have declared war on the Soviet Union, the British Empire and the United States on the same year myself hoping to have a Thousand Year Reich; wouldn’t be the right way to go about it.

On Stephen Hawking overcoming physical impairment

There’s no secular case to be made for eugenics.  The whole point about our side is that we revere the brain.  If Hawking had no limbs at all and only a brain we’d like him the better for it.  But we would have something to ask perhaps about the person who designed him like that.

On the glory of god’s creation

I notice when people say, “Look at all we have to be thankful for,” or, “Look at what’s so wonderful,” they mean when the baby falls out of the window and bounced on the soft roof of a car, don’t they?  They say, “Oh, God had it his hand.”  They’ve nothing to say when the ditches are full of dead babies and no one did a thing.

Look at the beauty of the design of the plague vassilis or the incredible eagerness and hunger and ruthlessness and beauty of the cancer cell or the cobra.  Who created all this, is what I want to know?  If someone wants to take credit for this creation, let them take credit for the whole thing and for all the despair, misery that goes with it.  For all the babies that are born without brains at all, or with cancer, or with no chance of living beyond a day.  Who’s responsible for that?  In what mysterious ways does the divinity move when this occurs?

Wouldn’t you rather think, harsh as it is that at least it was all random?  But no, the solipsism must go on.

On his dream job

I’ve never wanted a political job, but if I was to be given grace and favour by the president, it would be the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco.

On the impossibility to excuse child rape

The rape and torture of children is not something to be relativised.  It’s not something to be excused as a few bad priests.  It’s certainly not be excused by the hideously false claim made by some Catholic conservatives that this wouldn’t have happened if queers hadn’t been allowed in the Church.   Sorry to say that queerdom in the Church is an old story too.  And it’s worse; it’s much worse than pornography and it’s much worse than bad language on TV.  And it’s the crime that cries out for punishment.  It’s the thing that if we were accused of on this side of the house we would die rather than admit.  And if we were guilty of it we would kill ourselves.  And it’s the one thing the Church has decided to excuse itself for under this papacy.

On the historicity of Matthew 27: 25 –v- the Final Solution

[Bishop Richard] Williamson… has long been a believer that – I’ll put this shortly – that the Holocaust did not occur, but the Jews did kill Christ.  In word others, “Genocide?  No.  Deicide?  Yes!”

On batting for the other side

For condemning my friend, Stephen Fry, for his nature.  For saying, “You couldn’t be a member of our Church, you’re born in sin.”  There’s a revolting piece of casuistry that’s sometimes offered on this point.  “Yeah, we hate the sin only.  We love the sinner”.  Stephen is, I’m sorry to say, not quite like other girls.  It’s his nature.  Actually, he is like other girls, in that he’s, when I last checked, absolutely boy-mad.  He’s not being condemned for what he does, he’s being condemned for who he is.  You’re a child made in the image of God.  Oh no you’re not, you’re faggot!  And you can’t join our Church and you can’t go to heaven.  This is disgraceful, it’s inhuman, it’s obscene, and it comes from a clutch of hysterical, sinister virgins who have already betrayed their charge in the children of their own Church.

On the only reason why he would like to see the Pope dead

I don’t wish any ill on any fellow primate or mammal of mine, even if this primate or mammal claims to be a primate in possession of a secret that is denied to me…  So I don’t at all look forward to the death of Joseph Ratzinger, I don’t.  Or any other Pope, not really.  Except for one tiny reason which I ought to confess and share with you.

When he dies, there’s quite a long interval till the conclave can meet to pick another Pope.  Sometimes it goes on for months till they get the white smoke.  And for that whole time, that whole interval – it’s a delicious, lucid interlude – there isn’t anyone on Earth who claims to be infallible.  Isn’t that nice?

All I want to propose in closing is this.  If the human species is to rise to the full height that’s demanded by its dignity and by its intelligence, we must all of us move to a state of affairs where that condition is permanent.  And I think we should get on with it.

On his primal urges

Those who ask confessions from other people should be willing to make one oneself.  I am obsessed with sex.  Ever since I discovered that my God-given male member was going to give me no peace, I decided to give it no rest in return.  Seems fair to me.

On the cure for world poverty

There is only one cure for world poverty that has ever been found or ever will and it’s very simple.  And it could be phrased very simply too.    It’s called the empowerment of women.  Go to Bangladesh or Bolivia – I have to ask you to hold your applause though I love you – go to Bangladesh or Bolivia, give women control over their reproduce cycle, throw in a handful of corn if you can, make them not just the beasts of burden and the beasts of childbearing that they’ve become and the floor will rise, it just will.  It never fails anywhere.  Against this one solution, the Catholic Church has set its face.  The efforts of the missionary Church in the Third World mean more people die, not less.  It’s as simple as that.  More famine, more disease, more ignorance, more random and avoidable death.

On the sort of person he would let near his children

I say that homosexuality is not just a form of sex; it’s a form of love and it deserves our respect for that reason.  In fact, when my children were young, I’d have been proud to have Stephen [Fry] as their babysitter and I’d tell them they were lucky.  And if anyone came to my door as a babysitter wearing holy orders, I’d first call a cab and then the police.

On the right to his own opinion

I don’t need a seconder.  My own opinion is enough for me and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, any time.  And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line, and kiss my ass.

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45 Responses to “A Selection of Quotes from the Linguistic Genius of Christopher Hitchens”

  1. Richard Morgan Says:

    “Name a moral statement or action, uttered or performed by a religious person that could not have been uttered or performed by an unbeliever.”

    I am rather surprised that you have chosen to include this (in)famous Hitchens sound-byte, which is often quoted yet rarely examined closely.
    Not only does it beg the question, “A moral statement or action – by what standards?” and also avoid the question, “From what basis does the unbeliever derive his ability to judge an action as moral or immoral?”
    but also it implies (with all the skill of a third-rate politician down on his luck and hoping to give himself a boost in the polls) that since religious people are just as human as unbelievers, therefore religion is morally useless. (Applause)
    Sounds very slick in a live debate in front of a real audience, but upon examination it is almost embarrassingly silly.

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Hello Richard

      Well, that told me, didn’t it? Tail, legs, between, leave… :o( Actually no, I’m going to tear your objections to shreds, but well done for having a stab at debating rather than just making glib puns, ha ha!!

      Ok, a moral action: something we can all agree on. Risking your own life to save that of a perfect stranger. Is that an action that only a religious believer could perform and an atheist could not? Of course not. Sorry, but things like worshipping God and swearing loyalty to Christ don’t count. They have no moral content to them because they are not concerned with either the promotion of human happiness or the prevention of human suffering. That is something than any human being can judge for themselves based on the Golden Rule which requires no recourse to the divine.

      Some have said that loving your enemies or turning the other cheek is a moral action that only a believer could perform, but I don’t think that pacifism is moral at all; it’s suicidal. All pacifism does is leave you at the mercy of the world’s thugs. One maniac armed with a knife could kill an entire city-full of pacifists. Loving your enemies is grossly immoral.

      An immoral action or statement that could only have come from someone who thought they were on a mission from God: you’ve thought of about 50, haven’t you? Just based on last week’s newspapers.

      The point of the Hitchens’ challenge is that religious faith adds nothing to the morality of ordinary, decent human beings while mandating and encouraging said ordinary, decent human beings to commit the most fatuously wicked acts which are automatically accepted because they are dressed in the cloak of faith. Hitchens is a harsh opponent of circumcision of babies on religious grounds. Such an intrusive procedure is accepted without question in a religious context, but imagine if the BNP suddenly demanded that it’s members removed parts of their children’s genitals in order to show their allegiance.

      The Hitchens Challenge is essentially Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg’s famous statement on religion as a guide to morality turned into a challenge: “With or without religion, good people will do good and bad people will do evil. But for good people to do evil, that takes religion.”

      MSP

    • Matthew Says:

      Not only does it beg the question, “A moral statement or action – by what standards?” and also avoid the question, “From what basis does the unbeliever derive his ability to judge an action as moral or immoral?”

      a) By anyone’s standards
      b) The basis is that they get their morality from themselves; this is the whole point of the Hitchens challenge.

      • manicstreetpreacher Says:

        Matthew

        This well-worn objection is a little bit like demanding an “ultimate standard of mathematics” in order to judge how many words comprise a blog post.

        Or an “ultimate example of physical perfection” in order to judge whether an Olympic athlete is more healthy than a man with terminal cancer.

        I suggest you read Sam Harris’ latest book The Moral Landscape or at least watch this lecture on his book tour. Look out for the bit where he acknowledges that the concept of “good health” may be a loosely defined and slightly subjective concept, but we can all identify its essential attributes.

        No one would raise that objection that a man dying of cancer could never be persuaded that he is truly less healthy than a man competing in the Olympics. It is equally ridiculous to argue that there is no way to convince a Nazi that Hitler’s Germany was truly less moral than FDR’s America.

        Perhaps the standard of ordinary human decency is sufficient without any reference to outside sources?

  2. Richard Morgan Says:

    Well, having taken the time to recover from that almost mortal wound – your mocking the only tiny talent I possess : “making glib puns”, let me rejoice in the fact that you are once again missing the point.
    (First I must remind you that I was an atheist for many years, and am thus well familiar with Weinberg’s challenge and all that kind of stuff.)
    You are kind enough to give us a definition of “moral actions” : “the promotion of human happiness or the prevention of human suffering.” Again, that is one of those phrases that has a feel-good quality, but only as long as you don’t think about it in any depth.
    The reality of human life reveals over and over again that the “happiness” of one human being will, sooner or later, entail the “suffering” of another human being:
    that my definition of moral may differ from yours, and that in order for me to be fully moral I may have to fly a couple of airliners into your Twin Towers. Etc. Etc.
    So when we dare to scratch beneath the surface of this sound-byte, we see that it is nothing more than word game formulated to cast religion in a bad light.
    To sum up : without a clear working defintion of “moral”, it is meaningless.
    And since the only way to arrive at an approximate definition would require a minimum of consensus, and since you have shown us what Hitchens, with his typical humility and generosity, thinks about “consensus” , I don’t see how we can make progress on this one.

    Over to you, Mr Shredder (sans guitar)

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      let me rejoice in the fact that you are once again missing the point.

      Obviously from the David Robertson / William Lane Craig School of “You haven’t answered my question…”

      The reality of human life reveals over and over again that the “happiness” of one human being will, sooner or later, entail the “suffering” of another human being

      I agree with you here. My moral and fruitful existence may be contributing to untold misery on the other side of the world, such as all those children working in sweatshops making the clothes that I can buy at the price they are sold and being paid a pittance for it. However, I think you are neglecting the importance of intentions. Multi-national corporations are not deliberately intending to cause the suffering of those children. They are intending to provide goods and services to their clients and make a tidy profit in the process. They don’t care whether the people they exploit suffer. Business is amoral, not immoral. Those 19 hijackers on 9/11 really intended to wreak as much death and devastation as they could manage and possibly a thousand times more had the Towers toppled sideways or they could have got their hands on military-grade hardware.

      without a clear working defintion of “moral”, it is meaningless.

      I fail to see how referring it upwards to an entity that is unknowable, unalterable and unchallengeable can provide any clearer definition than assessing actions both on their own content and their likely and intended consequences. The point of the Hitchens Challenge is that such certainty can result in the most appalling cruelty with the perpetrators believing that they are in the right. Human’s views on what God considers right and moral are subjective and therefore we are back to Square One. An atheist dispenses with the needless assumption that there is a law-giver outside of humanity.

      I take you back my little thought-experiment I posited in the second debate with you and David. If there was no God to stand in judgment over people’s actions at the time and pass final judgment on their souls in the next life, it would not make any difference to a sane person; they would still know that torturing a child, the Holocaust, racism etc. were wrong because they would not like to have the same happen to them. Morality is innate in human beings; it is not imposed from the outside. I believe that there are moral facts that we can discover through continuous scientific research, debate and conversation.

      It also begs the question that if there is an objective standard of morality, if something like slavery is objective wrong, then why does God mandate it expressly and repeatedly in the one book that he thought was so important that he had to write himself:

      http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/says_about/slavery.html

      If the theist wants to argue that slavery is morally wrong then he has to tie himself in logical sheepshanks and say that God thought that slavery was right 3,000 years ago in the Middle East with a few ground rules but we’ve moved on a lot since then and now thinks it is wrong, or that God was wrong to recommend slavery because He thinks so and He alone can decide these matters… I’m feeling quite dizzy now…

      I’ve always thought that the moral argument for God is not so much of a proof, but an argument from wishful thinking. Perhaps it would be nice to think that we will be held accountable for our actions in this life by the all-wise, all-knowing creator of the universe in the next. Perhaps it would be nice to think that people like Adolf Hitler and Myra Hindley are getting their comeuppance for exercising their “free will” a bit too freely. Alas, these are not reasons to believe this is a cold hard fact…

  3. Richard Morgan Says:

    “Missing the point” is not quite the same thing as “not answering the question”. The former is a problem of communication, the latter a debating strategy.
    But I would prefer you avoided straw men, Ed. You quote your example of “my happiness=your suffering” and then you accuse me of “neglecting the importance of intentions” – based on your example!!!
    ED- don’t do that!!! ;-)
    I fail to see how referring it upwards to an entity that is unknowable, unalterable and unchallengeable can provide any clearer definition than assessing actions both on their own content and their likely and intended consequences.
    I already know about what you fail to see, Ed. But you’re jumping the gun and “missing the point”.
    I was just asking for a working defintion of “moral actions” in order for the Hitchens Hiccup to make sense. You have failed to do furnish one, and I haven’t even started getting round to “referring upwards”!
    (Though I’m bound to do so sooner or later, aren’t I? I mean, that’s what Christians do.)
    One step at a time, OK?

    I believe that there are moral facts that we can discover through continuous scientific research, debate and conversation.
    Exactly.
    Hallelujah!
    You have your beliefs, I have mine.
    At least we’re talking the same language here.

    Alas, these are not reasons to believe this is a cold hard fact…
    Who has ever claimed they were? Certainly not me.
    Are you strawmanning me again, Ed?

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Hi Richard. If I am attacking positions that you do not hold by introducing my own arguments and examples, then so be it. However, this is certainly not intentional. I think my arguments about multi-national companies –v- Islamist terrorists are entirely relevant objections to the points you raised. The point at the end about the moral argument for God being little more than wishful thinking was an afterthought – something that has occurred to me very recently in fact – and not made in response to anything you have said.

      I think I have provided a fairly good working definition of morality i.e. the promotion of human happiness and the prevention of human suffering in the day-to-day conduct of our lives.

      Can you please provide me with your working definition of morality, or is it just “what Invisible Big Brother in the sky thinks is the right thing for us to do”?

      • Richard Morgan Says:

        I think I have provided a fairly good working definition of morality
        You may think so, but you haven’t. Thinking so does not make it a cold hard fact.
        By your defintion, would raping a woman in a coma be immoral? One person is happy, and the other one doesn’t suffer…
        Would killing one person so that 10 others could survive by eating him be immoral?
        Would torturing a person to avoid a thousand others being blown up by a hidden bomb be immoral?
        Is cheating on your wife /girlfriend/boyfriend without her/him/them knowing about it immoral?
        Would a law forbidding the practice of religion be moral?
        You see, your nice-sounding “working defintion” runs into serious problems as soon as you try to apply it to real life.

        You aren’t a closet Benthamite, by any chance, are you? ;-)
        And I certainly do not believe, and have never believed that there is an Invisible Big Brother in the sky.
        something that has occurred to me very recently in fact
        Please believe me when I say that I do not want to sound patronising but, and this is often a problem for me when i discuss with atheists, I was an athiest myself for probably longer than you have been alive, and what has only “occurred to you very recently” I have already encounterd and used a thousand times over the years.
        But thank you for your honesty anyway.

        “De la discussion jaillit la lumière.”

      • manicstreetpreacher Says:

        “Closet Benthamite?!” Now it’s getting nasty! I said promotion of human happiness and prevention of human suffering. I didn’t given any indication of the numbers of people who would be made happy by the suffering of other person. I think you’re straw-manning me now, Richard.

        In the second show, I have to come clean and say I stumbled over my words and engaged in the kind of casuistry and evasion that would embarrass a theologian by saying that “I believe in ‘objective morals’ but [did] not like using the term ‘absolute morals’.” This may seem to be splitting hairs, but I believe there is an important distinction to be made.

        David is right that Dawkins writes in The God Delusion that it is difficult to justify absolute morals on anything other than religious grounds, and I agree with Dawkins’ view. However, Dawkins and I are not moral relativists. The term I was looking for is consequentialism.

        Absolutism means that actions are morally wrong for their own sake without regard to their intended or predicted consequences. Objectivism has regard to the content of the act itself but also the likely consequences of the act. In 99.9 per cent of cases we can safely say that acts such as killing, racism and torture are wrong on their own terms. However, there are some interesting cases where they might be justified and therefore moral.

        Sam Harris controversially argues in The End of Faith that torture might be justified in the most exceptional cases. In a thought experiment that has no bearing whatsoever on the real world, Harris argues that if you know there is a ticking bomb somewhere in a large city that you know is going to kill thousands of people when it goes off and you know you have Osama bin Laden in your custody, it might be justified to use a relatively “mild” form of torture such water-boarding to get him talking.

        If faced with the other examples you give, I would act as though the person on the receiving end of my actions did know what I was doing to them. Therefore, no, it is not moral to cheat on your partner as long as they never find out, or rape a women in a coma. In this vein, we ought not to indoctrinate children with our own religious views because we run the risk that they might not have consented if they were fully mature and had all the information to make a decision for themselves.

        Sorry, it’s taken me a while to figure out a few things. I’ve only been a militant atheist for the past couple of years…

      • Richard Morgan Says:

        I’ve only been a militant faith-head for 16 months!
        Yes, you guessed I was taking a poke at Sam Harris. Spot on, bro.
        I would act as though the person on the receiving end of my actions did know what I was doing to them
        (That’s a relief!)
        But why?
        I thought you disapproved of people using their imagination to justify their morality, as in “imagining that God is watching”.
        Sorry – you’ve lost me there…
        we run the risk that they might not have consented if they were fully mature
        So you prefer to run the risk of them not having consented to being deprived of a religious education?
        “Daddy, why did you teach me that the universe was cold, meaningless and pitiless when it’s not?”
        Works both ways, it seems to me….

      • manicstreetpreacher Says:

        Have you actually read The End of Faith in full? It’s a popular quote-mine among goddicoddlers like Chris Hedges and Andrew Brown to say that Harris supports torture, proposes a nuclear first-strike against the Muslim world and advocates killing people for their religious beliefs. Anyone who has read the book in full will know that Harris does no such thing. See Harris’ “Response to Controversy” for an executive summary of his true opinions.

        See also my recent piece on Albert Einstein’s alleged endorsement of the Church in Nazi Germany for another example of this dishonest apologist tactic.

        I don’t think I’m using my imagination by deciding that raping someone in a coma is wrong. I am just putting myself in the position by my prospective victim: I would not like to have the same thing happen to me, therefore I ought not to do it. That doesn’t take much meditation and spiritual pondering, does it?

        I’m not advocating that children be prevented from learning about religion altogether. I have no problems with religion being taught in the same way as literature and history, as it is an indelible part of out culture as much as the monarchy, but it should be presented in an objective way like other ancient mythology. I was taught about Greek legends in school, but wasn’t required to worship Perseus for slaying Medusa. I think there is something inherently wrong in teachers holding out stories like Noah’s Flood as historical fact to children when they know themselves that no such event occurred.

        On the other hand, teachers and parents shouldn’t be telling children that the universe is cold and pitiless either. They’ll have plenty of time to figure that one out for themselves when they grow up. Seriously, do you think we should be praising God for saving that one child from the aeroplane crash in Yemen a few months ago while allowing the other 153 passengers to perish?

        A God who acted in that way could only be capricious, playful and unworthy of worshipping. There’s no conflict though from an atheist’s perspective. That’s exactly what we’d expect to see if the universe from the bottom up was cold, pitiless and indifferent, with no rhyme or reason to it and ultimately no justice.

      • Richard Morgan Says:

        “Seriously, do you think we should be praising God for saving that one child from the aeroplane crash in Yemen a few months ago while allowing the other 153 passengers to perish?”
        Ed- why on earth did you feel the need to say that? Sounds like you’re strawmanning me again.
        Did I say that?
        Have I implied it?
        Hinted at it?
        Made the remotest reference to it?
        I need to point out that this seems to be one of your less helpful habits – making reference to something that has nothing whatsoever to do with me or my ideas; then nailing it to me in order to shred us both together.

        And , Yes, I’m sure I’ve read (and heard) at least as much Harris as you, so please do not accuse me of quote-mining. (I’ve even read all his available research in neurology. Have you?)

        “On the other hand, teachers and parents shouldn’t be telling children that the universe is cold and pitiless either.”
        Why not?
        If a child asked you if the universe was cold, pitiless and indfferent, what would you reply? When my son was five, he asked an aunt -”What’s the point in living if we have to die at the end?”
        Admittedly, he suffers from an over-developed intelligence, but children do ask questions like that.
        Why would you shy off telling them the truth. because you wouldn’t invent fairy-stories just to keep them innocent and happy, would you?

        Hey – we seem to have moved away from our discussion about the nature of morality, don’t we?

      • manicstreetpreacher Says:

        Did I say that?

        Not in so many words, but it’s precisely the sort of “miracle” or example of divine grace that people usually pull out of the bag when they want to argue that the universe has kindness and soul.

        Purely out of interest; do you think one child saved and 153 dead in the same accident constitutes divine intervention? I’m simply probing you for your religious beliefs. What do you think we should thank God for?

        And , Yes, I’m sure I’ve read (and heard) at least as much Harris as you, so please do not accuse me of quote-mining.

        Well, it sounded suspiciously like you were pulling out the same old straw man version of Harris’ views on torture and rendition etc., (you even admitted you were taking a pop at Harris and praised me for spotting it!) so I thought it best to put a lid on matters before the man was defamed any further.

        I’ve even read all his available research in neurology. Have you?

        Can’t say that I have. I find his views on the nature of belief fascinating, but the penultimate chapter of TEOF on consciousness and mysticism is rather obscure and impenetrable. Would be grateful for any links all the same.

        If a child asked you if the universe was cold, pitiless and indfferent, what would you reply?

        Not quite sure I’d use exactly those words, but I wouldn’t lie to them either. I wouldn’t tell them the soul of their recently deceased grandparent has floated off their brain into a tunnel of light and now waits for them in a place called heaven and they’ll be reunited in 70 odd years when they too have departed this life. Or that the car crash that killed their best friend had some kind of higher meaning and purpose that we mortals cannot guess at. I’d say that we ought celebrate their life on this earth and there is simply no rhyme or reason as to why bad things happen to good people; we just have to accept it and try to make the best use of the one life know we do have.

        Hey – we seem to have moved away from our discussion about the nature of morality, don’t we?

        Well, I think I’ve spanked you enough on that one, so I have no problem the debate moving into other territory! :o)

      • Richard Morgan Says:

        “not in so many words”
        and
        it sounded suspiciously like
        and earlier:
        “If I am attacking positions that you do not hold by introducing my own arguments and examples, then so be it. “
        This is becoming a pattern, Ed.
        Could I invite you to address the points that I make, instead of digging up the kind of stuff “that Christians say” and then laying it on me?
        You’re not debating with your stereotpe of “Joe Christian” as you conceive him
        Let me introduce myself:
        My name is Richard Morgan.
        Today I am a Bible-believing Christian.
        Since 10h25 on 12th April 2008.
        I have been steeped in evolutionary theories for over 25 years.
        For over a quarter of a century I was convinced atheist.
        (Not a militant atheist, because I live in France, where nobody could care less whether your are an atheist, a Catholic, a Burnley suporter or whatever.)
        I do not need to believe that God created the earth, the Universe and everything in 6 days, 6000 years ago.
        I do not praise God for the miracle that spared my life when the lightening that killed my neighbours kindly left me unscathed.
        I am familiar with the neurological and bio-chemical descriptions of experiences such as conversion, faith-healing, falling in love and being in awe when listenining to Mahler’s 2nd Symphony.
        (I had a “full” NDE experience in 1978.
        It did not turn me inot a “believer.”)

        So – if you want to debate with me – please listen to what I have to say, in the hic et nunc, and stop projecting your experience of other Christians on to me.
        When I pick up one of your favourite Dawkins expressions : “the cold, pitiless and indifferent universe”, please stay with that, without feeling the need to drag in the grief at the loss of a cherished grandparent or a best friend.
        That is another straw man.

      • manicstreetpreacher Says:

        Richard, I’m afraid I don’t know what else to debate you on. Partly because you keep accusing me of setting up straw men when I try to introduce illustrative examples to counter your points. But also because I think there is very little that we do genuinely disagree on.

        I thought I answered your question about what to tell a child asking whether there was any purpose to the universe. Do you fundamentally disagree with me or think that would be the wrong thing to say?

        I’m pleased to see that you don’t go for miracle healings, near death experiences and the beauty of the natural world as evidence for an all-loving, all-powerful creator. What then is the basis of your faith? On what basis do you disagree with me and Dawkins that the universe is cold, pitiless and indifferent with no good or evil, no rhyme or reason?

      • Richard Morgan Says:

        But also because I think there is very little that we do genuinely disagree on.
        In a way, you’ve said it all there.
        It has often proved to be an insuperable problem when debate with atheists.
        I know precisely the same scientific facts that you do.
        My conversion experience didn’t strike with a severe case of amnesia.
        I can’t “un-know” what I already knew.
        I don’t even feel the need to modify what I “knew”.
        But the difference is in my perception of all that….
        It’s rather like the difference in looking at a person you don’t know and looking at a person you’re in love with.
        You’re still seeing physical stuff, anatomy and all that, but, brother, what a difference….
        Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said it better than me: (and I’m sure of my source!) “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

      • Richard Morgan Says:

        I take it you have read my testimony here:

        http://www.freechurch.org/pdf/monthlyrecord/sept08.pdf

        I’m afraid I still haven’t found a better way of expressing it.

      • Richard Morgan Says:

        Here is a challenge for you Ed.
        You seem quite enamoured of Richard Dawkins’ sound bite : “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference. “

        In a similar vein,I’d like to you to try to identify the source of the following text, without using Google.

        “Look at the sort of world we live in. Take off your rose-colored glasses, rub your eyes and look at it long and hard. What do you see? You see life’s background set by aimlessly recurring cycles in nature. You see its shape fixed by times and circumstances over which we have no control. You see death coming to everyone sooner or later, but coming haphazard; its coming bears no relation to whether it is deserved. Humans die like beasts, good ones like bad, wise ones like fools. You see evil running rampant, the wicked prosper, the good don’t. The harder you try to understand the divine purpose in the ordinary providential course of events… the more you are tempted to conclude that life really is as pointless as it looks.
        (…)
        The God (who rules this world) hides himself. Rarely does this world look as if a beneficent Providence were running it. Rarely does it appear that there is a rational power behind it all. Often what is worthless survives, while that which is valuable perishes.
        Be realistic – face these facts; see life as it is.”

        No cheating, ok? (LOL)
        I’ll give you a clue : it wasn’t Hume!

      • manicstreetpreacher Says:

        I’ve read your piece on the Free Church newsletter. I think you had a deeply spiritual experience and I’m very envious of you. However, you must realise that people have those sorts of experience every day in all the religions of the world, or just going into a cave and meditating for a year, as Sam Harris is so fond of saying.

        The quote has me stumped! I ran a Google search but the best I could come up with is this:

        http://www.darkim.com/mulan/mulan2.html

        Alas no author is cited, except parts of the book of Ecclesiastes, but there seems to be no correlation between the verses and the text. Or is that the point??

        MSP

      • Richard Morgan Says:

        >>>>> YOU (and google) WIN<<<<<<

        It’s J.I.Packer’s condensed summary of Ecclesiastes in his book “Knowing God.”

        (That link is to an excerpt from the same book)

      • Richard Morgan Says:

        “you must realise that people have those sorts of experience every day in all the religions of the world,”

        Oh, RLY?

        Challenge N° 2:

        Cite 2 examples of “that sort of experience” (names, dates etc) from:

        1)Judaïsm
        2) Buddhism
        3) Islam
        4) Hinduism
        5) Pastafarianism
        6)Jainism
        7) Sikhism
        8)Confucianism and
        9) Taoism

        If you can’t do so, then you should withdraw your claim.
        The reason? Insufficient evidence.
        If you take the time to do some (google) research before answering, I think you’ll be in for a few surprises, Ed.

        (Grrr – one of those forums where, if you click on “Submit Comment”, it’s already too late to correct or modify.)

      • manicstreetpreacher Says:

        Ok, now we’re getting into the kind of hair-splitting and arguments over grammar and semantics that WeeFlea is (in)famed for.

        No, I can’t cite two examples with names, dates, places etc. from all the religions you list, but I am standing by my claim nonetheless. I still believe that 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust, even though I can’t name the precise circumstances death for all of them.

        Besides, I knew before today that people have exactly those kinds of experience with Christianity, and you have just proved my hypothesis, so thank you very much.

        Having said that, physicist Victor Stenger in his debate with William Lane Craig (which you can watch on YouTube) says that people have similar visions to near death experiences if given the right cocktail of drugs.

        Do you have positive evidence that Christian religious experiences are more intense, more real and convert more people than, say, Islamic or Hindu religious experiences?

      • Richard Morgan Says:

        Ok, now we’re getting into the kind of hair-splitting and arguments over grammar and semantics that WeeFlea is (in)famed for.

        This is an absolutely amazing reaction, Ed.
        Where do you see my appeals to grammar and semantics? I asked you to back up your claims in an admittedly exaggerated fashion, but I did this because I happen to know that if you did your homework correctly you would no longer make that claim.
        There is nothing hair-splitting about asking somebody to back up their claims.

        No, I can’t cite two examples with names, dates, places etc. from all the religions you list, but I am standing by my claim nonetheless.  

        And you base your claim on what kind of evidence?
        I did not chose those religions at random. There are several which would totally destroy your claim, and you would discover that you are quite simply wrong when you say “that people have those sorts of experience every day in all the religions of the world “. Don’t forget that you are referring to a very specific experience – mine.

        I still believe that 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust, even though I can’t name the precise circumstances death for all of them.

        But I’ll bet that if I asked you to give me precise details of ten of those victims, you would be able to find the information in order to do so. And in any case, what on earth has that go to do with the price of cheese?

        Having said that, physicist Victor Stenger in his debate with William Lane Craig (which you can watch on YouTube) says that people have similar visions to near death experiences if given the right cocktail of drugs.
        So what?
        You don’t need to quote a physicist (a physicist???…on Youtube???) speaking about neuro-sciences in order to convince me of the obvious. Why are you even mentioning that?
        What are you trying to prove that I don’t already accept completely? It is quite startling that you feel the need to do this, especially in view of the fact that I said quite clearly, “I had a “full” NDE experience in 1978. It did not turn me into a believer. “

        Do you have positive evidence that Christian religious experiences are more intense, more real and convert more people than, say, Islamic or Hindu religious experiences?
        It’s almost a relief to see that you are interested in evidence again, after your: “I am standing by my claim nonetheless. “
        I will answer this question once you can demonstrate that people are generally converted to Islam or Hindu by “intense religious experiences” – as is, in fact, often the case with Christianity. But I will never be able to reply to the question about “Christian religious experiences”, since I can only talk about my own experience with any kind of authority. And even there, I don’t do it very well!

      • manicstreetpreacher Says:

        Richard, I admit that I made a broad comment, however, I am still standing by it, as I think it is reasonable. You are now demanding that I delve into the annals of neurological journals in order to come up with precise scientific evidence. It is a ridiculous fall-back argument. The words “straw” and “clutch” spring to mind.

        I once debated an apologist by email who demanded that I come up with one example where a particular violent passages from the Bible had directly lead some to commit an evil act. When I couldn’t meet that challenge he proclaimed his point proved. By the same logic, I’d have loved to see him produce a single act of kindness directly inspired by a nice scripture passage.

        I debated a Muslim at Liverpool University in March 2009 who had converted from his Greek Orthodox Christian upbringing after deciding that the Koran was a miracle whose existence could only be explained by the authorship of an omnipotent deity.

        Meanwhile, a quick Google search of converts to Islam through personal experience has turned up this interesting piece which discusses cognitive factors:

        The conversion experience may be related to emotional turmoil or personal distress experienced in the immediate preconversion period. However, the accounts of the converts to Islam suggest that conversions did not occur as a direct result of the emotional turmoil or personal distress, although 34 (48.6%) reported emotional distress prior to conversion. It may be associated with conversion, but it is not necessarily a predisposing condition. In the preconvert there may be an unconscious conflict, and a psychological set, but these factors, alone, in many cases, are not enough. There must be a current force which lights the fuse. That fuse took the form of cognitive and existential questions. The course that the pre-conversion period takes in many cases is that the emotional turmoil or personal distress of the individual leads him to a stage where he develops cognitive concerns.

        See also this personal account:

        My own saint – the first person I met who seemed to embody the best in religion – was a wisecracking metallurgist from Lahore. He was an extraordinarily selfless man who was allergic to proselytising on behalf of the faith he felt so profoundly, yet a faith that, despite his reticence, nonetheless radiated through his every act. It took me over three years to get past my own lack of interest in all things religious to ask him about his faith. I was presented with no argument but simply with holiness, with the possibilities of contentment, integrity and wholeness that the religious life offers. More generic reasons for converting came later after stumbling attempts to lead that religious life myself. While the case for the centrality of religious experience is ancient, it is post-modern too. It relativises every story of conversion, rendering it deeply personal and even solipsistic.

        There, good enough?

        What about Peter “Yorkshire Ripper” Sutcliffe who claimed that Jesus ordered him to murder all those women? On what basis can you say that his religious experience was any less valid than yours?

        You are the one making the extraordinary claim that the creator of the universe is speaking directly to you and all other religious experiences are less valid. Please forward me the evidence for this claim and I will gladly consider it.

        Where did I raise the price of cheese?!

        Your comments about Victor Stenger are yet another ad hominem against my bibliography that I am so used to from theists. Stenger is a highly respected American physicist. I have read his book God, The Failed Hypothesis, which I strongly recommend. His debate with Craig on YouTube was in 2003 when he was promoting his book, Has Science Found God? I haven’t read that book. Stenger may deal with personal religious experiences in GTFH; I can’t remember and do not have my copy immediately to hand. I referenced his debate with Craig as a convenient way for you to hear his opinion. Next time I won’t bother.

        So please, why did your NDE experience in the 1970s have no effect on you, yet your encounter with DR did? I’m all ears.

      • Richard Morgan Says:

        You are now demanding that I delve into the annals of neurological journals in order to come up with precise scientific evidence.  

        LOL.
        I see you’re doing it again, Ed. Deforming my words in order to attack them.
        I really don’t know how to reply to that.

        It is a ridiculous fall-back argument.
        Err… you call that an argument? In my part of the world we call that a question…
        I really don’t know how to reply to that.  

        The words “straw” and “clutch” spring to mind.
        Yes, they most certainly do.

        When I couldn’t meet that challenge he proclaimed his point proved.
        Is this what you’re frightened of? That I’m asking loaded questions in order to “prove my point”?
        If so, please think again. I am asking you to substantiate your claims, in order that we can proceed on a solid basis. Sweeping, inaccurate generalisations are unhelpful.
        If you choose not to do your homework – so be it. But simply referring to a past experience with somebody else seems rather out of place. What’s the point?

        which discusses cognitive factors
        LOL
        Unfortunately, you must have attached the wrong paragraph!!!
        The one you quoted uses the word “cognitive” twice, and both times in a completely erroneous fashion!! And moreover, explains nothing whatsoever about “cognitive factors”.
        (You should know by now that Google-fishing can hook some unreliable sources…)
        Unfortunately for you, I happen to be very interested in cognitive science.
        I suggest you read some Pinker, Atran, Pyysiäinen and Bering (who have all tackled the cognitive aspects of religious beliefs) and then we can discuss that aspect if you wish. It represents a significant part of the theist/atheist debate and is highly fascinating, but you’re going to have to accept comments such as :
        “The questions of how religion is actually used and how it relates to search for existential meaning have been by and large neglected in the cognitive science of religion .”
        and
        “The difficult question is how such a cognitive category could have developed in the human mind because we do not interact with gods as unequivocally as we do with human persons.”
        or even
        “Whereas Boyer and Atran , for instance, represent the view that religion is not a biological adaptation, scholars such as Wilson and Sosis argue that religion, indeed, is an adaptation .”
        not forgetting
        “It is difficult to pinpoint any specifically religious cognitive mechanisms.” ( Pyysiäinen)

        Let’s talk cognitive science when you know what you’re talking about, by all means. You should enjoy that, because they represent one of the most serious attacks on the notion of a belief in God.

        What about Peter “Yorkshire Ripper” Sutcliffe who claimed that Jesus ordered him to murder all those women?  On what basis can you say that his religious experience was any less valid than yours?
        If you are comparing me to the Yorkshire Ripper, you must have a very poor opinion of me, ED.
        Can’t you do any better than that?

        You are the one making the extraordinary claim that the creator of the universe is speaking directly to you
        Oh no, here we go again!
        *sighs*
        I have never, ever made that claim. When are you going to stop inventing words to put in my mouth? It is a most dishonest tactic.
        As you say :The words “straw” and “clutch” spring to mind.

        So please, why did your NDE experience in the 1970s have no effect on you, yet your encounter with DR did?  I’m all ears.
        Because my NDE experience was caused by a physical accident, and DR directed me to the word of God in the Bible. (DR would love the idea of you comparing to the loudspeaker that fell on my head!)

        Please bear in my, Ed, that I will never attempt to prove to you that God exists.
        I will never try to “catch you out” with loaded questions. I am just trying to help you to reason more clearly by being able to back up your claims calmly and accurately.
        Please do not be discouraged by the fact that I know by heart more arguments against a belief in God than you do.
        I still have a lot to learn from you: not so much from what you know, but from the person that you are. There are many things about you that I admire (and secretly envy, but I’m not going to tell you that, am I?).

        Since you appear to be interested in cognitive sciences, let’s wind up for today with this:

        “The cognitive science of religion is characterized by the vision that the persistence of religious belief can be explained by such cognitive structures as the mechanisms for agent representation. Because of the nature of these mechanisms, religious concepts and beliefs are contagious and “sticky”: they are attention grabbing and easy to recall and process in mind. Therefore, they are here to stay.
        ( Pyysiäinen; in “WHERE GOD AND SCIENCE MEET :How Brain and Evolutionary Studies Alter Our Understanding of Religion)

      • manicstreetpreacher Says:

        Richard, I really am at a loss now. I’ll leave cognitive psychology alone, because apparently I’m not as much of an expert on it as you are. Perhaps when I retire and have the time to read everything and anything that I want to…

        However, I am certainly not comparing you to the Yorkshire Ripper. If you re-read what I actually said, I wanted to know how we can say that your religious experience had any more basis outside the brain that Peter Sutcliffe’s. You have failed to answer this.

        DR directed me to the word of God in the Bible.

        OK, now we’re making more sense. However, your view that the Bible contains the perfect, unalterable and inerrant word of the creator of the universe is a delusion which is proofed by actually reading it. There is nothing in there that could not have been written by someone living at that time. There is no special knowledge in there. I won’t repeat all the arguments against scripture here for fear of boring you to death.

        I also think your experience is akin to this poem, which I’m sure you know well, but I’ll cut n paste it any way for those how are not so well versed:

        Church Going by Philip Larkin

        http://www.artofeurope.com/larkin/lar5.htm

        Once I am sure there’s nothing going on
        I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
        Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
        And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
        For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
        Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
        And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
        Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
        My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

        Move forward, run my hand around the font.
        From where I stand, the roof looks almost new –
        Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don’t.
        Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
        Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
        ‘Here endeth’ much more loudly than I’d meant.
        The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
        I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
        Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

        Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
        And always end much at a loss like this,
        Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
        When churches will fall completely out of use
        What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
        A few cathedrals chronically on show,
        Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,
        And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
        Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

        Or, after dark, will dubious women come
        To make their children touch a particular stone;
        Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
        Advised night see walking a dead one?
        Power of some sort will go on
        In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
        But superstition, like belief, must die,
        And what remains when disbelief has gone?
        Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

        A shape less recognisable each week,
        A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
        Will be the last, the very last, to seek
        This place for what it was; one of the crew
        That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
        Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
        Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
        Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
        Or will he be my representative,

        Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
        Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
        Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
        So long and equably what since is found
        Only in separation – marriage, and birth,
        And death, and thoughts of these – for which was built
        This special shell? For, though I’ve no idea
        What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
        It pleases me to stand in silence here;

        A serious house on serious earth it is,
        In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
        Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
        And that much never can be obsolete,
        Since someone will forever be surprising
        A hunger in himself to be more serious,
        And gravitating with it to this ground,
        Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
        If only that so many dead lie round.

      • Richard Morgan Says:

        Wow!
        From the bottom of my heart, thank you for reminding what a brilliant poet Philip Larkin was. (No, I did not know this poem.)
        I am not a weepy person, but certain aesthetic experiences move me to tears – mostly music. And this poem had the same effect.
        And for the moment, I can’t muster the energy to argue with a person who sends me Philip Larkin.
        Maybe I’ll feel a little more belligerent after my next coffee.
        So – for the time being, just this – thank you.

      • Richard Morgan Says:

        “I wanted to know how we can say that your religious experience had any more basis outside the brain that Peter Sutcliffe’s.”
        “Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:20)

        There is nothing in there that could not have been written by someone living at that time.
        How do you know?
        Don’t worry about boring me if I ask you to substantiate your claims. If I want to get bored I can always go an read the YECs on Premier.

      • manicstreetpreacher Says:

        I’m so glad you enjoyed Larkin’s poem. I’m even more glad that you’ve recovered and found something else to argue about…

        Something that could not be know by someone living at the time? Perhaps an account of electricity or DNA? As it is, the Bible implies that the value of pi is only 3, when other societies at the time had worked it out to a few decimal places – 1 Kings 7:23

        http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/science/long.html

      • Richard Morgan Says:

        “an account of electricity or DNA?”
        The Bible is a moral and spiritual guide – I’m sure that if God had considered that knowing about electricity or understanding the molecular structure of deoxyribonucleic acid could guide human beings on the path of righteousness, then He would have spoken about it a long time ago.
        If I look at our post-modern society, I see no evidence that scientific and technological progress has been accompanied by moral progress. And I think that there is a general consensus on that point.
        We are cleverer, but not “better”.
        We are better fed, better protected from known microbes (even if the discovery of antibiotics is a double-edged sword – saving millions of lives on the one hand, and proving the theory of micro-evolution on the other – we are breeding super-bugs!)
        We kill more effectively.
        The “communication” era is increasingly isolating people.
        Millions die needlessly of starvation every day, even though we know the value of pi.

        But I agree – that fact that the value of pi was wrongly presented in the book of Kings is an absolutely crushing argument against the divine origin of the inspired Word. The real killer! I am mortified!
        LOL

        Why is it that so many young atheists sound like would-be Dawkins’s? Is it because there is nothing original left to say? Ever thought of speaking from your heart, Ed? It’s what is in your heart that really counts, not how skilled you are in debating.

        As a teacher, and as a (more or less) human being, I long ago understood this:

        “People don’t care how much you know,
        Until they know how much you care.”

        If the much-heralded LCD does eventually produce a Higgs’ boson, and all of a sudden Western societies become more caring, and less selfish and inward-looking, I will be impressed…and convinced.
        Why am I not holding my breath?

      • manicstreetpreacher Says:

        I think spiritually and morally we could improve the bible in 5 seconds, never mind just scientifically. I’m still waiting for a convincing answer for a theist as to how they know which are the nice parts of the bible that we are now supposed to follow. Wouldn’t you just be on much firmer ground if Paul had condemned slavery outright instead of defending in 1 Timothy? Or if God for that matter had told Moses to stop keeping slaves atop of Mount Sinai instead of giving him helpful tips, such as what to do if you sell members of your immediate family as such? – Exodus 21:20-21.

        If you don’t see moral progress, then why don’t you take a trip back to the Middle Ages in Doc Brown DeLorean and live in a time where you might have be burnt at the stake for killing your neighbour by casting a spell on them?

        If it wasn’t for technology, you would never have met DR or read that Philip Larkin poem.

        We in the West could feed those starving people, but we choose not to. Or the leaders of their banana republics prevent us from doing so. But that’s another debate.

        If a monkey is given a telescope and begins beating his neighbour over the head with it, does that represent the “dark side of science”? Science is not an ideology. It is a method of discovery, and frankly has given us a lot more than theology ever has or ever will. Religions contained specific mandates for people to go out and do evil to their neighbours for not having the right imaginary friend and/or doing what that imaginary friend wants. Is nuclear physics immoral because it lead to the atomic bomb or was it the intentions of the people who used it?

        I’m here to argue about religion. Not to spill my guts out.

      • Richard Morgan Says:

        If it wasn’t for technology, you would never have met DR or read that Philip Larkin poem.
        Hey ho, it’s straw man time again here in manicstreetpreacherLand.
        I have never condemned scientific and technological progress. Why are you trying to make it sound as if I am?
        I love science and technology. Please DO stop putting words into my mouth, Ed. It is most unbecoming.
        However, I do affirm that science and technology are not accompanied by moral improvement, and that neither of these two disciplines were involved in changing society’s burning-at-the-stake Zeitgeist.
        That it improves our ability to nuclear-frazzle tens of thousands is neither here nor there. That problem is rooted in the central theme of the Bible : man’s fallen nature.

        A personal note to Ed: it doesn’t take any psychoanalytical prowess to see that in the way you attack religion, you are already “spilling your guts out”.
        Perhaps I was just inviting you to spill some of the nice bits out as well.
        You are not doing much to improve the image of the post-modern atheist, who publicly seem to take an almost neurotic pleasure in being destructive and iconoclastic.
        My sole reason for participating in this discussion is love. Not the “need to win” (in Christ, we become winners, but not by vanquishing our human “enemies” who were are called upon to love) nor to hone my debating skills.
        i do understand this is a problem for you – you can’t arguie with love. It’s like shadow-boxing – you can strike out as hard and as often as you wish – the love will still be there. Intact. Reliable. Faithful.

        “We can love, because he loved us first” – And we ALL need that kind of love.

      • manicstreetpreacher Says:

        I think your accusations of strawmanning are just an avoidance tactic when someone has beaten you on a point. Rather like a boxer who is floored fair and square by his opponent and then pleads to the referee that he wasn’t ready to start the round.

        You most certainly were criticising science and technology and I’m sure any reasonable reader would concur with me.

        Man’s fallen nature? Who designed us to reject him in the first place? God has created us sick and then ordered us to be well.

        “Iconoclastic” is one of my favourite words ever! And yes, I do take some pleasure in being so.

        Jesus loved us first, did he?

        But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.

        – Luke 19:27

        Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.

        – Matthew 10:34 – 37

      • Richard Morgan Says:

        In a way it’s good to see you are reading the Bible, but unfortunately you are bad-cherry-picking and negative quote-mining. Something that atheists are always accusing Chrsitians of doing.
        Plucking a few Bible verses out of context proves nothing apart from your need to bolster a weak and weakening case against divine revelation.
        I understand your motivation : I can almost hear you saying with malicioius satisfaction : “Ha!Get out of that!”
        Unfortunately the dishonesty of your strategy causes it back-fire on you.
        Nowhere, in the vast realm of literature, would anyone dare to pick a few words out of the tens of thousands written, and attempt to prove anything concerning the whole text.
        But, on your own admission – that is what you enjoy doing; lashing out destructively, unashamedly deforming and misinterpeting my words, quoting one of my questions and calling it “an argument” and attacking your own invention and so on…
        One thing that distinguishes you from all the other atheists with whom I have attempted to debate is your refreshing honesty. You have an iconoclastic agenda and you openly admit it. Why you would have such an aggressive agenda, I have no idea, and in fact that is of no concern to us here.
        But as long as you remain as honest as you appear to be today, I will stick with you in this discussion.
        The “hate and destroy agenda” versus the “love and build up agenda.” It will be interesting to see where that takes us.

        (If you are interested there is a whole pile of literature on the subject of what has been called “emotional atheism”. And nearly all the atheists I have discussed with are, in fact, emotional atheists like you. They are not seeking to enlighten me, to helpfully draw me out of my delusional ideas for my own good. They have a need to “win”)

      • manicstreetpreacher Says:

        Aaaah, good old “context”. If I had a penny for ever time I heard the word from an apologist I could retire to France myself. It seems to cover a multitude of sins. Please then; what is the true meaning of the parable of the three talents? Or when JC tells his disciples that he has come to send fire upon earth right after telling them to go out and heal the sick and raise the dead? That’s not a piece of debating rhetoric. I really would like to know the meaning of these passages.

        Why should we only be taught the nice things that these patriarchs say or do? I feel rather mislead that I was only taught about Moses rescuing the Jews from Egyptian captivity and receiving the earth-shattering news that murder, adultery, theft and perjury were non-kosher atop of Mount Sinai, while his orders to his troops in to “butcher the boys, massacre the mothers and debauch the daughters” (Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason) in Numbers 31 was hidden from me.

        This not cheap quote-mining. It is an honest attempt to assess the morality of these persons’ characters based on a complete reading of the text.

        We decide what is good in the Good Book. There is nothing in there that is not already obvious to us. There is no need to make a supernatural assumption as to its true origin. It is all quite clearly – and most of it rather ineptly – manmade.

        Yes, I am an emotional atheist. Passionate, committed and highly charged. I feel that religious faith is the biggest lie that humanity has ever sold itself. Occasionally I have let this boil over into anger, which is never a good idea. However, my weapons are words, debate, reason logic and argument. I’ll leave it to the faithful to blow up each other churches, synagogues and mosques as they can always be relied upon to do.

      • Richard Morgan Says:

        Aaaah, good old “context”. If I had a penny for ever time I heard the word from an apologist I could retire to France myself.
        Maybe it’s time you started listening?
        “Occasionally I have let this boil over into anger, which is never a good idea.”
        Your anger is what makes you a lovable, real human being.
        Most debating atheists speak as if they were lobotomised -locked into impenetrable loops, rendering all useful dialogue impossible.
        Don’t change a thing about the way you are, Ed.

        “There is nothing in there that is not already obvious to us. “
        Precisely!! It is obvious to us today precisely because it has been in the Goof Book for thousands of years! So, thank you for that own goal.

      • Richard Morgan Says:

        You must have loved that typo!! I can hear you chuckling from the South of France.

        Aaaah, good old “context”. If I had a penny for ever time I heard the word from an apologist I could retire to France myself.
        Maybe it’s time you started listening?
        “Occasionally I have let this boil over into anger, which is never a good idea.”
        Your anger is what makes you a lovable, real human being.
        Most debating atheists speak as if they were lobotomised -locked into impenetrable loops, rendering all useful dialogue impossible.
        Don’t change a thing about the way you are, Ed.

        “There is nothing in there that is not already obvious to us. “
        Precisely!! It is obvious to us today precisely because it has been in the Good Book for thousands of years! So, thank you for that own goal.

      • manicstreetpreacher Says:

        Goof Book?! Ha ha ha!!!! Yes, I laughed hard to that one! If the Bible really was divinely inspired, then may be it would be harder for a smart-Alec good of atheists to produce a website like Skeptics Annotated Bible?

        You were saying about “context”??

      • Richard Morgan Says:

        If the Bible really was divinely inspired, then may be it would be harder for a smart-Alec good of atheists to produce a website like Skeptics Annotated Bible?
        It has been fairly clear to me for a while that you rely heavily on the Skeptics Annotated Bible. Please don’t forget that the sources you use can reflect rather badly on the quality of your research.
        But to consider your question, could you explain why you think that a truly divinely-inspired Bible would be immune to silly criticisms? The fact that you make this “logical association” has to depend on your concept of “divinely inspired”. Tell me what you mean by “divinely inspired”, please.

        “Rise up, O God, and defend your cause; remember how fools mock you all day long.” (Psalm 74:22)
        He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. (Luke 18:32)
        Do you see how badly you have misunderstood the message of the Bible, Ed?
        Your image of God has nothing to do with the God of the Bible.

        It seems to me that those who mock and jeer and boo and hiss and spit and flail are fully capable of emerging from the gutters on any occasion. As the philosopher said, “Modern iconoclasm is usually an act of wanton, jealous destruction by those who have nothing better to offer, and who lack the means to exist constructively. Frango, ergo sum

      • manicstreetpreacher Says:

        I deliberately reference the SAB because it winds up the “scholars”!! The second debate I did for Unbelievable? my opponent, a lecturer from London School of Theology chastised the SAB for not relying on any “serious scholarship”. I was still a rookie back in the day, however, with further research and debate, I have since exposed said theologian as a pseudo-academic and a liar on this very blog:

        http://edthemanicstreetpreacher.wordpress.com/2009/02/07/my-debates-on-premier-christian-radio-against-theologian-andy-bannister/

        http://edthemanicstreetpreacher.wordpress.com/2009/06/06/the-last-straw/

        You will notice as well that I put the word “scholar” in scare-quotes. This is because I think that theology and biblical scholarship are non-subjects and an affront to ordinary common sense and reason. See the my last piece on Bauckham for a critique on the nonsensical approach to the New Testament texts.

        As I have stated previously, I would be prepared to take the Bible seriously if there was actually some profound knowledge or reasoning contain therein that simply could not have been know to someone living in the Middle East from c. 3,000 BC to 300 AD without the aid of a supernatural agent i.e. divinely inspired. There’s nothing in there about civil rights, feminism or chemical biology and everything in there about slavery, genocide, racism, tribalism and the death penalty for apostasy.

        Consider the brutal passages of Leviticus and Deuteronomy where you are ordered to stone to death children for heresy etc. There are as canonical as anything else in the Bible – including loving thy neighbour as thyself – but we decent and moral people of the 21st century have effectively edited these passages of left them to lie in the desert of the illiterate pre-scientific past. See my previous comments about the suspect value of pi. If Darwin or Einstein had based their scientific discoveries on scripture, then I think we would have a conversation worth having.

        As it is, whenever a scientific discovery is made, apologists run back to the Bible or the Koran and say that it was predicted. Apologists say that Genesis 1 predicted the Big Bang because it showed that the universe had a beginning. Well, there were only two options to chose from: either the universe had a beginning or it was eternal. Genesis had as much chance of getting the right answer as the toss of a coin. Pathetic!

        I think iconoclasm is a very job indeed. Have you seen and read Hitchens’ attacks on Mother Teresa? That will alter your perceptions of self-righteous do gooder! Hitch should have called his book “Sacred Cow”!

      • Richard Morgan Says:

        “you must realise that people have those sorts of experience every day in all the religions of the world,”

        Challenge N° 2:

        Cite 2 examples of “that sort of experience” (names, dates etc) from:

        1)Judaïsm
        2) Buddhism
        3) Islam
        4) Hinduism
        5) Pastafarianism
        6)Jainism
        7) Sikhism
        8)Confucianism and
        9) Taoism

        If you can’t do so, then you should withdraw your claim.
        The reason? Insufficient evidence.
        If you take the time to do some ‘google) researc before answering, I thing you’ll be in for a few surprises, Ed.

  4. Richard Morgan Says:

    I’ve only been a militant faith-head for 16 months!
    Yes, you guessed I was taking a poke at Sam Harris. Spot on, bro.
    I would act as though the person on the receiving end of my actions did know what I was doing to them
    (That’s a relief!)
    But why?
    I thought you disapproved of people using their imagination to justify their morality, as in “imagining that God is watching”.
    Sorry – you’ve lost me there…
    we run the risk that they might not have consented if they were fully mature
    So you prefer to run the risk of them not having consented to being deprived of a religious education?
    “Daddy, why did you teach me that the universe was cold, meaningless and pitiless when it’s not?”
    Works both ways, it seems to me….

  5. Richard Morgan Says:

    “Seriously, do you think we should be praising God for saving that one child from the aeroplane crash in Yemen a few months ago while allowing the other 153 passengers to perish?”
    Ed- why on earth did you feel the need to say that? Sounds like you’re strawmanning me again.
    Did I say that?
    Have I implied it?
    Hinted at it?
    Made the remotest reference to it?
    I need to point out that this seems to be one of your less helpful habits – making reference to something that has nothing whatsoever to do with me or my ideas; then nailing it to me in order to shred us both together.

    And , Yes, I’m sure I’ve read (and heard) at least as much Harris as you, so please do not accuse me of quote-mining. (I’ve even read all his available research in neurology. Have you?)

    On the other hand, teachers and parents shouldn’t be telling children that the universe is cold and pitiless either.
    Why not?
    If a child asked you if the universe was cold, pitiless and indfferent, what would you reply? When my son was five, he asked an aunt -“What’s the point in living if we have to die at the end?”
    Admittedly, he suffers from an over-developed intelligence, but children do ask questions like that.
    Why would you shy off telling them the truth. because you wouldn’t invent faity-stories just to keep them innocent and happy, would you?

    Hey – we seem to have moved away from our discussion about the nature of morality, don’t we?

  6. shc233 Says:

    Reblogged this on The Plastic Gavel and commented:
    A fantastic collection of intellectual nuggets. Dear Christopher, the intellect and joy you’ve sown in the world will live on, though you yourself have passed.

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