Posts Tagged ‘pope’

More of my favourite videos and articles from The Onion

18/08/2013

OnionLogoHow could I have forgotten these?

Joe Biden Hitchhikes To Democrat National Convention

The Onion has a been poking fun at “The President Of Vice” for a long time, but this one is my favourite.

You should also witness their editor’s straight-faced promotion of their mock-biography on CNN.

Ambassador Stages UN Coup, Issues Long List Of Non-Binding Resolution

The main clip mocking the pointless talk-shop that is the UN is very funny, but stick around till the end where a new study reveals the shocking truth about how Americans are pleasuring themselves.

Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film As ‘Fun, Watchable’

“If I wanted to see young, attractive people doing cool, exciting things, I’d go watch sports.”

Kim Jung-Un Named The Onion’s Sexiest Man Alive For 2012

With his devastatingly handsome, round face, his boyish charm, and his strong, sturdy frame, this Pyongyang-bred heartthrob is every woman’s dream come true.  Blessed with an air of power that masks an unmistakable cute, cuddly side, Kim made this newspaper’s editorial board swoon with his impeccable fashion sense, chic short hairstyle, and, of course, that famous smile.

This piece was taken seriously by Chinese state media!

Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex

TOPEKA, KS—Planned Parenthood announced Tuesday the grand opening of its long-planned $8 billion Abortionplex, a sprawling abortion facility that will allow the organization to terminate unborn lives with an efficiency never before thought possible.

During a press conference, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards told reporters that the new state-of-the-art fetus-killing facility located in the nation’s heartland offers quick, easy, in-and-out abortions to all women, and represents a bold reinvention of the group’s long-standing mission and values.

“Although we’ve traditionally dedicated 97 percent of our resources to other important services such as contraception distribution, cancer screening, and STD testing, this new complex allows us to devote our full attention to what has always been our true passion: abortion,” said Richards, standing under a banner emblazoned with Planned Parenthood’s new slogan, “No Life Is Sacred.”  “And since Congress voted to retain our federal funding, it’s going to be that much easier for us to maximize the number of tiny, beating hearts we stop every day.”

And this one was taken seriously by a Republican congressman.

Dead Teenager Remembered For Great Hand Jobs

GOLDSBORO, NC—Friends, classmates, and loved ones gathered last night at a memorial service in the Westside High School gymnasium to celebrate the life of 17-year-old Brooke Belzer, who, before she died tragically in a car accident last week, was beloved for her bright personality and for giving easily the best hand jobs in the school.

The untimely passing of Belzer, whom mourners remembered as a smart, accommodating teen who loved to laugh, watch movies with friends, and bring male friends to sexual climax with her hand, has left many in the Goldsboro community in a state of shock.

“I can’t believe she’s gone,” said Brian Jennings, a longtime classmate and neighbor.  “It’s just so shocking to think that someone as vibrant and full of life as Brooke is gone, and I’ll never see her again.  How can that be?”

Added Jennings, “She just rubbed me off in the Hardee’s parking lot last week.”

Belzer, a passenger in the single-car accident, was killed when driver Keith Foley, who survived the wreck with only minor injuries, became distracted and lost control of the vehicle.  Belzer was not wearing a seat belt at the time.

Pope Forgives Molested Children

VATICAN CITY—Calling forgiveness “one of the highest virtues taught to us by Jesus,” Pope John Paul II issued a papal decree Monday absolving priest-molested children of all sin.

“Though grave and terrible sins have been committed, our Lord teaches us to turn the other cheek and forgive those who sin against us,” said the pope, reading a prepared statement from a balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

“That is why, despite the terrible wrongs they have committed, the church must move on and forgive these children for their misdeeds.”

“As Jesus said, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,’” the pope continued. “We must send a clear message to these hundreds—perhaps thousands—of children whose sinful ways have tempted so many of the church’s servants into lustful violation of their holy vows of celibacy.  The church forgives them for their transgressions and looks upon them not with intolerance, but compassion.”

(…)

“What kind of a message is the pope sending today’s children?  That it’s okay to seduce priests?” said one concerned Baltimore priest who asked to remain anonymous due to a pending court case.  “With the pope’s announcement, the church is essentially telling its youngest members, ‘Go ahead and let Father So-And-So reach into your swim trunks at the church-youth-group pool party.  It’s okay, the pope will forgive you in the end.’  Without fear of eternal damnation, how are these provocative young lotharios ever going to learn?”

Pope Vows To Get Pedophilia Down To Acceptable Levels

VATICAN CITY—Calling the behavior shameful, sinful, and much more frequent than the Vatican was comfortable with, Pope Benedict XVI vowed this week to bring the widespread pedophilia within the Roman Catholic Church down to a more manageable level.

Addressing thousands gathered at St. Peter’s Square on Easter Sunday, the pontiff offered his “most humble apologies” to abuse victims, and pledged to reduce the total number of molestations by 60 percent over the next five years.

“This is absolutely unacceptable,” Pope Benedict said. “It seems a weakening of faith in God has prevented our priests from exercising moderation when sexually abusing helpless minors.”

“And let me remind our clergy of the holy vows they all took when they entered the priesthood,” he continued.  “They should know that they’re only allowed one small child every other month.”

The pope said he was deeply disappointed to learn that the number of children sexually abused by priests was almost 10 times beyond the allowable limit clearly outlined in church doctrine.  Admitting for the first time in public that the overindulgent touching of “tender, tender young flesh” had become a full-blown crisis, the Holy Father vowed to implement new reforms to bring the pedophilia rate back down to five children per 1,000 clergy.

“The truth is there will always be a little bit of molestation—it’s simply unavoidable,” Vatican spokesperson Rev. Federico Lombardi said.  “But the fact that young boys have gotten much more attractive over the past few decades is no excuse for the blatant defiance of church limits that have been in place for centuries.”

Vatican Quickly Performs Damage Control On Pope’s Tolerant Remarks

VATICAN CITY—Following Pope Francis’ tolerant remarks Sunday about homosexuals and the Catholic Church, Vatican officials reportedly went into crisis mode, announcing that the Pope’s thoughtful message of understanding was clearly taken out of context.  “It is not the official stance of the Pope or the Catholic Church that all people of good will who seek the Lord, especially gay people, should be accepted by Christ,” a visibly nervous Vatican spokesman told reporters, adding that the Holy Father was clearly tired after his long trip to Brazil and never meant for his comments to sound caring or realistic.  “Homosexuality is a disorder.  And this in no way means that, going forward, the Catholic Church will be an open-minded, more sensible organization.  I assure you we are just as prejudiced and backward today as we were yesterday.  Thank you.”  According to an anonymous source close to the Vatican, the Pope is currently being yelled at by Church officials, who are telling him, “You don’t just go off script like that.  Who the fuck do you think you are?”

Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New ‘Intelligent Falling’ Theory

KANSAS CITY, KS—As the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools continues, a new controversy over the science curriculum arose Monday in this embattled Midwestern state.  Scientists from the Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning are now asserting that the long-held “theory of gravity” is flawed, and they have responded to it with a new theory of Intelligent Falling.

Hitler the Atheist

14/11/2010

You have probably have already seen it on other blogs, but I want to give my applause to Aussie YouTube auteur NonStampCollector’s latest Paint Brush masterpiece debunking the idea that the 20th Century’s most notorious mass-murderer was in any way motivated by his alleged lack of belief in the Christian God, as opposed to Zeus, Thor or Dionysius.

Watch out for the fabulous rundown of the various offences for which the Catholic Church has and has not excommunicated its members.

The video’s link contains the footnotes.

Priest Off!

15/06/2010

(Picture via Unreasonable Faith)

manicstreetpreacher presents the Bairnsfather view of the Catholic Church abuse scandal.

The Internet and Blogosphere have been heaving with all the lurid details of the Catholic Church abuse scandal.  My sober contribution was a lambasting of “The Guardian’s resident moron” (© Jerry Coyne) Andrew Brown’s abysmal Vatican apologia that disgraced Comment is free a few months ago.

I think enough criticism of the Holy See has been published by now.  As the feted World War One cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather proved, there is a funny side to any situation, no matter how appalling.

Therefore, in the same spirit of satirical smiling through gritted teeth, I present five hilarious alternative takes on the Vatican’s sordid predicament to cheer us all up.

1.  Priest Off!

One spray of this and your little boy will be protected from predatory, hormonally charged, clergymen.

2.  Stained Glass Window FAIL!!!!

Not a FAIL.  The Catholic Church doing what it does best.  (OK, it’s not Catholic.  It’s Episcopalian.  But it may as well be Catholic…)

3.  And it looks like the Vermont Catholic magazine is really telling it like it is…

(Via Unreasonable Faith again)

4.   But enough of this cruel mockery of Pope Benedict XVI.

His Holiness recently issued a little-reported statement vowing to bring priestly pedophilia down to more acceptable levels:

VATICAN CITY—Calling the behavior shameful, sinful, and much more frequent than the Vatican was comfortable with, Pope Benedict XVI vowed this week to bring the widespread pedophilia within the Roman Catholic Church down to a more manageable level.

Addressing thousands gathered at St. Peter’s Square on Easter Sunday, the pontiff offered his “most humble apologies” to abuse victims, and pledged to reduce the total number of molestations by 60 percent over the next five years.

“This is absolutely unacceptable,” Pope Benedict said. “It seems a weakening of faith in God has prevented our priests from exercising moderation when sexually abusing helpless minors.”

“And let me remind our clergy of the holy vows they all took when they entered the priesthood,” he continued. “They should know that they’re only allowed one small child every other month.”

The pope said he was deeply disappointed to learn that the number of children sexually abused by priests was almost 10 times beyond the allowable limit clearly outlined in church doctrine. Admitting for the first time in public that the overindulgent touching of “tender, tender young flesh” had become a full-blown crisis, the Holy Father vowed to implement new reforms to bring the pedophilia rate back down to five children per 1,000 clergy.

“The truth is there will always be a little bit of molestation – it’s simply unavoidable,” Vatican spokesperson Rev. Federico Lombardi said. “But the fact that young boys have gotten much more attractive over the past few decades is no excuse for the blatant defiance of church limits that have been in place for centuries.”

“The majority of priests don’t want to molest kids at all,” he added. “But for those who do, we must make sure they’re doing it at a reasonable rate.”

5.  And have we forgotten already the kind words of forgiveness offered by the previous holder of the keys of St Peter?

In 2002 John Paul II gave absolution to all those irresistibly attractive alter-boys who tempted certain members of the priesthood to break their vows of celibacy:

VATICAN CITY – Calling forgiveness “one of the highest virtues taught to us by Jesus,” Pope John Paul II issued a papal decree Monday absolving priest-molested children of all sin.

“Though grave and terrible sins have been committed, our Lord teaches us to turn the other cheek and forgive those who sin against us,” said the pope, reading a prepared statement from a balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square.   “That is why, despite the terrible wrongs they have committed, the church must move on and forgive these children for their misdeeds.”

“As Jesus said, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,’” the pope continued.  “We must send a clear message to these hundreds – perhaps thousands – of children whose sinful ways have tempted so many of the church’s servants into lustful violation of their holy vows of celibacy.  The church forgives them for their transgressions and looks upon them not with intolerance, but compassion.”

(…)

Margaret Leahy, 39, a Somerville, MA, homemaker and mother of one of the alleged seducers, expressed relief over the pope’s announcement.

“For months, I feared that my boy – and the dozens of others who committed sinful acts with Father Halloran before he was moved to the safety of another parish to protect him from further temptation at their pre-pubescent hands – was going to Hell for what he’d done,”

Leahy said. “It’s the worst feeling a mother can know. But thanks to the forgiveness of the pope, my long nightmare is finally over.  He was just a boy of 8 at the time.  He didn’t know any better.  Thank you, your Holiness, for giving my poor little Timothy a second chance at redemption.”

If I’m wrong and there is a God, may he bless The Onion

Craig –v- Hitchens: Fourth Thoughts – Sleepless in Biola

06/04/2010

The third and final part (Part I / Part II) of manicstreetpreacher’s reassessment of Christopher Hitchens’ debate against William Lane Craig will examine the “emotional blackmail factor” that pervades Dr Craig’s case for the Almighty.

When Craig is not appealing to flawed logic, he appeals to common sense and inner feelings to guilt trip his audiences into accepting his arguments as this last post will demonstrate.

Argument from objective morality

After name-dropping atheist philosophers like Michael Ruse who contend that morality is just a by-product of evolution and universal norms such as the wrongness of rape and torturing children have no deeper meaning than assisting our survival, Craig argued that human morality is objective and therefore must come from God with nothing more than “the problem is that objective moral values do exist and deep down we all know it” to back it up.  As he phrases it:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values do exist.
  3. Therefore God exists.

Both of Craig’s premises are flawed, so his conclusion is invalid.  Firstly, objective morals could well exist without God.  They could be hardwired into our genes as an evolutionary survival mechanism.  So clearly, Craig’s first premise is incorrect.

However, objective moral values de facto do not exist.  Not everyone has the same moral standards.  Our perception of what is right and wrong have changed over the centuries with Richard Dawkins has termed “the shifting moral Zeitgeist”.  Indeed, practices in other parts of the World today which are considered the height of piety seem barbaric to Westerners.  You only have to look inside the books of our religions and see what these pronouncements mandate to see that this is the case.

I am becoming increasingly convinced that the moral argument for God is just rank wishful thinking, (how this differs from all other arguments from God, I am not entirely certain).  Perhaps it would be wonderful if there was a list of rules set in stone somewhere in the metaphysical universe, but I simply don’t see any evidence for it.  We just have to feel our around, sometimes getting it right, sometimes making mistakes, always striving for a state of moral perfection regardless of whether that will ever be achieved in reality.

I really wish that Hitchens had raised Craig’s appalling views on the morality of the God of the Old Testament.  I had been very suspicious of Craig declaring the atrocities of the Israelites’ slaughter of the Canaanites to be off-limits in debates, since it was a question of biblical inerrancy, not whether God existed.  I found my answer in an appalling radio interview and then with an article on Craig’s website which I commented on a few months after the Biola debate in which Craig argued that since God sets down moral values, he can arbitrarily overrule them with the result being that murder, torture and ethical cleansing are suddenly all fine and dandy.  Therefore, the Israelites were acting entirely in accordance with the will of God in exterminating the Canaanites and the Bible’s inerrancy is unaffected.

I won’t repeat my piece here; I suggest that it is read in full, but it is a stunning indictment of the theological mind which totally undermines Craig’s argument from objective morality, since he knows that murder, torture and genocide are wrong independent of God’s commands.  It is also a graphic illustration of Plato’s “Euthyphro Dilemma”: if God tells you to torture a baby, it becomes morally right and indeed obligatory to torture a baby.

Resurrection of Jesus

A key component in Craig’s argument for the resurrection of Jesus is that his followers would not have believed in a dying and rising Jewish messiah, much less have died for that belief.  For his second rebuttal after cross-examination, a clearly weary Hitchens invoked Tertullian’s maxim credo quia absurdum: “I believe it because it is absurd”.  He recounted his research on Mother Teresa and the circumstances surrounding her thoroughly discredited post-death miracle that will see her canonised by the Vatican and will in fact contribute to the misery and suffering of millions in the Third World by promoting shamanism and devaluing modern medicine.

A fair point, but I have seen Hitchens do much better on the historical Jesus.  Check out these two clips from his debate against D’Souza at Freedom Fest 2008 in Las Vegas.

On the historical Jesus and the criterion of embarrassment:

On the virgin birth and potency of the story:

Craig is basing his argument on discredited sources that are self-contradictory, written decades after the events that they purport to describe, copied and re-copied over centuries by fallible scribes with their own theological axes to grind.  And as we shall see in the next section, this is not even the reason why he believes in the resurrection at all.

Argument from personal experience

In his opening speech, Hitchens quoted from two editions of Craig’s book, Reasonable Faith, where Craig argues that a person knows that Christianity is true because the “Inner Witness of the Holy Spirit” assures him that it is true.  Whereas reason and evidence can be used to support this proposition they cannot be used to overthrow it.  A person has enough assurances from God with regard to his existence and the consequences that will be metered out for rejecting belief in God are entirely on the shoulders of the non-believer.

Although Craig’s response to this in his first rebuttal was somewhat convoluted, I cannot see how he refuted Hitchens’ interpretation, or even amended it significantly.  According to Craig, all belief in God entails is a warm fuzzy feeling inside that there has to be something more than this veil of tears and all arguments and evidence in support are wholly ancillary.  Atheist theologian Robert Price summed up Craig’s stance perfectly in their 1999 debate on the resurrection:

Dr Craig then freely admits that his conviction arises from purely subjective factors.  To me it sounds no different in principle from the teenage Mormon door-knocker: he tells you that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient Americans because he has a warm swelling feeling inside when he asks God if it’s true.

Craig said that Hitchens had to show that he is delusional; otherwise his belief in God through personal experience is still valid.  Again, this is a prime example of Craig placing the burden of proof on his opponent.  Without access to Craig’s medical records (I’ll avoid making the cheap shot that they would make for interesting reading!), this is an impossible task.

Nevertheless, people have all sorts of personal experiences that seem real to them: out of body, alien abduction, near death.  Without any corroborating evidence, the sceptic is perfectly justified in writing them off as deluded, not matter how sincere they are.  Indeed, virtually all of these experiences can be reproduced on subjects in the lab under control conditions.

So what sort of evidence would corroborate personal religious experience?  As Victor Stenger points out in God, The Failed Hypothesis and The New Atheism, perhaps if someone returned from such an experience with some new knowledge in their heads that they could not have otherwise obtained except through the agency of an all-powerful, all-knowing supernatural being.  If Craig really does have a hotline to the Big Guy in the Sky, then I don’t know why he hasn’t found a better way to spend his evenings than arguing with miserable heretics like Hitchens who are all fire-bound anyway.

Perhaps personal experience of God is something I will address in a future post, but for now I’ll direct Craig to Sam Harris’ take on the argument from meaning and purpose with his “Diamond The Size of a Refrigerator Buried in Your Back Yard” Gambit for him to realise what a risible non sequitur his reasoning is.

The last “Hussar!”

The debate moderator, Hugh Hewitt, posed the final question of the evening to Hitchens and asked why there was such a high public demand for debates on the God question at present.  Hitchens’ reply was that he is part of a small group of people who want to take a stand against theocratic bullying from Islamist regimes in the Middle East who are soon to obtain nuclear weaponry, terror attacks against civilian non-combatants by Al-Qaeda, fanatical Jewish settlers stealing land from Palestinians to bring on the Messiah and fundamentalist American Christians who want junk taught in school science classes.   For the first time that evening, Craig had to wait politely as the audience’s applause died down before he could retort.

Hitchens may well have wanted to debate the wrong topic that night.  The New Atheism may well be a form of “village atheism”; hostile to the social effects of religion rather than appreciative of the subtle nuances of theological “scholarship”.  But I’ll conclude these posts with a thought from my original piece after first watching the debate that I definitely stand by:

I could accept every one of Craig’s five arguments; you still have all your work ahead of you convincing me that the Pope, the holder of the keys of St Peter, Christ’s vicar on Earth is objectively moral to go to Africa and say, “AIDS might be bad, but condoms might be worse”.  This is a sinister and immoral aspect to religion that interests me more than the mere existence of God and the truthfulness of the scriptures; one which Hitchens tackles head on, but Craig wilfully evades.

Craig may have won the battle.  But the outcome of the war might not be so rosy for him.

Craig –v- Hitchens: Third Thoughts – Deconstructing William

05/04/2010

manicstreetpreacher’s second out of three posts (Part I / Part III) reassessing Christopher Hitchens’ debate against William Lane Craig discusses the “Rubik’s Cube factor” of Craig’s continually evolving God in the face of objections to design.

As always, Craig started off the debate by presenting his bog-standard five “arguments” that make it seem rational that God exists: origins of the universe, fine-tuning of the universe, existence of objective moral values, resurrection of Jesus Christ and personal experience of God.  In CraigWorld these are so amazingly irrefutable that he has used them in just about every debate for the past 15 years, despite their obvious weaknesses and being corrected ad infinitum by opponents and critics.

However, Craig will still say he has won the debate unless and until his arguments have been “torn down” and “a new set of arguments” put in their place.  Has it ever occurred to Craig that his “arguments” are not worth expending the effort?  After all, you can make a plausible case that the Earth is flat or that the Holocaust never happened if you limit the debate to a narrow set of facts and arguments.

Consider the case of Thomas Aikenhead, a teenage medical student who was the last person in Britain to be executed for blasphemy in Edinburgh, 1697 for scorning the Holy Trinity as “a rhapsody of feigned and ill-invented nonsense” and “not worthy of man’s refutation”.  Can’t Craig learn anything from this?

Why resort to “arguments” at all?

Atheists hardly ever raise the argument from hiddenness in a debate, but let’s face it: there is no empirical data whatsoever in support of the existence of God.  The fact that debates have to be held on this question at all has to say a great deal.  If God does exist, why does he choose to remain hidden?  Wouldn’t it just be great if we could see God creating new planets and species in front of eyes rather than just having to makes “inferences to the best explanation”?

Anselm’s Ontological Argument declares by fiat that existence is both a necessary and great-making property and therefore a maximally great being by its very definition must exist in reality.  Fine.  I could engage in the same smart-Alec sophistry by declaring that evidence, proof and certainty beyond reasonable doubt in the minds of all living creatures in the universe are great making properties and therefore by definition such a being does not exist.

Before turning to Craig’s “arguments”, I have previously posted a series of highly amusing and irreverent YouTube videos refuting Craig’s arguments.  Victor Stenger, American atheist physicist, presented plausible rational alternatives to Craig’s supernatural “God of the Gaps” reasoning during their 2003 debate the University of Hawaii.

Cosmological argument

Craig is being flagrantly dishonest by continuing to assert that the universe began to exist with the Big Bang singularity.  Although not on this occasion, Craig has quoted Stephen Hawking as writing, “Almost everyone now believes that the universe and time itself had a beginning at Big Bang.”   However, Hawking and his partner in physics, Roger Penrose, have recanted an earlier thesis when they said that the universe began with the Big Bang singularity.  But hacks like Craig and conservative Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza mine extracts from Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and The Nature of Space and Time to make it appear that Hawking still believes that the universe began with the Big Bang singularity.

Hawking acknowledges in Brief History, “So in the end our [Hawking and Penrose] work became generally accepted and nowadays nearly everyone assumes that the universe started with a Big Bang singularity.”  However, the very next sentence Hawking writes, “It is perhaps ironic that, having changed my mind, I am now trying to convince other physicists that there was in fact no singularity at the beginning of the universe – as we shall see later, it can disappear once quantum effects are taken into account (p. 50).”

In his latest book, The New Atheism,Victor Stenger clarifies:

D’Souza has glanced at A Brief History of Time, mining quotations that seem to confirm his preconceived ideas.  He quotes Hawking as saying, “There must have been a Big Bang singularity.”   D’Souza has lifted it out of context and given it precisely the opposite meaning of what Hawking intended…  Hawking was referring to the calculation he published with Penrose in 1970, and D’Souza cut off the quotation.  This act of editorship makes it look like Hawking is confirming that the Big Bang actually happened when in fact the full quote reveals just the opposite.

Craig’s assertion “out of nothing, nothing comes” is sheer folk wisdom.  We see apparently uncaused events all the time in radioactive decay.   Firstly, Craig ought to have looked at the smoke detectors in the Biola gym and considered when a particular Americium atom decays inside it, what caused one to decay rather than some other one.  The answer is nothing that we know. Secondly, even in a vacuum, virtual particles come into existence all the time and are measurable.  Appealing to “common sense” reasoning when it is at odds with modern physics contradicts is not intellectually honest.

“Is atheism true?”

Craig responds to Hitchens’ speech by saying that he has no positive arguments to show that “atheism is true”.  This is a misrepresentation of the atheist position and part of Craig’s debating trick to shift the burden of proof onto his opponent when he is the one advancing the positive claim.  Atheism is a term devised by the religious to label people who do not share their views.  It is the opinion that theism is untrue since there are no good reasons to believe that God exists.  There is no evidence for God and saying “God did it” in order to explain away the existence of the natural world is no explanation at all.  Craig is asking the impossible by demanding arguments or evidence that God does not exist.

Having loaded the burden of proof onto his opponent’s shoulders, Craig excused himself from having to provide anything like the extraordinary evidence that his extraordinary claims warrant.  He said that he was arguing for the “best explanation of the data”.  But even if the debate were only about inference to the best explanation, Craig has still not provided anything like the level of proof required to discharge his claims.

Craig closed his first rebuttal by saying that all the evidence has been on his side.  He certainly presented reasons to believe, but that does not mean that they were any better than those for Russell’s teapot or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Subsequently, Craig showed that providing evidence against God is pointless, since far from “Christians being able to follow the evidence wherever it leads”, believers can move the characteristics of their God around like a Rubik’s Cube so that God confirms with the empirical data post hoc.  Craig’s responses to Hitchens’ objections to arguments from design proved this in spades.

Teleological argument

In his first rebuttal, Craig quotes Christian apologist Alvin Plantinga and portrays Hitchens’ belief in the scientific truth of evolution by natural selection as a faith-based commitment: atheists are ideologically committed to evolution since as an alternative to God it is the only game in town.  This is a gross misrepresentation.  Believing in evolution is not a faith claim at all, but accepting a coherent scientific hypothesis supported by masses of evidence and one that has survived sustained assaults by creationists.  Even if evolution had not been discovered, or indeed was untrue, this would still not provide one shred of evidence either for design or a designer.

After Hitchens in his opening speech rather beautifully recounted how he had the mitochondria trail of his African Homo sapiens ancestry traced with a DNA swab from his cheek by the National Geographic Genographic Project, Craig employed a ridiculous sound bite about the sheer “improbability” of evolution by natural selection.  This next clip is from a different event, but it is virtually identical to what he said at Biola.

There are two objections to a priori improbability of which Craig has no doubt been informed repeatedly.  Firstly, Craig’s obsession with low probability is irrelevant since improbable events happen every day.  If you crunch the numbers in relation to your own existence (i.e. the probability that a particular sperm united with a particular egg multiplied by the probability that your parents met, repeating the calculation back until the beginning of time), invariably you will get a fantastically low probability.

Secondly, what is the probability of the supernatural alternative?  What’s the probability that the universe is the product of a divine design?  What’s the probability that the laws of nature are violated?  It could be even lower.  And what empirical data do we have to make the calculation at all?  I have never heard an apologist answer these questions and Craig disappointed me yet again at Biola.

Then Craig moved onto Hitchens’ “98,000 Year Wait” Gambit claiming that God’s timing in bringing the Christian revelation to the largest number of people possible was perfect since only 2 percent of humans who have ever lived were born before the year 1AD.  The claim sounded highly dubious.  Sure enough, the report by the Population Reference Bureau to which Craig referred (download PDF) actually shows that at least 47 billion out of the estimated 106 billion people that have ever lived were born before 1AD. That’s about 43 percent, not 2 percent.  Craig may well have based his argument on this article by D’Souza:

I’m indebted to Erik Kreps of the Survey Research Center of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.  An adept numbers guy, Kreps notes that it is not the number of years but the levels of human population that are the issue here.  The Population Reference Bureau estimates that the number of people who have ever been born is approximately 105 billion.  Of this number, about 2 percent were born before Christ came to earth.

“So in a sense,” Kreps notes, “God’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  If He’d come earlier in human history, how reliable would the records of his relationship with man be?  But He showed up just before the exponential explosion in the world’s population, so even though 98 percent of humanity’s timeline had passed, only 2 percent of humanity had previously been born, so 98 percent of us have walked the earth since the Redemption.”

Kreps/ D’Souza/ Craig either misread the chart thinking the number of 1,137,789,769 at “Births Between Benchmarks” for 8000BC represented the people born before 1AD or just divided 106 billion by 47 billion and thought the 2.25 meant 2.25 percent.  I just wonder how Craig’s God will be reinvented in the light of this correction.

Argument from fine tuning

This idea that the universe is fine-tuned for human life is an utter distortion of physics by apologists who have leaped on part of a scientific concept as supposed evidence for their God.

One look at the universe shows that it is anything but congenial for our kind of life.  The Earth is the one speck of dust that we know is capable of supporting life in a vast abyss of virtual nothingness. Our observations of the nearest solar systems and planets do not bode well for the prospect of having intelligent carbon-based neighbours.  Is that a universe that is friendly towards life?

The planetary version of the Anthropic Fine Tuning Principle makes even less sense.  Theists are basically saying, “Look how hostile the solar system is life.  If it wasn’t for the gravity of Jupiter sucking up all the space debris, we’d have a cataclysm of the kind that wiped out the dinosaurs every five minutes.  God must have placed Jupiter in the path of the asteroids when he was finally bothered to create beings who could worship him!”  What nonsense!

The Anthropic Cosmological Principle is like Darwinism.  It is an alternative to the design explanation, not a feature of it.  An all-powerful God would be capable of designing life to exist irrespective of the heat, cold, sunlight and asteroid conditions.  Indeed, he could design us to survive in a hard vacuum!

However, the inhabitants of CraigWorld see the vast emptiness of space and the sheer improbability of life and say, “Oh, it points to a designer God who created the universe with humans in mind!”  But theologians keep their children fed by constantly reinventing their God to conform to the empirical data.

Suppose we reverse the data and imagine a Star Trek-like universe where intelligent life is overwhelmingly probable and our extra-terrestrial neighbours visit us regularly (and not just long enough for a single frame blurry photo to be taken by someone driving a potato truck in Iowa).  The theologians would still say, “Oh, it points to a designer God who created the universe with humans in mind!”  The words, “cake”, “eat” and “have” spring to mind.

Hitchens argues that the failed galaxies and certain destruction of the Earth by the explosion of its own sun do not imply a benevolent designer.  Craig’s reply is that this does not disprove that they were designed, since manmade objects such as cars and houses are not built to last forever.  True, but this was never part of Hitchens’ argument.  However, you would be hard pressed to argue that this was all the result of an all-wise and all-loving designer who cared for his creations.

Finally, Craig says that this objection has no purchase on Christian theism, since for Christians; the end of life on Earth is the beginning of eternal life.   This is a ludicrous assertion that has no more substance than a child’s fairytale.  Craig offers no evidence for a soul separate from the physical body or the prospect of life after death, aside from ancient scriptures, which of course predicted the end would come 2,000 years ago (Matthew 16).

We are still waiting.  Perhaps it’s time to give up and move on, Doctor?  No, evidence is an occasional convenience in CraigWorld.  What matters is good ol’ fashioned faith, as my third and final post tomorrow will demonstrate to degree of probability beyond mere inference to the best explanation.

William Lane Craig –v- Christopher Hitchens: Second Thoughts

04/04/2010

With his 100th post :o manicstreetpreacher begins his reassessment of a notorious debate as he tries to figure out where his hero went wrong.

Craig was flawless and unstoppable.  Hitchens was rambling and incoherent, with the occasional rhetorical jab.  Frankly, Craig spanked Hitchens like a foolish child.

So went the verdict of the web’s most fawning atheist Craigophile, Lukeprog, over at Common Sense Atheism a year ago today in respect of Christopher Hitchens’ debate against Christian apologist, William Lane Craig, at Biola University on the motion “Does God Exist?”.

Luke subsequently commented that his piece was linked all over the web.  Craig himself quoted it in his post-debate newsletter to his flock.  Lee Strobel quoted it in his foreword to Craig’s latest apologetic, On Guard.  I linked to it in my original comment piece back in June last year when the Biola DVD hit the torrents sites.  I’m certainly not giving Luke the satisfaction of linking to it again here.

I have mixed feeling about my original piece.  After the damning verdict against Hitchens on the blogs was clearly exaggerated, I wanted to stick up for the guy.  At the same time, my blood was very much up that he had let Craig get away with so much and smugly declare that his five pathetic “arguments” for God’s existence were unassailable and that his opponent had provided no evidence or argument that God did not exist, that it turned into an ad hominem rant against Craig.

I originally titled it “We should all feel very sorry for this man”, which irritatingly still appears when the post is automatically generated by WordPress as a “possibly related” post.  I even made some very unkind remarks about Craig’s spindly hands that since he is obviously close to punching his last ticket, he is dreaming of eternal life next to the Father’s right hand more than usual but will be sorely disappointed.  “What a great analysis,” I thought when I hit “Publish”.  Until one of the post’s first commenters pointed out that Craig suffers from a neuromuscular disorder that affects the appearance and movement of his hands.  Damn.  It has been my most reviewed and re-edited post.

So one year after the actual debate, I have taken a step back and watched the tape again with the benefit of having seen and heard a lot more lectures and debates by Craig.  The remainder of this post and my second and third posts will present what I now think.

Hitchens and Craig meet at the Christian Book Expo

Two weeks before their debate, Hitchens sat on a panel with four Christian authors: Craig, Douglas Wilson, Lee Strobel and Jim Denison at the 2009 Christian Book Expo held in Dallas, Texas on Saturday, 21 March 2010.  The debate moderated by Christianity Today writer Stan Guthrie, who in reality turned into a sixth discussion participant.

The full audio of the discussion can be downloaded here; the full tape video is uploaded to YouTube below.

Hitchens dominated the discussion and received most of the airtime and audience questions.  However, in his closing remarks, Craig baited him by saying that his arguments amounted to “I don’t like it”, as opposed to “I don’t believe it’s true” and condescendingly asked him to engage more with him and his cohorts’ wonderful arguments in their upcoming debate at Biola.  In an Apologia podcast immediately afterwards, Craig sounded incredibly pleased with himself, saying that Hitchens did not have the “intellectual capacity” to answer his arguments.  The clip with Craig and Hitchens interviewed can be listened to here.  Following the encounter, the blogs predicted a beat down for Hitchens at Craig’s hands, including former student of Craig and evangelical preacher turned atheist author and blogger, John W Loftus.

Letters from Biola

I’ll come right out and say that Hitchens lost the debate.  No two ways about it.  While he didn’t come off as badly as Lukeprog’s infamous sound bite implied, he simply didn’t prepare enough in advance to answer Craig’s arguments.  Hitchens is more concerned with the social effects of religion.  Craig wanted to argue over its truth and after all, that was the debate’s motion.  Craig boasts a great delivery at the lectern.  He compresses his points very well and splits his arguments up piecemeal.  Hitchens sears, flows and mixes it all up into one.  He also has a habit of making “throat-clearing” precursors before answering points.

Even so, I had severely underestimated Craig.  A very few others aside, I had only seen his debates against Bart Ehrman and Victor Stenger which were the two occasions when he had been convincingly beaten.  Having now seen and heard many more of his debates, I can see that Craig does not debate his opponents has such, but executes premeditated hit-jobs on them.  Craig makes a point of not debating anyone without a doctorate.  He made an exception with Hitchens, who has been a visiting professor at several universities, but as far as I know does not hold an actual PhD and during the debate, Craig referred to him as “Mister” rather than “Doctor” or “Professor”.   Was this an attempt on Craig’s part to discredit the leading debater of the Four Horsemen?  Very possibly.

Craig employed every single one of his dirty tricks at Biola: scientific distortion, quote-mining of authorities, dropping in as many points as possible, patronising and intimidating erudition, demagogically pandering to the audience… the lot.  It can take ten times as long to answer a question than to ask it.  Craig fires out arguments in quick succession and then chides his opponent for failing to answer all of this arguments and objections.  He also presented straw man versions of Hitchens’ own arguments, which took up a great deal of Hitchens’ time in his rebuttals, only for Craig of course go on and then say that Hitchens had not properly refuted his original arguments!

Craig also constantly appeals to authorities.  During the Hitchens debate he quoted external sources no fewer than 19 times!  However, he is extremely selective in the way that he uses quotes.  In their debates against Craig on the resurrection, Bart Ehrman and Bishop John Shelby Spong exposed Craig’s use of authorities on New Testament scholarship who in reality are deeply opposed.

Richard Dawkins was quite right to refuse publically a debate against Craig on the grounds that the man is simply a “professional debater” rather than a proper academic worth taking seriously.  Hitchens was too respectful and had clearly been taken in by the Craig hype, as his slightly nervous demeanour at the pre-debate press conference showed.

So with the dust well and truly settled, let’s take a look at Craig’s arguments now he is unable to hide behind his debating tricks.  My next post tomorrow will begin the deconstruction of Craig’s arguments and tactics piece by piece.

Richard Dawkins and P Z Myers versus Pope Pius XII

23/03/2010

Following recent comments by two of the World’s most outspoken atheists, manicstreetpreacher thinks a reassessment of the silent Pope is in order.

I have a morbid fascination with the figure of Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII.  I confess that the only full-length biography I have read is John Cornwell’s controversial Hitler’s Pope, which has been so heavily criticised that even the author no longer stands by all of its claims.

I am currently researching and writing an epic post about the role of the Church and religion in the rise of fascism (so epic, that it might have to be an entire book!), and I really need to read a more sympathetic account of Pacelli.  I have read Sacred Causes by Christian historian Michael Burleigh which references a few Pius defenders such as Mississippi law professor Ronald Rychlak and Rabbi David Dalin.

The best defence anyone has been able to advance is that Pacelli’s scope for action was severely limited.  Hindsight is the cheapest form of wisdom.  Perhaps Pius XII would have inspired a mass uprising against the forces of darkness that had overwhelmed Europe by publically opposing Hitler.  By the same token, his actions could have backfired with the consequences for Europe’s population better left imagined than described.

Here is Richard Dawkins referring to Pius XII as “Pope… Nazi” at the 2010 Global Atheist Convention held in Melbourne, Australia earlier this month while commenting on the Vatican’s procedure of canonising saints.

The press widely construed Dawkins as referring to the current holder of St Peter’s keys, Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI.  While growing up in Germany, Ratzinger was drafted into the Hitler Youth along with practically all other German boys when he was too young to understand the full implications of what he was being ordered to do.  Even the most virulent opponent of the Vatican would be punching below the belt to take this as evidence that Ratzinger supported Nazism.  Although the next photo is hardly something you want left on your Facebook profile.

In fact, Dawkins was referencing Pius XII, the man who while the Vatican’s Secretary of State concluded concordats with practically every fascist regime in Europe, including the 1929 Lateran Pact with Benito Mussolini of Italy and the 1933 Reichskonkordat with Adolf Hitler’s German Wehrmacht Republic.  These treaties, which incidentally were the first agreements signed respectively by both dictators upon taking power, guaranteed the Church’s total withdrawal from politics, embodied by the dissolution of the German Catholic Centre Party, a source of effective opposition to National Socialism, in return for control of state education and other ameliorations.

As if that wasn’t enough, Pius XII notoriously remained silence in public about the Holocaust, despite constant and reliable intelligence of the atrocities committed against the Jews.  This was only one in a whole litany of sins for which atonement was begged by the former pontiff, John Paul II, during a papacy largely defined by repeated requests for forgiveness.

Perhaps sceptics are being too hard on Pacelli.  Perhaps they are using him as a pawn in their private war against the parties of God.  Perhaps his back really was up against a wall.  Perhaps public condemnation of Hitler would have been foolhardy and lead only to Nazi aggression being redirected towards Catholics.  Perhaps he achieved more by remaining silent in public and while waging a “secret war” against the Führer.  The figures I’ve read for the number of Jews that the Vatican saved during the War range from half a million to 800,000.  I am quite prepared to accept the higher figure.

But while the Pope’s rural retreat of Castel Gandolfo and indeed the Vatican itself was used to hide Jews escaping the German occupation of Rome in 1943, the same “safe houses” were used to harbour escaping Nazi war criminals, not least of who was Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the “Final Solution”.  After the war Eichmann, along with many other Nazi war criminals, was spirited away to South America on an illegally acquired Red Cross humanitarian passport via a “Ratline”, before finally being kidnapped by Mossad agents in Argentina, standing trial in Israel and executed for crimes against humanity in 1962.

It is not proven that Pacelli had personal knowledge of the Ratlines, their chief architect being Austrian Bishop Alois Hudal, author of the Hitler-fawning tract, The Foundations of National Socialism But since Pacelli clearly turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the death camps during the war, it is not unreasonable to draw negative inferences.

The Vatican could always exonerate Pacelli once and for all by releasing the wartime documents from their archives which would prove the Pontiff’s defence, surely?  So far, they have declined to do this, making the utterly lame excuse that the copious documents have not yet been properly catalogued.

Ratzinger’s recent drive to canonise Pius XII has been discouraged by the Church’s own theologians as likely to cause grave damage to relations between the Catholic Church and Jews and that he had become a de facto “symbol of Christian anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism”.

One very eloquent reviewer of Dalin’s book, The Myth of Hitler’s Pope, on Amazon US described the Church’s stance thus:

As long as Pope Pius XII allowed Hitler to remain a Catholic, the Pope supported his actions, period, and end of story.  There was no conspiracy, just failed responsibility, and lack of action.  David Dalin’s book, The Myth of Hitler’s Pope demonstrates very little except to try and defend the ridiculous.

That is about as reasonable and balanced an assessment as I have read from a sceptic.  The verdict of biologist and blogger P Z Myers was worded somewhat more strongly…

Oh, and Pope Pius XII really was a sniveling rat bastard who should have been held accountable for contributing to the evil perpetrated against the Jews.

The Pius Wars will not cease until the day Daniel Dennett’s dream of the Vatican being converted into the “International Museum of Roman Catholicism” becomes a reality.

Andrew Brown posts another clanger on Comment is free

13/03/2010

manicstreetpreacher wonders whether this hack can stoop any lower.

US evolutionary biologist and author of Why Evolution Is True, Jerry Coyne, recently described British science and religion journalist Andrew Brown as “The Guardian’s resident moron”.

I have been less than impressed by Brown after his pathetic attack on Sam Harrisobjection to Francis Collins’ appointment as head of the National Institute of Health, culminating in Brown quote-mining Harris’ The End of Faith something rotten to make it look like Harris endorses torture and rendition.  I can only assume that this was a dummy-spitting exercise by Brown to recoup ground from the commenters who lambasted his first piece and rallied in support for Harris.

Now, Brown has not simply scraped the bottom of the barrel, he has removed the base of said wooden container entirely and is tunnelling fast for Australia.  On 11 March 2010, Brown posted this appalling piece on The Guardian: Comment is free arguing that perhaps we are being a tad harsh on all those child sodomising Catholic priests, since the rate of child abuse among the clergy is apparently much lower than other professions.

Pinch yourself to make sure that you’re not having a bad dream:

[T]here is no doubt that a lot of children were damaged for life by priests, and that this was mostly covered up by the hierarchy until recently.  But was the Catholic church unfairly singled out?  Aren’t all children vulnerable to exploitation, especially when they are poor and unwanted?…

The most detailed statistics on child abuse for the Catholic clergy that I can find come from the John Jay Institute’s report drawn up for the American Catholic bishops’ conference.  From this it emerges that the frequency of child abuse among Catholic priests is not remarkable but its pattern is.  Although there are no figures for the number of abusers in the wider population, there are figure for the number of victims.  These vary wildly: the most pessimistic survey finds that 27% of American women and 16% of men had “a history of childhood sexual abuse”; while the the [sic] most optimistic had 12.8% of women and 4.3% of men. Obviously a great deal depends here on the definition of abuse; also on the definition of “childhood”. In some of these surveys it runs up to 18, which is a couple of years above the age of consent in Britain.

Well, if a report has been prepared for the American Catholic Bishops Conference, who are we to argue with it?

The Catholic figures show that between about 4% of priests and deacons serving in the US between 1950 and 2002 had been accused of sexual abuse of someone under 18. In this country, the figure was a 10th of that: 0.4%.  But whereas the victims in the general population are overwhelmingly female, the pattern among American Catholic priests was quite different.  Four out of five of their victims were male.  Most were adolescents: two out of five were 14 or over; 15% were under 10.

This is vile, but whether it is more vile than the record of any other profession is not obvious.  The concentration on boys makes the Catholic pattern of abuse stand out; what makes it so shocking is that parents trusted their children with priests.  They stood in for the parents.  But this isn’t all that different from the pattern in the wider world, either, where the vast majority of abuse comes from within families.  The other point that makes the Catholic abuse is that it is nowadays very widely reported.  It may be the best reported crime in the world: that, too tends to skew perceptions.

I’ll agree with Brown there.  Yes, it is extremely vile.  But there my support ends.  His post is an exercise in “Yeah, but what about…”.  Road traffic deaths kill far more people every year than deliberate homicide, so let’s get the police to withdraw all personnel and resources from investigating murders and get them to devote all their time and effort ensuring that motorists wear their seat beats and drive under the speed limits, shall we?

So why the concentration on Catholic priests and brothers?  Perhaps I am unduly cynical, but I believe that all institutions attempt to cover up institutional wrongdoing although the Roman Catholic church has had a higher opinion of itself than most, and thus a greater tendency to lie about these things.  Because it is an extremely authoritarian institution at least within the hierarchy, it is also one where there were few checks and balances on the misbehaviour of the powerful.  The scandal has been loudest and most damaging in Ireland, because it came along just at the moment when the church was losing its power over society at large, and where it was no longer able to cover up what had happened, but still willing to try.  Much the same is true in the diocese of Boston which was bankrupted by the scandal.

Perhaps I am being unduly cynical, but I think we are entitled to demand a higher standard of moral behaviour from institutions and individuals whose alleged purpose is to uphold and enforce those of us mere mortals who do not have a one-to-one with The Big Surveillance Camera In The Sky.

Rabbi David Wolpe raised this objection in a debate against Christopher Hitchens: the public is more shocked and the criticism more vitriolic when a clergyman falls into error.  Hitch’s reply was that he is not shocked at all.  The Catholic Church preaches that women are vessels of temptation, insists on celibacy, makes sex a matter of guilt and shame and comprises an all male priesthood that is based on sexual repression.  What is going to happen to the children under the care of those people?   No need to act surprised.  The Church wasn’t surprised at all.  They knew it was going on all the time which is why they covered up for it.

Hitchens’ comments are at the beginning of this tape.

And regardless of whether the abuse itself has been exaggerated or blown out of proportion in the media, there is no playing down the deliberate covering-up of the scandal by the Vatican, of which the present pope, Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger, played a pivotal role by issuing a Vatican edict in 2001 while  a cardinal ordering Catholic bishops and priests were not to cooperate with the police on pain of excommunication.  Only last Tuesday (9 March 2010) the BBC’s Newsnight reported on the case of Bill Carney was named as one of the worst cases in Dublin’s Catholic diocese in the Murphy Report into clerical abuse in Ireland.  However, for the last 10 years Carney has been free to live quietly in Britain and is now hiding out in the Canary Islands.

Brown’s insulting apologia concludes thus:

Certainly the safeguards against paedophilia in the priesthood are now among the tightest in the world.  That won’t stop a steady trickle of scandals; but I think that objectively your child is less likely to be abused by a Catholic or Anglican priest in the west today than by the members of almost any other profession.

Well, that’s a relief.  I’m sure that all those children and families whose lives have been ruined by the abuse and subsequent covering up by the Vatican will be consoled no end by the knowledge that it could have been worse if they were looked after by doctors and lawyers.

Brown’s vile wipe was ripped to shreds by its own commenters, and justly so.  Why does this appalling man continue to be published in the national dailies?

UPDATE 14 MARCH 2010

As I expected, Jerry Coyne has commented on Brown’s piece on his blog with typical rhetorical fire:

It’s a disgusting and self-serving piece of faitheistic tripe, and its underlying message is this: those people who attack the Catholic church for systematic child abuse are really anti-Catholic bigots.  After all, claims Brown, the Church was no worse than other abusers…

I beg to differ with Brown’s implicit conclusion.  The concentration on Catholic priests and brothers comes from the shocking institutionalization of that abuse: the consistent efforts of Church officials, who knew full well about the abuse, to cover it up and, sometimes, simply transfer abusers to new places.  Yes, other professions sometimes cover up child abuse, but not, I think, on such a massive scale.  I am not aware of this kind of cover-up being endemic to American public schools, for example.

And what Brown fails to grasp is that the abuse is doubly shocking because it was committed by those priests to whom parents not only entrusted their children, but entrusted them to inculcate in those children a sense of morality.  The outrage comes from seeing that those who were supposed to serve as role models – as paragons of morality – systematically abused that trust in the most heinous ways.  And perhaps the Church’s ridiculous policy of celibacy contributed to this abuse.

Fortunately, Brown’s commenters – as usual – take him apart.  It must be disheartening for the Resident Moron to watch, week after week, as his readers chew his tuchus to pieces.  Maybe the Guardian keeps him on because his continuing idiocy promotes traffic on their website.  But really, how can a reputable paper tolerate such witless garbage?  Do the editors have any notion of what should pass for decent commentary?

Nice one, Jerry.  The words “asshole”, “new” and “rip” spring to mind.

Richard Dawkins and A C Grayling Debate Atheist Fundamentalism Against the Sweet Mediocrity of Our Native Church

22/11/2009

manicstreetpreacher wets the appetite for his next live debate on religion.

UPDATE 03/12/2009: My afterthought piece of the debate, with video and audio links is here.

Having just about recovered from the other-worldly experience of witnessing Hitchens and Fry exact retribution on a biblical scale against the Catholic Church in London at the end of last month, I am geared up to attend my next live debate.

This time, two of Britain’s finest atheist writers, zoologist Richard Dawkins of Oxford University and philosopher A C Grayling of Birkbeck College, University of London go head-to-head against former Anglican Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, and former editor of The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator Charles Moore to debate the topic “Is Atheism the New Fundamentalism?” The moderator is Dr Antony Seldon, Master of Wellington College.

The debate is being held at on Sunday, 29 November 2009.   The doors open 6pm and the debate starts at 7pm.

Once again, Intelligence Squared is hosting the debate.

The venue is Wellington College, Berkshire:

Wellington College
Duke’s Ride
Crowthorne
Berkshire
RG45 7PU

Tel: 01344 444 000
Fax: 01344 444 002

Email: info@wellingtoncollege.org.uk
Web: www.wellingtoncollege.org.uk
Event page: http://www.wellingtoncollege.org.uk/page.aspx?id=8686

Previous form

Richard Dawkins needs no introduction!  However, this is a rare public debate for him.  Dawkins writes in The God Delusion that he rarely takes part in formal debates because he is not a confrontational person and feels that the adversary format is ill-suited to discover the truth.  Dawkins also refuses to debate creationists because if one of them shared a platform with a prominent evolutionary biologist, it would give the lay pubic the impression that there was a serious issue worth debating!  For the creationists, winning or losing the debate is irrelevant: the victory is that the debate has gone ahead at all.  Dawkins has no desire to provide them with the oxygen of publicity.

However, there are still plenty of debates Dawkins has participated in that are worth investigating.

Dawkins and Grayling teamed up with the Hitch to debate against – as Dawkins later put it – three “rather half-hearted religious apologists (‘Of course I don’t believe in a God with a long white beard, but…’)” on whether “We would all be better off without religion”, the audio of which can be accessed here, or on YouTube:

You can read a review of the event by a pleasantly-surprised believing journalist, Ruth Gledhill, The Times’ religious affairs correspondent here.

Incidentally, Charles Moore, who is standing up for God on this occasion, wrote of that debate:

Although I voted against the motion both times, I think the shift of votes was justified, on the basis of the speeches.  All six spoke well, but the opponents of religion were more eloquent, more passionate, more – odd though it sounds to say it – believing.

The last big debate Dawkins took part in was on 21 October 2008 at the Oxford University Museum of natural history against Oxford University mathematician and Christian John Lennox.  The audio of the debate can be accessed at RichardDawkins.net here.

Dawkins and Lennox also had a closed-door conversation on religion and science earlier in the year with only a tape recorder present, the audio for which can be accessed here.  As American biologist and blogwit, P Z Myers concluded:

Dawkins just probes with a few pointed questions, and Lennox, a theologian, babbles on and on and on, asserting the most amazing things.  All those miracles in the bible?  They literally happened – he doesn’t hide behind metaphor and poetry.  Water into wine, resurrections, walking on water… it all actually happened, exactly as written, and further, he claims that all of these accounts represent historically valid evidence.  This is the sophisticated theology we godless atheists are always skipping over, I guess.

Dawkins’ debate with then head of the Human Genome Project and evangelical Christian for the pages of Time magazine in 2006 is worth a read:

DAWKINS: I accept that there may be things far grander and more incomprehensible than we can possibly imagine.  What I can’t understand is why you invoke improbability and yet you will not admit that you’re shooting yourself in the foot by postulating something just as improbable, magicking into existence the word God.

COLLINS: My God is not improbable to me.  He has no need of a creation story for himself or to be fine-tuned by something else. God is the answer to all of those “How must it have come to be” questions.

DAWKINS: I think that’s the mother and father of all cop-outs.  It’s an honest scientific quest to discover where this apparent improbability comes from.  Now Dr Collins says, “Well, God did it. And God needs no explanation because God is outside all this.”  Well, what an incredible evasion of the responsibility to explain. Scientists don’t do that.  Scientists say, “We’re working on it. We’re struggling to understand.”

Dawkins and Richard Harries had a very civilised discussion for Dawkins’ 2006 Channel 4 documentary, Root of All Evil? (Part 1 / Part 2).  The full uncut interview can be viewed below:

They also debated Darwin and Christianity at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History on Darwin Day 2009:

And let’s not forget that Dawkins and Harries both signed an open letter to the then Prime Minister Tony Blair to protest against the head of new-fangled city academy Emmanuel College, Gateshead, after the head of the science department (!), Stephen Layfield delivered a lecture proposing that young earth creationism and flood geology be taught in science classes:

Dear Prime Minister

We write as a group of scientists and Bishops to express our concern about the teaching of science in the Emmanuel City Technology College in Gateshead.  Evolution is a scientific theory of great explanatory power, able to account for a wide range of phenomena in a number of disciplines.  It can be refined, confirmed and even radically altered by attention to evidence.  It is not, as spokesmen for the college maintain, a ‘faith position’ in the same category as the biblical account of creation which has a different function and purpose.

The issue goes wider than what is currently being taught in one college.  There is a growing anxiety about what will be taught and how it will be taught in the new generation of proposed faith schools.  We believe that the curricula in such schools, as well as that of Emmanuel City Technical College, need to be strictly monitored in order that the respective disciplines of science and religious studies are properly respected.

Yours sincerely

The Right Reverend Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford
Sir David Attenborough, FRS
The Right Reverend Christopher Herbert, Bishop of St Albans
Lord May of Oxford, President of the Royal Society
Professor John Enderby, FRS, Physical Secretary, Royal Society
The Right Reverend John Oliver, Bishop of Hereford
The Right Reverend Mark Santer, Bishop of Birmingham
Sir Neil Chalmers, Director, Natural History Museum
The Right Reverend Thomas Butler, Bishop of Southwark
Sir Martin Rees, FRS, Astronomer Royal
The Right Reverend Kenneth Stevenson, Bishop of Portsmouth
Professor Patrick Bateson, FRS, Biological Secretary, Royal Society
The Right Reverend Crispian Hollis, Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth
Sir Richard Southwood, FRS, Past Biological Secretary, Royal Society
Sir Francis Graham-Smith, FRS, Past Physical Secretary, Royal Society
Professor Richard Dawkins, FRS

Aside from that, Dawkins had a public discussion at The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival in 2007 with Anglican theologian Alistair McGrath following the publication of The God Delusion and McGrath’s reply (if that’s the right word for it), The Dawkins Delusion? (McGrath’s effort is terrible, even by the low standards of the “fleas”.  Paula Kirby does the book justice in her “Fleabytes” review of four Christian responses to The God Delusion.)

However, the real treat is Dawkins’ full uncut interview with McGrath for Root of All Evil?

None of the footage was used in the final version of the programme.  McGrath claimed it was because he had landed several blows on Dawkins and made him “appear uncomfortable”.  My theory is that the producers were concerned for the well-being of viewers who might be operating heavy machinery while watching it.  McGrath is horrendously boring and babbles incomprehensibly.  One blogger at RD.net summed up his style thus:

A fly on the wall in the McGrath household:

MRS McGRATH: What would you like for dinner, dear?

MR McGRATH: Well, if I can just come back on that actually, I think you’ve raised a very interesting point, pivotal to the way this discussion should continue.  This is certainly something that needs to be engaged with and explored further.  It seems to me that there are areas we can push into here that can challenge us and I welcome that.  When I was an atheist, these on-going philosophical subjects were subject to different interpretations and perspectives so, suffice to say, the Christian faith has fortified me and others to take all of these very very very interesting points into account and offer an explanation such as this: Egg and chips will be fine, love.

MRS McGRATH: I’m leaving you.

Nevertheless, try and stay awake because Dawkins uses his wonderful brand of pithy sarcasm, to which McGrath is seemingly oblivious.  And the knock-out punch comes at 45 minutes when Dawkins nails him whether God intervened to save one child in a tsunami that claimed the lives of thousands.  As one blogger commenting on the interview’s entry on RD.net put it:

For 45 minutes it’s a gentle game of ping pong and then when it comes to the issue god and suffering McGrath’s arms get tired and Dawkins switches to a tennis racket.  At 50 minutes McGrath is undone.

Magic!

A C Grayling is a slightly less-known quantity to me.  I have read a few of his books and seen some of his debates and lectures and can recommend the following to whet your appetites.

Against All Gods is Grayling’s contribution to the New Atheism.  It is brief – more of a pamphlet than a book – but there are some real gems in it.  Of particular interest to the topic at hand is Grayling’s rubbishing the concept of “atheist fundamentalism” by asking what a non-fundamentalist atheist is: someone who sort of doesn’t, but not quite not believes in God?!  Grayling also predicts that far from seeing a resurgence of religion, we are actually witnessing its death-throes; a violent convulsion before it’s gone for good.

Grayling is a champion of the enlightenment and wrote Towards the Light in celebration of rationalism’s conquest over dogma.  Be sure to read his hilarious exchanges with wedge-driving ID hack from the ironically-named Discovery Institute, Steve Fuller over Grayling’s damning review of Fuller’s Dissent Over DescentGrayling’s reply to Fuller’s indignant response to his review contained this all-time classic which I have quoted myself on at least one occasion:

Steve Fuller complains, as do all authors whose books are panned, that I did not read his book properly (or at all).  Alas, I did.

Grayling’s appearance at Beyond Belief 2008 on Human Flourishing and Eudaimonics is also worth watching:

Although it has nothing to do with religion, Grayling’s discussion with Christopher Hitchens on the moral implication of the Allies’ devastating bombing campaign against civilians of the Axis powers during World War II at the Goethe-Institut, Washington in 2006 following the publication of Grayling’s Among The Dead Cities is a real treat.   It’s on YouTube in 11 parts or you can watch it on FORA.tv and C-Span.

Predictions for this one

Unlike the rhetorical slaughter by Hitchens and Fry of the Vatican, which I predicted in advance of the actual event, I feel that this one will be too close to call.  Probably both sides will come away claiming victory.  Dawkins and Grayling are far more cordial and polite in comparison to Hitchens’ bull-in-a-china-shop/ take-no-prisoners approach at the lectern.

However, I hope that the two heretics will push the point that atheists are offended by what they read in the holy books of the world’s religions and how this is put into practice all too literally by millions of believers the world over, whether it be  indoctrinating their children into thinking that their non-Catholic/Protestant/Muslim/Jewish [delete as applicable] friends will suffer an eternity in hellfire, to ploughing millions dollars every year into spreading creationism – money that would be far better spent on potentially life-saving scientific research – or flying aeroplanes into skyscrapers.

I know what these books say because I’ve read them.  Why should we respect the utterly ridiculous claim that they could only have been authored by an omnipotent deity?  Why shouldn’t we get angry when such ideas are granted special privilege in public discourse?

The idea that we must automatically “respect” other people’s ideas is complete nonsense.  It is a special favour granted only to religious faith.  In every other area of conversation we most certainly do not respect people’s views and opinions.  If one member of the panel wanted to promulgate their honest, sincere, faith-based claim that the Holocaust never happened, that National Socialism was the only proper form of government, or even something less sinister such as Elvis was still alive, is that a view that the audience would “respect”?  Of course not!

In every other conversational topic we demand good reasons.  We demand evidence.  Reason and evidence really are contagious.  If you give good reasons, people will accept your claims as they accept the colour of your hair.  Religious faith is a reason not to give reasons.  It is a conversation stopper.  Even if the New Atheists are completely wrong about the existence of God and the negative effects of religion upon society, they have at the very least helped moved religious faith into the same sphere.

Perhaps into ten years time whenever someone opens their mouth or puts pen to paper in criticism of religion, this will be accepted as if they had criticised a political ideology as opposed the hysterical responses of the present day where theists and atheists alike rush to publish books and articles denouncing the “shrillness” and “stridency” of those brave few who dare speak out.

At the very least, I hope I get the chance to thank Dawkins for his very kind comment that I was “most certainly not boring” during my appearance on Premier’s Christian Radio’s religious sceptics’ debate show Unbelievable? with author of The Dawkins Letters (another “flea” response to The God Delusion), Pastor David Robertson and former-atheist-converted-to-Christianity, Richard Morgan.

It’s on YouTube in 11 parts or you can watch it on FORA.tv and C-Span.

Hitchens and Fry versus the Catholic Church: Post Mortem

20/10/2009

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manicstreetpreacher witnesses first-hand a rhetorical massacre of Vatican hench(wo)men by the cream of British intellectualism.

On Monday, 19 October 2009 I attended a debate at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, London featuring “New Atheist” and author of God Is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens and actor, writer and broadcaster, Stephen Fry, to argue against the motion “The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world” with Archbishop John Onaiyekan and Conservative MP, Ann Widdecombe proposing.

The debate was filmed by BBC TV cameras and the debate moderator, Zeinab Badawi, told us that it would be broadcast to 70 million people throughout the world on 7 and 8 November 2009.   The full video of the debate can be viewed below:

Each of the four speakers were allowed 15 minutes for an opening statement, then there was about 30 minutes of the audience’s questions and comments and then the panel were given a final five minutes to sum up.  The whole event lasted a shade under two hours from 7:00 – 9:00pm.  The only disappointment is that Hitchens wasn’t signing books afterwards, but apart from that it was very well put together by the organisers, Intelligence Squared.

Exactly as I predicted before the event, this was an utterly one-sided affair.  Hitch and Fry wiped the floor with their papist opponents.  It was an embarrassment for the parties of God.  The two men had everything on their side.  They had the arguments, they had the historical facts, they had the present day facts, they had the rhetoric, they had the wit and most importantly they had the audience, although it has to be said that most of them were dead against the motion from the start.

Blow-by-blow: Archbishop John Onaiyekan

Archbishop John Onaiyekan opened the motion for the proposition.  He seemed an amiable enough fellow; I’m sure you’d like to have him round for dinner.  Unfortunately he was encumbered with a thick Nigerian accent, which made it difficult to understand what he was saying.  Not that it would have made too much difference.  From what I could pick up, his opening statement was a wishy-washy apologia that cited few factual examples and even less ideology.

The Archbishop said that from his Catholic upbringing to the present day as a 65 year old adult, he had no regrets and devoutly believed in the motion, otherwise he would not be a member of the Catholic Church in the first place.  The Church has stood the test of time over the last two thousand years ranging from the good ordinary folk of the world to the leaders of the world.  He cited the 2008 papal encyclical, Caritas In Veritate, “Charity in Truth”, as a good example of what the Church stood for.

Noises were made about the Church’s syllabus of errors, but the Archbishop stressed the need to keep perspective and be careful when judging others.  After all, the late pontiff, John Paul II apologised for many of the Church’s “misjudgements” throughout history.

The Archbishop argued that true good of the Catholic Church can be attested by its 1.2 billion members and we really ought to go and speak to some of them to realise that the world needs more people linking arms and striving for a future of justice.  The Archbishop also stated that the Church has a hand in setting up many schools and hospitals and contrary to the public perception of its stance on condom use, had worked closely with the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS.

It was a well-meaning and consolatory opening.  The Archbishop finished with plenty of his allotted time to spare and asked with a dash of irony whether there now could be anyone in the audience who didn’t think that the Catholic Church was a force for good.  Bless him, he must have hoped that his two opponents would be willing to search for common ground.

What planet has he been living on?

The Hitch

OK, let’s face it.  This is why the majority of the audience paid their admissions fee.  To witness arguably the world’s most outspoken atheist and opponent of religion take aim at the easiest target he could have wished for.  We were not disappointed.

After the usual warm-up quips about the moderator admiring his shirt, Hitch went at the Holy See like a rabid dog.

WHAM!  The statement delivered by Pope John Paul II’s spokesmen on 12 March 2000 apologising for everything from the Crusades, to the Inquisition, to the oppression of women (who after all comprise half the human race), to the forced conversion of the indigenous peoples of South America by the Conquistadors.

BLAM!  The 94 public recognitions of the Church’s crimes against humanity from apologising for the African slave trade in 1995 to the admission in 1992 that Galileo was actually right when he said that the sun was the centre of our solar system and the earth and the other planets were in orbit around it.

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KA-ZAAM!!!  Hitchens’ demanded that apologies were long overdue for the crimes of the Croatian Utashe lead by Ante Pavelić in the Second World War which received the full blessing of the clergy, to the rape and torture and cover-up of children in Catholic schools and care homes from “Ireland to Australia”, to the hideous preaching of Augustine’s doctrine of limbo which had countless parents in agony over the destination of the souls of their un-baptised children.

BIFF!  There were a few more sins for the Holy See to atone for: the 1933 Reich Concordat with Nazi Germany which dissolved the Catholic Centre Party and removed all opposition to the rise of Hitler while ensuring that the Church maintained control of state education.  Come to think of it, wasn’t the first treaty that Mussolini put his name to the 1929 Lateran Treaty with the Vatican.  Wasn’t Jozef Tiso, the despot who governed Slovakia an ordained priest?   Wasn’t every other fascist dictator from Franco to Salazar raised as a Catholic with the public blessing of St Peter’s Basilica?  Wasn’t Adolf Hitler’s birthday celebrated from the pulpits every year right up until his death?

NO MORE, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!!!!!!

Well alright, then perhaps a little bit more.  This is getting kinda fun.

THWACK!!!  Hitch declared that none of this could be laughed off with gestures to the charitable.  After all, didn’t Pope Ratzinger qualify the apology to the South American Indians by saying while on a visit to Brazil in 2007 that they were “silently longing” for the arrival of Christianity?  The sex abuse scandal culminating in the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, Massachusetts, only for the same Cardinal to show up at the 2005 conclave to elect the new pontiff doesn’t exactly enhance the Vatican’s claim to moral superiority either.  Neither does the doctrine of anti-Semitism for the Jews’ complicity for the death of Christ preached until 1964, nearly 20 years after the judgment of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg.

POW!!!   Hitch then proceeded to tear the moral relativism that has engulfed the Church in recent years  (and would certainly engulf the arguments of its apologists this night) a new one.  He stated that the rape and torture of children is something that cannot be relativised.  It cannot be shrugged off as something that would not happen if “queers had not been allowed into the Church.”   If any “normal” person were accused of child rape, they would want to die.  If they were found guilty, they would commit suicide.

ZAP!!!  More suggested topics to apologise for?  How about the re-inauguration of Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson, who effectively said, “Genocide?  No.  Deicide? Yes!”?  Ratzinger invited Williamson back into the fold because Church unity was more important than moral integrity.  And how about the genocide in Rwanda, the most Catholic country in Africa where priests and nuns were guilty of inciting the massacres and indeed, many are now standing trial for taking part in it themselves.  No proper apology has ever been issued.

Hitch then stood up for his friend, Stephen Fry, who is “not like other girls” and cannot be a member of the Church for being a “fag”.  The Church’s condescending stance to “hate the sin, love the sinner” means that a substantial portion of the world’s population is excluded from the sacraments.

Hitch ended by saying that he did not wish harm on anybody, but he looked forward to the death of Ratzinger for one reason and one reason only.  In the intervening weeks and months between one pope dying and another being elected by the College of Cardinals, there is a period when no one on earth claims to be infallible.  Our species must be rid of its faith the certainty from above if it is to progress.

The crowd loved every minute of it.  Hitch’s address was punctuated by applause and cheers several times.  The biggest cheer came when he faced the Archbishop and asked him for a public apology for the Church’s policy of delivering false information about the effectiveness of condom use, effectively saying that “AIDS is bad, but condoms are worse”.

In case you couldn’t tell, Hitchens is a personal hero of mine.  I’m well on the way to having read all of his books.  I’ve seen him lecture and debate as many times as I’ve been able to find on YouTube.  I’ve referenced him more times than I care to remember on this blog and in my appearances on Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? and I have come in for some stick from commenters and listeners for being a mouthpiece for the Four Horsemen in general and Hitchens in particular.  This was the first time that I have seen him speak live and it was worth 10 times the admission price.

It was orgasmic!

Widdecombe

The Conservative MP and Catholic convert was announced to have left the Church of England in 1992 when it decided to ordain women priests.  In answer to a question from the audience, she explained that a woman can be an MP because it is a profession, but there is no theological basis for a woman to be a priest because they cannot lead the confession before Christ.  Apparently a woman can no more stand in for JC than a man for the Virgin Mary.  Right.

Out of the two papists, it has to be said that Widdecombe put up by far the better fight.  She raised rapturous applause from the Catholic supporters in the audience (all five of them) by starting off demanding that Hitchens give an apology for the caricature he had presented of the Church’s history, saying that members of the Waffen SS had to renounce their Christianity before entering the organisation, and Ratzinger made Bishop Richard Williamson renounce his views on the Holocaust before once again granting him the sacraments.  She also tried to deflect his remarks saying that he had to delve into history and go back to the Crusades and the Inquisition for the core of his arguments.

I was in dire need of a sick bucket at one point when Widdecombe indulged in the worst kind of relativism in defending the Church’s stance on slavery since it was simply in line with the opinions of the rest of the world!  Hitchens later pointed out that if slavery had to be considered in context, what could be more relative than that?  What happened; did God change his mind?

As if slavery wasn’t bad enough, Widdecombe went on to say that it has only been in recent years that the courts and the Samaritans have tackled the problem of child sex abuse and there has been a Sex Offenders Register.

Special pleading and calls for clemency do not convincing arguments make, Miss Widdecombe.

The worst offence Widdecombe committed was recommending the work of historian Michael Burleigh who, along with Martin Gilbert, has praised the efforts of the wartime pope, Pius XII, in rescuing many thousands of Jews from the Holocaust by giving them refuge in Castel Gandolfo. I wonder how many people realised that in fact Burleigh re-prints a bogus statement purporting to be from Albert Einstein praising the Church’s response to Hitler in his 2006 book Sacred Causes, the questionable authenticity of which Hitchens debunks in God Is Not Great.

While Hitch didn’t nail her for that point in his closing remarks, he did stand by his views on the Church preaching the doctrine of deicide against the Jewish people as likely to have provided a well of anti-Semitism throughout Europe which facilitated the rise of fascism in the 1930s.

It wasn’t all bad, however.  Widdecombe at least pointed out that the Church does much in the way of charitable giving and as a politician, she relied on them as much local government.

The address finished off with a call for the Church’s offer of hope and salvation, which the two nasty heretics at the other side of the table simply could not offer.  Hitch’s retort in the closing section was to agree whole heartedly that absolution was not forthcoming from him and Fry, but Catholics still had to live with their conscience and good luck to them.

Fry

As good as Hitchens was, the revelation of the evening was Stephen Fry.  Here was a man who I previously did not think capable of saying boo to a goose coming out (if you’ll excuse the pun) in full force against the forces of theocratic sexual repression.

Fry started off quoting Gwendolyn in The Importance of Being Earnest, saying that speaking one’s mind was quite often not just a moral duty, but a pleasure!  This was a subject he felt strongly about, not because he objected to people being religious, but because he felt passionately about the Enlightenment, which the Church has never tired of attacking.  Straightaway, Fry sarcastically rubbished Widdecombe’s dismissal of history, saying that history “quivers down all of us”.

Fry then went on to attack the appalling doctrine of purgatory and the hideous idea that a soul needs to be prayed for by us mortals here on earth in order to “take the first left when getting on the plane and getting a first class seat to heaven.”  He lambasted the tradition of people giving money to ensure the safe delivery of the soul and questioned why it should be a privilege that only men could enjoy.

The next target was the Church’s exploitation of poor people, citing Thomas More who burned people at the stake for reading English translations of the Bible during the Reformation yet was made the patron saint of politicians by Pope John Paul II!  Then there was the disgraceful joint statement on contraception with Saudi Arabia (!) in 2003 that began, “On behalf of the revealed religions of the world…”

However, the real meat came with Fry’s attacks on the Church’s stance on homosexuality.  As a gay man, Fry could not possibly be a member of an institution that thought him evil.  On the contrary, Fry announced that he was a man who was full of love and certainly had no need of the pope’s permission to tell him to practise it.  Fry compared sex to food.  It’s jolly and it’s fun.  But frankly, the Catholic Church is anorexic.

Fry has made a series of TV documentaries about HIV in Africa, HIV and Me, and attacked the Church’s stance on preaching misinformation about contraception.  “Yes, abstinence and being faithful help prevent the spread of AIDS, BUT SO DO CONDOMS!!!”  It was not the last time the mild-mannered British comic would raise his voice.

This wonderful opening speech was topped off by speculation as to what Jesus would think.  Fry is clearly one of those atheists who at least think that Christ was a great moral teacher (unlike Hitchens who questions both the man’s existence as well as his morality), and asked what the Nazarene would think of the opulence of St Peters and the male-dominated hierarchy.  Of course he would be horrified and would be the last person to become a member of his own church!

In his closing statement, Fry answered Widdecombe’s protests that he just had to bring up condoms and sexuality was rather like a criminal in the dock saying to the judge, “Do you have to bring up that burglary?”!  The second time he raised his voice was in reply again to Widdecombe’s relativist defence of the Church not condemning slavery because it was a socially acceptable normal with, “WELL, WHAT ARE YOU FOR?!”  Magic.

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Democracy in action

After the main speeches, the debate moved to comments and questions from the house.  The atheists were in full force in both numbers and words.  The moderator eventually had to ask for Catholic supporters to ask questions to balance things out!

Several gay men and women took the mikes and made their feelings known on the Church’s interference with what they do behind their bedroom doors.  One man asked the Archbishop what current policy of the Church he was most ashamed of!

Hitchens answered supporters’ objections to the Church’s charitable work and fundraising with his stock reply that Hamas do much of the same in Gaza, but is anyone going to say a word in defence of them for that reason?  He also showed his feminist colours by attacking the Ten Commandments as suppressing women and that the one proven way of bringing a society off its knees was to bring about the emancipation and the empowerment of women as opposed to having them as field hands, pack horses and baby producers.

Hitch also quite happily admitted to being sexually obsessed after Widdecombe accused Fry in her closing remarks of saying the evening’s only piece of “unpleasantness” by mocking the Archbishop’s vow of celibacy.  Hitch’s retort to this piece of prudishness was that from the day he first discovered that his God-given male member would give him no peace, he decided to give it no rest in return.  He also pronounced that homosexuality was not just a form of sex, it was a form of love.  Stephen Fry was a good friend of his and he would allow him to baby-sit his children any day of the week.  If, on the other hand, a clergyman showed up to look after his children, he would first call a taxi and then call the police!

The audience polls before and after the debate said it all:

Before the debate:

For the motion: 678
Against: 1102
Don’t know: 346

After the debate:

For: 268
Against: 1876
Don’t know: 34

Therefore, the number of people in the audience who opposed the motion increased by 774.

Ouch!

Andrew M Brown, on his Daily Telegraph blog, summed up the problem for the parties of God rather well:

The problem (from the Catholic point of view) was that the speakers arguing for the Church as a force for good were hopelessly outclassed by two hugely popular, professional performers.  The archbishop had obviously decided that it would work best if he stuck to facts and figures and presented the Church as a sort of vast charitable or “social welfare” organisation.  He emphasised how many Catholics there were in the world, and that even included “heads of state”, he said, as if that was a clincher.  But he said virtually nothing of a religious or spiritual nature as far as I could tell, and non-Catholics would have been none the wiser about what you might call the transcendent aspects of the Church. Then later when challenged he became painfully hesitant. In the end he mumbled and spluttered and retreated into embarrassing excuses and evasions. He repeatedly got Ann Widdecombe’s name wrong.  The hostility of both the audience and his opponents seemed to have discomfited him…

Even if you didn’t agree with him you’d have to concede Hitchens especially was spectacular and hyper-articulate…  Hitchens drank bottled water mostly, and plenty of it, though from time to time when he was sitting down he raised a glass of amber fluid from out of sight, down on the floor somewhere, and took a slug from that.  I don’t know why he kept a drink under the table like that, perhaps because the debate was filmed for broadcast.  He sweated profusely and dabbed his shiny forehead, eyes and cheeks with a handkerchief. But his diction was clear and he was in control, like a revivalist tent preacher, building the volume to a crescendo at the end, to applause and roars from the audience.

Amen to that, brother.

In conclusion – more and more are wearing their scarlet letter with pride

ScarletLetterA

Aside from the superb showing by Stephen Fry and the utter annihilation of the apologists at the hands of the heretics, the evening was notable for one other reason: the number of people willing to announce their atheist colours with pride and make their feelings known about what they really feel about the most oppressive, hypocritical institution that our mammalian primate species has ever concocted.

The books by the “New Atheists”: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and of course, Christopher Hitchens have instilled the non-believers around the world with the motivation and the confidence to speak out.  This is no mere flash in the pan.  As Winston Churchill had it, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Sorry to all the bishops, priests, nuns and mullahs, but we are not going away in a hurry.  All we need now is the confidence not to pick on such a soft target next time and debate whether Islam is a force for good in the world…


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