Posts Tagged ‘atheism’

Sam Harris at TED 2010: Science can answer moral questions

23/03/2010

manicstreetpreacher is delighted to see that his hero of atheism has still got it!

My detractors who chide me for being a mouthpiece for the Four Horsemen should take a look at this and see why I choose to rely on Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens so much.

Questions of good and evil, right and wrong are commonly thought unanswerable by science.  But Sam Harris argues that science can – and should – be an authority on moral issues, shaping human values and setting out what constitutes a good life.

Sit back and enjoy.

TED link

Thread on Richard Dawkins.net

Sam Harris’ homepage

Project Reason

Sam Harris’ Wikipedia page

Back door blasphemy prosecution in Liverpool

20/03/2010

manicstreetpreacher reports on the latest case of religious views receiving special treatment.

I bet you thought that the UK finally did away with blasphemy in 2008?  The National Secular Society held a party featuring gay actor Ian McKellen reading aloud James Kirkup’s poem The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name, which was the subject of “Scary” Mary Whitehouse’s prosecution for blasphemous libel against Denis Lemon, the editor of Gay News in 1977.  A ridiculous anachronism finally buried in these progressive times, right?

Well, think again.  Harry Taylor, 59, from Manchester was convicted at Liverpool Crown Court on 3 March 2010 of causing “religiously aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress”, which carries a maximum seven-year prison sentence, by leaving obscene material depicting figures from Christianity and Islam in the multi-faith room at Liverpool John Lennon Airport on 2, 26 November and 12 December 2008.

Taylor, who labelled himself a “militant atheist” admitted placing the items in the prayer room on three separate occasions, but insisted he was simply practising his own religion of “reason and rationality”.

Taylor told jurors he had left the items in the room in memory of “his hero” John Lennon before reciting the words from the song Imagine.

He said: “The airport is named after one of my heroes and his view on religion was pretty much the same as mine. I thought it was an insult to his memory to have a prayer room in his airport.”

Giving evidence in his own defence, Taylor admitted being “strongly anti-religious” after being treated badly by the Catholic brothers as a boy growing up in Dublin.

The first reaction of the airport chaplain, Nicky Lees, was to call the duty manager and the airport police, saying that she was “insulted, deeply offended and alarmed” after seeing one of the cartoons Taylor left:

Taylor, who is due to be sentenced on 23 April 2010, also left some of the infamous Danish cartoons caricaturing the Prophet Mohammed and one of a pig excreting sausages labelled “Qur’an”.

The story has been very well publicised in secular circles, with entries appearing on the websites of the NSS, the New Humanist, MediaWatchWatch, The Freethinker and the Greater Manchester Skeptics Society.  Comments have been decidedly mixed.  Many agree with NSS president, Terry Sanderson, who said:

This is a disgraceful verdict, but an inevitable one under this pernicious law. It seems incredible in the 21st century that you might be sent to prison because someone is ‘offended’ by your views on their religion.  The blasphemy law was abolished three years ago, but it lives on under the guise of religiously aggravated offences and is several times more dangerous.

However, plenty of bloggers who have disowned Taylor as a fringe lunatic.  Paul Sims on New Humanist concluded:

If free speech has its limits at the point where it becomes something like harassment, surely Taylor’s behaviour was fairly close to that line?  But at the same time, it hardly seems like something worthy of a jail sentence.  Certainly at the age of 59 he should have known better (and for that matter have better things to be doing with his time).  If he had an objection to the airport prayer room on account of his own “religion of reason and rationality”, why didn’t he express it rationally and write a letter?

I was in two minds on whether I should support Taylor.  On the one hand, he seems to be a bit of a crank.  There is a time and place for talking people out of their faith and there are ways and means of doing it.  Perhaps leaving deliberately provocative cartoons in a prayer room is not the best way to go about it.

But then again, I’ve spoken about Wahhabi extremists brainwashing their children into becoming suicide bombers at a university Islamic society hosted event in front of a crowd mostly wearing headscarves and was very nearly lynched for it, so what do I know?

While I don’t agree with Taylor’s methods, I think this is an appalling infringement of free speech.  Taylor didn’t kill anybody or even threaten violence.  That’s a vast improvement on what happens when religious people get annoyed straight off.  He expressed a view.  He made his true feelings known.  He challenged presupposition and dogma.  As the controversial film director Ken Russell once pointed out, subtly does not work on people these days; if you kick them in the balls, you’ll find you have their complete attention.

Cartoons of pigs excreting sausages labelled “Qur’an”?  I’ve read the book for myself and quite frankly, “excremental” is rather kind. I am insulted and offended every time someone tries to tell me that these books are miraculous and can only be explained by the authorship of the all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing Thing That Made The Things For Which There Is No Know Maker.  Is anyone going to demand a criminal prosecution for “religiously aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress” to remedy my hurt feelings?

…slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush…

– Koran 9: 5

Update on Douglas Murray’s I2 debate on Islam in Europe

10/03/2010

Yesterday, I posted the YouTube videos of Intelligence Squared’s debate on whether “Europe is failing its Muslims” held in London on 23 February 2010.  Douglas Murray has commented further on the debate on his Telegraph blog with these scathing remarks:

The debate has been edited down for broadcast.  My one gripe about this (except for the BBC’s inevitable censorship of my criticisms of the Muslim Council of Britain among other government-paid Muslim-groups – as reported by the Evening Standard here) is that they cut one crucially relevant case study I gave.

One of the two clerics who whipped up hatred against Denmark around the world, in the wake of my colleague Flemming’s commission of depictions of the historical figure Mohammed, arrived in Denmark from Lebanon in the 1990s.  He went to Denmark because he has a disabled son.  The country which he came from could not look after his child but he knew that Denmark would.  And it did.  He repaid the society by inciting hatred and violence against it.  When such cases can be repeated ad nauseum, it should hardly even have to be pointed out how obscene the motion Flemming and I found ourselves debating really was.

It is grotesque to argue that Europe has failed its Muslims.  It has been made repeatedly obvious that it is Islam that has failed Europe, indeed that it is Islam that has failed Muslims.  I am delighted that the audience in the hall on the night agreed.  And that most of the audience around the world who have emailed me since transmission – currently including people from as far afield as Nigeria, Pakistan and Iraq – appear to agree with that too.

The extracts in the debate transcript to which Murray refers are as follows.  Firstly, the maniac cleric who organised the cartoon protests against the country that gives him state benefits:

They also receive all the benefits, thank you, all the benefits, all the benefits of the welfare state.  Sure there are things that people have got wrong, but it’s not a bad sign I would suggest, that people who come to this country with nothing, receive, in this country, National Health Service, receive welfare payments.  Let me give you two examples quickly.  Raed Hlayhel, a Danish Imam, one of the two incidentally that started the worldwide protest against my co-panellist, arrived in Denmark in the 1990s, he arrived there from Lebanon because his son was disabled, and he knew that Denmark would support his son.  Denmark did.  How did he repay it?  By organising worldwide riots, lootings, murders and burnings.  However, Denmark paid for his son.  What happens in Britain?  We have jokers, I hope that most of you’ll agree with this, like Anjem Choudary, of the now, finally banned group Al-Muhajiroun, Islam4UK, who for years has been sitting here, on the welfare state, taking money from tax payers in this country, supporting his children, his wife and anyone else, whilst plotting and hating the people of this country.  We have been paying people here, who hate us.  I’d have thought that was an example of some considerable generosity, I’d say suicidal generosity, but there we go.

The former head of the Muslim Council of Britain supported the death penalty for the World’s most famous apostate and critic of Islam, while the current head doesn’t seem to be much better:

We’ve also had, from the Muslim communities in Europe a terrible failure of leadership.  It’s striking to me that the Muslim Council of Britain, for instance, in this country, the last leader of that organisation said that death was too good for Salman Rushdie for the crime of writing a work of fiction.  The current head of the Muslim Council of Britain, who I think if not here tonight, is certainly coming to dinner afterwards I see, seems not to be able to condemn stoning in all circumstances, for all time.  I don’t know why even people paid by the government many millions of pounds can’t do this.  Last year, when the Gaza operation began, paid people, including the heads of the Quilliam Foundation, a government funded organisation, signed a letter, co-signed a letter to the British Government saying that unless the British Government distances itself from Israel and American foreign policy, they couldn’t promise that other members of their religion mightn’t step outside the political process.  What other organisation, what other religion blackmails the British state like this?  Does any other minority in Europe behave like this?  No, ladies and gentlemen, none.

Edmund Standing also posted a very helpful reply to my original post with two pieces by Daily Mail and Spectator journalist, Melanie Philips, exposing the two faces of Tariq Ramadan.    In fact, Ramadan is a master of Islamist doublespeak who is in league with the jihadists:

Ramadan has been banned from entering the US because of his alleged association with extremists.  The Geneva Islamic Centre, with which he is closely associated, has been linked to terrorists of the Algerian FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) and the GIA (Armed Islamic Group).  A Spanish police report claimed that Ahmed Brahim, an al-Qa’ida leader jailed in Spain, was ‘in frequent contact’ with Ramadan, a claim he has denied.

Yet the Swiss activist has not only been allowed into Britain but is ensconced at St Antony’s College, Oxford as a research fellow and is much lionised by the British establishment, appearing at security seminars on Islamism and even serving as an adviser to the British Government on tackling Islamic extremism…

Ramadan’s message is highly seductive to a Western world terrified by Islamic radicalism.  For Ramadan preaches the comforting message of an unthreatening Islam that can accommodate itself to modernity and to the West.  He does so in a charismatic style combining high intellect, a winsome French accent and impossibly hip glamour.  To the desperate British establishment, the picture he paints so beguilingly of a way out of the Islamist nightmare has made him into the rock star of the counter-terrorism circuit.

But closer scrutiny of what he actually says – and perhaps even more importantly, does not say – suggests the talented Mr Ramadan is an Islamist wolf in moderniser’s clothing.  To the Islamic world he says one thing; to credulous Western audiences quite another in language that is slippery, opaque, manipulative and disingenuous…

Behind the honeyed words about reform and tolerance which have entranced his Western fan club, Ramadan has consistently lined himself up with the forces of obscurantism, intolerance, hatred and violence.

The first association he set up in 1994, the Muslim Men and Women of Switzerland, promoted confrontation and stirred up tension.  He wrote the preface for a compilation of fatwas by the European Council for Fatwa whose president, Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, has said human bomb operations in Israel and Iraq are a religious duty…

The desperation to embrace this most devious ‘reformer’ is gravely misplaced. Truly moderate Muslims are undermined and indeed endangered by Ramadan at every turn.  Far from offering a way to modernise Islam, he proposes instead to Islamise modernity.

I was tempted to comment on Ramadan in the original piece, but left him out for fear of making the post too long.  However, these articles do not surprise me all.  Anyone who reads Standing’s blog and Harry’s Place will know that so-called “moderate” Muslims usually have a dark side to them.  Ingat Bunglawala and the Muslim Council of Britain anybody?

As I railed in my post on religious moderates, the central tenants and texts of Islam simply do not invite moderation in any way shape or form.  Anyone who argues that the Koran and the Hadith are compatible with 21st century secular society is simply playing “hide the ball” with people who are ignorant of their contents.  Alternatively, they are as brainwashed as those head-scarfed Muslim women in the audience.  It seems that the only way Islam can be “liberalised” is to abandon it altogether.

Finally, I was one of the people from around the world who emailed my support to Murray after seeing the debate.  I received a charming email  in reply thanking me for blog post.

Intelligence Squared debate: Europe is failing its Muslims

09/03/2010

Douglas Murray has a new fan in manicstreetpreacher.

I concluded my review of the Hitchens/ Fry debate on whether the Catholic Church was a force for good in the world by ever-so-slightly lamenting that they went after too a soft target and suggested that next time they should debate the same motion in respect of Islam.

I am pleased to report that I have had my wish granted in a manner of speaking and now post the edited highlights of a debate hosted by Intelligence Squared in association with BBC World News and the British Council: “Europe is failing its Muslims?” that took place at Cadogen Hall, London on 23 February 2010.

Speaking for the motion

Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Islamic Studies and Senior Research Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford and prominent Muslim commentator.  (Homepage)

Petra Stienen, former Dutch diplomat who worked for more than ten years in the Arab world in the field of development cooperation, human rights, refugees and migration; currently works as a Senior Advisor in Social Development for BMC management consultancy.

Speaking against the motion

Douglas Murray, writer, journalist, commentator and head of The Centre For Social Cohesion, a Westminster think-tank dedicated to studying extremism in the UK. (Homepage / Telegraph blog)

Flemming Rose, editor of Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that published the notorious cartoons caricaturing the Prophet Mohammed.

Moderator

Zeinab Badawi, television and radio presenter.

The iTunes podcast can be downloaded here.  The YouTube videos begin below.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Voting results

Before After Change
For: 327 249 + 2%
Against: 320 346 + 18%
Undecided: 218 84 – 20%

While the spectacle does not compare to Fry or Hitch in the oratory stakes, this is still a very entertaining and heated debate.  I hope Intelligence Squared release the full tape sooner rather than later.  For now, we’ll to make do with the full 1 hour 45 minute transcript which contains some very amusing exchanges.

The subtitle to this post may have given it away, but the standout in the debate was most definitely Douglas Murray.  The man generates as much vitriol as praise and on this showing it’s not difficult to see why.  His red-raw, no-holds-barred criticism of the core of Islam was as daring as anything by Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens.  While he attracted boos and whistles from the Muslim audience members, the fact that the vote went his way after being slightly down in the initial vote shows that outspoken commentators like Murray say what  many people think privately but are too afraid of offending religious sensibilities to make it known.

Murray’s write-up of the debate on his Telegraph blog says it all:

The fact that Flemming was my number two wasn’t publicised in the run-up to the debate because of the security threat around him.  Just last October two men were arrested in Chicago for another alleged plot to murder him.  And on the first day of this year an axe-wielding Somali Muslim broke into one of the cartoonist’s houses and attempted to decapitate him.  So there were more police than usual and Flemming and I had more burly security men than we usually would for a discussion.

In a way this proved a lot of the argument that Flemming and I were making…

[O]ne of the most striking aspects of the evening was that the Muslims who turned out en masse, rallied by certain organisations, let themselves down appallingly. Continually cat-calling, jeering and hissing.  They made a very bad impression.

What was most striking of all however was the level of complete denial.  I pointed out that the reason Europeans often associate Islam with violence (as Ramadan complained) is that Islam is often associated with violence.  I pointed out that it wasn’t Sikhs or Buddhists who flew the planes into the twin towers. This was welcomed by an extraordinary level of anger.  I don’t know, maybe some of them thought it was Jews who did it.

A number of headscarf-covered women stood up to criticise what I had said about Islam’s despicable record on women’s rights and tried to claim that the Koran and Islam are just great for them.  Levels of denial like this bode very ill.

The reason so many Muslims like to blame Western societies for all the ills of the world is that it means they never have to engage in self-criticism or even self-analysis.  The result is that what problems do exist will not be dealt with.  No good can ever come from lies, and as last night’s debate showed, a lot of young British Muslims are living lives based on the most deadly concoction of self-pity, wilful blindness and outright delusion.

Feel free to spare us of our delusions with more like this, Douglas.

UPDATE 10 MARCH 2010

Click here for further comment and reaction to the debate.

Michael Shermer debates David Robertson on whether Christianity is good for us: Premier Christian Radio, “Unbelievable?”, 20 February 2010

25/02/2010

manicstreetpreacher to Michael Shermer:

I have of course had multiple encounters with Pastor David Robertson of St Peter’s Free Church, Dundee, Scotland, author of The Dawkins Letters.  For the Saturday, 20 February 2010 edition of Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? Robertson debated Michael Shermer, head of the American Skeptics Society and author of numerous books debunking all things paranormal and pseudo-scientific, such as Why People Believe Weird Things and Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design.

The debate focuses on the comparative levels of charitable giving, happiness, well-being, mutual respect and trust and attitudes towards slavery and gay rights between believers and non-believers.

I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow account of the debate, and I’m certainly not posting this to gloat at Robertson (who I consider a personal friend of sorts after our encounters), but he is an extremely tough debating opponent.  While I was satisfied with how I came off in my debates against him, I took as many hits as I scored and tripped over my own arguments on a couple of occasions, particularly on evidence an atheist would accept as evidence for God in Show One and the moral argument in Show Two.

Shermer on the other hand is a seasoned pro and has heard it all before and will do so a thousand times again.  While I in my reckless youth tend to take more of an all-guns-blazing approach at the microphone, Shermer is far more laid back in his citing of peer-reviewed journal papers, opinion polls and tried-and-trusted philosophical arguments.

These were especially effective against Robertson’s arguments which seemed to be based largely on personal experience of visits to “Sweden’s atheist utopia” where apparently people are much less willing to sell you a drink than the Americans.  Shermer is going to withhold judgement until he runs the experiment for himself.

I particularly admired the way Shermer put paid to the popular notion that Christians lead the fight against slavery by pointing out that William Wilberforce and John Newton were in the minority of Christians who opposed the practice when the established Anglican and Catholic Churches were defending it.

In a similar vein to how Christianity has a posteriori claimed the moral high ground in respect of abolition, Shermer predicts that the current firestorm over gay marriage in the USA will be resolved in the next 20 years or so to the benefit of homosexuals.  While today the most vehement opponents of gay marriage are Christians, as with slavery, Christians will surely single out the few of their number who supported gay marriage and hold them out as leading the fight for equal rights!

I will credit Robertson for contributing to a high-brow discussion and for once not playing the “Hitler and Stalin were atheists” card while giving a nod to the crimes committed by the Christian Conquistadors against the indigenous people of the Americas; a Holocaust in its own right.  Perhaps MSP’s email to him in response his comments following Brierley’s coverage of the Dawkins/ Grayling I2 debate on atheist fundamentalism had a small part to play in that.

The two places where I thought Robertson really fell down was in his closing remarks where he accused the secularists as “living in a fantasyland” before going on to say in the same breath that Christians know that they will not live in a utopia until they get to heaven.  Right.

In addition, Marx and Engels never said that “religion is the opiate of the people”.  This is in fact one of the most common out-of-context quotes of all time.  The full quote from Marx’s introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right is:

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering.  Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.  It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness.  To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun.  Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself.

Don’t let Christopher Hitchens hear you say that one, David!

Download the full debate audio.

Refuting William Lane Craig’s five “arguments” for the existence of God

11/02/2010

manicstreetpreacher hopes a few of Craig’s future opponents cop a glance at this!

I have referred to Lukeprog over at Common Sense Atheism as a “fawning Craigophile” more than once on this blog.  I mean, it’s just not normal for an atheist to heap so much praise on a complete fundamentalist hack who continues to use the same flawed reasoning, despite having been corrected ad nauseum.  Nevertheless, Luke redeems himself on occasion by posting some cracking refutations of Craig, and this is one of them.

Th1sWasATriumph has compiled the following YouTube playlist refuting each one of Craig’s lame “arguments”, skilfully demonstrating the shambolic logic and hopeless contradictions in Craig’s reasoning with more than a dash of good old fashioned British irony that frequently strays into the wrong (i.e. the right, when Craig is concerned) side of contempt.

1.  Kalam Cosmological Argument

2. Fine Tuning Argument

3.  Objective Moral Values

4.  Resurrection of Jesus Christ

5.  Personal Experience of God

Sheer genius!

The videos are culled from Craig’s opening statement during his debate against British, then an atheist now a deist possibly due to old age and senility, philosopher Antony Flew.  You can listen to the audio or watch the videos, which start below.

At the time of publication, I hadn’t watched the full debate for myself.  I can’t bear watching Craig any more than necessary and to compound the agony, hardly any of his atheist opponents actually do their homework properly and try to beat him.  I’ll have to go off Lukeprog’s fawning opinion that instead of rebutting Craig’s arguments, Flew goes on a weak, rambling rant about how we can’t know about things outside the universe, about how eternal torture is bad and his talks are so confused he seems downright senile.

Would explain a lot regarding Flew’s subsequent conversion to deism…

Hitchens tests the divine source for human morality

10/02/2010

manicstreetpreacher asks the religious what they would do if they do if they could no longer believe.

Below is a clip from Christopher Hitchens’ opening speech during his debate against Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza at the Thomas Center, University of Colorado at Boulder on 26 January 2009.  Dire microphone aside, this is a classic Hitchens moment where he outlines the plot of a bestselling book from the early 20th century and challenges the abjectness of the religious mindset if it really did come to pass.

The thread to Hitchens and D’Souza’s debate at RichardDawkins.net where as always the comments are worth a read is here, while the video to the full debate is below.

When It Was Dark: The Story of a Great Conspiracy by Guy Thorne (a pen name for prolific novelist and journalist Ranger-Gull), involves a plot by Jews, anarchists and secularists to destroy Christianity.  A story is put about that a tomb has been discovered in the Greater Jerusalem Area containing the body of a Nazarene who was executed by crucifixion wearing the remains of what appears to be a crown of thorns.  Accompanying his body is a tablet inscribed with a confession by a man calling himself Joseph of Arimathea admitting that he moved the body of this eccentric preacher who had been executed by the Romans at the behest of the Jewish mob and in doing so fooled the man’s followers into believing that he had risen from the dead.

The news reaches Western Europe where of course it provokes chaos.  People stop caring for each other, children go unclothed and unfed and men and women copulate in the middle of public highways.  Fortunately, the whole farrago is revealed as the sinister godless plot that it is and people can return to believing in the resurrection because there is no direct evidence to contradict the Gospels’ account.

Do we really have such a dim view of human nature as to think that this is what would happen if religious doctrine was disproved tomorrow?  I have a variation on this challenge which I deliver to anyone who asks me by what standard I as an atheist can judge my actions and how I know what is “good” and “evil”.

Imagine that you know there is no God.  The vital piece of evidence or lack of evidence comes to your attention.  The next time you open the Bible, you think that it just isn’t very good.  You ponder the concept of a soul that is separate from your body and will float off your physical form at the moment of death of to receive eternal judgment from the creator of the universe and either be reunited with loved ones in a theme park in the sky, or punished forevermore in Lucifer’s cookhouse, and you think that it’s all a bit too farfetched.  Or indeed, the bones of Christ are discovered tomorrow.

Now imagine if you walk out of your front door that very day and you see a child who is a perfect stranger to your eyes about to be hit by a bus.  Knowing that your actions will no eternal cosmic significance, would you still try to come to that child’s aid or would view that child’s plight as no different from an imamate object like a cardboard box?

So far, only one person has admitted that they would let the child be run over in a depressing example of the theological mind at work that reflects very badly indeed on their personality.

With the exception of that one reprobate, even if it were all disproved to everyone’s satisfaction, nothing whatsoever would change about the way we live our lives and how we ought to treat each other.  We would still have to care for our children, we would still have to deal with manmade climate change and natural disasters, with criminals and despots.  However, by adhering to religious faith, humanity is wasting valuable time and resources attempting to preserve belief in sad fairytales when it could be breaking new boundaries of moral and scientific discovery.

The religious often point out that Christianity and Islam have made important contributions to science.  That may well be true, but does it prove that religion is useful or even benign?  Perhaps if a great kingdom of reason which was free from the shackles religious dogma had emerged at the same time as monotheism, we could have had broadband Internet and keyhole surgery by the 16th century.

And perhaps if evolutionary biologists did not have to turn their backs on their positive scientific research to defend themselves from creationists and ID theorists, we could have discovered a cure for cancer long before now.

Sam Harris: Of Meaning

17/01/2010

manicstreetpreacher shares an all time classic from one of the Four Horseman.

Lately I have been referring rather to a lot to this effing genius put-down by “New Atheist” Sam Harris (Homepage / The Reason Project) in reply to the argument from religious moderates that while their faith may be unproven and potentially false, it still provides great meaning and purpose in the lives of ordinary people.

The passage is from Harris’ first book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and The Future of Reason, but for a quick point n click reference, here is Harris’ essay, “An Atheist Manifesto”:

It is perfectly absurd for religious moderates to suggest that a rational human being can believe in God simply because this belief makes him happy, relieves his fear of death or gives his life meaning.  The absurdity becomes obvious the moment we swap the notion of God for some other consoling proposition: Imagine, for instance, that a man wants to believe that there is a diamond buried somewhere in his yard that is the size of a refrigerator.  No doubt it would feel uncommonly good to believe this.  Just imagine what would happen if he then followed the example of religious moderates and maintained this belief along pragmatic lines: When asked why he thinks that there is a diamond in his yard that is thousands of times larger than any yet discovered, he says things like, “This belief gives my life meaning,” or “My family and I enjoy digging for it on Sundays,” or “I wouldn’t want to live in a universe where there wasn’t a diamond buried in my backyard that is the size of a refrigerator.”  Clearly these responses are inadequate. But they are worse than that. They are the responses of a madman or an idiot.

The full lecture, entitled “The View from the End of the World”, given for The Long Now Foundation, 9 December 2005 can be heard below

or viewed below.

Evolution: Special Investigation

17/01/2010

manicstreetpreacher is pleased to report that NonStampCollector has done it again!

At the end of last year, I compiled the best of Aussie YouTube genius, NonStampCollector.  I am thrilled that the turning of the new decade has only enhanced his satirical skills when it comes to all things theocratus lunaticras.  Watch the video below which reconstructs a typical creationist interview with an atheist evolutionary scientist.  P Z  Myers has described it as “Every creationist argument I’ve ever had” and the video has also been posted on RichardDawkins.net.

Enjoy:

The clip is based on P Z Myer’s infamous radio debate in 2008 against Discovery Institute hack Geoffrey Simmons: someone with doctoral qualifications who didn’t know the scientific meaning of the word theory, and used it as a pejorative.  Quite a few elements of the script clearly came from that exchange (whales, ignorance, etc.).  See the relevant threads on Pharyngula and RichardDawkins.net: apparently there was a thread briefly posted on William Dembski’s blog Uncommon Descent where the commenters handed the debate to Myers, even though they disagreed with his point of view!

No wonder Richard Dawkins refuses to debate creationists!

Victor Stenger debates William Lane Craig on the existence of God: Transcript of Stenger’s main speeches

20/12/2009

Another manicstreetpreacher post where the clue is in the title

American cosmologist Victor J Stenger, author of Has Science Found God? and God, the Failed Hypothesis debated the motion “Is there a God?” against Christian apologist William Lane Craig at the University of Hawaii in 2003.  You can read my analysis of the debate on another post.

The YouTube video (which goes to audio-only for the cross-examination, closing statements and audience Q&A) starts here:

The whole debate is available to download as an MP3 audio.

I found a transcript of Stenger’s three main speeches, to which I have updated and revised for inaccuracies.  No need to post Craig’s transcript.  He doesn’t say anything you haven’t heard a million times before or since!

Opening Statement: 20 minutes

There Is No God

Well, aloha.  It’s certainly wonderful to be back in Hawaii where Phyllis and I spent so many happy years.  Our children were both born in Hawaii, both graduated here from the University of Hawaii, and it’s certainly great to be back.  In fact, it’s almost exactly forty years to the day that we first landed in Hawaii and this is the first time we’ve actually visited Hawaii in all that time.  And so we’re here as tourists and now I can understand why so many people keep coming back to visit Hawaii.

I would like to express thanks to Keli’i and the other organizers and the sponsors of this debate for inviting me.  It’s certainly an honor to share the platform with William Lane Craig.  I’ve read that he is one of the world’s foremost Christian apologists and he’s given ample evidence of that today.

In his opening remarks, Dr Craig has appealed to your common sense.  You know what common sense is.   Common sense is the human faculty which tells us that the Earth is flat.   On the other hand, objective observation tells us that the Earth is round.

In tonight’s debate, I will argue that objective observation as well as reason and logic lead to the conclusion that a God with the traditional attributes of the Christian God does not exist beyond a shadow of a doubt.

I will give four arguments to support my position.

1. Attributes are self-contradictory

The attributes of the Christian God are self-contradictory.  They are like a square circle.

2. Attributes incompatible with what is known

The attributes of the Christian God are inconsistent with what we know about the world.

3. Naturalism is a better explanation than supernaturalism

Supernatural explanations for events in the universe are unnecessary.  Natural explanations are simpler, are based on objective observations, and are fully consistent with all we know about the world.

4. God’s actions should be observable but are not

The attributes of the Christian God imply actions that should be objectively observable.  But they are not.  God has not been detected.

Attributes of God

Let me list a set of attributes that are traditionally associated with the God of the monotheistic religions, but particularly Christianity:

  1. He is the creator of the universe.
  2. He is immaterial and transcendent.
  3. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good.
  4. He is perfect in every way.
  5. Furthermore, God is a person.  He loves humans and wishes us to know him.
  6. He is forgiving and merciful.
  7. He speaks to humans, revealing truths to us that we would not otherwise know.
  8. He answers our prayers, as he sees fit.
  9. He performs miracles, violating natural laws.

Incompatible attributes

Many philosophers have argued that the traditional attributes of God are logically incompatible. Here are just a few of these:

  1. Perfect –v- Creator.  If God is perfect, then he has no needs or wants.  This is incompatible with the notion that God created the universe for some divine purpose.  Divine purpose implies that God wants something he doesn’t already have, which makes him imperfect.
  2. Transcendent –v- Omnipresent.  How can a God beyond space and time be at the same time everywhere within space and time at the same time?
  3. Just –v- Merciful.  To be just means to treat a person exactly as they deserve. To be merciful means to treat a person better than they deserve. You can’t do both.
  4. Immaterial –v- Personal.  To be a person is to have a material body, to have a brain, to have a mouth that you speak with and so on.

So a God with these attributes and many of the other attributes traditionally assigned to him does not exist.

Existence of non-belief

The God of monotheism also has attributes that are inconsistent with what we know about the world.  For example, an all-powerful, all-knowing God who also has the attribute of wanting all humans to know and love him is inconsistent with the fact that there are non-believers in the world.

The Problem of Evil

Perhaps the most ancient and strongest of the arguments for God’s non-existence is the problem of evil.  An all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing God is simply inconsistent with the fact of evil and gratuitous suffering in the world.

God’s reasons for evil and suffering

Theologians have, of course, grappled with the problem of evil for centuries, and they still do.  For example, a prominent contemporary theologian Richard Swinburne says of the problem of evil:

If the world was without any natural evil and suffering we wouldn’t have the opportunity… to show courage, patience and sympathy.

Certainly, pain has a role in warning us of illness or injury.

Is so much suffering necessary?

But does God really need so much suffering to achieve his ends?  Is there any good purpose behind so many children dying every day in the world of starvation and disease; perhaps one every few seconds?  How are they helped by the rest of us becoming more sympathetic?

Logically consistent gods

Dr Craig and many other theologians have spent their lives building models of God that are logically consistent and at the same time in broad agreement with the traditional teachings of Christianity.

This has mainly consisted in trimming God’s characteristics one by one until he is defined mostly in the negative: non-material, not in space or time, not seen or heard.  Apologists have reduced God to an almost undetectable background: something like what we physicists used to call “the aether”, until we found that the aether doesn’t exist either.

I have no doubt that a logically consistent picture of some kind of God can be devised and I never claimed to disprove the existence of every conceivable God, that’s why I’ve been very careful to focus on the God with the traditional attributes of Christianity and to certain extent the other monotheistic religions as well.  While it’s possible to create a logically consistent God, I seriously doubt that this God can be made consistent with Christianity.

Computer games

In any case, these theologians and their logical consistent Gods remind me of the creators of computer games.  Programmers invent whole new universes in which the characters have all kinds of superhuman powers and many of our familiar laws of physics are violated.  Yet the rules these games are logically consistent.  They wouldn’t run on a computer if they weren’t.  But the computer game universes have little connection to the universe we see around us.  They exist in what is called “virtual reality”.

God’s actions should be observable, but are not

Just because something is logically consistent, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it exists.  For the theologians’ logically consistent God to actually exist, he must have something to do with the observed universe; some attributes that can be objectively observed.  Otherwise God is as useless as the aether.

Naturalism is a better explanation than supernaturalism

Even if a God can be devised who is consistent with logic and with observations, natural explanations for phenomena are still better than supernatural ones.  They better explain the existence of non-believers.  They also better explain the existence of believers.  They explain the existence of evil and gratuitous suffering as the unfortunate results of evolution.  They better explain the origin and structure of the universe of life, and mind.  And these notions are based on objective observations and theories that are testable.

Supernaturalism offers no explanation at all except “God did it”.  And to say “God did it”, as Dr Craig does, passes on no more information than to say “Santa Claus did it” or “the Easter Bunny did it” – it could be any entity.

Most scientists do not believe

Only seven percent of the members of the National Academy of Sciences believe in the personal God worshipped by perhaps 80 – 90 percent of other Americans.  Most scientists don’t believe in God because they don’t see any objective evidence for him!  When they look at the world around them, they see no sign of God.  They don’t see God when they peer through their most powerful telescopes.  They don’t detect God with their most sophisticated microscopes and other instruments.  Furthermore, scientists find no need to introduce God or the supernatural in any form into any of their explanatory theories.

Here are a few of the famous scientists who have been outspoken in their non-belief: Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Richard Feynman, Stephen Jay Gould, Francis Crick; the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, Steven Weinberg; perhaps the greatest living theoretical physicist, and the incomparable Carl Sagan.  Let me add that none of these scientists would not believe if they were present with sufficient evidence.

Objectively observable actions of God

A God with the attributes I have listed implies phenomena that should have been easily observable by now.  For example, let us consider three actions: revelation, prayers, and miracles.  Let’s begin with revelation.

Revelation

Most people believe in a God who has a substantial and detectable role in the universe and in human affairs.  One common characteristic attributed to this God is that he communicates with humans and provides them with verifiable new knowledge.

The theistic religions have traditionally taught that God speaks to humanity.  Their scriptures are widely assumed to be the word of God and he’s believed to have revealed knowledge to religious leaders in the past that they would otherwise not have known.  Many believe that God still does this today, speaking even to the average person.

Revelation is verifiable

Surprisingly, these claims can be easily verified­ if they are true.  All we have to do is find some fact supposedly gained by divine revelation that was unknown at the time of the revelation, and then confirm this fact at a later time.

For example, suppose the Bible had predicted that men would walk on the moon in two thousand years.  Then we would have a rational basis to take seriously what else is written in the Bible.  Unfortunately, we do not.

No revelations

No revelation of previously unknown knowledge has ever been empirically validated.

The scriptures contain nothing that could not have been known to or imagined by the ancients who wrote them.  The Bible reads exactly as we would expect it to read, based on existing knowledge at the time it was composed.

Failed revelations

Furthermore, there are many examples of the failure to confirm of Biblical revelations.  Consider the failed prophecy of the Second Coming:

In Matthew 24: 30 Jesus says, “They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.”  And a few verses later he says, “I will tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” (Matthew 24: 34)

Well, we’re still waiting.  It was supposed to happen 2,000 years ago.  It’s time to give up and move on.

All in the head

Those who have claimed to talk to God have provided no knowledge that was not already in their heads.  Many people have claimed religious experiences in which they felt the presence of God, but they never return from those experiences with any exceptional knowledge that could easily verify their claim.  What I’m saying is that there is a way that God can be detected, and this is one of them and has not been.

Furthermore, religious experiences can be induced in the brain by drugs, electromagnetic pulses, and oxygen deprivation.  For example, when pilots undergoing high-G training in a centrifuge, they will often experience a kind of tunneling of their vision, narrowing of their vision with the “light at the end of the tunnel” that is characteristic of the near-death experience that is supposed to happen with the religious significance.

Does God choose to hide?

You might say that God has chosen to hide himself from us.  He certainly has – if he exists has – hidden himself from us.

However, Saint Paul makes it very clear that even though God is invisible, his nature and diet have been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.  In other words, God may be invisible, but his actions are visible.

[Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity, have been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.

– Romans 1: 20]

In other words, God may be invisible but his actions are visible.  Theists might respond that God’s actions are obvious to those who wish to see them.  Well, I would love to see them, but they are not obvious to me, or to the millions of other non-believers in the world.

Prayers and miracles

Another commonly believed attribute of God is that he listens to entreaties from humans to change the natural course of events.  He can be expected to grant a sufficient number of these requests so that the results should be observable.  Otherwise, what’s the point in praying?

Many people will testify that they’ve had prayers answered.  But personal testimony is insufficient since it doesn’t rule out other more mundane, simpler, natural explanations.  For example, if someone is ill and then recovers after praying, it could be that the prayers had nothing to do with it.  After all, the body, sometimes with medical help, does a pretty good job of healing itself.  In fact, it works every time except once – the last time.

If prayer had value in healing we’d have doctors prescribing Prayer Aspirin. “Say three ‘Our Fathers’ and four ‘Hail Marys’ and call me in the morning.”

Convincing evidence for a God who answers prayers can, in principle, be scientifically demonstrated – it’s not impossible – with high probability if he really exists.  Well-designed experiments on intercessory prayer should turn up solid, statistically significant results on the success of prayer in healing.

In fact, some studies claiming positive effects of prayer have been published in refereed medical journals to great media hoopla.  However, you can’t rely on media reports but need to look at the actual published papers.  Applying the same criteria that are used in conventional science when testing extraordinary claims, you’ll find that none of the reported effects is significant.  Furthermore, most of these experiments are severely flawed and none of the claimed positive effects have ever been successfully replicated.

Mayo Clinic Study (2001)

Perhaps the best study was done by the Mayo Clinic a few years ago.  They studied some 800 patients over a period of half a year.  The patients – they were coronary patients – were divided up into two groups, some prayed for, some not prayed for, and the results were no significant effect that would suggest that prayer had any good whatsoever.

[The results of 26 weeks of intercessory prayer, a widely practiced complementary therapy, were studied in 799 patients randomized to an intercessory prayer group or to a control group after discharge from a coronary care unit. As delivered in this study, intercessory prayer had no significant effect on specifically defined medical outcomes, regardless of risk status.]

Summary

So let me summarise:

  1. The traditional attributes of God are self-contradictory, so such a God cannot exist.
  2. The traditional attributes of God are incompatible with objective facts about the world. So such a God cannot exist.
  3. Natural explanations are superior to supernatural explanations.  No basis exists for anything supernatural.
  4. The traditional attributes of God imply actions that should be objectively observed, but they’re not.

It’s possible to hypothesize a God whose attributes are logically compatible with each other, but it does not follow that such a God exists unless he has objectively observable consequences.  And as I said no consequences have been observed.

So if God exists, where is he?

First Rebuttal: 12 minutes

I’m going to respond now mainly to Dr Craig’s opening remarks.  However, I will add some further comments on what he has just said.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence

Carl Sagan said: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.  He probably wasn’t the first one to say that.  Dr Craig has made the extraordinary claim that certain empirical facts require supernatural explanations.

In order to refute that, all I need to do is provide plausible natural explanations for these phenomena.  I need not prove these.  If he wants to argue that God is required to exist in order to explain the observed universe, Dr Craig must disprove all possible, natural explanations for these phenomena.

Let’s start with his cosmological argument.

Cosmological Argument

Dr Craig argues that:

  1. Whatever begins must have a cause
  2. The universe had a beginning
  3. Therefore the universe must have had a cause

Not everything that begins has a Cause

However, we know from physics that not everything that begins has a cause.  Physical bodies begin to exist all the time without cause.  Let’s consider radioactive decay of an atomic nucleus, the alpha particle or beta particle or gamma particle that are emitted in a radioactive decay, those particles coming into being, come into existence, begin to exist spontaneously, without a cause.  The beginning of the Big Bang the universe was like a subatomic particle, so these ideas could apply.  Again, I can’t prove it but I don’t have to prove it.  Here is one example that refutes Dr Craig’s claim that everything that begins must have a cause.

Is the Big Bang is evidence that the universe had a beginning?

But even if everything that begins has a cause, this does not necessary apply to the universe if the universe did not have a beginning.

Dr Craig argues that the Big Bang is evidence that the universe had a beginning.  However, the universe need not have begun with the Big Bang.  And I’m not just talking about this one particular speculation from my book.  There are many prominent physicists and cosmologists who publish papers in reputable scientific journals proposing various scenarios by which the Big Bang appeared naturally out of a pre-existing universe that need not itself have had a beginning.  One such recent example is the Cyclic Universe.

Does an infinite universe have a beginning?

Dr Craig also claims that the universe had to begin because if it were infinitely old, it would take an infinite time to reach the present.

However, if the universe is infinitely old, then it had no beginning – not a beginning infinitely long ago.  Furthermore, the universe can be finite – and I actually believe that the universe is finite – it can be finite and still not have a beginning.

Universe can be finite and still not have a beginning

Einstein defined time as what you read on a clock.  It’s a number, the number of ticks of the clock.  We count time forward time: one, two, three, four, five ticks.  We never reach infinitive time.  We can also count time backward and never reach minus infinity.  The notion that the universe had either a beginning or will have an end are theological notions, not scientific ones.

Is the universe fine-tuned for life?

Now, what about this fine-tuning argument?  Again, it’s an argument that’s based on the low probability of our kind of life.  And that not only means carbon-based life but also life with the existing physical laws as we know them.  Even if the probability of a particular form of life was highly improbable to have occurred by natural process, some kind of life could still be highly probable.  Probably not silicon – I agree that silicon is a poor candidate – but that’s with our existing laws of physics.

Another form of life might still evolve in a universe with different physical laws or different physical constants.  We simply don’t have the knowledge to rule that out.  To say that there’s only possible form of life and only one possible set of laws of physics and only one possible set of constants is extremely narrow thinking and not at all required by anything that we know about science.

Argument from improbability

In this argument and other arguments about the design in the universe, Dr Craig claims that the universe and life are too improbable to be solely natural.

The improbable happens

However, this is a fallacious argument.  To use probability to decide between two alternatives requires a comparison of the probabilities of each alternative.  Dr Craig claims that these natural probabilities are exceedingly low.  But he hasn’t told us anything about what the supernatural probabilities are and yet it’s a comparison of these two that must be made.

What’s the probability that the laws of nature are violated?  What’s the probability that there’s an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing but undetectable­ super-being behind all of this?  Complex things are common.  We see natural events every moment.  We’ve never seen a supernatural event.

Furthermore, low probability events happen every day.  What’s the probability that my distinguished opponent exists?  You have to calculate the probability that a particular sperm united with a particular egg, then multiply that by the probability that his parents met, and then repeat that calculation for his grandparents and all his ancestors going back to the beginning of life on Earth.

Even if you stop the calculation with Adam and Eve, you are going to get a fantastically small number.

To use words that Dr Craig has used before, “Improbability is multiplied by improbability by improbability until our minds are reeling in incomprehensible numbers.”

Well, Dr Craig has a mind-reeling, incomprehensibly low probability – a priori probability – for existing.  Yet here he is before us today.

Modern versions of the argument from design – both the fine-tuning argument and the intelligent design argument – share this fatal flaw.  They are based on the idea that natural causes can be ruled out by some arbitrary notion of low probability.

Why is there something rather than nothing?

Dr Craig also asks why is there “something” rather than “nothing”, why does the universe exist rather than “nothing”?

Well, why should “nothing” be a more natural state than “something”?  Why would you expect “nothing” rather than “something”?  In fact, how could “nothing” even exist?  If it existed, wouldn’t it be “something”?

And finally, why is there God rather than “nothing”?  Dr Craig doesn’t answer those questions.

Genesis confirmed?

Dr Craig claims the Big Bang confirms the Biblical view of creation.

Genesis falsified

But what does Genesis actually say?  It says that Earth was created before the sun, moon and stars.  This is at odds with modern cosmology which says that the Earth did not form until seven billion years after the Big Bang.

There are many other disagreements.  Genesis implies that the universe is only about 6,000 years old.  Here’s a picture of a quasar.  The light from this quasar left 12 billion years ago.  Billions and billions of years before the Earth was even formed.

Every one of the thousand or so religions in the world has a creation myth.  Most of them probably resemble modern cosmology as well or better than Genesis.  Here we are in Polynesia and some of the Polynesian myths are more closely resembling to the modern cosmology than Genesis.

Objective morality

Dr Craig calls upon our common sense – our inner feelings – to attest that morality is objective and so must come from God.

Subjective morality

Not everyone shares the same morals.  So, there is no evidence for objective morality.  But, even if morality were objective, its source could be natural: an evolutionary process that aids in human survival and is built into our genes.  I don’t see how Dr Craig has disproved that possibility.

Is the Gospel historical?

Dr Craig claims the Gospel stories describe actual historical events, such as the empty tomb.

The Empty Tomb

There is no evidence for this outside the Bible.  The story of the empty tomb is second and third hand, written years after the event from the oral testimony of supposed eyewitnesses.  Paul did not even know about it, yet Paul regarded the resurrection as very important, yet he didn’t know anything about the empty tomb.  Furthermore, eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable.

But even if the story of the empty tomb is accurate, you could have a simple, natural explanation.  Dr Craig seems to think most scholars don’t believe, but I don’t see how they can know that.

If you went to the Napoleon’s tomb in Paris one morning, and found that his remains were not in their usual place of honour, would you conclude Napoleon had risen bodily into heaven?  Hardly.  You would figure that somebody took the body!  Dr Craig cannot prove that Jesus’ body could not have been removed by somebody.  So that remains a more plausible, natural explanation and a supernatural explanation is not required by the data.

Personal experience of God

On personal experience, Dr Craig says that a personal experience should tell us that God exists.  However, that’s subjective and not everyone shares that experience.

No Evidence for God

So plausible natural explanations exist for all phenomena in the universe and God is not required to explain the universe and so Dr Craig has not proved that God exists.

Closing Remarks: 10 minutes

Dr Craig believes in the God of the Gaps.  That’s the God who is used as a substitute explanation for something that we don’t understand, until the time comes along that we do.  Dr Craig cannot see how the universe came about naturally, so it must have come about supernaturally.  He cannot see how the universe became orderly by natural processes, so order must have come about by supernatural processes.  He cannot see how objective morality can come from humanity, so it must have come from God.  He cannot see how Jesus’ tomb could have been empty, so he must have risen from the dead.  And finally Dr Craig cannot see how his inner experience of God could be a simple physical brain process, so it must be a true experience of God.

In each of these cases we can give a plausible, natural explanation that violates no known principles of science and requires no divine action.  Dr Craig does not succeed in proving that these natural explanations are wrong; he tries to argue that they are implausible but in fact everything I’ve talked about is consistent with all the knowledge we have in science and is in perfect agreement with existing experimental and theoretical facts.  So I don’t think Dr Craig succeeds in proving that God exists.

But even if the goal of the debate were not proof, but simply arguing to the best explanation, Dr Craig fails: secular humanism or materialism is a better explanation than theism or supernaturalism.  It’s simpler, more consistent with empirical observations. In fact, Dr Craig offers no explanations at all.  It’s not an explanation for the order the universe to say, “God did it”.  How did God do it?  Where did God come from?  All you do when you say that “God did it” is you push the explanation back one level; it doesn’t explain a thing.

I’ve argued that a God with the attributes assumed by traditional theism can be proved not to exist if those attributes of course exist.  You can play with the attributes.  You can redefine God so that he doesn’t have all these attributes.  For example, an all good God might not be all perfect or all powerful let’s say and then is not responsible for evil, doesn’t have control over evil.  In fact, that was a line that was taken by Rabbi Kushner in his best-selling book When Bad Things Happen to Good People that God can’t help it – that bad things just happen.  However, if you assume that God has the power to prevent evil then the fact that he doesn’t and evil still exists is clearly an inconsistency – a logically impossibility.

A God who reveals knowledge about the universe that was not previously known could have been objectively verified.  A God with such properties clearly does not exist.  The God who answers prayers and performs miracles that can be objectively verified does not exist.  I readily admit that I can’t disprove every conceivable God.  But there’s no basis for believing in a God who does not produce objectively verifiable attributes.

I’m sure that I’ve not convinced many of the believers in the audience; I certainly haven’t convinced Dr Craig.  You’ll testify as Dr Craig does that you can feel the presence of God in your hearts.  Now I’m sure you do.  I understand that conviction.  I was raised in a devout Catholic family and heard this conviction expressed by almost everybody around me.  But as I grew up, I found that I could not share this faith.  Despite the importance of religion to my family and friends, I could not believe in God because I saw no evidence that he existed.  No one told me about humanism or atheism – I read no humanist or atheist books – I just found that the arguments and evidence that everybody continued to cite to me were unconvincing.  Not knowing how all this came about doesn’t mean that it came from God, it just means that we don’t know how all this came about.  And sincere personal testimonies of deeply held faith were not the sort of objective evidence that we have come to rely on in modern life.  Indeed, I saw so many conflicting religious points of view all based on primitive, superstitious ideas that I knew that they couldn’t all be right.  I decided most likely they were all wrong.

Most scientists share my view.  Are we being too sceptical?  Are we being dogmatically unwilling to entertain the possibility of a personal creator God?  I don’t think so.  There are many examples in the history of science that demonstrate its willingness accept ideas that challenge conventional wisdom.  But the data must require it.  In the early twentieth century the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics revolutionised some our most basic concepts about the nature of reality.  I think most scientists would be thrilled if evidence were founded for previously undetected materials and forces.  Think of all the funding opportunities that would open up.  I would come out of retirement.  But even if that were to happen, I doubt that the world that was then being uncovered would bear any resemblance to the fantasies from the childhood of humanity that constitute traditional religious belief.

People like what they see when they look in the mirror illuminated by the light of faith.  It reflects an image of themselves as fallen angels who sit on this planet with divine purpose to rehabilitate themselves so they may rejoin their fellow angels in paradise.  Unfortunately, the universe exposed to the light of science does not reveal a special place for humanity in the cosmos or any prospect for life after death.  I would not honest if I tried to sugar coat those facts just because they conflict so dramatically with common yearnings.

Saint Paul said, “When I was a child, I thought as a child, I understood as a child.  But when I became a man, I put away childish things, for now we see through a glass darkly.”  Humanity has moved beyond childhood.  We no longer need to depend on imaginary friends for company or a mythical sky father to provide for our needs.  We can take care of ourselves.  We can find ways to live our lives that are consistent with the universe revealed to us by science.

Finally, an all good, all powerful, all knowing God – if one existed – he would have the power to comfort a child dying an excruciating death from leukaemia.  He chooses not to do so.  Is there a person in this room who would not ease that child’s suffering given the power?  I would do it.  Jesus Christ could appear before me and tell me not to do it because it has some ultimate purpose, I WOULD STILL DO IT!  Even if I faced eternal damnation I would do it…