Ukip councillor David Silvester displays a disgraceful lack of ‘scholarship’ in the face of Britain’s recent floods. But will the ‘scholars’ actually correct him on it?


Ukip councillor David Silvester has recently drawn a link between meteorology and morality by publishing a letter saying that he warned prime minster David Cameron last year that Britain would face a spot of the old divine judgment for passing gay marriage laws that fly the face of the Bible’s teachings of a kind that The Right Reverend Graham Dow drew in response to the flooding in his North Yorkshire constituency in July 2007.  Silvester’s comments have been widely reported by the World’s media: BBC News, ITV News, Channel 4, The Daily Mail, Toronto Sun, London Evening Standard, The Huffington Post.

This from The Daily Telegraph’s report:

David Silvester, who defected from the Conservatives in protest at David Cameron’s support for same-sex unions, claimed he had warned the Prime Minister that the legislation would result in “disasters”.

The Henley-on-Thames councillor said that the country had been “beset by storms” since the passage of the new law on gay marriage because Mr Cameron had acted “arrogantly against the Gospel”.

In a letter to the Henley Standard he wrote: “The scriptures make it abundantly clear that a Christian nation that abandons its faith and acts contrary to the Gospel (and in naked breach of a coronation oath) will be beset by natural disasters such as storms, disease, pestilence and war.

“I wrote to David Cameron in April 2012 to warn him that disasters would accompany the passage of his same-sex marriage bill.

“But he went ahead despite a 600,000-signature petition by concerned Christians and more than half of his own parliamentary party saying that he should not do so.”

Blaming the Prime Minister for the bad weather, he added: “It is his fault that large swathes of the nation have been afflicted by storms and floods.

“He has arrogantly acted against the Gospel that once made Britain ‘great’ and the lesson surely to be learned is that no man or men, however powerful, can mess with Almighty God with impunity and get away with it for everything a nation does is weighed on the scaled of divine approval or disapproval.”

In my recent post deriding theology as a proper academic discipline, I drew on my review of Christian apologist Peter S Williams’ response to the New Atheists, A Sceptic’s Guide To Atheism and criticised the theologians for being all theory and no practice:

Avoiding the real issues

Williams’ contribution is fatally flawed along with the other “flea” books by self-proclaimed “scholars”, because it only addresses barely a quarter of the arguments of the Four Horsemen, namely whether or not God exists, without saying a word in defence of the effects of organised religion on the world.

Unfortunately, religion is not just about the sophisticated ponderings of scholars in ivory towers debating the finer points of the Trinity.  It has an effect on every single one of us, whether we like it or not.


Like all theology and religious philosophising, Williams’ new book is all theory and precious little practice.  Accordingly, there is nothing about the foul rantings of Falwell and Robertson, the teaching of junk-science in schools classrooms, the destruction of the Twin Towers, the abuse of children by hell-fire preaching clergymen and the discouraging of condom use by the Catholic Church in sub-Saharan African where c. 3 million people die of HIV/AIDS each year.

The simple fact is that Williams’ subtle brand of nuanced religion has very little impact on the way that religion is actually practised.  Alistair McGrath got his feathers all ruffled in response to Dawkins and bleated on (at probably more speaking engagements than he was invited to in his career preceding publication of The God Delusion) about the importance of challenging those who take an overly literalist approach to the scriptures.

Yet when, in July 2007, the Bishop of Carlisle informed us all that the floods in Northern Yorkshire were divine retribution for laws permitting homosexual marriage did McGrath say a word in public to admonish the Right Reverend Graham Dow for his unsophisticated take on matters?  Like hell he did!

I believe that comments of the kind made by the Bishop of Carlisle and David Silvester would be perfect opportunities for “serious scholars” to confront head-on the “extremists” of their own faiths and show that they are prepared to police their religions rather than leaving it up to the godless heretics to do so in their “shrill” and “strident” fashion.

I have therefore sent the link to this post to four of the “fleas” who railed against the New Atheists for their supposed failure to engage with the best of Christian “scholarship” in their books: Alister McGrath (author of The Dawkins Delusion?), David Robertson (author of The Dawkins Letters), John Cornwell (author of Darwin’s Angel) and Peter S Williams (author of A Sceptic’s Guide To Atheism), inviting them to issue a public denunciation of Silvester of the kind they singularly failed to do in the face of the then Bishop of Carlisle’s shockingly unsubtle, Old Testament take on the situation.

I have also forwarded the post to the host Premier Christian Radio’s sceptical debate show, Unbelievable?, Justin Brierley and former opponents, Andy Bannister and Peter Harris.

My covering emails are in the comments section and I will publish any response I receive.

“Scholars”: Please prove me wrong so I can find another pastime.

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9 Responses to “Ukip councillor David Silvester displays a disgraceful lack of ‘scholarship’ in the face of Britain’s recent floods. But will the ‘scholars’ actually correct him on it?”

  1. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    From: MSP
    To: John Cornwell, Alister McGrath, David Robertson, Peter S Williams
    Sent: 19 January 2014 19:13
    Subject: Ukip councillor David Silvester on floods

    Dear Sirs

    I refer to your books in response to the New Atheists’ attacks on religion and note that you criticised Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris etc. for only attacking the very worst of religion, confusing the fringe for the centre and generally not displaying a high standard of “scholarship”.

    I am an atheist blogger and have just published a post on Ukip councillor David Silvester making a direct link to meteorology and morality in relation to the passing of the gay marriage laws and the recent storms and floods that have been battering the country in a similar fashion that the then Bishop of Carlisle, the Right Reverend Graham Dow, did in July 2007 in response to the floods that afflicted his constituency.

    If any of you issued a word in public to denounce the Bishop’s disgraceful lack of scholarship in his decidedly Old Testament take on the floods which flies in the face of your nuanced and allegorical approach to the Holy Scriptures, I have been unable to discover it.

    I now invite you all to put matters right by issuing a firm and swift correction of Mr Silvester’s appallingly bad theology that stands wholly at odds with 21st Century Christianity’s sophisticated marriage with modern science in their Non-Overlapping Magisteria. I trust that you will do this through your own websites or Christian publications to which I’m sure you have firm links, but I will be happy to publish any reply on my blog for the time being.

    I look forward to hearing from you with your learned thoughts.

    Yours faithfully

  2. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    From: MSP
    To: Justin Brierley, Andy Bannister, Peter Harris
    Sent: 19 January 2014 19:16
    Subject: Ukip councillor David Silvester on floods

    Dear Justin, Peter and Andy

    I have just published a post on Ukip councillor David Silvester doing a Bishop of Carlisle and making a direct link to meteorology and morality in relation to the passing of the gay marriage laws and the recent storms and floods that have been battering the country.

    I trust the contents are self-explanatory. I thought the story might interest you, is all.

    Andy and Peter – My challenge to the authors of the “flea” responses to Dawkins, Hitchens etc. to issue a public denunciation of Mr Silvester is open to you as much as them.

    Justin – I seem to remember about five years ago we were supposed to record a debate on whether theology was a valid discipline. Given this latest story and that I now have more time on my hands with my career break (which alas, I lament may soon be drawing to a close thanks to the necessary evil of having to work to obtain money in order to live!), perhaps we could have another go at the debate sometime soon…?

    Best regards

  3. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    From: Peter Harris
    To: MSP, Justin Brierley, Andy Bannister
    Sent: 19 January 2014 19:44
    Subject: Re: Ukip councillor David Silvester on floods

    Dear Ed,

    It is good to hear from you again. Yes, when I heard of Silvester’s comments, I immediately was reminded of my response on Premier Radio’s ‘Unbelievable’ to the Bishop of Carlisle’s decision to link destructive flooding with gay marriage. I am happy to respond to your challenge as I was back in the summer of 2011. I do not see a link between gay marriage and the weather, particularly in the light of the fact that the storms and floods of recent weeks affected all manner of people. If these natural emergencies really were the consequence of God’s divine wrath, surely they would only affect those who had voted for the legislation making gay marriage possible, those who are partnered or have been partnered in a gay marriage, and those who support gay marriage.

    As a Christian, I support gay marriage and am glad that it has become a reality for gay couples in the UK.

    I do not know how much weight my voice would carry publicly, but please accept my email, not as a denunciation as you suggest, of David Silvester, for I will not denounce a human being, but I will say that I do not accept his view as a truthful one.

    Having said this, Ed, I would be very grateful if you as an atheist would publicly denounce the atheist Chinese and North Korean governments’ policies of imprisoning Christians for their beliefs.



  4. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    From: MSP
    To: Peter Harris, Justin Brierley, Andy Bannister
    Sent: 19 January 2014 21:48
    Subject: Re: Ukip councillor David Silvester on floods

    Dear Peter

    Out of all the people to whom I have emailed this post, a small, firm voice in my head told me that your reply would not only be first, but also the most delightful and civilised.

    I am certain that the views of Graham Dow and David Silvester do not represent the view of the majority of Christians today, either on gay marriage or bad weather. (It looks like Silvester has well and truly overstepped the line, even by Ukip’s standards: Farage has suspended him from the party.) I have stated clearly that they are on the “fringe” of Christianity in Britain today. However, since the opponents of the New Atheists attack them for only attacking the worst of religion, I think it makes it incumbent on them to police the “extremists” in their own faith. If not, we heretics will just have to get our hands dirty.

    I also agree that it is rather silly for anyone to make a link between meteorology and morality. As Hitchens commented in his debate against Alister McGrath on religion’s effect on the World in 2007, if there were a link, then Northern Yorkshire seems like a rather odd target for divine retribution. I’m sure we can all think of certain parts of London where the floods would have done a lot more good!

    As for your comments regarding “atheist” North Korea and China imprisoning Christians: touché… almost!

    As a secular humanist, I deplore violent conflict and persecution in whatever form it takes. Just because I am against religion, it does not mean I am automatically in favour of other manmade institutions and all their ghastly and often deadly shortcomings.

    Ergo, just because I blame 9/11, 7/7 and Lee Rigby’s murder on the tenants of Islamic scripture, this does not for one moment mean that I am tempted a word in defence of US interventionism since the Second World War. Indeed, I have recently published a very circumspect post on A C Grayling’s book and accompanying debate with Christopher Hitchens, Among The Dead Cities, which addresses the morality of targeting civilians during wartime.

    However, I as I made clear in our debates, these so-called “atheist regimes” such as China, North Korea and the USSR are in fact nothing of the sort. They may be “atheistic” in respect of Yahweh, Christ, Allah and Zeus but the regimes simply replaced an infallible, celestial supernatural dictator with a human, Earth-bound one.

    In that respect, my recent post commenting on David Robertson’s response to Christian persecution by Islamists in Pakistan is fairly relevant to this topic. All you need to do is replace “Islamic fundamentalists” with “soldiers of the Kim dynasty” (and possibly delete “Godless Marxists” altogether in this instance!):

    Conflict, persecution and balkanisation of communities along religious lines are very much part of our case against God. Who is carrying out the persecutions? Secular humanists? Godless Marxists? No, they are Islamic fundamentalists! This is not so much a case of Christian persecution as it is religious conflict.

    With very best wishes


  5. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    From: Peter S Williams
    To: MSP
    CC: John Cornwell, Alister McGrath, David Robertson
    Sent: 20 January 2014 10:54

    Dear Edward,

    This morning I received your e-mail about David Silvester’s comments (cf. The Daily Telegraph’s report) and, without wishing to get drawn in to a political discussion about gay marriage, I am happy to state my disagreement with the link he draws between gay marriage and storms (even though I reject the concept of a Non-Overlapping Magisteria between science and theology).

    The occurrence of some severe storms after the prediction of such by Silvester is insufficient grounds for a design inference to his conclusion that the storms are divine judgement, since the prediction is not especially rare nor the storms particularly unlikely.

    I’d ask Silvester to consider Genesis 18:20-32, wherein God allows Abraham to ‘barter’ with him to bring home the message that God wouldn’t bring an indiscriminate judgement upon Sodom. In light of this passage, Silvester might consider what his linkage between the recent storms and divine wrath implies about the 600,000 ‘concerned Christians’ who signed the petition against the bill in question, many of whom were no doubt affected by the recent weather.

    Silvester is reported as having said: ‘The scriptures make it abundantly clear that a Christian nation that abandons its faith and acts contrary to the Gospel (and in naked breach of a coronation oath) will be beset by natural disasters such as storms, disease, pestilence and war.’ However, since the notion of a Christian nation is entirely foreign to the Bible, I wonder which chapter and verse Silvester has in mind!

    If the recent storms are linked to sin, I would think it more likely to be through human contribution to global warming, a contribution of which we would all be culpable.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Peter S. Williams

  6. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    From: MSP
    To: Peter S Williams
    CC: John Cornwell, Alister McGrath, David Robertson
    Sent: 21 January 2014 08:10

    Thanks, Peter. I’ve posted your reply in the post’s comment section.

    If you have time, you can listen to a very amusing spoof “Ukip Shipping Forecast” here.



  7. Ukip Shipping Forecast | manicstreetpreacher Says:

    […] …religion, politics, philosophy, history, debate… « Ukip councillor David Silvester displays a disgraceful lack of ‘scholarship’ in the face of Brit… […]

  8. Lance Roberts Says:

    have to wait and see but David Silvester may well have the last laugh.

    • Lance Roberts Says:

      Cor 1 19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.

      25 At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.

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