Debates with David Robertson and Richard Morgan on Unbelievable?

David Robertson



manicstreetpreacher goes head-to-head with one of the most determined Christian opponents to the New Atheists.

I recorded two debates with David Robertson, pastor of St Peter’s Free Church in Dundee and author of Christian response to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, The Dawkins Letters and Richard Morgan, a former atheist Internet debater now converted to Christianity through the words of Robertson.

The first is to be broadcast on Saturday, 12 September 2009, 2:30pm BST.

It’s a general chat about religious debating online, although we do touch on a few other issues.

The second is to be broadcast on Saturday, 19 September 2009, 2:30pm BST.

This one is whether Europe should be atheist or Christian, although from memory, that topic went out the window pretty quickly!


You can listen live online at the Unbelievable? homepage.

Or more conventionally on one of the following:

1305, 1332, 1413 MW
Sky Digital 0123
Freeview 725

Podcasts of the debates should go up on the site shortly after they are broadcast and can be downloaded here.

The podcast to Show One: Richard Morgan, David Robertson and MSP discuss religious debating online, Unbelievable?, Premier Christian Radio, 12 September 2009 can be downloaded here.

The podcast to Show Two: Richard Morgan, David Robertson and MSP discuss the rights and wrongs of Christian and atheist influences on Europe, Unbelievable? Premier Christian Radio, 19 September 2009 can be downloaded here.

I have also put a discussion topic on the Unbelievable? group page on Premier Christian Community here.

Richard Morgan has posted a discussion thread on the Unbelievable?, forum page on Premier Christian Community here (which he subsequently deleted because the posts against him and David Robertson were too angry accusatory!?!?!?!)

For the second show, David Robertson has posted a discussion thread on the Unbelievable? group page on Premier Christian Community here.

Pre-debate email correspondence between me and David Robertson is on my blog here.

My pre-debate review of Robertson’s book and public speaking is here.

See also my afterthought piece on the debates here.


15 September 2009

The first show has been posted on here and Atheist Media Blog here.

I’ve had some very positive comments made from other bloggers:

48. Comment #415404 by Sp!tfire on September 15, 2009 at 6:05 pm

Ed Turner:

“We don’t live in a fine tunned universe at all… God could design us to survive in the cold hard vacuum”

Perfect. This empties the fine tunning argument very well…

And not least of which is from Dawkins himself:

162. Comment #415683 by Richard Dawkins on September 16, 2009 at 9:47 am

By the way, now that I am here, when I said the broadcast was stupefyingly boring I should have excepted Ed Turner, who was certainly not boring. The trouble is, you have to sit through a lot of other stuff before you get to him and I suspect that most people wouldn’t have the patience.



29 September 2009

Some troll called Todd Pitner from Ashville, North Carolina, United States, has posted a self-confessed ad hominem attack about me on the Premier Christian forum Enough already! in response to my last two shows.  I quote it in full:

I know that it’s important to have a dissenting voice within ‘Unbelievable’, but I pray that you stop giving airtime to Ed Turner. His lack of originality in ‘all matters atheism’ is exhausting. I noticed during his first guest appearance that he was ‘clunky’ with his arguments and that they were all borrowed from others whom recycled arguments too, but at least they did it with some sense of originality. He talks about “fleas”…my goodness! His self-ordained “subject matter expertise” on atheism is painfully transparent. Why continue to provide a platform for him to continue with his Milli Vanilli act?

Honestly, I can take the arrogant dismissal of God’s truth (with ignorant contempt) from the Four Horsemen, but stop already with Ed Turner. Please! Surely there are other qualified unregenerate representatives of the Godless whom can spread the Gospel According to ‘Much-Ado-About-Narcissism’ in a less nauseating fashion.

If this seems like an ad hominem attack, guilty. “Forgive me Father, for I am not doing 1 Peter 3:15 proud. But you know my heart – I just can’t take this poser anymore. Hit Ctrl-Alt-Del already!”

See, on one hand there is truth – on the other, atheism. Attempting to suck off the teat of both resides Ed Turner, excelling in self-satisfied self-deception.

So then Ed asked the Christian, “May I please borrow your worldview to argue against it?”

Fleas be with you.


I was in two minds as to whether to respond to this.  The Villi Minnilli comment was a bit below the belt.  I admit that I pinched a line from Hitchens’ debate with William Lane Craig that heaven was essentially a “theme park in the sky” and I based my view that North Korea under Kim Jung Il was essentially a political religion on Hitchens’, but at least I credited him with the latter.

I have never made any secret of the fact that I have been inspired by the Four Horseman.  I dare say that I need another ten years’ reading and writing to come up with something truly original, but then again, none of the arguments for God’s existence are new, so the arguments against aren’t exactly fresh either.  I can’t remember the last time that I read a response to Dawkins’ that didn’t refer to C S Lewis or cite Francis Collins as proof that there is no conflict between science and religion…

What matters in the fight against religion is not whether the arguments are new or old, but that they are repeated often enough by enough people until we eliminate its poisonous influence upon the world.

If the Four Horsemen’s arguments are so tired and stale, believers should have no problem refuting them at a stroke, as opposed to resorting to name calling and accusations of plagiarism.

Besides, if you read all the replies, Mr Pitner exposes himself to be an obnoxious little twerp who (like most Christian apologists) has no actually arguments and has to resort to name calling!  As mysterious atheist blogger Tommy rather sensibly states, Todd resembles:

a drunken boxer flailing in the ring, hurling abuse and trying to get the crowd on his side, but ultimately fighting imaginary opponents.

Since you arrived here you seem to have been so volatile with everyone. We might not all agree but we are all human beings. Accusing others of mental disease and threatening them with an eternity by an open fire is pretty bombastic behavior.

Now, to draft a response of my own to this ignorant little upstart from the Colonies…

Show One on Skepticule

29 September 2009

Paul S Jenkins has posted a podcast of his musings on his Skepitcule blog here.

The comments about me are very positive, but they would be, wouldn’t they?  Paul is a very interesting sceptical character and has made some superb contributions to my blog recently, particularly with his comments on my latest attack on William Lane Craig here, if you scroll down and read the his replies to Richard Morgan.

The words “mouth”, “out” and “took” spring to mind!

Replies to Todd Pitner on Premier Christian Community

30 September 2009

I have posted a series of replies to Todd Pitner’s attack on me on the Unbelievable? group page in response to my latest shows with David Robertson and Richard Morgan.

The links to my replies on the forum and the text are reproduced below:


Wow!  My first ad hominem attack.  As Oscar Wilde would have it, “The only thing worse that being talked about is not being talked about”!

I was in two minds as to whether to respond to Todd’s trolling, but since he has revealed himself to be a silly little boy who has no arguments whatsoever (original or plagiarised) I thought I would wade in and have some fun.

Long live the Four Horsemen!


From Day One, I have made no secret of the fact that the Four Horsemen aka New Atheists are my main source of inspiration.  If anyone wants to call me a human quote-machine or a walking bibliography, I take no offence.

The Villi Minnilli comment was a bit below the belt.  I admit that in the last show with Robertson and Morgan, I pinched a line from Hitchens’ debate with William Lane Craig that heaven was essentially a “theme park in the sky” and I based my view that North Korea under Kim Jung Il was a political religion on Hitchens’ arguments, but at least I credited him with the latter.

I think Todd better get his definitions straight though.  Quote-mining is taking a quote out of context in order to misrepresent the true views of their author.  I feel that I have been pretty faithful to Dawkins & Co.

Besides, I can’t remember a theistic debater or apologetics piece that didn’t name-drop C S Lewis…

Long live The Hitch!


I’m such a fan of Hitchens’ verbal style that I have even complied a collections of his sayings from books, articles, lectures and debates which you can read on my own blog here, and have even typed out the full transcript of his freedom of speech lecture at the University of Toronto in 2006 here and have posted the YouTube videos of a 1988 appearance on C-Span here.

Please also see this piece here, which I have recently published on my blog that attacks William Lane Craig’s take on the God-ordered atrocities of the Old Testament and references an article by Hitchens!

“Same tired old atheism…”


There is nothing “new” about the New Atheists, they are just recent.  I see myself as taking up the baton and spreading their ideas, because they are not the only ones who are fed up to the back teeth of being pushed around by others who claim that they have divine permission to force their unproven, ridiculous faith-based dogmas down other people’s throats.

However, simply attacking the credibility of my sources is no substitute for attacking the arguments themselves.  David Robertson spends a vast proportion of his book and public speaking denouncing Dawkins’ “shrillness” but actually neglects to deal with the substance of his arguments.

For further elaboration, please see my pre-debate review of Robertson’s book and public speaking here in which I haul him up for this lazy tactic.

Todd, I’m afraid that you are guilty of exactly the same tactic.  Tell me, do they teach ad hominem as a core subject in Bible class around the world?

None of the arguments for God’s existence are actually new and therefore the arguments against aren’t exactly fresh either.  But the latter do require enough people to keep repeating them and then one day we might crack the straggle-hold of religion upon society.

A foot soldier of the Four Horsemen –v- A Flea


I actually debated one of the “fleas”, Peter S Williams, at Liverpool University at the start of this year.  And trounced him thoroughly.

Williams’ response to Dawkins, A Sceptic’s Guide to Atheism harped on about how terrible everyone else thought Dawkins’ philosophical arguments were, but failed to counter them effectively.

I used some of the Four Horsemen’s arguments in our debate and he simply had no reply to them.

You can read my reviews of two of Williams’ God books in the aftermath of our debate here and here.  Williams’ responses on his blog are linked in the comments section at the bottom.

Unbelievable? debut – September 2008


I am extremely grateful to Tommy for trashing my performance in my first Unbelievable? debates against theologian Andy Bannister in September last year.  As I said in the first Morgan/ Robertson show, he was the motivation for me to sign up to a few online religious debate forums and start up my own blog which helped me engage more with the arguments and come up with a few of my own.

I drafted an afterthought piece on the Bannister encounters, which you can read here.

I MUST draw your attention to the point about the Roman Census in Show 1.  Bannister said that Dawkins had “been machine-gunned to the wall by scholars of all stripes” for stating in The God Delusion that Luke’s census that required the population to return to the home town of their ancestors to register was historical nonsense.

One of my friends who heard the show when it first went out emailed me at the time saying Bannister was talking nonsense.  I forwarded the comment to him but he ignored it.  I addressed it in the piece on my blog, pointing out that Dawkins actually cites historians A N Wilson and Robin Lane Fox in support and he still ignored it.  I emailed him the full quote from Fox’s book The Unauthorised Version in a later post of mine and he had nothing to say to that either!

Indeed, make sure you scroll down to the comments section of my piece and read his furious reaction of me trashing his specious assertions over “context” here.  Read also Steven Carr’s schooling of Bannister over Richard Bauckham’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses here.

See also my polemic against American Christian apologist of the Hyde Park Christian Fellowship and Unbelievable? stalwart, Jay Smith here, which exposes Bannister further.

Any great loss?


Todd’s not going to listen to Unbelievable? any more if I’m on again?

Justin, we really need to get round to those debates on whether theology is not a complete waste of the world’s rainforests and whether God wants us to keep slaves…

Replies to Premier Christian Community Discussion Thread on Show Two

2 October 2009

David Robertson posted a discussion thread on the Unbelievable? group page on Premier Christian Community here.

Would Europe be better off atheist than Christian?

Posted by David Robertson on September 21, 2009 at 7:55pm in Unbelievable


I’ll kick things off by saying that I thought Ed was amiable, intelligent, articulate and put his case well. It is such a shame for him that it is such a poor case! A renewal and revival of real Christianity in Europe is the only thing that can save us from social chaos, economic collapse and moral disintegration.

Can I make a small request? When we discuss these things can we refrain from the personal insults?  Much appreciated….


The following was by far the most interesting and meaty reply:

Reply by David on September 21, 2009 at 9:57pm

I thought it was a great show and all of you made interesting points. Most of my disagreements, however, are with Ed (although seeing as my biases are obviously towards Christianity, I wouldn’t take it personally: p) I’ll apologise now that my thoughts on the show ended up longer than I expected when I began this post!

I noticed that Ed kept pointing out that Stalin etc weren’t rational however I can’t see why that matters. The discussion wasn’t over whether Europe should be based on reason and logic (with David Robertson, presumably, arguing that politicians should come up with illogical arguments for their policies) If you want a rational Europe then will atheism provide that? Clearly Britain is becoming more secular yet are we becoming more scientific and rational? Where are the TV schedules brimming with science programmes (all of which get high viewing figures)? Why do universities find it harder to fill science courses than other subjects? Why do most newspapers have horoscopes? An atheist Europe does not mean a rational Europe.

Another thing I found curious is the way atheists will claim Hitler was a Christian even though he never went to church on a regular basis, talked about God less and less the longer he was in power and is on record for being critical of Christianity. I wonder, had Hitler been a world famous scientist and Einstein an evil dictator then would atheists still be confident that Hitler believed in God and Einstein did not?

In the show, Ed claimed society gave religion an easy ride, yet does it? If a Christian claims to be morally and intellectually superior to everyone else they are quite rightly accused of being arrogant and judgemental. If an atheist does it, they get a round of applause and sell lots of books. Would, for example, a newspaper dare publish an article claiming only theists can be in charge of the NIH (as Sam Harris and others did with Frances Collins?) How often do people poke fun at religion? I can only think of one example of somebody poking fun at atheism (and that’s John Cleese who has made fun of religion as well).

In the show Ed asked David Robertson what his views on evolution are however I got the feeling this was in the hope he would admit to being a creationist and all the atheists could give a round of applause having seen the litmus test for rationality failed. But the show wasn’t on evolution nor do I believe those sorts of questions are done in the interest of truth. A while ago the Guardian got 3 scientists, two popular writers and two broadcasters and made them do a science quiz. One of the questions asked was ‘how old is the earth?’ Seeing as society is obsessed with the fact creations are wrong you’d think that all eight of the panel would have the age of the universe ready to roll off their tongue. You’d certainly think the scientists would know it off by heart. But no – Robert Winston was the only one to get it right and he’s Jewish. Is being ignorant about the age of the universe socially acceptable but being misinformed wrong? Why does David Robertson’s beliefs on evolution prove Europe would be better off without God? The sad truth is that this ‘enlightened’ secular society is just as scientifically illiterate than many creationists are. The only difference being, that saying ‘I find science boring’ isn’t frowned upon in the same way as religion is.

Finally, like a lot of atheists you seem to think that the moral argument is a claim to Christian superiority. That would be like hearing the fine tuning argument and then asking a Christian whether converting to atheism stops the universe from being finely tuned and causes them to float off into space. The question is a philosophical question about where morality comes from. If explaining the evolutionary origins of religion (as Dawkins spends a whole chapter doing in The God Delusion) disproves God then does writing a chapter on the evolutionary origins of morality prove that all Dawkins moral statements are no more than an accident of evolution?

Nonetheless, it was a fascinating discussion. I think a Christian Europe would be better than an atheist one not because there’ll be less corruption in politics or that Christians make better leader etc. I believe Europe will will be better of Christian because I believe that Christianity is true and a Europe with genuine hope is better than a Europe which is no more than a small spec in a meaningless universe. In a billion years time, will it matter what sort of Europe we ended up with. As I Christian I can say yes.

I’ll get round to responding in due course, but I have to quote Steven Carr’s reply to the following quote from one of Hitler’s secretaries, Traudl Junge, that Robertson quotes in his book and continually posts on Internet forums, emailed to me during our exchange and read out on Show 2 in order to demonstrate conclusive that  Der Führer was not a Christian:

Sometimes we also had interesting discussions about the church and the development of the human race. Perhaps it’s going too far to call them discussions, because he would begin explaining his ideas when some question or remark from one of us had set them off, and we just listened.  He was not a member of any church, and thought the Christian religions were outdated, hypocritical institutions that lured people into them.  The laws of nature were his religion.  He could reconcile his dogma of violence better with nature than with the Christian doctrine of loving your neighbour and your enemy.  “Science isn’t yet clear about the origins of humanity,” he once said. “We are probably the highest stage of development of some mammal which developed from reptiles and moved on to human beings, perhaps by way of the apes.  We are a part of creation and children of nature, and the same laws apply to us as to all living creatures.  And in nature the law of the struggle for survival has reigned from the first.  Everything incapable of life, everything weak is eliminated.  Only mankind and above all the church have made it their aim to keep alive the weak, those unfit to live, and people of an inferior kind.”

Traudall Junge – from Until the Final Hour – Arcade Publishing – 2004 – p108.

Carr replies as follows (NB: David Robertson persists on spelling Carr’s first name “Stephen”):

I see Robertson is still touting the quote from a woman who says on the very next page of the book that she had only a “very vague and inaccurate memory” of what Hitler had said.  Robertson always seems to leave that out.

In the very next line, Traudl Junge says she could remember only “fragments”. Robertson always seems to stop quoting just before that.  Funny…


And Robertson still cannot spell Traudl Junge’s name correctly, which speaks volumes for his inability to be corrected on even the tiniest detail.  He will never accept even that he spelled somebody’s name wrongly, he is so closed-minded!

Most rational people will accept after 10 or 12 reminders that they have not spelled somebody’s name correctly.  But Robertson is infallible.  If he believes Traudl should be spelled Traudall, then he will never change his mind, no matter how often he looks at the book he claims to have read.

You would think that just once or twice, Robertson would glance at the cover of the book he allegedly owns and see how to spell the woman’s name.

Or at least actually listen to somebody who knows how to spell it, and accept that for once in his life, Robertson might be wrong about something, even if it is only 1 thing in a 70 year lifespan.

Well done, Steven!  I’ll remember that if I ever meet Robertson at the debater’s lectern again!

My replies to David:


Where are the TV schedules brimming with science programmes (all of which get high viewing figures)?  Why do universities find it harder to fill science courses than other subjects?  Why do most newspapers have horoscopes?  An atheist Europe does not mean a rational Europe.

David – I actually agree whole-heartedly with you here!  It is depressing how little column inches are dedicated to science in favour of horoscopes!

Indeed, my view of religion is that it is the ultimate superstition and/or conspiracy theory!  Humans have the innate tendency to attribute deliberate design and agency to everything that they see around them.

If a car or a watch had a designer, then surely an eye or universe must have come into existence through the same process?

Well, no.  But that’s for another thread.

Watch Dawkins’ Channel 4 series from a couple of years ago, The Enemies of Reason, which debunks superstition and pseudo-science like astrology, crystal-therapy, psychics, faith healers and homeopathy.

Also read my recent blog piece on homeopathy and a write-up of a brilliant lecture I attended on paranormal experiences.  The truth is not out there, it’s up here.


Another thing I found curious is the way atheists will claim Hitler was a Christian even though he never went to church on a regular basis, talked about God less and less the longer he was in power and is on record for being critical of Christianity.

As I said on the show, I think that a serious case can be made either way as to Hitler’s religious beliefs.  David R quotes Traudl Junge, one of Hitler’s secretaries, who had to endure hours of his tedious ramblings into the small hours about how unchristian he was and how much he opposed the Church.  (Just how accurately Junge is quoted is a source of debate in itself, if you read Steven Carr’s post above.)  Robertson also quotes one of Hitler’s numerous anti-Christian remarks recorded in Table Talk.

On the other hand, it is not true to say that Hitler was a complete lapsed Catholic.  He constantly invoked God and Christ in his speeches and this website contains some fascinating pictures of him attending church and praying at a public rally.

I think that Christianity has to take a fair share of the blame for National Socialism, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, and not just the scientists or the intellectuals as Robertson maintains.

Whether or Hitler was himself a believer, he certainly knew how to play on people’s religious prejudices for his own ends.  He also had massive support from both Catholic and Protestant churches.  I expand on this in the relevant section in my afterthought piece.

Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot etc. certainly were atheists and there’s no way I can get away from that fact.  However, David R ignores the second strand of Dawkins’ argument in The God Delusion and simply equates lack of belief in God with being an evil mass-murder.

While atheism (or more accurately the extermination of conventional theistic religion and its replacement with a new order and a new Messiah) may have been part of the Communist totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, its members were not motivated by their simply disbelief in Yahweh, Christ or Zeus.  These were other political dogmas that combined with modern technology to produce an explosive cocktail of destruction.

I’m not writing one word in defence of Stalin.  I am simply saying that atheism cannot be blamed for him.


If Ed is allowed to claim that Stalin et al weren’t real atheists then why can’t I claim that all the bad Christian leaders throughout history weren’t real Christians?

David – I certainly don’t make that claim at all!  From my pre-debate review of Robertson’s book and public speaking:

Robertson contradicts himself yet again in response to Dawkins quoting abusive and threatening emails from Christians.  He states that these people cannot be Christians because they are threatening violence as opposed to turning the other cheek and using foul language.  Further on, however, he refuses to accept the same “reasoning” from atheists who apparently argue that Hitler and Stalin could not have been atheists because they weren’t rational people.  What do want to do with your cake; have it or eat it?

And also:

Hitler and Stalin may or may not have been atheists, but they certainly weren’t secularists, humanists or rationalists.   I’m sure we could all topple the arguments for National Socialism if we put our minds it.  I’m equally certain that most people would struggle to accept that its founder and leader was a rational individual.   If he wanted a Thousand Year Reich, going to war with Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union simultaneously wasn’t really the best way to go about it.


I wonder, had Hitler been a world famous scientist and Einstein an evil dictator then would atheists still be confident that Hitler believed in God and Einstein did not?

Well, this is simply a matter of the proper representation of Einstein’s true views.  At best, he could be described as a pantheist or a deist.  He used the word “God” to convey his belief Spinoza’s God: the God who created held universe together but took no interest in human affairs.  This is entirely metaphorical, but apologists leap on statements such as “science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind,” and leap on them as evidence that Einstein was a theist and therefore religion has scientific credibility.

Einstein himself made clear:

It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated.  I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly.  If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

I for one am certainly not going to try to claim that Francis Collins is really an atheist!  However, apologists think that it is a valid argument in support of the truth or usefulness of religious faith to claim that prominent scientists are really believers.

To finish off this discussion of Einstein’s religious beliefs, I have written a blog piece that shows a commonly quoted statement purporting to be from Einstein in support of the Church in Hitler’s Germany is a fabrication.


In the show, Ed claimed society gave religion an easy ride, yet does it?

Well yes, it does actually.  Read the section on the Catholic Church’s present policy on condom use in the Third World in my afterthought piece for proof of this:

This is faith-based stupidity that carries with it potentially genocidal consequences.  It is only due to the automatic respect that is accorded to religion and its institutions – in effect a “free lunch” – means the Vatican can get away with it.

Imagine if the US president, the chief executive officer of a multi-national corporation or a leading celebrity made similar remarks.  Would their career survive?  Of course not.  So why do we make an exception for clergymen?

And do you think I don’t get sick of theists telling me that I have no morals or mentioning Hitler and Stalin in the same breath?


Would, for example, a newspaper dare publish an article claiming only theists can be in charge of the NIH (as Sam Harris and others did with Francis Collins?)

Would you Adam and Eve it?!  It just so happens that I have written a detailed report of the strange case of Dr Collins and Mr Harris on my blog.

In his follow-up article to the piece in The New York Times, Harris well and truly put paid to the bogus idea that there can ever be a harmony between science and religion:

Is it really so difficult to perceive a conflict between Collins’ science and his religion?  Just imagine how scientific it would seem if Collins, as a devout Hindu, informed his audience that Lord Brahma had created the universe and now sleeps; Lord Vishnu sustains it and tinkers with our DNA (in a way that respects the law of karma and rebirth); and Lord Shiva will eventually destroy it in a great conflagration.

American evolutionary biologist and author of Why Evolution is True, Jerry A Coyne, wrote a suitably pithy rebuttal of Harris’ critics on his blog:

[Harris] did not say that Collins should be excluded from consideration.  Harris, like me, is simply worried about Collins using his status as NIH director to spread wacko religious ideas.  Harris has the additional concern (one that I don’t really share) that Collins might deflect research away from understanding the human brain and the behavior it engenders…

What is fascinating is that Collins has said no one single word in reply to Harris’ repeated tongue-lashings when atheist scientists like Richard Dawkins and Michael Shermer (and for that matter Harris himself) have gone to great lengths to make their views known when they have been misrepresented.

As they were with the film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.


In the show Ed asked David Robertson what his views on evolution are however I got the feeling this was in the hope he would admit to being a creationist and all the atheists could give a round of applause having seen the litmus test for rationality failed…  Why does David Robertson’s beliefs on evolution prove Europe would be better off without God?

Actually, David, the reason why I asked Robertson whether he believed in evolution or not was to demonstrate the strange partition in his brain between science and religion.

In The Dawkins Letters, Robertson stands up for the head of the science department, Stephen Layfield of Emmanuel College, after Dawkins rips into him for advocating children be taught “Creation Science” and “Flood Geology” (!) in science classes.  But Robertson adds the caveat that Layfield “may or may not be wrong” about evolution, but it’s better to let the little darlings make up their own minds.

I had two points to make in asking David to clarify his views.

Firstly, I think that deep down, David does believe in evolution because he sees the scientific coherency of it.  However, I think that he is also determined to hold onto his religious belief that all the evil and suffering in the world was due to Adam’s fall in the Garden of Eden for which we “messed up” and “polluted” human beings have been paying for every since.

Accepting evolution fully would destroy this meta-narrative for him, because death, pain and suffering are all part of the natural order and have nothing to do with man’s rejection of his creator.

Secondly, evolution is a fact whether we like the idea of being related to monkeys or not (although how that is any worse than being made from dirt, I do not know) and is part of the science that has rid the world of smallpox and predicts when earthquakes will happen.

It sounds so reasonable to “teach the argument” and let the children decide between evolution, creationism and “intelligent design”.  But just try to apply that to any other disciple:

OK children, we’ve seen photos of all those corpses piled high at places like Auschwitz and Belsen, heard the endless testimony of victims, perpetrators and rescuers and seen the documents showing that the Nazi leaders knew exactly what they were doing.

Now let’s hear from this guy David Irving, who says that it was all a hoax.

Then you can make up your own minds.

This article by Dawkins and Jerry Coyne following the decision in the Kitzmiller –v- Dover PA Intelligent Design trial is an excellent discussion of what is an isn’t proper to teach school children.

David Robertson’s nod to multi-cultural relativism is not going to help anyone.


Finally, like a lot of atheists you seem to think that the moral argument is a claim to Christian superiority.

All I want to say about the moral argument here is that I am becoming ever more convinced that it is wishful thinking.

David quoted G K Chesterton’s famous remark that “when men stop believing in God, they won’t believe in nothing but in anything.”  I retorted that Chesterton himself was a very vocal supporter of fascism, so clearly his devout belief in God didn’t stop him from believing in anything.

Robertson as Christian doesn’t know anything more than I as an atheist know, or at least he doesn’t have access to any more sources of information than I do.

All this talk about how only a believer can aspire to absolute morality or can justify why they would risk their life to save that of stranger is white noise.

Clearly in reality morals are relative.  There are practices of yesteryear and in other parts of the world today that we in the West find abhorrent.  However the shifting moral Zeitgeist means that humanity makes moral progress without recourse to religion.  I doubt whether anyone today would want to return to the legal systems of the Bible.

Let’s say that in 50 years time it is taboo to eat meat, keep pets or harm animals in any way whatsoever.  The West has followed Peter Singer’s advice and has become vegan.

What will the theists say?  That respecting animals is the absolute standard of morality as dictated by the creator of the universe!

Doubtless there would be some Christians taking part in the fight to accord animals equal rights with human beings.  They would cherry-pick a few nice verses from the Bible respecting animals (and ignoring all those copious passages in Leviticus recommending animal sacrifice) and point to people like St Francis.

Nevertheless, in my imaginary future scenario, there would surely be plenty of non-believers who had formed their view independent of faith and indeed in spite of its opposition to societal change.

This is retrospective evidentialism of a particularly rank and hypocritical variety.

David Robertson does what he feels is right according to his innate morality and add God as a needless layer on top of it.

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9 Responses to “Debates with David Robertson and Richard Morgan on Unbelievable?”

  1. Steven Carr Says:

    You must have the patience of a saint to listen to Richard Morgan and David Robertston.

  2. So Far: David Robertson « manicstreetpreacher's blog Says:

    […] for Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? in London on 20 July 2009.  I am informed that the shows are due to be broadcast on Saturday, 12 and Saturday 19 September 2009.  I’ll post the links to […]

  3. Steven Carr Says:

    David Robertson keeps very quiet about the fact that his prize convert claims he came to faith not as the result of evidence.

  4. Blair T Says:


    I though overall you did a good job in holding your own in the discussion, but you stumbled a bit when David Robertson asked what evidence would make you believe in God.

    I think this is a hard question for anyone who has come to a conclusion after looking at a lot of evidence and argument.

    There are some good videos on Youtube called “How to convert and Atheist” which tackle the question directly, outlining the types of evidence that would give credence to a belief in god. Largely the arguments come down to the evidence would have to be totally different than it is – for example, prophesies would be specific and verifiable rather than vague and only understood after the fact.

    I was a bit disappointed that you brought up the “Problem of Evil” in response to this question. I realize that this is a popular argument, but for me it does nothing to address whether there is a god – only that the god does not conform to our sense of morality.


    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Hello Blair T

      Thank you for your comments and constructive criticism. The debate has been posted on here and AtheistMedia blog here. I am encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive responses I have had, including from Dawkins himself here!

      I realise the “evidence an atheist would accept for God“ was probably the weakest part of the debate for me. It’s a common debater’s trick that people like William Lane Craig and Robertson are well-versed in to say that “you haven’t answered that at all.”

      Please see below my reply I posted on the Premier Christian Community forum to David Robertson in which I have another stab.



      Hello David R

      I think you have fundamentally misunderstood the atheist case. In the first show, you said that I hadn’t answered Justin’s question about what evidence would persuade an atheist.

      You are approaching matters from the wrong side.

      It is not for the atheist to prove or disprove anything. The theist is the one making the extraordinary claim that there is an invisible, undetectable, celestial being who is watching us every second, can read our thoughts, answer our prayers and make corpses walk.

      The atheist merely contends that there is no good evidence or reason to believe such things.

      Rather like the conjecture that the movement of the planets control our lives. Or that our futures can be accurately predicted with the aid of playing cards with amusing pictures on them.

      As Carl Sagan said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The burden of proof therefore is squarely on you.

      I have not been presented with sufficiently good reasons to believe this proposition and I’m afraid your book or public speaking does not satisfy me either.

      However, since I failed to satisfy your curiosity the first time round, I would like to have another go and provide just a few of many possible examples of evidence that might persuade an atheist of God’s existence:

      1) If intercessionary prayer of Christians had a demonstrably greater effect than other religions under controlled conditions. This has never conclusively been done.

      2) If the Bible contained some form of knowledge that could not have been known to someone in Iron Age Palestine, such as detailed scientific descriptions of DNA or electricity that future scientists such as Darwin and Einstein relied upon in their works, and rather less talk about animal sacrifice.

      3) If the stories of the Exodus, the wandering in Sinai and the Glorious United Kingdom of Israel and Judea were confirmed by modern archaeology. Read the works of OT scholars such as William Dever, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman to see that this is far from the case. Geographers still can’t reach a consensus on which peak is Mount Sinai.

      4) If JC came flying down out of the clouds to judge the living and the dead, cast all the sinners into a pit of fire and general establish God’s Holy Kingdom on Earth. I doubt whether arguments over the reliability of the NT accounts will ever be resolved, but the Second Coming is a prediction that would prove Christianity to the satisfaction of every atheist scientist the world-over.

      You say in your book that your faith is based on evidence and the minute that evidence is disproved, you will cease to believe.

      Can I ask you, what evidence would make you stop believing?

      Best wishes


  5. Stevie Says:

    Well done Ed!

    I think you did brilliantly well despite the limited time you were given.

    I was very pleased with how you dealt with Mr Robertson. The man’s arguments deserve no respect but you avoided being drawn into personalizing the issue as I fear I would’ve done. An excellent contribution – keep up the good work!


  6. TheTrueScotsman Says:


    I listened to the first debate completely and part of the second one, eventually having to switch off before I threw my iPod in the ground. How you managed to control yourself talking to DR is beyond me. He has to be one of the smuggest, arrogant, condescending apologists (and that is saying something) there are. (I’d like to point out to him that all these accusations are relative and therefore

    He is extremely skilled in debating and certainly knows his stuff, but talking to him is like talking to a dining room table.

    You did well; much better than many could have done. You certainly did your homework and you were not afraid to be on the offensive (difficult against someone as charismatic as DR).

    If I might state one area you may wish to work on in debating, you may not notice but you have a tendency to “…er…” quite a bit. Of course this does not detract from your arguments but in debating it is often percieved (subconsiously I think) as a sign of hesitation, of a slight lack of confidence in what you are arguing. Often, presentation can unfortunately count more than content. It is what makes Robertson and WL Craig such masterly debaters.

    With more practice I am sure this will come and thanks for putting yourself up for debating, you have much more gall than I.

    On a secondary note, I’d like to know whether we should go even more on the offensive. I sometimes think non-theists get sucked into the religionists ground, using their language and concepts. I’d love to hear a debate where the apologists are reminded that they cannot use loaded terms.

    The WL Craig tactic of using the argument from Ultimate Morality may be pricked by pointing out that his first premise (Without God there is no ultimate morality) presupposes a God. It is truer to say that “Without X there is no ultimate morality”. The theist is still left with it all to do to show that X is Yaweh. It is simply an unknown. Therefore we should use X (or Bob or Fitumtch or whatever) as a substitute for the word God, because the latter comes preloaded with so many suppositions. (My preference is “Sky-Dad” but that of course comes with a presupposition)

    Get them too to define “Morals” too. How do THEY determine what is moral and what is not? (Useful to throw in Plato here when they define morality as “What god wants us to do”).

    It is difficult, Roberton is very skilled at putting the onus back onto his opponent and forcing them to defend a proposition, despite him being the one making the positive claim.

    One tactic might be to predefine (in public) terms of belief. For instance, how do you think an opeing statment like this would be answered:

    “Just so I know which religious POV you are arguing for, are you a literal, talking snake in a garden, world-flood, talking donkey, Amalakite-genocide sort of Christian? Or are you an all metaphor and mystery kinda guy?”.

    Despite listening to Robertson in several debates, I still don’t really know where he actually stands. (although I suspect its the former) He is so skilled at puting the onus back on the non-theist, that they relinquish the ground and go on the defensive, leaving Roberton to not having to defend plainly ridiculous premises.

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Hello TrueScotsman

      Thank you for your praise constructive criticism. DR is certainly one of the most belligerent apologists out there and is not going to change his mind on anything in a hurry!

      I actually read about a thousand times more material on top of his book in preparation for that debate; including Ian Kershaw’s biography of Hitler, Niall Ferguson’s study the 20th century and two of John Gray’s books! At the very least, DR is good for improving my acumen.

      I note your point that I say “err…” a lot. I hope it will vanish as I do more of these debates and speeches and my confidence builds. It is pretty nerve-wracking sitting in front of that mike and having to think of something to say on the spur of the moment. I think you speak a lot better when standing up for some weird reason. I also have a habit of going “umm, yeah…” at the end of my points, but I think DJ Justin edited those out of the final broadcast version!

      Have you read my pre-debate review and afterthought piece on DR at all? In the latter, I expand upon a few points that we didn’t have time to cover in greater detail on air, including the distinction between objective and absolute morals (!) and I also discovered that what Pope Benedict actually said about condom use in the Third World in March this year was actually amended by the Vatican press office!

      Thanks once again for your support.


  7. David Robertson on modern day Christian martyrs | manicstreetpreacher Says:

    […] One of the categories it is filed under on his blog is called “The Persecuted Church” and during our debates on Unbelievable? in 2009, Robertson made out the Christian beliefs were coming under disproportionately harsh attack […]

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