Unbelievable? reports on the Intelligence Squared debate on Atheist Fundamentalism

MSP is featured!

Justin Brierley, presenter of Premier Christian Radio’s sceptical debate show, Unbelievable?, has done a report on the above debate which I attended at Wellington College on 29 November 2009.  You can download the podcast here.

My question to the Christian members of the panel is at 23 minutes.  You can read my report on the lecture given by Ken Ham, head of Answers In Genesis, at Liverpool University in March 2008 over at Butterflies & Wheels here.

Good show Justin, but I could not disagree with you more about Charles Moore being the evening’s “revelation”.  And perhaps you would care to read my piece on why Dawkins most certainly should not debate William Lane Craig.

I’m also in the middle of writing and researching my own paper on whether atheism was responsible for Hitler’s Germany, which I wish I could forward to the audience member who thought that Hitler was an atheist in order to educate her!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

9 Responses to “Unbelievable? reports on the Intelligence Squared debate on Atheist Fundamentalism”

  1. manicstreetpreacher Says:

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

  2. manicstreetpreacher Says:


    I thought that Justin’s take on the fine tuning argument when he was interviewing a member of the audience after the debate that “the universe saw us coming” was pretty lame! Reminds me of Voltaire’s parody of German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s view that “we live in the best of all possible worlds” in his short story “Candide”.

    There, Dr Pangloss, a thinly disguised Leibniz, proclaims:

    “It is demonstrable,” said he, “that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for as all things have been created for some end, they must necessarily be created for the best end. Observe, for instance, the nose is formed for spectacles, therefore we wear spectacles. The legs are visibly designed for stockings, accordingly we wear stockings. Stones were made to be hewn and to construct castles, therefore My Lord has a magnificent castle; for the greatest baron in the province ought to be the best lodged. Swine were intended to be eaten, therefore we eat pork all the year round: and they, who assert that everything is right, do not express themselves correctly; they should say that everything is best.”

    What a genius!


  3. PaulJ Says:

    I get tired of hearing about the fine-tuning of the universe, when it’s patently obvious that the universe is overwhelmingly hostile to life of any kind, let alone intelligent human life. I challenge anyone to look at the Hubble Deep Field Image and not be awed by the sheer immensity of this hostility. Douglas Adams could have used this image in lieu of the Total Perspective Vortex, and he knew a thing or two about the anthropic principle — read his description of what it would be like to be a sentient puddle waking up in a hole that seems to fit him just so.

    It was interesting to hear Justin’s slant on the debate proceedings. His concluding comments on why he considered the so-called new atheists to be dogmatic spurred me to pen this email to him:


    I’ve just listened to the podcast of your report on the debate I too attended at Wellington College. I’m grateful to hear your views from a Christian perspective, but I take issue with your final comments asserting that atheism must be fundamentalist because it relies on dogmatic denial of the supernatural. I accept that Dawkins and Grayling, being “materialists”, must take that particular stance, but I fail to see how they could do otherwise. Acceptance of supernatural forces in the natural world does not lead to a greater understanding of how the world works, it simply muddies the waters of scientific investigation.

    It may indeed be desirable or comforting to believe that there’s more to existence than just this life, but without good evidence for transcendental entities we are reduced to mere unsupported speculation. Atheists such as Dawkins and Grayling are right to insist that decisions on important issues such as moral actions, rights for individuals and education of children are based on principles derived from demonstrable, evidence-based facts rather than ancient texts of dubious provenance.

    Speculation concerning the will of supernatural entities for which no compelling evidence has ever been produced may be philosophically interesting, but it’s of no practical use — other than fuelling the imaginations of fantasy novelists.

    Paul S. Jenkins

  4. PaulJ Says:

    The fine-tuning argument is inextricably tied up with our built-in tendency to see agency in all things. Everything must have a purpose, something that it’s for. An example: “If God had not intended for us to eat animals, how come He made them out of meat?” (I admit that that this quote comes from someone not renowned for her skills in reason and logic.)

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      I know the rest of the fine-tuning argument all too well and it should be repeated in William Lane Craig’s irritating southern drawl:

      “It’s all too complex and improbable for my tiny mind to comprehend; I’ll ram the point home with a lot of zeros after the decimal point. It must have been The Thing That Made The Things For Which There Is No Known Maker…”


  5. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    From: MSP
    To: David Robertson
    CC: Justin Brierley
    Subject: Dawkins on Hitler and Stalin
    Date: 20 December 2009 21:17

    Hello David

    Justin read out your comment on yesterday’s show about Dawkins’ take on Hitler and Stalin at the Intelligence Squared debate on atheist fundamentalism. You said that Hitler and Stalin etc. most definitely were influenced by their atheism to commit their evil deeds because they thought that there would be no final judgement for them after departing this life. I remember on the second show with Richard Morgan you said that “if Hitler had been a Christian he would not have ordered the Holocaust”, which I have never properly responded to, but I take very grave exception.

    Leaving aside whether or not Hitler was a true Christian (and indeed whether he did actually order the Holocaust; there’s no official document with his signature on it that has survived, the little sneak!), can I ask you whether my atheism and indeed that of Richard Morgan up until a couple of years ago would mean that we would order genocide and ethnic cleansing if we were the head of a state and its armed forces?

    The question is not whether atheists or believers will commit evil deeds. Clearly, atheists are as guilty of child abuse, murder and psychopathology as much as any other social group. The question is whether atheism systematically influences people to do evil deeds. There is not the smallest evidence that it does. You yourself conceded in the second show that you would not be indifferent to the plight of a child stranded in the middle of a road about to be run over by a bus. It is simply not true to say that all atheists regard their fellow human beings on the same level as innate matter, such as a cardboard box, by virtue of their atheism.

    But if you really want to do body counts, then consider the Crusades. Or the conquest of the Americas where white Christian Europeans committed history’s least-discussed Holocaust against the indigenous Americans with the full backing and indeed the complicity of the churches. Have you seen Roland Joffé’s film The Mission with Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro? That is a pretty accurate portrayal of the crimes against humanity that were carried out. If you read Bertrand Russell as avidly as you say you do, then you’ll know he made the point that although the First World War was not a religious war in any sense (although I heard somewhere that the Muslim Ottoman Empire of Turkey declared the war against the Allies as a jihad!), it was still a slaughter on a massive scale perpetrated by imperialist theocratic regimes who all said they had God on their side.

    Christian faith is clearly no guarantee against such behaviour and I think you are unjustifiably demonising atheists by continuing to trot out this well-worn, bogus argument.

    I can’t remember whether you commented on this directly, but plenty of other listeners and JB have, but I have also blogged on Dawkins’ refusal to debate William Lane Craig as well as Craig’s smear on Dawkins’ views on religious child abuse, which may be of interest.

    I hope you are well. Merry Christmas and all the best for 2010.


  6. Birdieupon Says:

    Yo MSP!

    Dude I’ve been getting through the entire archive of Unbelievable and you are certainly the closest thing to a Chris Hitchens they’ve had (presumably you are feeling healthier at the moment though)!

    I agree and disagree with you. Here’s where and why:


    Charles Moore. Yea…. not brilliant. I’m sure he’d be fun to have a quick drink with at the bar, but I wasn’t much impressed with him. He appeared to be stuck in “journalist” mode, as if writing for a Telegraph column, and the consequence was that his most memorable lines were ad hominem rhetoric about “Commandant Dawkins” and running overtime, preaching about his little wooden cross.


    Dawkins should not debate Craig? Hmm… I have to say no. I think this would be the ultimate meeting of minds. If Dawkins’ atheism is so robust then he should give it as thorough a test as possible, and Craig is a professional philosopher who knows how to analyze an argument as soon as it leaves his opponents’ lips. I also have to disagree on the accusation that Craig smeared Dawkins on child abuse. If Dawkins is going to say that labelling children and bringing them up in a faith is child abuse, it would make sense that children should be removed from abusive parents! He may well have qualified it by saying “I was only consciousness raising” but that’s a bit like someone shouting “fire!” and then saying “I was only trying to make the room a bit more lively”.

    So, my thoughts. And when are you back on the Unbelievable forum!? I miss your posts! 😀

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Hello Birdieupon

      Thank you for the vote of confidence. I hope to take over the Hitch’s role once he has snuffed it from smoking too many fags!

      I don’t think Dawkins –v- Craig would be a good line up. Dawkins may not be right about every subject he tackles, but at least he is sincere. I don’t think Craig even believes that all of his own arguments are valid, but he keeps using them because they are tricky to refute in a live debate, particularly his absurd sound bite about the sheer “improbability” of evolution being evidence for God he pulled out in the Hitchens debate at Biola.

      Craig is first and foremost a “professional debater”. Discrediting his opponent by trying to make him look silly is his number one priority. I can understand why Dawkins – who is not a fan of taking part in live debates – was put off by Craig’s aggressive and bullying style.

      Are you posting on Premier Forum then? I have been taking a break from Internet blogging and debating since locating back home and starting a new job. I was doing it a bit too obsessively as a way of not having to think about stuff going on this The Real World, but I burnt myself out on it a few months ago, if you read my last post.


  7. I am censored | manicstreetpreacher Says:

    […] Birdie initially posted a warm and encouraging comment on this blog following the Intelligence Squared debates, since then he has made a hobby of making […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: