Posts Tagged ‘bible’

William Lane Craig Provides the “Scholarly” Basis for Holy Horror

27/09/2009

WLC2

manicstreetpreacher finally has his answer as to what one of America’s top Christian apologists has to say about the butchery of the Old Testament.

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Is the good loved by the gods because it is good, or is it good because it is loved by the gods?

– Plato

Earlier this year, I reported on the Craig/Hitchens debate at Biola University.  I had been wondering about Craig’s views on evolution for a while, but during the debate he finally revealed that he did not accept Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.   According to Craig’s “science” based on John Barrow and Frank Tipler’s The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, evolution was so “improbable” (surely Craig’s favourite word in the English language) that the sun would have burned out long before Homo sapiens could have evolved.

Craig has stiffened his position in the last couple of years.  During his 2007 debate in London against embryologist Lewis Wolpert, author of Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Craig stated  that he “neither believed nor disbelieved” in evolution, but had reservations over it on the grounds of improbability.

In the Hitchens debate, however, Craig rubbished evolution completely.  I suppose it was the only way he could overthrow Hitchens’ “98,000 Year Wait Gambit” that in order to believe Christianity in the light of what we now know about the origins of the human race, you have to believe that Homo sapiens crawled painfully on their hands and knees for tens of thousands of years with low life expectancy and massive infant mortality with God watching with folded arms before finally intervening with a human sacrifice in a very remote part of the Middle East, the news of which still hasn’t permeated large parts of the civilised world.

As I wrote at the time, even to me as a non-scientist this was “a load of anthropic bunkum”.  Richard Dawkins convincingly argues that the Anthropic Principle is similar to evolution: it is an alternative to the design explanation.  We on Earth just happen to be lucky that our planet possesses the right “Goldilocks qualities” of being “just right” for life to emerge.  After all, physical parameters ought to be irrelevant to an omnipotent God; he could have designed us to survive in a cold, hard vacuum if he wanted.

In addition, Craig appears totally ignorant of the fact that evolution is about small steps producing gradual, but ultimately massive change over very long periods of time.  Improbable, my foot!  Far from Craig “following the evidence wherever it leads” as he is so proud of saying, he is massaging the scientific evidence to ensure that his fantasy of the universe being designed with him in mind can remain in tact.

My other great Craig-curio was what he thought of the atrocities of the Old Testament.  Craig teaches at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University where I understand that the students are taught that the Bible is free from error in all its words.  I’ve always wondered what Craig made of the God-ordered massacres of the Old Testament, however, in the debates I have seen up until now; he has always cordoned off that topic.

I was mildly disappointed that Hitchens did not tear Craig in half like he usually does at the lectern.  Craig smugly declared himself the victor of that clash.  However, as good as it would have been to see Hitchens wipe the floor with his opponent he showed Craig as a right-wing fundamentalist.  It was almost like watching Ted Haggard or Pat Robertson adopt the guise of a “serious scholar” as Craig harped on about the Gospels’ promise of eternal life as embodied in the resurrection of Jesus.

Continuing this gradual breaking down of Craig’s shell, I recently came across this audio clip of Craig on YouTube replying to The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation author Sam Harris (homepage / The Reason Project) and his objections to the barbarism of the Old Testament:

You will note that Craig says that rather than being an argument against the existence of God, the violence in the Old Testament that was apparently mandated by God is a question of whether the Bible is inerrant.  It is open to debate as to whether the Israelites correctly interpreted the word of God in slaughtering all those poor Canaanites.

However, Craig well and truly lets his veil slip by stating that the Israelites were carrying out the will of God in dispensing with his enemies after emerging from 400 years in Egyptian captivity!  Craig admitted that their acts would have been immoral but for the fact that they were ordered by God.  The acts of murder and genocide became moral because God had ordered them.

Craig even admits that God has the right to end the lives of everyone on Earth this second if he so chooses.  Talk about self-imposed slavery!

I couldn’t believe my ears and wanted further proof that this really was Craig’s view.  After all, this is a man who argues that objective moral values such as the wrongness of rape and torturing a child can only come from God and therefore the existence of objective morality is an argument for the existence of God.  As Craig puts it:

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

Seeking further evidence, I came across this article on Craig’s ironically titled website, Reasonable Faith, written in response to a couple of email questions on the violence of the Old Testament and discovered that it just keeps on getting worse.

For your shock, if not your consideration:

[T]he problem isn’t that God ended the Canaanites’ lives.  The problem is that He commanded the Israeli soldiers to end them.  Isn’t that like commanding someone to commit murder?  No, it’s not.  Rather, since our moral duties are determined by God’s commands, it is commanding someone to do something which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been murder.  The act was morally obligatory for the Israeli soldiers in virtue of God’s command, even though, had they undertaken it on their on initiative, it would have been wrong.

God can do anything.  Even make genocide morally right:

On divine command theory, then, God has the right to command an act, which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been sin, but which is now morally obligatory in virtue of that command. [My emphasis]

This segment clearly demonstrates that Craig knows that murder, rape and torture are wrong independently of any divine command.  But he says that they can be morally right if ordered by God as per Plato’s Euthyphro Dilemma quoted at the head of this article.

Do you see what Craig has done there?  He has totally undermined his own argument that without God there can be no objective morality!

Craig goes on to explain that the destruction of unclean races by a super-race favoured by God is a virtuous thing (three guesses who tried to put that one into practice in the last century?):

By setting such strong, harsh dichotomies God taught Israel that any assimilation to pagan idolatry is intolerable.  It was His way of preserving Israel’s spiritual health and posterity.  God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel.  The killing of the Canaanite children not only served to prevent assimilation to Canaanite identity but also served as a shattering, tangible illustration of Israel’s being set exclusively apart for God.

The murder of children is all fine and dandy as long as we think that God wants it.  It was for their own good and they’ve actually gone to a better place:

Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation.  We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy.  Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.

But please spare a thought for those poor child murderers:

So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites?  Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement.  Not the children, for they inherit eternal life.  So who is wronged?  Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children?  The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.

Someone please pass me a bucket.  I’m about to blow chunks over all this moral relativism:

But then, again, we’re thinking of this from a Christianized, Western standpoint.  For people in the ancient world, life was already brutal.  Violence and war were a fact of life for people living in the ancient Near East.  Evidence of this fact is that the people who told these stories apparently thought nothing of what the Israeli soldiers were commanded to do (especially if these are founding legends of the nation).  No one was wringing his hands over the soldiers’ having to kill the Canaanites; those who did so were national heroes.

It always brings a smile to my lips when apologists claim that God can be the only source of objective morality, yet when a sceptic pulls out a nasty passage from the Good Book, they go all relativist on you and say things like, “Well ok, but things were a lot different back then.  Genocide, rape and slavery were the norm…”

No, genocide, rape and slavery were not morally right, even for people living 3,000 years ago.  Perhaps books like Leviticus and Deuteronomy were the Universal Declaration on Human Rights of their day when simply compiling a short list of reasons to kill your enemies was an improvement over the general barbarity of the time.  But values such as self-sacrifice, charity and love were still admired while murder and rape were reviled.

If we are unable to say that it was morally wrong of Moses to issue an order to his troops, as Thomas Paine put it in The Age of Reason, “to butcher the boys, massacre the mothers and debauch the daughters,” (Numbers 31: 13 – 18) then conversely, we cannot say that him leading the Children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt was morally right either!

Craig’s response continues by contending that Osama bin Laden has it soooooo wrong:

Now how does all this relate to Islamic jihad?  Islam sees violence as a means of propagating the Muslim faith.  Islam divides the world into two camps:  the dar al-Islam (House of Submission) and the dar al-harb (House of War).  The former are those lands which have been brought into submission to Islam; the latter are those nations which have not yet been brought into submission.  This is how Islam actually views the world!

No, Dr Craig, those nineteen pious men who showed your pious nation the social benefits of this level of blind faith on 11 September 2001 were not trying to convert anybody that day.  They were exacting what they saw as retribution from their god for America’s decadence and moral depravity.  Rather like the Israelites exterminating the Canaanites in fact.  If you are in any doubt as to this, perhaps you should take a look at this clip from two men whom you worryingly resemble:

Craig’s final conjecture can only be settled once and for all by force of arms:

By contrast, the conquest of Canaan represented God’s just judgement upon those peoples.  The purpose was not at all to get them to convert to Judaism!  War was not being used as an instrument of propagating the Jewish faith.  Moreover, the slaughter of the Canaanites represented an unusual historical circumstance, not a regular means of behavior.

The problem with Islam, then, is not that it has got the wrong moral theory; it’s that it has got the wrong God.  If the Muslim thinks that our moral duties are constituted by God’s commands, then I agree with him.  But Muslims and Christians differ radically over God’s nature.  Christians believe that God is all-loving, while Muslims believe that God loves only Muslims.  Allah has no love for unbelievers and sinners.  Therefore, they can be killed indiscriminately.  Moreover, in Islam God’s omnipotence trumps everything, even His own nature.  He is therefore utterly arbitrary in His dealing with mankind.  By contrast Christians hold that God’s holy and loving nature determines what He commands.

The question, then, is not whose moral theory is correct, but which is the true God?

Why don’t you and the Muslims settle it once and for all by stepping outside, Dr Craig?  This has clearly been the approach of certain Jewish rabbis in the upper quarters of the Israeli Defence Forces which continue to this day, not least during Israel’s military strikes against the Palestinians at the start of 2009.  As Hitchens reported in March this year:

I remember being in Israel in 1986 when the chief army “chaplain” in the occupied territories, Rabbi Shmuel Derlich, issued his troops a 1,000-word pastoral letter enjoining them to apply the biblical commandment to exterminate the Amalekites as “the enemies of Israel.”  Nobody has recently encountered any Amalekites, so the chief educational officer of the Israeli Defense Forces asked Rabbi Derlich whether he would care to define his terms and say whom he meant. Rather evasively – if rather alarmingly – the man of God replied, “Germans.”  There are no Germans in Judaea and Samaria or, indeed, in the Old Testament, so the rabbi’s exhortation to slay all Germans as well as quite probably all Palestinians was referred to the Judge Advocate General’s Office. Forty military rabbis publicly came to Derlich’s support, and the rather spineless conclusion of the JAG was that he had committed no legal offense but should perhaps refrain in the future from making political statements on the army’s behalf…

Now, it’s common to hear people say [that violent passages in the Bible are] not intended to be “taken literally.”  One also often hears the excuse that some wicked things are done “in the name of” religion, as if the wicked things were somehow the result of a misinterpretation.  But the nationalist rabbis who prepare Israeli soldiers for their mission seem to think that this book might be the word of God, in which case the only misinterpretation would be the failure to take it literally.  (I hate to break it to you, but the people who think that God’s will is revealed in scripture are known as “religious.”  Those who do not think so must try to find another name for themselves.)

Possibly you remember Dr Baruch Goldstein, the man who in February 1994 unslung his weapon and killed more than two dozen worshippers at the mosque in Hebron.  He had been a physician in the Israeli army and had first attracted attention by saying that he would refuse to treat non-Jews on the Sabbath.  Now read Ethan Bronner’s report in the March 22 New York Times about the preachments of the Israeli army’s latest chief rabbi, a West Bank settler named Avichai Rontzski who also holds the rank of brigadier general.  He has “said that the main reason for a Jewish doctor to treat a non-Jew on the Sabbath … is to avoid exposing Diaspora Jews to hatred.”  Those of us who follow these things recognize that statement as one of the leading indicators of a truly determined racist and fundamentalist.  Yet it comes not this time in the garb of a homicidal lone-wolf nut bag but in the full uniform and accoutrement of a general and a high priest…  The latest news, according to Bronner, is that the Israeli Defense Ministry has felt compelled to reprimand Rontzski for “a rabbinal edict against showing the enemy mercy” that was distributed in booklet form to men and women in uniform (see Numbers 31: 13 – 18).

At least Craig is correct when he says at one point in the article that many Old Testament scholars are sceptical that the conquest of Canaan was an actual historical event, but that’s hardly the point.  The Bible is supposed to be a document containing timeless social and moral codes while portraying the actions of people we ought to admire.  In this exercise, it fails miserably.  As he and Hitchens discussed in their Biola debate, Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov wonders whether “without God, all things are possible.”  But as Hitchens argued, surely the corollary is true: that with God, all things are thinkable as well.

If one of the world’s foremost Christian apologists can issue such a grotesque defence of Yahweh that contradicts all of his own arguments for the divine source of human morality at a stroke, then it is unsurprising that PhD graduates in the 21st century will fly aeroplanes into buildings believing that they are morally right to do so and will be rewarded by God in the afterlife.

I don’t say that all religious people are mad, bad or sad per se, but they very often can be when it comes to their religious beliefs.  As the Nobel Laureate physicist Steven Weinberg famously once said, “With or without religion, good people will do good things and bad people will do bad things.  But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

William Lane Craig is living proof of this.

UPDATE 06/04/2010:

Since publishing this piece, I have come across a podcast on this topic as part of the “Reasonable Faith: Conversations with Dr William Lane Craig” series that Craig’s website produces  if you can bear it.  Lukeprog over at Common Sense Atheism has posted an excellent discussion.

I have also found this comment by Richard Dawkins posted on the debate forum of his website:

Theological justification for genocide Part One

Richard Dawkins >> Mon Apr 21, 2008 8:22 am

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5767

One of our commenters on another thread, stevencarrwork, posted a link to this article by the American theologian and Christian apologist William Lane Craig.  I read it and found it so dumbfoundingly, staggeringly awful that I wanted to post it again.  It is a stunning example of the theological mind at work.  And remember, this is NOT an ‘extremist’, ‘fundamentalist’, ‘picking on the worst case’ example.  My understanding is that William Lane Craig is a widely respected apologist for the Christian religion.  Read his article and rub your eyes to make sure you are not having a bad dream.

Richard

That just about says it all.

(H/T: Steven Carr)

The Strange Case of Dr Collins and Mr Harris

08/09/2009

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http://www.genome.gov/10000779

sam_harris

http://www.samharris.org/

http://www.reasonproject.org/

manicstreetpreacher gives a narrative of the repeated verbal assaults on one of the world’s foremost religious scientists by one of the Four Horsemen.

A brief history of Francis Collins

Francis Collins is a Godsend to religious apologists.  He is a devout Christian who also happens to be a highly respected physical chemist with a highly impressive litany of achievements and contributions to science on his CV.  Not least of these was his heading-up of the Human Genome Project which was an international scientific research project with a primary goal to determine the sequence of chemical base pairs which make up DNA and to identify and map the approximately 20,000-25,000 genes of the human genome from both a physical and functional standpoint.

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Collins is clearly a highly intelligent, sane, rational man who has had a brilliant career as a scientist.  What’s more, he has not let his faith give credence to creationism or “Intelligent Design”.  In his 2006 book, The Language of God, Collins – as per the book’s subtitle – attempted to present scientific evidence for religious faith:

As believers, you are right to hold fast to the concept of God as Creator; you are right to hold fast to the truths of the Bible; you are right to hold fast to the conclusion that science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence; and you are right to hold fast to the certainty that the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted. (p. 178)

God, who is not limited to space and time, created the universe and established natural laws that govern it. Seeking to populate this otherwise sterile universe with living creatures, God chose the elegant mechanism of evolution to create microbes, plants, and animals of all sorts. Most remarkably, God intentionally chose the same mechanism to give rise to special creatures who would have intelligence, a knowledge of right and wrong, free will, and a desire to seek fellowship with Him.  He also knew these creatures would ultimately choose to disobey the Moral Law.  (pp. 200 – 201)

However, one has to suspect whether this conversion was less a scientific discovery and more an emotional response:

On a beautiful fall day, as I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains during my first trip west of the Mississippi, the majesty and beauty of God’s creation overwhelmed my resistance.  As I rounded a corner and saw a beautiful and unexpected frozen waterfall, hundreds of feet high, I knew the search was over.  The next morning, I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ.  (p. 225)

In an interview with Time magazine Collins clarified that the waterfall was frozen into three separate strands, putting him in mind of the Holy Trinity.

Unsurprisingly, religious apologists the world over have held out Collins as a shining example of the supposed marriage between science and religion.

Apparently people like Collins prove that there is no conflict between believing that the Universe is 13.5 billion years old and that Homo sapiens share the same DNA as a fruit fly on the one hand, and on the other believing that the public torture and execution of a carpenter’s son over 2,000 years ago on the other side of the World is the only remedy that can cure the ailments of the human condition and that biscuits and sherry transform into said carpenter’s son’s flesh and blood in designated buildings on a Sunday morning.

Practically all the “flea” responses to Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion have cited Collins as the exemplar of a scientist who has managed to square his science with his religious faith in direct contrast to the shrill and intolerant arguments of Dawkins that the two discourses are irreconcilable.

However, Dawkins is not the only one of the Four Horsemen who has delivered a series of tongue-lashings to scientists of this type who display a bizarre partition in their brains between faith and reason.

Ready, aim… FIRE!!!!!

Right from the word “go”, Sam Harris, American atheist author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation has been highly critical of Collins and has used him as an example of how this supposed harmony of science and religion – that the two areas occupy “Non-Overlapping Magisteria” (NOMA) – is completely bogus.

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In a 2005 article, Harris stated:

It is time that scientists and other public intellectuals observed that the contest between faith and reason is zero-sum.  There is no question but that nominally religious scientists like Francis Collins and Kenneth R Miller are doing lasting harm to our discourse by the accommodations they have made to religious irrationality.  Likewise, Stephen Jay Gould’s notion of “non-overlapping magisteria” served only the religious dogmatists who realize, quite rightly, that there is only one magisterium.  Whether a person is religious or secular, there is nothing more sacred than the facts.  Either Jesus was born of a virgin, or he wasn’t; either there is a God who despises homosexuals, or there isn’t.  It is time that sane human beings agreed on the standards of evidence necessary to substantiate truth-claims of this sort…  There simply is no good reason to believe such things, and scientists should stop hiding their light under a bushel and make this emphatically obvious to everyone.

When it was first published in 2006, most reviewers heaped praise on The Language of God. Harris’ treatment of the book could scarcely have been more a polar opposite.  In a damning review tellingly entitled “The Language of Ignorance”, Harris unleashed his first real volley against Collins.

On Collins’ pleas to NOMA:

[Collins] attempts to demonstrate that there is “a consistent and profoundly satisfying harmony” between 21st-century science and evangelical Christianity.  To say that he fails at his task does not quite get at the inadequacy of his efforts.  He fails the way a surgeon would fail if he attempted to operate using only his toes.  His failure is predictable, spectacular and vile.  The Language of God reads like a hoax text, and the knowledge that it is not a hoax should be disturbing to anyone who cares about the future of intellectual and political discourse in the United States…

His book reveals that a stellar career in science offers no guarantee of a scientific frame of mind…

According to Collins, belief in the God of Abraham is the most rational response to the data of physics and biology, while of all the possible worldviews, atheism is the least rational.  Taken at face value, these claims suggest that The Language of God will mark an unprecedented breakthrough in the history of ideas.  Once Collins gets going, however, we realize that the book represents a breakthrough of another kind…

On Collins’ rather suspect understanding of the source of human morality:

Collins’ case for the supernatural origin of morality rests on the further assertion that there can be no evolutionary explanation for genuine altruism.  Because self-sacrifice cannot increase the likelihood that an individual creature will survive and reproduce, truly self-sacrificing behavior stands as a primordial rejoinder to any biological account of morality.  In Collins’ view, therefore, the mere existence of altruism offers compelling evidence of a personal God.  (Here, Collins performs a risible sprint past ideas in biology like “kin selection” that plausibly explain altruism and self-sacrifice in evolutionary terms.)…

Collins can’t seem to see that human morality and selfless love may be derivative of more basic biological and psychological traits, which were themselves products of evolution.  It is hard to interpret this oversight in light of his scientific training.  If one didn’t know better, one might be tempted to conclude that religious dogmatism presents an obstacle to scientific reasoning…

On whether atheists or believers are the more strident:

Any intellectually honest person must admit that he does not know why the universe exists.  Secular scientists, of course, readily admit their ignorance on this point.  Believers like Collins do not…

The book’s post-mortem was thus:

If one wonders how beguiled, self-deceived and carefree in the service of fallacy a scientist can be in the United States in the 21st century, The Language of God provides the answer.  The only thing that mitigates the harm this book will do to the stature of science in the United States is that it will be mostly read by people for whom science has little stature already.  Viewed from abroad, The Language of God will be seen as another reason to wonder about the fate of American society.  Indeed, it is rare that one sees the thumbprint of historical contingency so visible on the lens of intellectual discourse.  This is an American book, attesting to American ignorance, written for Americans who believe that ignorance is stronger than death.  Reading it should provoke feelings of collective guilt in any sensitive secularist.  We should be ashamed that this book was written in our own time.

Strike two

Since then, Harris has taken every available opportunity to deride Collins as representing the nadir of NOMA and that his conversion to Christianity had little to do with his scientific career and everything to with a warm fuzzy feeling inside him that there just had to be something more.

The most recent episode of Harris’ crusade against Collins happened in a piece written in response to Collins’ nomination by US President Barack Obama as head of the National Institution of Health (NIH).  Harris had clearly not warmed to Collins one iota as he again unleashed his unique brand of cutting sarcasm and unanswerable logic:

Dr Collins is regularly praised by secular scientists for what he is not: he is not a “young earth creationist,” nor is he a proponent of “intelligent design.” Given the state of the evidence for evolution, these are both very good things for a scientist not to be…

Dr Collins gave at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2008:

Slide 1: “Almighty God, who is not limited in space or time, created a universe 13.7 billion years ago with its parameters precisely tuned to allow the development of complexity over long periods of time.”

Slide 2: “God’s plan included the mechanism of evolution to create the marvelous diversity of living things on our planet. Most especially, that creative plan included human beings.”

Slide 3: “After evolution had prepared a sufficiently advanced ‘house’ (the human brain), God gifted humanity with the knowledge of good and evil (the moral law), with free will, and with an immortal soul.”

Slide 4: “We humans used our free will to break the moral law, leading to our estrangement from God. For Christians, Jesus is the solution to that estrangement.”

Slide 5: “If the moral law is just a side effect of evolution, then there is no such thing as good or evil.  It’s all an illusion.  We’ve been hoodwinked.  Are any of us, especially the strong atheists, really prepared to live our lives within that worldview?”

Why should Dr Collins’s beliefs be of concern?

There is an epidemic of scientific ignorance in the United States.  This isn’t surprising, as very few scientific truths are self-evident, and many are counterintuitive.  It is by no means obvious that empty space has structure or that we share a common ancestor with both the housefly and the banana.  It can be difficult to think like a scientist.  But few things make thinking like a scientist more difficult than religion…

Dr Collins insists that our moral intuitions attest to God’s existence, to his perfectly moral character and to his desire to have fellowship with every member of our species. But when our moral intuitions recoil at the casual destruction of innocents by, say, a tidal wave or earthquake, Dr Collins assures us that our time-bound notions of good and evil can’t be trusted and that God’s will is a mystery.

Most scientists who study the human mind are convinced that minds are the products of brains, and brains are the products of evolution.  Dr Collins takes a different approach: he insists that at some moment in the development of our species God inserted crucial components – including an immortal soul, free will, the moral law, spiritual hunger, genuine altruism, etc.

As someone who believes that our understanding of human nature can be derived from neuroscience, psychology, cognitive science and behavioral economics, among others, I am troubled by Dr Collins’s line of thinking. I also believe it would seriously undercut fields like neuroscience and our growing understanding of the human mind. If we must look to religion to explain our moral sense, what should we make of the deficits of moral reasoning associated with conditions like frontal lobe syndrome and psychopathy?  Are these disorders best addressed by theology?…

Francis Collins is an accomplished scientist and a man who is sincere in his beliefs.  And that is precisely what makes me so uncomfortable about his nomination. Must we really entrust the future of biomedical research in the United States to a man who sincerely believes that a scientific understanding of human nature is impossible?

Naturally, Harris’ article provoked a furious response from goddycoddlers like Andrew Brown of The Guardian, who fumed on his blog:

Anyone tempted to believe that the abolition of religion would make the world a wiser and better place should study the works of Sam Harris.  Shallow, narrow, and self-righteous, he defends and embodies all of the traits that have made organised religion repulsive; and he does so in the name of atheism and rationality.  He has, for example, defended torture, (“restraint in the use of torture cannot be reconciled with our willingness to wage war in the first place”) attacked religious toleration in ways that would make Pio Nono blush: “We can no more tolerate a diversity of religious beliefs than a diversity of beliefs about epidemiology and basic hygiene”; he has claimed that there are some ideas so terrible that we may be justified in killing people just for believing them.  Naturally, he also believes that the Nazis were really mere catspaws of the Christians…

To the extent that Harris has any argument at all – apart from that religious people are very wicked, responsible for the inquisition, the holocaust, George W Bush, Muslims, and other Bad Things – it is that as a religious man Collins must “sincerely believe that a scientific understanding of human nature is impossible.”

So what?  Everything we know about believing scientists of Collins’ type suggests two things.  First that they love science: nobody could accomplish scientifically what Collins has (and, incidentally, Harris hasn’t) without an overwhelming passion for their work.  Secondly, that no scientific discovery could shake their faith, any more than science made Darwin an atheist.  All of the best arguments against God are theological.  It’s the second point that’s really important. What drives the tribal atheists like Harris mad is knowing that Collins won’t convert whatever science may discover.

So why object to Collins getting the job?  Since Harris does not, quite, dare to claim that Collins would, at the head of the NIH, somehow stop science from being done, he is reduced to suggesting that Collins would not approve of the results that Harris expects from scientific research. Quite apart from the question of whether this is actually true or whether the question will actually arise – Harris, too, might be wrong about what science will discover – it isn’t any argument at all against his holding the job…

[M]ilitant atheism, of the sort that would deny people jobs for their religions beliefs, doesn’t actually believe in real science at all, any more than it believes in reason.  Rather, it uses “science” and “reason” as tribal labels, and “religion” as a term for witchcraft. Any serious defence of the real, hard-won and easily lost enlightenment must start by rejecting that style of atheism entirely.  What use is it to be right about God and wrong about everything else?

Brown stoops to the common quote-mine/distortion employed by Harris’ opponents, that he endorses torture, when anyone who has read the relevant passage in The End of Faith will know that Harris does no such thing.  (See Harris’ “Response to Controversy” written in reply to these dirty tactics.)

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

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

Brown goes on to make some bad arguments about the relationship between science and faith.  He gloats that no scientific discovery could ever shake Collins’s faith, “any more than science made Darwin an atheist.” (I’m not so sure about that one, actually.  Certain empirical observations might well have eroded Darwin’s faith: the death of his daughter Annie, for example, as well as his famous observations about the horrors of nature, like the ichneumon wasp, which to Darwin argued against the existence of a benevolent god.)  Thus, when Brown says that Collins need never abandon his faith because “all the best arguments against God are theological,” he’s just wrong.  The best arguments against God are empirical, most prominent among them the argument from evil.  As far as I can see — and yes, I’ve read theology — there has never been a better refutation of the idea of a loving and omnipotent god than the existence of horrible, god-preventable things happening to innocent people.  That’s an empirical observation, and the world didn’t have to be that way. Another, of course, is that prayer doesn’t work.  Yet another is the observation that God seems to heal some people, but sorely neglects those amputees.  Finally, the theistic God obstinately refuses to show himself to people, although he supposedly interacts with the world.

None of us “militant atheists” want to deny Collins his job because of his faith.  And it’s just dumb to say that we don’t believe in real science.  I do real science every day.  As for labeling religion as “witchcraft,” well, are the two forms of superstition really so different?

Brown’s overall complaint seems to be that Harris’s writings are so popular — that “hundreds of thousands of people bought the books, and perhaps the ideas in them.”  I suspect Brown’s books haven’t sold nearly as well, though (no surprise!) he won a Templeton Prize for religious journalism.  I do feel sorry for Brown, though:  it can’t be pleasant to write a Guardian column where most of your commenters rip your arguments to shreds.

Harris: 3 – Collins: Nil

Harris hit back at his critics with this superb piece witheringly entitled “The Strange Case of Francis Collins”.  I can only recommend that it is read in full, particularly as Harris puts into print arguments that he has previously made in debates and lectures.  I quote the following to whet your appetites:

Debunking the “argument from admired religious scientists”:

This prayer of reconciliation goes by many names and now has many advocates.  But it is based on a fallacy. The fact that some scientists do not detect any problem with religious faith merely proves that a juxtaposition of good ideas/methods and bad ones is possible.  Is there a conflict between marriage and infidelity?  The two regularly coincide.  The fact that intellectual honesty can be confined to a ghetto – in a single brain, in an institution, in a culture, etc – does not mean that there isn’t a perfect contradiction between reason and faith, or between the worldview of science taken as a whole and those advanced by the world’s “great”, and greatly discrepant, religions.

What can be shown by example is how poorly religious scientists manage to reconcile reason and faith when they actually attempt to do so.  Few such efforts have received more public attention than the work of Francis Collins.  At the time of this writing, Collins seems destined to be the next director of the National Institutes of Health.  One must admit that his credentials are impeccable: he is a physical chemist, a medical geneticist, and the former head of the Human Genome Project.  He is also, by his own account, living proof that there is no conflict between science and religion.  In 2006, Collins published a bestselling book, The Language of God, in which he claims to demonstrate “a consistent and profoundly satisfying harmony” between 21st-century science and Evangelical Christianity.  Let it be known that “consistency” and “harmony” can be in the eye of the beholder.

[A]s director of the institutes, Collins will have more responsibility for biomedical and health-related research than any person on earth, controlling an annual budget of more than $30 billion. He will also be one of the foremost representatives of science in the United States. For this reason, it is important to understand Collins’ religious beliefs as they relate to scientific inquiry.

On whether deism can really can support theism:

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

On the rationality of Collins’ theistic world view:

[Collins] says that of “all the possible worldviews, atheism is the least rational”.  I suspect that this will not be the last time a member of our species will be obliged to make the following point (but one can always hope): disbelief in the God of Abraham does not require that one search the entire cosmos and find Him absent; it only requires that one consider the evidence put forward by believers to be insufficient. Presumably Francis Collins does not believe in Zeus.  I trust he considers this skeptical attitude to be fully justified.  Might this be because there are no good reasons to believe in Zeus?  And what would he say to a person who claimed that disbelief is Zeus is a form of “blind faith” or that of all possible worldviews it is the “least rational”?…

Collins has since started an organization called the BioLogos Foundation, whose purpose (in the words of its mission statement) is to demonstrate “the compatibility of the Christian faith with what science has discovered about the origins of the universe and life.”  BioLogos is funded by the Templeton Foundation, a religious organization that, because of its astonishing wealth, has managed to purchase the complicity of otherwise secular scientists as it seeks to re-brand religious faith as a legitimate arm of science.

Would Collins have received the same treatment in Nature if he had argued for the compatibility between science and witchcraft, astrology, or Tarot cards?   Not a chance.  In fact, we can be confident that his scientific career would have terminated in an inferno of criticism…

On the insurmountably high standard of evidence for miracle accounts:

Even for a scientist of Collins’ stature, who has struggled to reconcile his belief in the divinity of Jesus with modern science, it all boils down to the “empty tomb.” Indeed, Collins freely admits that if all his scientific arguments for the plausibility of God were proven to be in error, his faith would be undiminished, as it is founded upon the belief, shared by all serious Christians, that the Gospel account of the miracles of Jesus is true.  For a scientist, Collins speaks with remarkable naïveté about the Gospel account being the “record of eyewitnesses.”  Biblical scholars generally agree that the earliest Gospel, the Gospel of Mark, was written several decades after the events it purports to describe.  Of course, no one has access to the original manuscript of Mark, or of any of the other Gospels: rather, there are thousands of fragmentary copies of copies of copies, many of which show obvious errors or signs of later interpolation.  The earliest of these fragments dates to second century, but for many other sections of the text we must rely on copies that were produced centuries later.  One would hope that a scientist might see that these disordered and frequently discordant texts constitute a rather precarious basis for believing in the divinity of Jesus.

But the problem is actually much worse than this: for even if we had multiple, contemporaneous, first-hand accounts of the miracles of Jesus, this would still not constitute sufficient support for the central tenets of Christianity.  Indeed, first-hand accounts of miracles are extremely common, even in the 21st century.  I’ve met scores of educated men and women who are convinced that their favorite Hindu or Buddhist guru has magic powers, and many of the miracles that they describe are every bit as outlandish as those attributed to Jesus.  Stories about yogis and mystics walking on water, raising the dead, flying without the aid of technology, materializing objects, reading minds, foretelling the future are circulating right now, in communities where the average levels of education, access to information, and skeptical doubt are far higher than we would expect of first century fishermen and goatherds.

In fact, all of Jesus’ powers have been attributed to the South Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba by vast numbers of eyewitnesses who believe that he is a living god.  The man even claims to have been born of a virgin.  Collins’ faith is predicated on the claim that miracle stories of the sort that today surround a person like Sathya Sai Baba – and do not even merit an hour on the Discovery Channel – somehow become especially credible when set in the pre-scientific religious context of the 1st century Roman Empire, decades after their supposed occurrence, as evidenced by discrepant and fragmentary copies of copies of copies of ancient Greek manuscripts.  It is on this basis that the future head of the NIH recommends that we believe the following propositions:

  1. Jesus Christ, a carpenter by trade, was born of a virgin, ritually murdered as a scapegoat for the collective sins of his species, and then resurrected from death after an interval of three days.

  2. He promptly ascended, bodily, to “heaven” – where, for two millennia, he has eavesdropped upon (and, on occasion, even answered) the simultaneous prayers of billions of beleaguered human beings.

  3. Not content to maintain this numinous arrangement indefinitely, this invisible carpenter will one day return to earth to judge humanity for its sexual indiscretions and skeptical doubts, at which time he will grant immortality to anyone who has had the good fortune to be convinced, on mother’s knee, that this baffling litany of miracles is the most important series of truth-claims ever revealed about the cosmos.

  4. Every other member of our species, past and present, from Cleopatra to Einstein, no matter what his or her terrestrial accomplishments, will be consigned to a far less desirable fate, best left unspecified.

  5. In the meantime, God/Jesus may or may not intervene in our world, as He pleases, curing the occasional end-stage cancer (or not), answering an especially earnest prayer for guidance (or not), consoling the bereaved (or not), through His perfectly wise and loving agency.

How many scientific laws would be violated by such a scheme?  One is tempted to say “all of them.”  And yet, judging from the way that journals like Nature have treated Collins, one can only conclude that there is nothing in the scientific worldview, or in the intellectual rigor and self-criticism that gave rise to it, that casts these convictions in an unfavorable light.

Harris answers his critics who label him as intolerant:

Some readers will consider any criticism of Collins’ views to be an overt expression of “intolerance.”  Indeed, when I published an abbreviated version of this essay in the New York Times, this is precisely the kind of negative response I received.  For instance, the biologist Kenneth Miller claimed in a letter to the Times that my view was purely the product of my own “deeply held prejudices against religion” and that I opposed Collins merely because “he is a Christian.”   Writing in the Guardian, Andrew Brown called my criticism of Collins a “fantastically illiberal and embryonically totalitarian position that goes against every possible notion of human rights and even the American constitution.”  Miller and Brown seem to think that bad ideas and disordered thinking should not be challenged as long as they are associated with a mainstream religion and that to do so is synonymous with bigotry.   They are not alone…

Harris tears NOMA a new one:

The world’s religions are predicated on the truth of specific doctrines that have been growing less plausible by the day.  While the ultimate relationship between consciousness and matter has not been entirely settled, any naïve conception of a soul can now be jettisoned on account of the mind’s obvious dependency upon the brain.  The idea that there might be an immortal soul capable of reasoning, feeling love, remembering life events, etc, all the while being metaphysically independent of the brain becomes untenable the moment we realize that damage to the relevant neural circuits obliterates these specific capacities in a living person.  Does the soul of a completely aphasic patient still speak and think fluently?  This is like asking whether the soul of a diabetic produces abundant insulin. What is more, the specific character of the mind’s dependency on the brain suggests that there cannot be a unified subject lurking behind all of the brain’s functionally distinct channels of processing.  There are simply too many separable components to perception and cognition – each susceptible to independent disruption – for there to be a single entity to stand as rider to the horse…

On how Collins still can’t get his mind around the evolutionary explanation for altruism:

Collins’ case for the supernatural origin of morality rests on the further assertion that there can be no evolutionary explanation for genuine altruism.  Because self-sacrifice cannot increase the likelihood that an individual creature will survive and reproduce, truly self-sacrificing behavior stands as a primordial rejoinder to any biological account of morality.  In Collins’ view the mere existence of altruism offers compelling evidence of a personal God.  But a moment’s thought reveals that if we were to accept this neutered biology, almost everything about us would be bathed in the warm glow of religious mystery.  Does our interest in astronomy owe its existence to the successful reproduction of ancient astronomers?  (What about the practices of celibacy and birth control?  Are they all about reproduction too?)  Collins can’t seem to see that human morality and selfless love may be elaborations of more basic biological and psychological traits, which were themselves products of evolution.  It is hard to interpret this oversight in light of his scientific training.  If one didn’t know better, one might be tempted to conclude that religious dogmatism presents an obstacle to scientific reasoning.

On how the marriage between religion and science is preventing potentially life-saving stem cell research:

There are, of course, ethical implications to believing that human beings are the only species made in God’s image and vouchsafed with “immortal souls.”  History shows us that concern about souls is a very poor guide to ethical behaviour – that is, to actually mitigating the suffering of conscious creatures like ourselves.   Concern about souls leads to concerns about undifferentiated cells in Petri dishes and to ethical qualms over embryonic stem cell research.  Rather often, it leads to indifference to the suffering of animals believed not to possess souls but which can clearly suffer in ways that three-day old human embryos cannot.  The use of apes in medical research, the exposure of whales and dolphins to military sonar – these are real ethical dilemmas, with real suffering at issue.  Concern over human embryos smaller than the period at the end of this sentence – when, for years they have been the most promising door to medical breakthrough – is one of the many delusional products of religion, which has led to one of its many predictable failures of compassion.  While Collins appears to support embryonic stem cell research, he does so after much (literal) soul-searching and under considerable theological duress.  Everything he has said and written about the subject needlessly complicates an ethical question that is – if one is actually concerned about human and animal wellbeing – genuinely straightforward.

Obama really should think this one through again:

The Obama administration still has not removed the most important impediments to embryonic stem cell research – allowing funding only for work on stem cells derived from surplus embryos at fertility clinics.  Such delicacy is a clear concession to the religious convictions of the American electorate.  While Collins seems willing to go further and support research on embryos created through somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), he is very far from being a voice of ethical clarity in this debate.  For instance, he considers embryos created through SCNT to be distinct from those formed through the union of sperm and egg because the former are “not part of God’s plan to create a human individual” while “the latter is very much part of God’s plan, carried out through the millennia by our own species and many others” (Collins, 2006, p. 256).   There is little to be gained in a serious discussion of bioethics by talking about “God’s plan.”  (If such embryos were brought to term and became sentient and suffering human beings, would it be ethical to kill them and harvest their organs because they had been conceived apart from “God’s plan”?)  While his stewardship of the NIH seems unlikely to impede our mincing progress on embryonic stem cell research, his appointment seems like another one of President Obama’s efforts to split difference between real science and real ethics on the one hand and religious superstition and taboo on the other.

Collins has written that “science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence” and that “the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted.”  One can only hope that these convictions will not affect his judgment at the NIH.  Understanding human wellbeing at the level of the brain might very well offer some “answers to the most pressing questions of human existence” – questions like, Why do we suffer?  How can we achieve the deepest forms of happiness? Or, indeed, is it possible to love one’s neighbor as oneself? And wouldn’t any effort to explain human nature without reference to a soul, and to explain morality without reference to God, constitute “atheistic materialism”?  Must we really entrust the future of biomedical research in the United States to a man who believes that understanding ourselves through science is impossible, while our resurrection from death is inevitable?

As if Collins was not punch-drunk enough, Harris was also less than complimentary about Collins on his recent appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher:

The sound of silence

Ouch.  So what has Collins said in response to this repeated and sustained assault on his intellectual credibility?   As far as I have been able to discover, nothing.

Supporters of Collins will surely argue that he has better things to do that dignify the rantings of a militant atheist with a response.  This interpretation of Collins’ silence may have some mileage.  However, the other side of the argument is far more persuasive.  Under British civil law at least, an opponent’s silence in the face of your allegations constitutes implicit agreement to them.

So, compare Collins’ non-response to that of Richard Dawkins after this:

In A Devil’s Chaplain, Dawkins explained that the question “Name a genetic mutation that has lead to an increase in information in the genome?” is exactly the question that only a creationist would ask.  Dawkins refuses to debate creationists because it would supply them with the oxygen of publicity since sharing a platform with a prominent evolutionary biologist would give the impression to the general public that there was a serious issue worth debating, when of course there is not.  For the creationists, winning or losing the debate itself is irrelevant; the fact that a debate has gone ahead at all is victory enough for them.

During the above interview, recorded at his Oxford home in 1997, Dawkins tumbled to the fact that they were creationists, paused while thinking how to deal with the situation (not to mention containing his anger), before asking them to stop the tape.  After asking them off-camera to leave his house, reluctantly, Dawkins continued with the interview.  He was then shown the finished tape by a colleague about 12 months later and the producers had spliced the tape together to make it appear that Dawkins was stumped by the “information” question and then gave an evasive answer.

Dawkins’ response – in total contrast to Collins – was to clear his reputation and get his side of the story out into public domain.  He contacted the Australian magazine The Skeptic to help him locate the production company who had conducted the interview and the result was this excellent article by Barry Williams.  As Dawkins explained:

As it happens, my forthcoming book, Unweaving the Rainbow, has an entire chapter (“The Genetic Book of the Dead”) devoted to a much more interesting version of the idea that natural selection gathers up information from the environment, and builds it into the genome.  At the time of the interview, the book was almost finished.  That chapter would have been in the forefront of my mind, and it is therefore especially ludicrous to suggest that I would have evaded the question by talking about fish and amphibians.

If I’d wanted to turn the question into more congenial channels, all I had to do was talk about “The Genetic Book of the Dead”.  It is a chapter I am particularly pleased with.  I’d have welcomed the opportunity to expound it.  Why on earth, when faced with such an opportunity, would I have kept totally silent?  Unless, once again, I was actually thinking about something quite different while struggling to keep my temper?

As Williams concludes:

Most scientifically literate people, and even many of those whose understanding of it is slight, have long recognised creation ‘science’ for the infantile religious dogma that it is, so this crude propaganda is unlikely to have a great deal of lasting effect on them.  But those who have little understanding of science, and particularly those who have trusted the creationists’ claim that they are engaged in science, have had their trust betrayed.  The nature of the calls we have received from people who have seemingly swallowed this line leave us in no doubt that that is precisely what has happened.

This is not the way of science – it is the way of political propaganda – yet another blatant example of “telling lies for God”.

(For further reading, see the creationist production company’s response to Williams and Williams’ counter-response.)

Similarly, Dawkins and other prominent atheist scientists were duped into recording interviews for the documentary-film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a loathsome piece of creationist propaganda released in 2008 and headed-up by American game show host and Intelligent Design proponent, Ben Stein.

Dawkins, Michael Shermer and P Z Myers thought that they were taking part in a film that addressed the intersection between science and religion, to be called Crossroads.  However, Expelled turned out to be a ham-fisted attempt to discredit the scientific establishment by making out that it was deliberately silencing advocates of “Intelligent Design Theory” by removing them from their positions at their institutions, while making the truly shocking claim that Darwinian evolution had a direct influence on Hitler’s eugenics programme and the Holocaust.

Once again, the response by the atheist scientists was in total contract to Collins’ silence.  Dawkins explained:

Toward the end of his interview with me, Stein asked whether I could think of any circumstances whatsoever under which intelligent design might have occurred.  It’s the kind of challenge I relish, and I set myself the task of imagining the most plausible scenario I could.  I wanted to give ID its best shot, however poor that best shot might be.  I must have been feeling magnanimous that day, because I was aware that the leading advocates of Intelligent Design are very fond of protesting that they are not talking about God as the designer, but about some unnamed and unspecified intelligence, which might even be an alien from another planet.  Indeed, this is the only way they differentiate themselves from fundamentalist creationists, and they do it only when they need to, in order to weasel their way around church/state separation laws.  So, bending over backwards to accommodate the IDiots (“oh NOOOOO, of course we aren’t talking about God, this is SCIENCE”) and bending over backwards to make the best case I could for intelligent design, I constructed a science fiction scenario. Like Michael Ruse (as I surmise) I still hadn’t rumbled Stein, and I was charitable enough to think he was an honestly stupid man, sincerely seeking enlightenment from a scientist.  I patiently explained to him that life could conceivably have been seeded on Earth by an alien intelligence from another planet (Francis Crick and Leslie Orgel suggested something similar – semi tongue-in-cheek).  The conclusion I was heading towards was that, even in the highly unlikely event that some such ‘Directed Panspermia’ was responsible for designing life on this planet, the alien beings would THEMSELVES have to have evolved, if not by Darwinian selection, by some equivalent ‘crane’ (to quote Dan Dennett).  My point here was that design can never be an ULTIMATE explanation for organized complexity. Even if life on Earth was seeded by intelligent designers on another planet, and even if the alien life form was itself seeded four billion years earlier, the regress must ultimately be terminated (and we have only some 13 billion years to play with because of the finite age of the universe).  Organized complexity cannot just spontaneously happen.  That, for goodness sake, is the creationists’ whole point, when they bang on about eyes and bacterial flagella!  Evolution by natural selection is the only known process whereby organized complexity can ultimately come into being. Organized complexity – and that includes everything capable of designing anything intelligently – comes LATE into the universe. It cannot exist at the beginning, as I have explained again and again in my writings.

P Z Myers’ explanation:

I went to attend a screening of the creationist propaganda movie, Expelled, a few minutes ago. Well, I tried … but I was Expelled!  It was kind of weird – I was standing in line, hadn’t even gotten to the point where I had to sign in and show ID, and a policeman pulled me out of line and told me I could not go in.  I asked why, of course, and he said that a producer of the film had specifically instructed him that I was not to be allowed to attend.  The officer also told me that if I tried to go in, I would be arrested. I assured him that I wasn’t going to cause any trouble.

Dawkins and Myers taped this conversation immediately after the premier of Expelled:

And the team at RichardDawkins.net put together this highly amusing parody of Expelled:

Michael Shermer’s side of the story:

Ben Stein came to my office to interview me about what I was told was a film about “the intersection of science and religion” called “Crossroads (yet another deception).  I knew something was afoot when his first question to me was on whether or not I think someone should be fired for expressing dissenting views.  I pressed Stein for specifics: Who is being fired for what, when and where?  In my experience, people are usually fired for reasons having to do with budgetary constraints, incompetence or not fulfilling the terms of a contract.  Stein finally asked my opinion on people being fired for endorsing intelligent design.  I replied that I know of no instance where such a firing has happened.

In the same vein, Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education set up the website, Expelled Exposed dedicated to exposing all of the lies, half-truths and deceptions in and surrounding Expelled.  This included the real explanations as to why the ID proponents featured in Expelled really lost their academic tenures.

For example, Caroline Crocker claims she was fired from George Mason University because she mentioned Intelligent Design in a class she was teaching.  However, the evidence says otherwise.  While there may have been grounds to fire her with cause, Crocker was not fired and continued to teach her course after student complaints; in addition, she did not just “mention” intelligent design, but rather was teaching demonstrably false creationist material.

Harris himself responded to an Alternet article published in 2007 that portrayed him as an evil maniac by selectively quoting his written work and comments made in a 90 minute telephone interview as well as New York Times journalist Chris Hedges’ allegations with the previously mentioned  “Response to Controversy” and this addendum following his Truthdig debate with Hedges.

Why then – when reputable scientists and Harris himself have gone to inordinate lengths to preserve their reputations when they feel that have been misrepresented – has Collins not said a word in reply to Harris’ charges?

The only reasonable conclusion can be that Collins must think that Harris has at least represented his views fairly – notwithstanding his drastic disagreements – and has nothing to say in response.

In conclusion – a false dichotomy that is only harming human progress

I am in total agreement with Sam Harris.  Collins’ religious faith is a personal matter that has no place in public life and certainly no place if he is appointed as head of the NIH.  His fundamental misunderstanding of the evolutionary explanation for altruistic behaviour in humans is a veil over his scientific vision that has been imposed as a direct result of his religious faith.  I can only hope that he will not suffer the same faith-induced myopia when it comes to the progress of potentially life-saving stem cell research.

Apologists will of course continue trotting out Collins in support of their assertion that there is no conflict between science and faith.  Collins is simply the latest in a long list of examples from the “Argument from Admired Religious Scientists”.

Isaac Newton was a devoutly religious man, as most people were in his day.  He actually wrote more on theology than physics, but can anyone name one of his theological achievements?  Newton also expended a great deal of time and energy on the defunct pseudo-science, alchemy.  Joseph Priestley, the discoverer of oxygen, was also an avid supporter of the phlogiston theory.  Charles Darwin’s scientific partner, Alfred Russel Wallace, enjoyed nothing better than a spiritualist séance once he was done examining biological specimens in the laboratory.  James Watson, co-discoverer of the double-helix of DNA has recently had his reputation as a scientist destroyed for expressing pseudo-scientific, racist views in an interview with The Sunday Times.

A brilliant career as a scientist is clearly no guarantee against believing in nonsense.   I hope that the same standards of common sense and reason that have been applied to the above examples will one day be applied to scientists like Collins.

Richard Bauckham and the Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony

30/08/2009

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by

manicstreetpreacher

manicstreetpreacher proffers his heretical, unscholarly opinion of Anglican New Testament historian, Richard Bauckham, after hearing his debate on Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable?, 29 August 2009.

Richard Bauckham -v- James Crossley on the Gospels as eyewitness testimony, Part I, Unbelievable?, Premier Christian Radio, Saturday, 29 August 2009

I’ve just finished listening to the first debate between Richard Bauckham and James Crossley and found it to be the same old circular, assertive, self-opinionated and ultimately frustrating and unconvincing mode of thinking that leads me to conclude that theology and biblical scholarship are not really subjects at all.  Bauckham, author of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, committed the usual mistake of assuming that Jesus and all the other characters actually existed and the basic narrative of the Gospels is in some sense historically true and proceeding from there.

Bauckham mentioned Paul’s account of five hundred people seeing Jesus ascending in heaven (1 Corinthians 15:6), but failed to acknowledge the fact that Paul mentions very few other details about Jesus’ life and nothing was written down until the Gospel of Mark, a full 50 to 60 years after the supposed crucifixion.  As an aside, Acts 1:15 states that the number of witnesses who saw Jesus before the ascension was 120, so which account is the more accurate?   (For more in a similar vein, see Skeptics Annotated Bible: Contradictions and Self-Contradictions in the Bible by William Henry Burr.)

Bauckham also put great trust in the Gospel of Luke.   What he omits to mention is that Luke messes up his historical dates in relation to the nativity something rotten and fabricates a Roman census with the ludicrous obligation for the populous to return to the town of their ancestry to be registered in order to fulfil the prophesy that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem.   As Robin Lane Fox summarises in The Unauthorized Version:

Roman censuses cared little for remote genealogies, let alone false ones: they were based on ownership of property of the living, not the dead.  As the Gospel has already stated at the time of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26), Joseph and Mary were people from Nazareth in Galilee, the home town which later rejected its prophet, Jesus.  A Roman census would not have taken Joseph to Bethlehem where he and Mary owned nothing and were therefore assumed to have needed to lodge as visitors in an inn…

The scale of the Gospel’s error is now clear.  The first census did occur under Quirinius, but it belonged in AD 6 when Herod the Great was long dead; it was a local census in Roman Judea and there was no decree for Caesar Augustus to all the world; in AD 6 Joseph of Nazareth would not have registered in Bethlehem and was exempt from Judea’s registration; his wife had no legal need to leave home.  Luke’s story is historically impossible and internally incoherent. It clashes with his own date for the Annunciation (which he places under Herod) and with Matthew’s long story of the Nativity which also presupposes Herod the Great as king.  It is, therefore, false.  (London: Penguin, 2006, p. 31)

These are very straightforward objections raised by “New Atheists” Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.  Critics chide them for relying on “unscholarly” sources, but this amounts to little more than ad hominems against bibliography as a means of avoiding answering their actual objections.

Personally, I don’t think the single man Jesus of Nazareth actually existed.  My two-pence is that the character is based on several eccentric preachers doing the rounds in 1st century Palestine, and there were no shortage of those.  Perhaps one stood out more than others, but we simply don’t have enough evidence to be certain.  As American mathematician, John Allen Paulos, points out in his superb little bastion of common sense, Irreligion, we are used to reserving judgement on events that happened within recent memory for which we have far more of contemporary documentation and living eyewitnesses to hand.  Let’s take the Watergate scandal for example: we still don’t know who ordered what and are prepared to reserve our final opinions until conclusive evidence comes to light.

The fact that the debate over the historical Jesus has been so long running and scholarly opinion so varied has to say something in itself.  I recently read Who On Earth Was Jesus? by Quaker humanist writer and former World In Action journalist, David Boulton.  I was interested to read about J P Meier’s multi-volume study of the historical Jesus, A Marginal Jew, since first time I appeared on Unbelievable?, my theologian opponent, Andy Bannister, mentioned it.

Meier’s “Criterion of Embarrassment” particularly fascinated me: the more difficulties the stories would have caused for the early church, the less likely they were fabricated.  Christians see the discovery of the empty tomb by Mary Magdalene and her girlfriends as concrete evidence for the story’s authenticity.  Since women did not have equal standing with men at that time and place as it was unlikely to have been concocted by the early church.

As is so often the case, Christopher Hitchens put a rather different spin on matters in a debate with Dinesh D’Souza at Freedom Fest 2008: “What religion that wants its fabrication to be believed is going to say, ‘You’ve got to believe it, because we have some illiterate, hysterical girls who said they saw this’?”

Genius!

The following quote from Daniel Dennett’s book, Breaking The Spell, which spends all of six pages on discussing the arguments for God’s existence(!) is, in my view, the last word on assessing the truth of the Holy Scriptures:

We can begin with anthropomorphic Gods and the arguments from the presumed historical documentation, such as this: according to the Bible, which is the literal truth, God exists, has always existed, and created the universe in seven days a few thousand years ago.  The historical arguments are apparently satisfying to those who accept them, but they simply cannot be introduced into a serious investigation, since they are manifestly question begging.  (If this is not obvious to you, ask whether the Book of Mormon (1829) or the founding document of Scientology, L Ron Hubbard’s book Dianetics (1950), should be taken as irrefutable evidence for the propositions it contains.  No text can be conceded the status of “gospel truth” without foreclosing all rational enquiry.)  (London: Penguin, 2007, pp. 240 – 241)

Manifestly question begging” is the key phrase here.  The Bible, like the notion of God, raises more questions than it answers.  The most satisfying explanation is to take out Ockam’s trusty razor and consign it to the flames, along with all other sophistry and illusion as the great Mr Hume once advised.

Returning to Bauckham, I can do no better than the comments of prolific ‘net infidel Steven Carr regarding Jesus and the Eyewitnesses in response to the “scholarly” Mr Bannister:

“Have a look at Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses for example”

And laugh heartily at the arguments it presents which are ridiculous.

Apparently, the anonymous Gospel of Mark is based on the eyewitness testimony of Peter, and this is proved because Peter is the first person named in the Gospel and also the last person named in the Gospel.

What a load of trash!

Not one single ancient author ever said he used that technique of “inclusio”.

Not one ancient reader ever said he head heard of that technique.

And no ancient author ever discussed such a technique, although there were many other writing techniques discussed.

Bauckham says on page 124 that this “inclusion” technique is “hardly noticed by modern scholars.”

Which is code for “I just made it up and pulled it out my behind”.

How should we treat first-century sources like the Gospel of Mark which were anonymous, undated, have no indication of sources, have no chronology, steal plot lines from the Old Testament and have scenes of Jesus speaking to Satan in the desert?

There is absolutely nothing in the Gospel of Mark to indicate it is even intended to be history.

Indeed, the characters in it are absurd…

Mark 4:11 says that the secret of the kingdom of God has been given to the disciples.  What was this secret?  When was it given to the disciples, who seem totally ignorant of who Jesus was (Mark 4:41)?

In Mark 6:7-13 till 29-30 the disciples are sent out to preach and teach.  As the disciples did not know Jesus was the Messiah until Mark 8:30, that must have been interesting!

Surely the average Christian would fall about laughing if he read such stories in the Book of Mormon or the Koran.

Serious scholars, (and not jokes like Bauckham and his “inclusion” Bible-code techniques), have treated the Gospels just like other first-century sources.

This is why the Quest for the Historical Jesus has failed so miserably that “serious scholars” are now counting the failures (First Quest, Second Quest, Third Quest).

Treating the Gospels as ancient sources means you fail to find the Historical Jesus so totally that you can have books devoted to documenting and classifying the failures.

Following Bannister’s recommendation, I did actually purchase a copy of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. I haven’t read it in detail yet, but a quick skim through a couple of chapters made my left eyebrow virtually fly off my forehead.  If I concocted a story about the exploits of His Noodly Appendage and used the word “witnesses” a lot, challenging readers a few centuries down the line to go out and find them, would that make the story a lot more easy to swallow?

Also, Bauckham should consider Victor Stenger’s comments regarding of the reliability of eyewitness testimony in God, The Failed Hypothesis.  When DNA forensic evidence was passed as admissible in court, numerous people on death row convicted of serious crimes on the basis of eyewitness testimony alone had their convictions overturned after their cases were re-examined.  Eyewitness testimony based on reliable oral tradition?  I think not.

I will hopefully get round to reading Bauckham’s book more thoroughly, although I do not have very high hopes for it.  I’ve been doing this religious-debate thing long enough to hear all of the kinds of arguments that apologists throw at me.

Ultimately, we have a collection of disparate documents, based on third hand accounts by people who never net the man, set in the pre-scientific past, copied, re-copied, edited, altered by countless anonymous scribes with their own theological axes to grind, which portray a world that bears scant resemblance to our own.

I will listen intently to next week’s show on the reliability of the New Testament miracle accounts, but I think it too will be a foregone conclusion.  Sam Harris’ recent chastisement of theistic scientist, Francis Collins, sums up the woeful inadequacy of the Gospels’ account beautifully:

[E]ven if we had multiple, contemporaneous, first-hand accounts of the miracles of Jesus, this would still not constitute sufficient support for the central tenets of Christianity.  Indeed, first-hand accounts of miracles are extremely common, even in the 21st century.  I’ve met scores of educated men and women who are convinced that their favourite Hindu or Buddhist guru has magic powers, and many of the miracles that they describe are every bit as outlandish as those attributed to Jesus.  Stories about yogis and mystics walking on water, raising the dead, flying without the aid of technology, materialising objects, reading minds, foretelling the future are circulating right now, in communities where the average levels of education, access to information, and sceptical doubt are far higher than we would expect of first century fishermen and goatherds.

In fact, all of Jesus’ powers have been attributed to the South Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba by vast numbers of eyewitnesses who believe that he is a living god. The man even claims to have been born of a virgin.  [Christianity] is predicated on the claim that miracle stories of the sort that today surround a person like Sathya Sai Baba – and do not even merit an hour on the Discovery Channel – somehow become especially credible when set in the pre-scientific religious context of the 1st century Roman Empire, decades after their supposed occurrence, as evidenced by discrepant and fragmentary copies of copies of copies of ancient Greek manuscripts.

Does anyone else see a problem with that?

Legal case against God dismissed

30/08/2009

GodClouds

manicstreetpreacher comments on a legal case that could only happen in America.  Or perhaps Scotland…

I was forwarded this highly amusing piece about a case in Nebraska, USA where a law suit against the Almighty was dismissed because the there was no known address where the defendant could be served with the papers:

The suit was launched by Nebraska state senator Ernie Chambers, who said he might appeal against the ruling.

He sought a permanent injunction to prevent the “death, destruction and terrorisation” caused by God.

Judge Marlon Polk said in his ruling that a plaintiff must have access to the defendant for a case to proceed.

“Given that this court finds that there can never be service effectuated on the named defendant this action will be dismissed with prejudice,” Judge Polk wrote in his ruling.

As to the problem of whether the Creator had proper notice of this lawsuit, Mr Chambers’ case rest on a rather drastic presupposition:

“Since God knows everything,” he reasoned, “God has notice of this lawsuit.”

But at least Mr Chamber had his all-important day in court:

Mr Chambers, a state senator for 38 years, said he filed the suit to make the point that “anyone can sue anyone else, even God”.

Reminds me of a Billy Connelly film apparently based on a true story, The Man Who Sued God.

I haven’t seen the film myself, but I dare say that the Almighty got off Scot-free on that one as well.

Otherwise, I suspect that the floodgates would be open and the churches would subject to all the wrongs of the world, as opposed merely to those that they are directly responsible for, such as the Crusades, the Inquisition, the trial of Galileo, the endorsement of Fascism and Nazism in 1930s Europe, the systematic relocation of paedophile priests, the preaching that condom use is sinful and ineffective in sub-Saharan Africa where 3 to 5 million people die of AIDS each year…

Surely that’s enough to be going on with?

Albert Einstein’s ‘support’ for the Church in the face of Hitler is bogus

26/08/2009

Einstein

manicstreetpreacher shows that a statement by the exiled pantheist scientist praising the Church in Nazi Germany falls down on closer examination.

Religious-types seem to think that massaging the words of prominent non-believers into concessions to faith approximates an argument for the truth or usefulness of religion.  I have long grown tired of this bogus and dishonest tactic.  If a theist told me Richard Dawkins’ or Charles Darwin’s take on the colour of an orange, I would scrutinise the primary source carefully.

Apologists are often desperate to claim that the Jewish-born, agnostic scientist, Albert Einstein was a theist.  Continuing in this tradition, you will hear and read the following statement attributed to the atomic scientist trotted out by those eager to defend the reprehensible (in)actions of the Catholic Church in the face of Nazism:

Being a lover of freedom, when the revolution came in Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but, no, the universities immediately were silenced.  Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks…

Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing truth.  I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom.  I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.

The statement first appeared in an article entitled “German Martyrs” which was published in Time magazine on 23 December 1940.  You will find it posted on many religious websites and repeated by clergymen.  Christian historian, Michael Burleigh, quotes it point-blank in his study of religion and politics in the 20th century, Sacred Causes, before rambling into a highly selective and ultimately, disingenuous defence of the Church during the Second World War.

Nevertheless, a superb piece by the analyst, William Waterhouse, first published in Skeptic (Volume 12, Number 3, Fall 2005), has exposed the statement as an exaggeration at best and a fabrication at worst by those eager to abuse Einstein’s prestigious reputation rather than convey his real opinions.

For starters, the statement appeared without any source or attribution when it was first published in Time.  It is not known whether the reporter personally heard Einstein say it.  The statement does not appear in the definitive collection of Einstein’s sayings, The Expanded Quotable Einstein.  Any reference to the treatment of Europe’s Jews is also conspicuously absent.

In addition, the language is too flamboyant compared to Einstein’s usual style, with its reference to “great editors” and “flaming editorials”.  The statement is also unlikely to have come from a scientist, stating as it does that Einstein “despised” something immediately after saying that he “never had any special interest” in it.

For comparison, here is a statement that Einstein definitely made in response to Nazism in 1933:

I hope that healthy conditions will soon supervene in Germany and that in future her great men like Kant and Goethe will not merely be commemorated from time to time but that the principle which they taught will also prevail in public life and in the general consciousness.

As Waterhouse points out, Einstein (like most German Jews) hoped for support not from Christianity as such, but from the German Enlightenment tradition.

Waterhouse’s enquiries with the Einstein Archives in Jerusalem lead to the discovery of a letter written by Einstein in 1947 stating that in the early years of Hitler’s regime he had casually mentioned to a journalist that hardly any German intellectuals except a few churchmen were supporting individual rights and intellectual freedom.  He added that this statement had subsequently been drastically exaggerated beyond anything that he could recognise as his own.

As Christopher Hitchens writes in God Is Not Great, “Those who seek to misrepresent the man who gave us an alternative theory of the cosmos (as well as those who remained silent or worse while his fellow Jews were being deported and destroyed) betray the prickings of their bad consciences.”

NaziPriestsSaluteHitler

Hitchens on Free Speech

26/08/2009

UPDATE: 03/08/2013

I am currently drafting an epic post reviewing all of Hitchens’ public debates available to see/hear on the Internet and have finally come across the full version of this debate.

It looks as though Hitch was debating students from the University of Toronto (as opposed to other prominent writers and public commentators) and was given twice as much speaking time as his opponents (!).

Enjoy.

Original post continues…

Sad as it sounds; I must have watched this speech about 200 times and counting!  An absolutely brilliant piece of rhetoric; it changed at a stroke my views on hate speech, Holocaust denial laws and the value of being a misfit.  I listen to it when I’m angry at the world and feel like I’m conforming too much.  I even typed out the transcript.  Voilà:

The transcript of a speech by Christopher Hitchens from a debate at Hart House, University of Toronto, 15 November 2006.  “Be It Resolved: Freedom of Speech Includes the Freedom to Hate.”  Hitchens argued the affirmative position.

FIRE!!!  Fire… fire… fire.  Now you’ve heard it.  Not shouted in a crowded theatre, admittedly, as I realise I seem now to have shouted it in the Hogwarts dining room.  But the point is made.  Everyone knows the fatuous verdict of the greatly over-praised Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who, asked for an actual example of when it would be proper to limit speech or define it as an action, gave that of shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre.

It’s very often forgotten what he was doing in that case was sending to prison a group of Yiddish-speaking socialists, whose literature was printed in a language most Americans couldn’t read, opposing President Wilson’s participation in the First World War and the dragging of the United States into this sanguinary conflict, which the Yiddish-speaking socialists had fled from Russia to escape.

In fact, it could be just as plausibly argued that the Yiddish-speaking socialists, who were jailed by the excellent and over-praised Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, were the real fire fighters, were the ones shouting “fire” when there really was fire in a very crowded theatre indeed.

And who is to decide?  Well, keep that question if you would – ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, I hope I may say comrades and friends – before your minds.

I exempt myself from the speaker’s kind offer of protection that was so generously proffered at the opening of this evening.  Anyone who wants to say anything abusive about or to me is quite free to do so, and welcome in fact, at their own risk.

But before they do that they must have taken, as I’m sure we all should, a short refresher course in the classic texts on this matter.  Which are John Milton’s Areopagitica; “Areopagitica” being the great hill of Athens for discussion and free expression.  Thomas Paine’s introduction to The Age of Reason.  And I would say John Stuart Mill’s essay “On Liberty”, in which it is variously said – I’ll be very daring and summarise all three of these great gentlemen of the great tradition of, especially, English liberty, in one go.

What they say is it’s not just the right of the person who speaks to be heard, it is the right of everyone in the audience to listen, and to hear.  And every time you silence somebody, you make yourself a prisoner of your own action because you deny yourself the right to hear something.  In other words, your own right to hear and be exposed is as much involved in all these cases as is the right of the other to voice his or her view.

Indeed, as John Stuart Mill said, if all in society were agreed on the truth and beauty and value of one proposition, all except one person, it would be most important – in fact it would become even more important – that that one heretic be heard, because we would still benefit from his perhaps outrageous or appalling view.

In more modern times this has been put, I think best, by a personal heroine of mine, Rosa Luxembourg, who said freedom of speech is meaningless unless it means the freedom of the person who thinks differently.

My great friend John O’ Sullivan, former editor of the National Review, and I think probably my most conservative and reactionary Catholic friend, once said – it’s a tiny thought experiment – he says, if you hear the Pope saying he believes in God, you think, well, the Pope’s doing his job again today.  If you hear the Pope saying he’s really begun to doubt the existence of God, you begin to think he might be on to something.

Well, if everybody in North America is forced to attend, at school, training in sensitivity on Holocaust awareness and is taught to study the Final Solution, about which nothing was actually done by this country, or North America, or by the United Kingdom while it was going on, but let’s say as if in compensation for that everyone is made to swallow an official and unalterable story of it now, and it’s taught as the great moral exemplar, the moral equivalent of the morally lacking elements of the Second World War, a way of distilling our uneasy conscience about that combat.

If that’s the case with everybody, as it more or less is, and one person gets up and says, “You know what, this Holocaust, I’m not sure it even happened.  In fact, I’m pretty certain it didn’t.  Indeed, I begin to wonder if the only thing is that the Jews brought a little bit of violence on themselves.”  That person doesn’t just have a right to speak, that person’s right to speak must be given extra protection.  Because what he has to say must have taken him some effort to come up with, might contain a grain of historical truth, might in any case get people to think about why do they know what they already think they know.  How do I know that I know this, except that I’ve always been taught this and never heard anything else?

It’s always worth establishing first principles.  It’s always worth saying what would you do if you met a Flat Earth Society member?  Come to think of it, how can I prove the Earth is round?  Am I sure about the theory of evolution?  I know it’s supposed to be true.  Here’s someone who says there’s no such thing; it’s all intelligent design.  How sure am I of my own views?  Don’t take refuge in the false security of consensus, and the feeling that whatever you think you’re bound to be OK, because you’re in the safely moral majority.

One of the proudest moments of my life, that’s to say, in the recent past, has been defending the British historian, David Irving, who is now in prison in Austria for nothing more than the potential of uttering an unwelcome thought on Austrian soil.  He didn’t actually say anything in Austria.  He wasn’t even accused of saying anything.  He was accused of perhaps planning to say something that violated an Austrian law that says only one version of the history of the Second World War may be taught in our brave little Tyrolean republic.

The republic that gave us Kurt Waldheim as Secretary General of the United Nations, a man wanted in several countries for war crimes.  You know the country that has Jörg Haider, the leader of its own fascist party, in the cabinet that sent David Irving to jail.

You know the two things that have made Austria famous, given it its reputation by any chance?  Just while I’ve got you.  I hope there are some Austrians here to be upset by it.  Well, a pity if not, but the two great achievements of Austria are to have convinced the world that Hitler was German and that Beethoven was Viennese.

Now to this proud record they can add, they have the courage finally to face their past and lock up a British historian who has committed no crime except that of thought in writing.  And that’s a scandal.  And I can’t find a seconder usually when I propose this, but I don’t care.  I don’t need a seconder.  My own opinion is enough for me and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, any where, any place, any time. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line, and kiss my ass.

Now, I don’t know how many of you, don’t feel you’re grown-up enough to decide for yourselves and think you need to be protected from David Irving’s edition of the Goebbels Diaries for example, out of which I learned more about the Third Reich than I had from studying Hugh Trevor-Roper and A J P Taylor combined when I was at Oxford.  But for those of you who do, I’d recommend another short course of revision.

Go again and see, not just the film and the play, but read the text of Robert Bolt’s wonderful play, A Man for All Seasons – some of you most have seen it.  Where Sir Thomas More decides that he would rather die than lie or betray his faith.  And at one moment More is arguing with the particularly vicious witch-hunting prosecutor; a servant of the king and a hungry and ambitious man.

And More says to this man, “You’d break the law to punish the devil, wouldn’t you?”

And the prosecutor, the witch-hunter, says, “Break it?” he said, “I’d cut down every law in England if I could do that, if I could capture him!”

And More says, “Yes you would, wouldn’t you?  And then when you’d cornered the devil and the devil turned round to meet you, where would you run for protection, all the laws of England having been cut down and flattened?  Who would protect you then?”

Bear in mind, ladies and gentleman, that every time you violate – or propose to violate – the right to free speech of someone else, you in potentia, you’re making a rod for your own back.  Because the other question raised by Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes is simply this: who’s going to decide, to whom do you award the right to decide which speech is harmful, or who is the harmful speaker?  Or to determine in advance what are the harmful consequences going to be that we know enough about in advance to prevent?  To whom would you give this job?  To whom you’re going to award the task of being the censor?

Isn’t a famous old story that the man who has to read all the pornography, in order to decide what’s fit to be passed and what is fit not to be, is the man most likely to become debauched?

Did you hear any speaker in the opposition to this motion – eloquent as one of them was – to whom you would delegate the task of deciding for you what you could read?  To whom you would give the job of deciding for you?  Relieve you of the responsibility of hearing what you might have to hear?  Do you know any one?  Hands up.  Do you know any one to whom you’d give this job?  Does anyone have a nominee?

You mean there is no one in Canada good enough to decide what I can read?  Or hear?  I had no idea…  But there’s a law that says there must be such a person – or there’s a sub-section of some piddling law – that says it.  Well the hell with that law then.  It’s inviting you to be liars and hypocrites and to deny what you evidently know already.

About the censorious instinct: we basically know already what we need to know, and we’ve known it for a long time, it comes from an old story about another great Englishman – sorry to sound particular about that this evening – Dr Samuel Johnson, the great lexicographer, complier of the first great dictionary of the English language.  When it was complete, Dr Johnson was waited upon by various delegations of people to congratulate him.   Of the nobility, of equality, of the Commons, of the Lords and also by a delegation of respectable ladies of London who attended on him in his Fleet Street lodgings and congratulated him.

“Dr Johnson,” they said, “We are delighted to find that you’ve not included any indecent or obscene words in your dictionary.”

“Ladies,” said Dr Johnson, “I congratulate you on being able to look them up.”

Anyone who can understand that joke – and I’m pleased to see that about 10 per cent of you can! – gets the point about censorship, especially “prior restraint” as it’s known in the United States, where it’s banned by the First Amendment to the Constitution.  It may not be determined in advance what words are apt or inapt.  No one has the knowledge that would be required to make that call and – more to the point – one has to suspect the motives of those who do so.  In particular, the motives of those who are determined to be offended, of those who will go through a treasure house of English – like Dr Johnson’s first lexicon – in search of filthy words to satisfy themselves and some instinct about which I dare not speculate…

Now, I am absolutely convinced that the main source of hatred in the world is religion, and organised religion.  Absolutely convinced of it.  And I am glad that you applaud; because it’s a very great problem for those who oppose this motion isn’t it?  How are they going to ban religion?  How are they going to stop the expression of religious loathing, hatred and bigotry?

I speak as someone who is a very regular target of this, and not just in rhetorical form.  I have been the target of many death threats.  I know within a short distance of where I am currently living in Washington, I can name two or three people whose names you probably know who can’t go anywhere now without a security detail because of the criticisms they’ve made of one monotheism in particular.  And this is in the capital city of the United States.

So I know what I’m talking about, and I also have to notice that the sort of people who ring me up and say they know where my children go to school, and they certainly know what my home number is and where I live, and what they are going to do to them and to my wife and to me, and who I have to take seriously because they already have done it to people I know, are just the people who are going to seek the protection of the hate speech law, if I say what I think about their religion, which I’m now going to do.

Because I don’t have any what you might call “ethnic bias”, I have no grudge of that sort, I can rub along with pretty much anyone of any, as it were, origin or sexual orientation, or language group – except people from Yorkshire of course, who are completely untakable – and I’m beginning to resent the confusion that’s being imposed on us now – and there was some of it this evening – between religious belief, blasphemy, ethnicity, profanity and what one might call “multicultural etiquette”.

It’s quite common now for people now to use the expression – for example – “anti-Islamic racism”, as if an attack on a religion was an attack on an ethnic group. The word “Islamophobia” in fact is beginning to acquire the opprobrium that was once reserved for racial prejudice.  This is a subtle and very nasty insinuation that needs to be met head on.

Who said, “What if Falwell says he hates fags?  What if people act upon that?”  The Bible says you have to hate fags.  If Falwell says he is saying it because the Bible says so, he’s right.  Yes, it might make people go out and use violence.  What are you going to do about that?  You’re up against a group of people who will say, “You put your hands on our Bible and we’ll call the hate speech police.”  Now what are you going to do when you’ve dug that trap for yourself?

Somebody said that anti-Semitism and Kristallnacht in Germany was the result of ten years of Jew-baiting.  Ten years?! You must be joking!   It’s the result of 2,000 years of Christianity, based on one verse of one chapter of St John’s Gospel, which led to a pogrom after every Easter sermon every year for hundreds of years; because it claims that the Jews demanded the blood of Christ be on the heads of themselves and all their children to the remotest generation.  That’s the warrant and license for, and incitement to, anti-Jewish pogroms.  What are you going to do about that?  Where is your piddling sub-section now?!  Does it say St John’s Gospel must be censored?!

Do I, who have read Freud and know what the future of an illusion really is and know that religious belief is ineradicable as long as we remain a stupid, poorly evolved mammalian species, think that some Canadian law is going to solve this problem?  Please!

No our problem is this: our prefrontal lobes are too small.  And our adrenaline glands are too big.  And our thumb-finger opposition isn’t all that it might be.  And we’re afraid of the dark, and we’re afraid to die, and we believe in the truths of holy books that are so stupid and so fabricated that a child can – and all children do, as you can tell by their questions – actually see through them.  And I think it should be – religion – treated with ridicule, and hatred, and contempt.  And I claim that right.

Now let’s not dance around, not all monotheisms are exactly the same – at the moment.  They’re all based on the same illusion, they’re all plagiarisms of each other, but there’s one in particular that at the moment is proposing a serious menace not just to freedom of speech and freedom of expression, but to quite a lot of other freedoms too.  And this is the religion that exhibits the horrible trio of self-hatred, self-righteousness and self-pity.  I’m talking about militant Islam.

Globally, it’s a gigantic power.  Globally, it’s a gigantic power.  It controls an enormous amount of oil wealth, several large countries and states with an enormous fortune, it’s pumping the ideology of Wahhabism and Salafism around the world, poisoning societies where it goes, ruining the minds of children, stultifying the young in its madrases, training people in violence, making a cult of death and suicide and murder.  That’s what it does globally, it’s quite strong.

In our society it poses as a cringing minority, whose faith you might offend, which deserves all the protection that a small and vulnerable group might need.

Now, it makes quite large claims for itself, doesn’t it?  It says it’s the final revelation.  It says that god spoke to one illiterate businessman in the Arabian Peninsula three times through an archangel, and the resulting material – which as you can see when you read it – is largely plagiarised from the Old and the New Testament.   Almost all of it actually plagiarised – ineptly – from the Old and the New Testament, is to be accepted as a divine revelation and as the final and unalterable one and those who do not accept this revelation are fit to be treated as cattle, infidels, potential chattel, slaves and victims.

Well I tell you what; I don’t think Mohammad ever heard those voices.  I don’t believe it.  And the likelihood that I’m right, as opposed to the likelihood that a businessman who couldn’t read, had bits of the Old and New Testament re-dictated to him by an archangel, I think puts me much more near the position of being objectively correct.

But who is the one under threat?  The person who promulgates this and says “I’d better listen because if I don’t I’m in danger”, or me who says “No, I think this is so silly you could even publish a cartoon about it”?

And up go the placards and up go the yells and the howls and the screams, “Behead those…”  This is in London, this is in Toronto, this is in New York.  It’s right in our midst now.  “Behead those…”  “Behead those who cartoon Islam”.

Do they get arrested for hate speech?  No.  Might I get in trouble for saying what I’ve just said about the prophet Mohammad?  Yes, I might.  Where are your priorities ladies and gentlemen?  You’re giving away what’s most precious in your own society, and you’re giving it away without a fight and you’re even praising the people who want to deny you the right to resist it.  Shame on you while you do this.  Make the best use of the time you’ve got left.  This is really serious.

Now, if you look anywhere you like.  Because we had invocations of a rather drivelling and sickly kind tonight of our sympathy – what about the poor fags?  What about the poor Jews, the wretched women who can’t take the abuse and the slaves and their descendants and the tribes who didn’t make it, and were told that land was forfeit?

Look anywhere you like for the warrant for slavery, for the subjection of women as chattel, for the burning and flogging of homosexuals, for ethnic cleansing, for anti-Semitism, for all of this, you look no further than a famous book that’s on every pulpit in this city, and in every synagogue and in every mosque.

And then just see whether you can square the fact that the force of the main source of hatred is also the main caller for censorship.  And when you’ve realised that you’re therefore this evening being faced with a gigantic false antithesis, I hope that still won’t stop you from giving the motion before you the resounding endorsement that it deserves.  Thanks awfully.

Night, night.

Stay cool.

So Far: David Robertson

26/08/2009

David RobertsonUntitled-3

http://www.stpeters-dundee.org.uk/

manicstreetpreacher reviews the writings and public speaking of a Christian apologist and Dawkins agitator before going head-to-head with him.

I originally wrote this piece before recording my two debates against David Robertson and Richard Morgan for Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? in London on 20 July 2009.  I am informed that the shows are due to be broadcast on Saturday, 12 and Saturday 19 September 2009.  I’ll post the links to the podcasts as soon as they are posted on the Unbelievable? website.

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

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

See also my afterthought piece on the debates.

For various reasons, I did not publish the piece on my blog, but I forwarded a late draft to David and Premier DJ, Justin Brierley, prior to recording the debates, to which I briefly reference in the second show.  The article below is largely unchanged, save for a few tweaks and corrected typos.

The start of a beautiful friendship?

I’ve never met David Robertson, but we go way back.  Robertson one of the many Christian apologists who have written replies to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.  Robertson’s effort is The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths. On the frontispiece and the chapters of his book there are vitriolic remarks about Robertson from atheist bloggers on RichardDawkins.net.  Robertson has included these in an attempt to demonstrate that atheists can be just as aggressive, intolerant and dangerous as religious people.

I first heard Robertson debate The Atheist Blogger,[1] Adrian Hayter, on Premier Christian Radio’s religious debate show, Unbelievable?,[2] which I have appeared on three times so far.  I was so infuriated at the claims he made on the two shows, his apparent distortion of the historical record, his misrepresentation of the views of atheists and his use of the “Hitler and Stalin were atheists” card to argue that only Christians can be truly moral and atheists were all potential ethic cleansers that I, for want of a better term, went off on one.

I wrote an open letter on my blog challenging him to a live debate.[3] I emailed Unbelievable? host, Justin Brierley, demanding that he have the pair of us on the show to duke it out.  I called him a liar on the Premier Christian Community web forum.  In short, I understood full well what those aforementioned abusive atheist bloggers must have gone through.

The first draft of this review was entitled “I have no argument with this man”.  I surrounded the word “reverend” in quotation marks and called his book “a piece of apologetics trash”.  I labelled Robertson as “Scotland’s answer to Jerry Falwell” and even finished off with a comparison to the Holocaust denying historian, David Irving.  In short, I poured bile and vitriol over everything in his book and his public speaking.

But then something happened which changed all that.  I posted a piece on American “scholar” Jay Smith on my blog[4] which took the opportunity to slate several other apologists including Robertson for Lying for Jesus.[5] I copied it to said apologists with a damning covering email, and guess what?  Robertson was the only one to respond to my allegations.[6]

While I wasn’t altogether convinced by his explanations, particularly in regard to his use of a quote from Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, I began to feel that far from a case of outright dishonestly, we had a difference of opinion – a pretty drastic and potentially irreconcilable difference of opinion – but nothing as sinister as I had first envisaged.

Besides, in our email correspondence, it turned out that Robertson’s favourite are the Manic Street Preachers.  Someone with a taste in such highly-charged, intelligent, protest punk rock can’t be all bad.

So I’ve toned down this review into something far more respectful and conciliatory.  If nothing else, it was beginning to sound like the smug ad hominem rantings of Alistair McGrath.  I also hope that it will provide a good basis for when the two of us record a debate on the motion “Would Europe be better off as an atheistic or Christian society?” on Unbelievable? on 20 July 2009.

Overview

Robertson is a Presbyterian minister at St Peter’s Free Church in Dundee.  The Dawkins Letters comprises ten letters addressed to Dawkins which challenges what Robertson perceives as an atheist myth in TGD, book ended with introductory and final letters addressed to the reader, the latter entitled, “Why Believe?”

Robertson joins the ranks of John Cornwell, Alistair McGrath, and Peter S Williams (in addition to numerous others), collectively christened by Dawkins as the “Fleas”, after a poem by W B Yeats,[7] who have written replies to TGD.

Having read the efforts of the above three writers, Robertson’s effort is the clear winner in that he does at least put up the best fight than the other “fleas” and his book gives a clear indication of what he believes.

However, I was not persuaded by The Dawkins Letters.  I found its arguments to be Robertson’s personal views stated as cold-hard fact, often self-contradictory, while showing a very selective interpretation of the historical record.

Rather than setting out deliberately to lie, I think Robertson has tried to stick up for Christians in the face of Dawkins’ onslaught.  In doing so, he has missed the point.  Dawkins is not criticising Christians themselves, he is criticising the idea of religious faith and the harm it can lead to.  Robertson’s response often degenerates to a succession of point-scoring whilst failing to address the real arguments.

Like all the “flea” books, The Dawkins Letters is written for Christians who have not read TGD themselves, but have heard how strident and intolerant its author is from the press.   In the book, Robertson praises Dawkins several times for his arguments and even comments in the first of two YouTube videos on his church’s website[7] that the book is brilliantly well-written.  However, in the final letter, he advises readers who haven’t read it yet not to bother since “it really is as bad as I’ve tried to make out”.  This represents a lack of courage in his convictions as well as trying to deny the readers the chance to make up their own minds.

I do recommend Paula Kirby’s treatment of The Dawkins Letters in her superb review of four of the “Flea” books on RichardDawkins.net, “Fleabytes”.[8] Kirby replies in detail to all of Robertson’s letters.  The first draft of this review quoted her comments at length.  In our correspondence, Robertson countered some of Kirby’s comments, so I have taken most of them out.  However, I still recommend that it is read in full, if only for its brilliant incisiveness from which I have learnt a great deal.

Absence of evidence

I found it difficult to engage with many of the arguments of The Dawkins Letters, simply because Robertson asserts his own opinion as the truth.  He makes bare assertions and does not provide any evidence for any of his claims.

Robertson claims that possessing Christian faith is a bar to employment and promotion without giving any examples; anecdotal or statistical.   He claims that Christians were not given an adequate opportunity to respond to Richard Dawkins’ documentary, Root of All Evil? and the National Secular Society are rewarded with all the lime light without mentioning Radio 4’s Thought for the Day and the fact that it is invariably a clergyman who is called upon to pronounce moral judgement in response to a public issue.

Robertson simply asserts that the Bible is inerrant and truth can only be found in Jesus Christ without mentioning Matthew 10: 34 (“I have not come to bring peace but a sword”) or Matthew 16 (where JC promises his Second Coming will happen within the lifetime of his listeners).   In Letter 9: The Myth of the Immoral Bible he recognises that passages such as Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11[9]) represent “problems” in the Bible, but says not a word in attempting to resolve these problems.  All that is offered are “weasel” terms like “context” and “literal” and where have atheists heard that before?

Robertson writes that truth, beauty and morality can only be found through God without giving a shred of evidence for this view.  “You cannot explain beauty or evil, creation or humanity, time or space, without God.  Or at least you can, but to my mind the materialistic, atheistic explanation is emotionally, spiritually and above all intellectually inadequate.”  All I can say in reply is that I get by perfectly well without referring everything to a god, and such unnecessary assumptions only raise more questions than they answer.

When Robertson does try to tackle the evidence, the results are unconvincing.  He states that if the evidence for the New Testament narrative was on a par with Russell’s teapot or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, then all the millions of Christians wouldn’t believe it the first place.  Unfortunately, the reader is left to guess precisely what this mountain of hard evidence that renders all non-believers so deluded actually is, because Robertson omits to include it.

This piece of circular logic is not an argument that Robertson would not accept from all the billions of Jews, Muslims and Hindus who think that Christians are deluded and they are correct.  He even admits that he is “not going to believe that Mohammed is a prophet just because some religion tells me to.”  So why do precisely this in respect of Christianity?  Although he derides this line of thinking, Robertson is just as much an atheist towards the vast majority of religious believers as I am.

There are also predictable ad hominems against bibliography as a means of avoiding answering Dawkins’ actual arguments.[10] In replying to Dawkins’ objections to the reliability of the Gospels, Robertson contends that using Robin Lane Fox, A N Wilson and Free Inquiry magazine for advice on biblical scholarship is “a bit like me suggesting that those who want to find out about evolution should only go to the Answers in Genesis website!”

If these people are so mistaken, there should be no problem in refuting their arguments. Again, however, Robertson stops there, so the reader is left to guess at the water-tight historicity of the New Testament he hints at and be stuck with Dawkins’ opinion that the whole farrago is made up pile of baloney; self-contradictory and laughably unhistorical.

Logic and reason

Robertson gets rather exasperated at Dawkins’ view that God cannot be both omnipotent and omniscient:

[Y]ou argue, ‘If God is omniscient he already knows how he is going to intervene to change the course of history using his omnipotence – but that means he can’t his mind about his intervention which means he is not omnipotent.  I can hardly believe that a professor at Oxford wrote such a juvenile argument!  If you really want to go down that line, here are a few more for you.  Can God create a stone heavier than he can lift?  Can God make a square circle?  These may be amusing ‘problems’ for a teenage class in metaphysics but as a reason for believing that God cannot exist?  As Mr McEnroe would say, ‘You cannot be serious!’

However, the whole omnipotent/ omniscient question is a contradiction and one that is raised by atheists far more scholarly than Dawkins.  I would particularly recommend John Allen Paulo’s marvellous little book, Irreligion, on this and many other points:

If one assumes that God is both omnipotent and omniscient, an obvious contradiction arises.  Being omniscient, God knows how everything will happen; He can predict the future trajectory of every snow flake, the spouting of every blade of grass, and the deeds of every human being, as well as all of His own actions.  But being omnipotent, He can act in any way and do any thing He wants, including behaving in ways different from those he predicted, making his expectations uncertain and fallible.  He thus cannot be both omnipotent and omniscient.[11]

By demanding both omnipotence and omniscience, theists effectively are saying that God can make a square circle or a stone heavier than he can lift!  Robertson professes to be a Calvinist and therefore God has predetermined the destiny of everyone before they were even born.  Whether he wants to admit it or not, he simply cannot believe in miracles.  If God is omniscient, then he has known the course of every detail of history long before he instigated it and therefore cannot be omnipotent to intervene as he goes along.

Karen Owen’s limerick that Dawkins cites is worth repeating:

Can the omniscient God, who
Knows the future, find
The omnipotence to
Change His future mind?

Without having to examine the scientific evidence and remaining in one’s armchair, God is a logical impossibility.  If God knows everything that will happen in the future then he will not intervene as events unfold, so what is the point of praying?  Childish questions the apologist may cry, but what it has to say a great deal that children can and do pick holes in the stuff.

Robertson attempts justify the special privilege that religion is awarded in social conversation, claiming that matters of sexuality are also cordoned off in a similar manner by secularists in Britain and America.  He recounts cases from 2006 where Christian Unions at several British universities were censured for potentially encouraging homophobia.[12] Perhaps this next one is the “Humour? What humour?!” Robertson alludes to in the introduction, but it comes perilously close to pure bigotry:

The 150-strong CU in Birmingham was suspended for refusing to alter its constitution to allow non-Christians to preach at meetings and to amend its literature to include references to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and those of a ‘transgender’ sexuality (one wonders what the logic was for leaving out polygamists, bestialists and paedophiles?).

I’m not an easy person to offend, but lumping gays into the same category as paedophiles and bestialists crossed my boundary.  It is also completely ignorant of the sociological record.

On the contrary, it is thanks to those honest-speaking secularists that matters of sexuality have been brought fully into the public domain.  Thanks to years of honest conversation and scientific research, we now know that a person has as much choice of being gay or straight as they do of being black or white.  Thanks to the ever-shifting moral Zeitgeist, society has moved away from the view of Leviticus (let’s not forget, a book that also mandates the stoning to death of adulterers and insolent children), so that cases like Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician and key figure in the World War II British code cracking centre of Bletchley Park, who committed suicide when faced with the choice of imprisonment or a course of compulsory hormone injections amounting to chemical castration which would have caused him to grow breasts, is now a shameful footnote in the history of humanity’s moral progress.  Rather like slavery, which by the way, the “Good Book” also mandates.[13]

Moral arguments

In writing this review and in preparation for our debate, I read not only Robertson’s book, but also a few that he recommends in his final letter to the reader.  I can now see that Robertson blames all the pain and suffering in the world as resulting from society’s abandonment of Christian values.  When people forget that we are all made in the image of God then it can only lead to the gulags and the killing fields.

Reading these books myself, I found this a very naïve, almost childlike interpretation of the causes of human suffering.  Robertson contends that Niall Ferguson’s study of 20th century conflict, The War of the World, presents a “stunning indictment of the failure of secularism and ‘science’ to bring peace on earth.”  I found Ferguson’s book to be a complex study of the economic, racial and political causes of modern conflict, barely mentioning religious faith (or lack thereof), except to point out that every European fascist leader was raised as a Catholic, and Christian Nazis and Serbs carried out sustained campaigns of rape in wartime every bit as much as godless Soviets.

Robertson also claims that Table Talk, a collection of Hitler’s private statements recorded in his Berlin bunker by his secretaries, is irrefutable proof of Hitler’s atheism, ignoring both the dubious reliability of the source itself[14] and Hitler’s repeated public professions of faith in God, Christ and Providence.[15] Robertson cites Ian Kershaw’s definitive two-part biography for further reading on Hitler’s atheism.  What he fails to mention is that Kershaw himself places serious caveats on the reliability of the Table Talk monologues.[16]

Robertson also argues that Hitler had the support of Germany’s scientists and intellectuals, whilst failing to acknowledge that the country’s universities were purged as soon as Hitler came to power in 1933 and many of her finest thinkers fled to avoid persecution (not least of whom was Albert Einstein), whilst their works were thrown onto bonfires.

However, there is a wider issue here.  Robertson seemingly makes the link between atheism and state sponsored genocide a priori without any discussion whatsoever with the additional factors of political dogmas every bit as dangerous as religious ones.  So what if these men were atheists?  Some of them were also vegetarians, had black hair and sported moustaches.  To make a direct link from atheism to Nazi Germany is like blaming it on the Germans as a people; ditto Stalinist Russia on peoples east of the Urals.

Robertson chides Dawkins for spending a mere six pages in TGD discussing the religious views of 20th century tyrants.  However, reading the works of objective, non-polemical historians such as Allan Bullock, Ian Kershaw and Niall Ferguson following the accusations of religious apologists, I am amazed how little space they use in discussing the religious views of the 20th century dictators.  This degeneration into cheap point-scoring ignores the true causes of human conflict.

The greatest crimes of the twentieth century argument does not depend on the perpetrators’ simple disbelief in a supernatural creator or opposition to organised religion; it was due to other extreme dogmas such as nationalism, communism and racial superiority thrown together in a potent cocktail that exploded with the help of modern technology.

Robertson’s reasoning is also self-contradictory.  He says in his book and YouTube videos that simply because a person does not believe in God does not make them less moral any more than it makes them less beautiful.  Yet he also tries to pin crimes against humanity on atheism precisely because they were committed by atheists.

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

Robertson has ignored the second strand of Dawkins’ argument; whether atheism systematically influences people to do evil things.  There is not one shred of evidence that if a rational and sane person simply rejects the idea of a personal creator, who stands in judgement over all of us, will reward us with an eternity in paradise after we die if we are moral, and punish with an eternity in fire if we are not, or that the Bible is the infallible word of said creator, it will make them behave any worse.

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

Robertson repeatedly states that Christians have a greater respect for human life because they believe that we are all made in the image of God.  When played out in practice, this view is startlingly naïve.

What about the Amalekites, the Canaanites, the Hittites and the Midianites?  The Muslim women and children who were burnt alive by the Crusaders following the capture of Jerusalem?  The Jews who were victims of countless pogroms?  The heretics and witches who were burnt at the stake on the orders of the Church during a Europe-wide inquisition that went on for 500 years?  The Jews (again) who were sent to the gas chambers of Auschwitz by Nazi soldiers with “God is with Us” inscribed on their belt buckles?  The Northern Ireland Catholics and Protestants who were the victims of sectarian violence for being members of the “wrong” confession?  The Bosnian Muslims who fell at the hands of Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croatians?  The Tutsi who were slaughtered by the Hutu in Rwanda, for which may priests and nuns are now awaiting trial for genocide?  The victims of Joseph Koney’s “Lord’s Resistance Army” in Uganda?

Weren’t they all God’s creations as well?[17]

In attempting to argue that Christians lead the way in the shifting moral Zeitgeist, Robertson pulls out the familiar canard of the abolition of the slave trade.  Dawkins cites H G Well’s New Republic as well as T H Huxley’s toe-curling views on race as evidence that men who seen as progressive and liberal in their own times would be seen as racist bigots today.

Not so, according to Robertson.  Wells and Huxley were in fact arguing against the Zeitgeist pushed by the likes William Wilberforce and other Christians petitioning Parliament to abolish the slave trade in 1807 and slavery itself in 1833.

I am at an utter loss as to why Christians are so fond of citing abolition as evidence of the moral superiority of their faith when in fact scratching below the historical surface reveals them to be shooting themselves in the foot.

For starters, the Bible mandates slavery expressly and repeatedly.  God clearly expect us to keep slaves and even gives us helpful tips when we sell members of own families as such (Exodus 21: 7).  The Curse of Ham (Genesis 9: 20 – 27) was used for centuries in Europe to justify black African slavery.[18] Jesus never says a word against slavery and even passively endorses the practice by using slaves in some of his parables (Matthew 24: 48 – 51).  Paul tells slaves to serve their masters well and their Christian masters especially well so as to partake in their holiness (1 Timothy 6: 1 – 5).  Noted Christian theologians from Augustine[19] to Robert Lewis Dabney[20] defended slavery on a biblical basis.  Wilberforce and his followers were in fact on the wrong side of the theological argument.

Robertson claims that he would prefer to stick with the tried and tested morality of the Bible rather than the atheist Zeitgeist.  However, it is an embarrassment to anyone claiming that the Bible is the best book that we have on morality because by today’s standards it gets the question of slavery – something that had no moral content at the time it was composed – wrong.  This is clear evidence (if any were more needed) that this is a book of its time and contains nothing that could not have known or imagined by someone to whom a wheelbarrow would have been an exciting new example of emerging technology.

As usual, Sam Harris puts matters far more skilfully than I ever could: “Jews, Christians and Muslims claim that their Holy Books are so profound, so prescient of society’s needs, that they could have only been authored under direction the creator of the universe.  An atheist is simply someone who has considered this claim for a moment; read the books; and found the claim to be ridiculous.”

In addition, a little lateral thinking rather devalues the Wilberforce’s efforts for the faith.  This was the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the nineteenth.  Who was Wilberforce’s opposition?  Secular humanists?  No.  Godless Marxists?  No.  They were other Christians who were using exactly the same book to take the polar opposite position.  For every one Wilberforce, there was a hundred of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America, who argued in Congress on the eve of the American Civil War that God mandated slavery “in both Testaments from Genesis to Revelation”.[21]

Indeed, a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society was the great deist thinker, Thomas Paine.[22] Benjamin Franklin, the renowned atheist and contributor to the America Declaration of Independence and Constitution, was also a noted abolitionist.  If Wilberforce was motivated by his faith to make a stand against this grotesque and barbaric practice, it was about time.

Robertson also omits to mention that it was another 150 years before blacks began to be accorded equal rights with white people, certainly in America.  Dawkins quotes a speech by Abraham Lincoln in which the freer of the slaves makes clear that he was not advocating that blacks were in any way equal with whites.  If any eighteenth or nineteenth century Christian abolitionist truly argued that blacks were made in the image of God and were equal to whites, I have been unable to discover the fact.  Certainly Robertson provides no evidence for it.

What a wonderful world?

Robertson waxes lyrical in his book and on his YouTube videos that the sheer beauty of creation is overwhelming evidence for God.  He describes episodes of watching sunsets on the River Tay with his daughter and how you only have to open your eyes to see God incarnate.

I am becoming increasingly fond of the Argument from Evil.  I suppose it doesn’t disprove the existence of a god (after all, there’s no reason to presume that your god may be good[23]), but it certainly calls into serious question that if a god does exist whether he actually cares about his creation and is worthy of worshipping.

Put plainly, if God is supposed to be the most incomparably powerful, beautiful, awesome, loving, generous, perfect being, as per Robertson’s quote from American Calvinist theologian, Jonathan Edwards, then how come he made such a dreadful mistake?  If the world is not the way God wants it to be, then what in heaven’s name was he thinking in the first place?  If God is incapable of doing evil then where did evil come from?

When believers sing about how wonderful everything is, what they mean are the rivers and the oceans and the snow capped mountains and the stars and the indentations in the ears of newborn babies.

What about all the babies that are born everyday without limbs, or brains, or with cancer, or without a chance of living beyond a day?  In what mysterious ways is the Lord working when this happens?

If this creator exists, why doesn’t he take credit for the whole thing and all the misery and despair that goes with it?  Shouldn’t we be praising God for the earthquakes and the tsunamis and the cancer cell and the AIDS virus?  Aren’t they part of the divine plan as well?

Epicurus’ conundrum has never been answered, much less refuted, since he first posited it in Ancient Greece:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.

Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?

Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

Then again, if God does exist, he has let slip a real clanger:

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

– Isaiah 45: 7[24]

Despicable creatures made in the image of their creator

Robertson has a truly bizarre view of the human condition.  While harping on about being made in the image of God, he nevertheless asserts that we are essentially “screwed up”.  Einstein’s right apparently; “we are a sorry lot”.

Further investigation into Robertson’s library goes some way to explain matters.  After all, was it was it not Robertson’s hero, John Calvin, who ran a theocratic police state in Geneva that perpetrated the burning of Jews and witches and also put to death the physician Michael Servetus for disagreeing with the tenants of Christianity?  Calvin certainly didn’t think that man was made in the image of God as the next passage makes abundantly clear:

We are all made of mud, and this mud is not just on the hem of our gown, or on the sole of our boots, or in our shoes.  We are full of it; we are nothing but mud and filth both inside and out.[25]

And let’s not forget that Calvin’s theory of predestination has us all damned from the outset if God so chooses:

…the eternal principle, by which [God] has determined what He will do with each man.  For He does not create equal, but appoints some to eternal life, and others to eternal damnation.[26]

John Knox, the founder of Robertson’s Presbyterian sect, condemned the physical world to be ungodly whilst Scottish Reformers rejected all earthly pleasures; physical, sexual or aesthetic.

Apologists may argue that the horrors of the Medieval Inquisition was a total abrogation of  Christian teaching by power-hungry men eager to use religion as a cover for their own despotic ends.  But the simple fact is that some of the mainstays of theological seminaries the world over set the “scholarly” groundwork for this by declaring that heretics must be either tortured, in the case of Augustine,[27] or killed outright as Thomas Aquinas reasoned.[28]

Robertson hails 18th century theologian, Jonathan Edwards, as “one of the greatest philosophical minds that America has ever produced”.  Nevertheless, Edwards followed in the footsteps of Calvin with this little gem:

[You are] a little, wretched, despicable creature; a worm, a mere nothing, and less than nothing; a vile insect, that has risen up in contempt against the majesty of the heaven and the earth.[29] [30]

But who created us all this way in the first place?  Who created Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot?  Who created Charles Manson, Peter Sutcliffe and Myra Hindley?  It really does disturb me what kind of being this creator can be if, as Robertson is so fond of saying, we are all made in his image.

According to Robertson’s world-view we are all worms, covered in filth, unworthy of our very existence for which we must still thank our creator.  But we can take heart.  We were all created in his image, he designed the universe with us in mind and he has a plan everyone.

That line by the poet Fulke Greville that Christopher Hitchens is so fond of quoting springs to mind: “Created sick, commanded to be sound.”

Science –v- religion

In order to show that there is no conflict between science and religion, Robertson trots out Robert Jastrow’s analogy about how a scientist scales a peak of ignorance after years of toil, only to reach the summit to discover that the theologians have been there for centuries.

If we dissect this statement for a moment, it turns out to be just another example of how religious people can invent a god to conform to the scientific evidence.  “Look, we’ve discovered evolution, we discovered DNA, and we’ve discovered the Big Bang.  We’ve discovered that we can’t take the Genesis narrative literally any more.  God is obviously far more ingenious than we first thought!”

In fact, the peaks of ignorance that scientists are attempting to scale are those imposed by theology.  It’s not all that long ago that people thought that disease and earthquakes were divine retribution for sin.   Thanks to science, we now have the miracles of germ theory and seismology.

And what exactly are the great theological achievements of history?  Isaac Newton was a devote Christian and actually wrote more extensively on theology than physics, but can anyone name his theological works?  Which would we prefer; that all scientific knowledge disappeared tomorrow or all theological writings were jettisoned?  I think I’ll firmly go for Option B.[31] [32]

On the second Unbelievable? debate against Adrian Hayter, Robertson made much of the fact that the full title to the first edition of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin’s was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.  “Darwin clearly believed in favoured races,” Robertson opined.

Here, Robertson commits the naturalistic fallacy of confusing what is with what ought to be.  Evolution is a scientific fact like gravity with no moral implications.  Species will replicate their genes by producing more offspring if their biological traits are more favourable to their physical surroundings.  Saying that evolution is immoral because it encourages eugenics is like saying that nuclear physics is immoral because it gave us the Bomb.

The common charge that Darwin advocated eugenics is completely wrong.  Darwin deplored eugenics and stated that such a programme would only ever have a contingent effect on the appearance of the human race.  This is the passage often quoted by creationists from The Descent of Man, first published in 1871:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated.  We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination.  We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick, thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind.  No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.  Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

However, the passage in full shows that Darwin was deeply compassionate to the handicapped and was not in favour of any euthanasia programme:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health.  We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment.  There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox.  Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind.  No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.  It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused.  Nor could we check our sympathy, if so urged by hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature.  The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with a certain and great present evil.[33]

In 2008, the American TV presenter and charisma vacuum, Ben Stein, headed up the documentary-film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.[34] The film was an effort to promote “Intelligent Design” (ID), the theory that life on Earth is too complex to be explained by evolution alone and in need of an external “designer” to assist the process.

Among its many crimes against intellectual honesty,[35] the film attempted to portray Hitler’s eugenics programme and the Holocaust as having been directly inspired by Darwin’s theory.  Stein quotes the first, highly selective passage, above from Descent of Man, in an effort to portray Darwin as advocating eugenics.

The Anti-Defamation League, an American Jewish pressure group dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism, issued the following statement regarding Expelled which is the first and last word against anyone claiming that Darwinian natural selection is in any way a direct link to eugenics or Social Darwinism:

The film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed misappropriates the Holocaust and its imagery as a part of its political effort to discredit the scientific community which rejects so-called intelligent design theory.

Hitler did not need Darwin to devise his heinous plan to exterminate the Jewish people and Darwin and evolutionary theory cannot explain Hitler’s genocidal madness.

Using the Holocaust in order to tarnish those who promote the theory of evolution is outrageous and trivializes the complex factors that led to the mass extermination of European Jewry.[36]

Robertson has also stressed that Dawkins’ mentor, the late biologist Bill Hamilton, secretly favoured a programme of eugenics and infanticide as a way of preserving the human race.  Whilst it is true that Hamilton,[37] along with plenty of other scientists, have advocated eugenics, this line of thinking is hardly systematic within the scientific community.  Indeed, while some geneticists were supporters of eugenics in the early 20th century, the movement drew on support from many sources, including the religious.  As the United Methodist Church recently stated in an apology for its support for eugenics:

Ironically, as the Eugenics movement came to the United States, the churches, especially the Methodists, the Presbyterians, and the Episcopalians, embraced it.  Methodist churches around the country promoted the American Eugenics Society “Fitter Family Contests” wherein the fittest families were invariably fair skinned and well off.  Methodist bishops endorsed one of the first books circulated to the US churches promoting eugenics.  Unlike the battles over evolution and creationism, both conservative and progressive church leaders endorsed eugenics.[38]

Opposition came from many quarters; some clergy, secular critics, and scientists spoke out against eugenics on social and scientific grounds.  Clarence Darrow, who famously defended the teaching of evolution in the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, wrote a scathing attack on eugenics:

We have neither facts nor theories to give us any evidence based on biology or any other branch of science as to how we could breed intelligence, happiness, or anything else that would improve the race.  We have no idea of the meaning of the word ‘improvement.’   We can imagine no human organization we could trust with the job, even if [eugenicists] knew what should be done and the proper way to do it…  Amongst the schemes for [remoulding] society this is the most senseless and impudent that has ever been put forward by irresponsible fanatics to plague a long-suffering race.[39]

The late Harvard biologist Stephen Jay Gould was an outspoken critic of crude biological determinism and eugenics and his book, The Mismeasure of Man (1981), argued against misuses of science to support racist ideologies throughout history and demonstrated why modern evolutionary biology does not support these ideologies.

Robertson is decidedly non-committal on whether he himself actually believes in the scientific truth of Darwin.  He stands up for Stephen Layfield, the head of science at Emmanuel College, Gateshead, North East England, who Dawkins tears the proverbial new one in TGD for promoting “creation science” over evolution, by writing that Layfield has attracted Dawkins’ criticism for “daring to question evolution”.

However, Robertson only goes as far to say that “Layfield may or may not be wrong”.  Yet he also insists that Christianity explains evil and we are all descendants of Adam.  This is another flat-out contradiction since Darwinian evolution totally disproves the Biblical narrative.  Death, disease and suffering were all part of the natural order for millions of years before man came on the scene.  We never began in a perfect state only to fall from God’s grace.  We should stop worrying and get on with our lives rather than beating ourselves up over what is nothing more than a malignant fairy tale.

Dwelling on the question of why there is “something” rather than “nothing”, Robertson also drops in a suspicious quote from A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking which is presented on its own without any elaboration and frankly gives the impression that Hawking is a theist: “It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.”

Paula Kirby put matters into their properly context:

[I] tracked down the quote in A Brief History of Time for myself.  It’s certainly there, as quoted.  However, it’s followed by a lengthy argument to the effect that the universe didn’t, in fact, begin in the “just this way” referred to in the quote, and that he believes a “no boundary” model to be more accurate — i.e. that the universe had no beginning at all.  In fact, Hawking’s whole chapter culminates in the words: “So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator.  But if the universe is really completely self-contained [as he himself has just argued], having no boundary or no edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be.  What place, then, for a creator?”

Now, maybe David Robertson was a little unfortunate here.  A Brief History of Time has the dubious distinction of having been hailed as the least read bestseller of all time, so he may well have felt safe in distorting Hawking’s opinions as expressed in it.  Still, such behaviour is a bit hard to reconcile with the Ninth Commandment, is it not?

The first draft of this review lambasted Robertson for rampant dishonesty.  However, in his replies to my piece on Jay Smith, Robertson stated that all he intended to say was literally that Stephen Hawking thought that is was difficult to explain the existence of the universe without a creator god, not that he thought that the universe was created by God which is why A Brief History of Time is such a dull book to read.

I nailed Peter S Williams in my review of his book I Wish I Could Believe In Meaning[40] for engaging in the same tactics, although of course Williams denied it with vague and unconvincing responses.[41] While I am no longer accusing Robertson of outright dishonesty, I still believe that this is a misappropriation of Hawking’s true opinions.

In this vein, I’d recommend Dawkins’ speech at the American Atheist Conference 2009 where he exposes apologists’ tactics of quoting-mining atheist scientists.[42] Pay particular attention to where he says that in The Blind Watchmaker (1986) he began a chapter stating that the explosion of fossils in the Cambrian period is so amazing, “It is as though the fossils were planted there without any evolutionary history.”  However, this was a piece of rhetorical overture intended to whet the reader’s appetite for what was to follow.  Sadly, it has been mined by apologists out to misrepresent Dawkins as doubting evolution.

In conclusion – a much needed gap

This review has turned out to be less critical than I had originally intended.[43] Our personal email correspondence has shown that Robertson is prepared to have his views scrutinised and challenged and is always up for a verbal punch up at the lectern, which is considerably more than most believers.

Nevertheless, there is little in The Dawkins Letters and its author’s public speaking that I as an atheist can recommend.  The main problem is that Robertson has a very bludgeoning style which means his opponents interpret his views in ways that he denies.

I am certain that he will feel that I have not represented his views fairly.  Richard Dawkins made similar comments following the publication of TGD that critics had read what their prejudices had expected see in the book as opposed to what was actually on the page.[44] I think the philosopher A C Grayling said it best in response to Intelligent Design theorist Steve Fuller’s protestations over Grayling’s negative review of Dissent over Descent:

Steve Fuller complains, as do all authors whose books are panned, that I did not read his book properly (or at all).  Alas, I did.[45]

Clearly the differences between evangelicals on both sides of the fence are enormous.  It’s not just a difference of opinion; it’s a difference of opinion regarding the other side’s opinions leading to yet more disagreements!  I suppose that’s why they call it a debate.

I will end with a word of praise by saying that Robertson is one of the most formidable, passionate and well-read apologists that I have ever come across.  That I have spent over seven thousand words refuting his work has to say something in itself.  It has happened so often, that after so many retorts, that believers abruptly end the conversation with one excuse or another.  Not Robertson.  I am certainly going to have my work cut out for me on the 21st July with him and Justin.

Bring it on.

Books cited or recommended

Bullock, A. (1993). Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives. London: Fontana Press.

Cornwell, J. (2008). Darwin’s Angel: An Angelic Riposte to The God Delusion. London: Profile Books.

Dawkins, R. (2007). The God Delusion. London: Transworld Publishers.

Ellerbe, H. (1995). The Dark Side of Christian History. Windermere, FL: Morningstar and Lark.

Ferguson, N. (2006). The War of the World: History’s Age of Hatred. London: Allen Lane.

Goldberg, D M. (2003). The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Princeton, N J: Princeton University Press.

Harris, S. (2006a). The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason. London: Simon & Schuster.

Harris, S. (2006b). Letter to a Christian Nation: A Challenge to Faith. London: Bantam Press.

Hitchens, C.  (2007a). God Is Not Great: The Case Against Religion. London: Atlantic Books.

Hitchens, C.  (2007b). Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man. London: Atlantic Books.

Johnson, P. (1990). A History of Christianity. London: Penguin.

Kershaw, I. (1998). Hitler, 1889 – 1936: Hubris. London: Penguin.

Kershaw, I. (2000). Hitler, 1936 – 1945: Nemesis. London: Penguin.

McGrath, A E with McGrath, J C. (2007). The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Paulos, J A. (2008). Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains How the Arguments for God Just Don’t Add Up. New York: Hill and Wang.

Robertson, D A. (2008). The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheists Myths. Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications, 2008 edition.

Stenger, V J. (2008). God, The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist. New York: Prometheus Books.

Williams, P S. (2009). A Sceptic’s Guide to Atheism: God Is Not Dead! Carlisle, Yorkshire: Paternoster.


[1] http://atheistblogger.com/.

[2] David Robertson –v- Adrian Hayter, “Challenging Atheist Myths – Part 1”, Unbelievable?, Premier Christian Radio, 21 March 2009:

http://media.premier.org.uk/unbelievable/6b8630e9-3500-4f57-8d54-5f5bb43c5fc7.mp3.

David Robertson –v- Adrian Hayter, “Challenging Atheist Myths – Part 2”, Unbelievable?, Premier Christian Radio, 28 March 2009: http://media.premier.org.uk/unbelievable/9fb7859e-bb89-483c-8e5b-663966ad7842.mp3.

[3] https://edthemanicstreetpreacher.wordpress.com/2009/04/25/an-open-letter-to-pastor-david-robertson/.

[4] https://edthemanicstreetpreacher.wordpress.com/2009/06/06/the-last-straw/.

[5] Richard Dawkins, “Lying for Jesus?”, RichardDawkins.net, 23 March 2008:

http://richarddawkins.net/article,2394,Lying-for-Jesus,Richard-Dawkins.

[6] https://edthemanicstreetpreacher.wordpress.com/2009/08/26/emails-david-robertson/.

[6] http://richarddawkins.net/fleas.

[7] http://www.stpeters-dundee.org.uk/node/13.

[8] RichardDawkins.net, 19 February 2008: http://richarddawkins.net/article,2285,Fleabytes,Paula-Kirby.

[9] For a wonderful depiction of this Sunday school classic, see NonStampCollector, YouTube, 29 May 2009: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pt66kbYmXXk.   I’d very much recommend viewing the rest of his material as well: http://www.youtube.com/user/NonStampCollector.

[10] For a terse but effective response to this style of apologetics, see P Z Myers, “The Courtier’s Reply”, Pharyngula, 24 December 2006: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/12/the_courtiers_reply.php.

[11] Paulos (2008) 41.

[12] David Lister and Ruth Gledhill, “Students sue over Christian rights at colleges”, The Times, 18 November 2006: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/education/student/article640592.ece.

[13] The Skeptics Annotated Bible; “What the Bible Says About Slavery”:

http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/says_about/slavery.html.

[14] Richard C Carrier, “Was Catholic Hitler ‘Anti-Christian’? On the Trail of Bogus Quotes”, Freethought Today, Volume 19, Number 9, November 2002:  http://www.ffrf.org/fttoday/2002/nov02/carrier.php.

[15] Richard E Smith, “Religion and the Holocaust”, Freethought Today, March 1997: http://www.ffrf.org/fttoday/1997/march97/holocaust.html

[16] Kershaw (2000) 1024 – 1025: “The available German text is, therefore, at best a construct; neither the original nor the copy of that original exists…  [There is] no reliable German text whose authenticity can be placed beyond question.”

[17] The idea that we are all made in God’s image and he will pronounce the final judgement on everyone’s character after departing the earthly life met its natural conclusion in the early 1200s during Pope Innocent III’s crusade against the heretical Cathars.  When the crusaders fell upon the town of Beziers and the commanding legate, Arnaud, was asked how to distinguish Catholic from Cathar, he replied, “Kill them all, for God knows his own!”

[18] Goldberg (2003) passim.

[19] “And this is why we do not find the word slave in any part of Scripture until righteous Noah branded the sin of his son with this name. It is a name, therefore, introduced by sin and not by nature… The prime cause, then, of slavery is sin, which brings man under the dominion of his fellow – that which does not happen save by the judgment of God, with whom is no unrighteousness, and who knows how to award fit punishments to every variety of offence.” – Augustine, The City of God, Book 19, Chapter 15: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/120119.htm.

[20] A Defense of Virginia and the South. New York: E J Hale and Son, 1867.

[21] Jefferson Davis, “Inaugural Address as Provisional President of the Confederacy”, Montgomery, AL, 18 February 1861, Confederate States of America Congressional Journal 1 (1861), 64 – 66; quoted in Dunbar Rowland, Jefferson Davis’s Place In History as Revealed in His Letters, Papers, and Speeches, Volume 1, (Jackson, MS: Torgerson Press, 1923) 286; quoted in Stenger (2008) 202 – 203.

[22] Hitchens (2007b) 28.

[23] Richard Dawkins, “The Theology of the Tsunami”, Free Inquiry, April/ May 2005, Volume 25, Number 3: http://richarddawkins.net/article,127,The-Theology-of-the-Tsunami,Richard-Dawkins.

[24] This passage is from those useless hacks who translated the King James Version blindfolded from the Torah, which was very sweet and cuddly in its original Hebrew, Rabbi Y Y Rubinstein.  Modern translations have “calamity” instead of “evil”.  I would have thought that “calamity” still covers death, disease, suffering…

[25] Jean Delumeau, Sin and Fear (1990) translated by Eric Nicholson, New York: St Martins Press, 27; quoted in Ellerbe (1995) 104.

[26] Delumeau (1990) 536; quoted in Ellerbe (1995) 99.

[27] Johnson (1990) 116: “We must not imagine that Augustine was necessarily a cruel man…  He thought that heretics should be examined ‘not by stretching them on the rack, not by scorching them with flames, or furrowing their flesh with iron claws, but by beating them with rods’.”

[28] “I answer that, With regard to heretics two points must be observed: one, on their own side; the other, on the side of the Church.  On their own side there is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death.  For it is a much graver matter to corrupt the faith which quickens the soul, than to forge money, which supports temporal life.  Wherefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death.” – Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Article 3 of Question 11 in the Secunda Secundae: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3011.htm#article3.

[29] Jonathan Edwards, “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners”, from The Works of Jonathan Edwards, A M, London: Henry G Bohn, 673; quoted in Ellerbe (1995) 106.

[30] Robertson (2008) 103, and Cornwell (2008) 77 – 84, berate Dawkins for relying on a paper by John Hartung on the basis that Hartung once wrote a positive review of Kevin MacDonald’s book A People That Shall Dwell Alone: Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy because MacDonald is a suspected anti-Semite and was an expert witness for David Irving in his 2000 libel action against Deborah Lipstadt.  Having now looked into their bibliographies, the words “kettle” and “pot” spring to mind.

For the article they are criticising, see Dawkins (2007) 288 – 293; quoting John Hartung, “Love Thy Neighbor: The evolution of in-group morality”, first published in Skeptic, Volume 3, Number 4, 1995, 86 – 99, and Volume 4, Number 1, 1996, 24 – 31, which can now be accessed at: http://strugglesforexistence.com/pdf/LTN.pdf.

[31] See Richard Dawkins, “The Emptiness of Theology”, Free Inquiry, Spring 1998, Volume 18 Number 2: http://richarddawkins.net/article,88,The-Emptiness-of-Theology,Richard-Dawkins.

This superb piece by a qualified theologian who gives the “subject” the treatment it deserves: Edmund Standing, “Are the ‘New Atheists’ avoiding the ‘real arguments’?”, Butterflies and Wheels, 27 October 2007: http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=280.

[33] http://darwin-online.org.uk/.

[34] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1091617/.

[35] http://www.expelledexposed.com/.

[36] http://www.adl.org/PresRele/HolNa_52/5277_52.htm.

[37] Andrew Brown, “Bill Hamilton”, Prospect, January 2003, which can now be read at: http://www.geocities.com/lclane2/hamilton.html.

[38] http://calms.umc.org/2008/Text.aspx?mode=Petition&Number=1175.

[39] Clarence Darrow, “The Eugenics Cult”, The American Mercury, Volume 8, June 1926, 137.

[40] https://edthemanicstreetpreacher.wordpress.com/2009/03/07/peter-s-williams-up-close-%e2%80%93-part-i/.

[41] http://idpluspeterswilliams.blogspot.com/2009/03/response-to-edward-turners-review-of-i.html.

[42] Richard Dawkins at American Atheists 09, RichardDawkins.net, 19 April 2009: http://richarddawkins.net/article,3752,Richard-Dawkins-at-American-Atheists-09,Richard-Dawkins.

[43] Coincidentally, while I was editing this piece, Robertson was far more bearable to listen to on David Robertson –v- Paul Orton, “The Moral Argument for God”, Unbelievable?, Premier Christian Radio, 13 June 2009: http://media.premier.org.uk/unbelievable/1aebbb26-1885-492b-b6d7-9c498d0766d0.mp3.

See also Robertson debate Alistair McBay of the National Secular Society, “Is faith in God a delusion?”, 23 September 2008, Edinburgh University: http://atheistdebate.org/.

[44] Richard Dawkins, “Honest Mistakes or Wilful Mendacity?”, RichardDawkins.net, 6 September 2007: http://richarddawkins.net/article,1610,n,n.

[45] A C Grayling, “Bolus of Nonsense”, NewHumanist.org, September 2008: http://newhumanist.org.uk/1881.

All web-based resources accessed 10 July 2009.

Correspondence between MSP and Pastor David Robertson

26/08/2009

David RobertsonUntitled-3

http://www.stpeters-dundee.org.uk/

The following is an exchange of emails between me and author of The Dawkins Letters, Pastor David Robertson, of St Peter’s Free Church, Dundee.  This is in preparation for my debates with Robertson on Premier Christian Radio broadcast on 12 and 19 September 2009 and in conjunction with my pre-debate review of Robertson’s book and public speaking and my afterthought piece following the debates.

From: MSP
To
: Justin Brierley
CC
: Andy Bannister, Rabbi Y Y Rubinstein, David Robertson
Subject:
Jay Smith
Date
: 7 June 2009 09:58

Dear Justin

I hope this email finds you well.  The manicstreetpreacher is back with a vengeance and after hearing the show from a week last Saturday’s with Jay Smith, he links below a piece on the “scholar” from the Colonies that he has just posted on his blog:

https://edthemanicstreetpreacher.wordpress.com/2009/06/06/the-last-straw/

I shall be very grateful if you will please forward this to him (and to save you reading it in detail, no, I DON’T want to come on the show and debate him!).

The piece mentions a few old adversaries, so I thought it was only fair copy in them in as well.   All comments welcome.  Be as abusive as you like; I’ve never refused anything on my blog yet.   :o)

Andy: I’m still waiting for that lost Roman Census in Luke:

Roman censuses cared little for remote genealogies, let alone false ones: they were based on ownership of property of the living, not the dead.  As the Gospel has already stated at the time of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26), Joseph and Mary were people from Nazareth in Galilee, the home town which later rejected its prophet, Jesus.  A Roman census would not have taken Joseph to Bethlehem where he and Mary owned nothing and were therefore assumed to have needed to lodge as visitors in an inn…

The scale of the Gospel’s error is now clear.  The first census did occur under Quirinius, but it belonged in AD 6 when Herod the Great was long dead; it was a local census in Roman Judea and there was no decree for Caesar Augustus to all the world; in AD 6 Joseph of Nazareth would not have registered in Bethlehem and was exempt from Judea’s registration; his wife had no legal need to leave home.  Luke’s story is historically impossible and internally incoherent.  It clashes with his own date for the Annunciation (which he places under Herod) and with Matthew’s long story of the Nativity which also presupposes Herod the Great as king.  It is, therefore, false.

– Robin Lane Fox, The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in The Bible, (1991) (London: Penguin, 2006) p. 31

Rabbi Y: my piece references Genesis 22, where Abraham very nearly cooks his son, Isaac, and Numbers 31, where Moses commits genocide against the Midionites, but I’m sure they’re just yet more mistranslations on the part of those KJV hacks.  Rather like this YouTube interpretation of that Sunday school classic, Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11):

“Reverend” Robertson: I’ve now read your book and watched your YouTube videos on Dawkins.  Just hammering out the final treatment to go on my blog.  Will send you the link as soon as.  I just need to pop down to Liverpool Central Library to research what Ian Kershaw really says about Hitler’s anti-Christian remarks recorded in Table Talk.  Sorry to be so untrusting, but I’m sure you can understand after your quote-mining of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time was so neatly exposed by Paula Kirby:

Robertson dwells on the subject of the sheer improbability of life having arisen in the universe — indeed, of the universe being suitable for life at all. But as with the list of religious scientists, I again got the impression that this was designed to create the impression that Dawkins had tried to dodge this issue in TGD — which, of course, he hadn’t.  This suspicion of devious behaviour on Robertson’s part is in no way reduced by his quotation from Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, on the following page: “It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.”

Wow.  What a compelling quote.  If even Stephen Hawking thinks the universe is evidence of a creator God, then who are we — who, even, is Richard Dawkins — to demur?  Surely this clinches the argument for anyone with any sense, or any humility, at all?  But wait.  What’s this?  Familiar as I am with the way David Robertson twists words and distorts meaning on this website, I couldn’t feel entirely confident that Hawking had been faithfully represented here so tracked down the quote in A Brief History of Time for myself.  It’s certainly there, as quoted.  However, it’s followed by a lengthy argument to the effect that the universe didn’t, in fact, begin in the “just this way” referred to in the quote, and that he believes a “no boundary” model to be more accurate — i.e. that the universe had no beginning at all.  In fact, Hawking’s whole chapter culminates in the words: “So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator.  But if the universe is really completely self-contained [as he himself has just argued], having no boundary or no edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be.  What place, then, for a creator?”

Now, maybe David Robertson was a little unfortunate here.   A Brief History of Time has the dubious distinction of having been hailed as the least read bestseller of all time, so he may well have felt safe in distorting Hawking’s opinions as expressed in it.  Still, such behaviour is a bit hard to reconcile with the Ninth Commandment, is it not?

http://richarddawkins.net/article,2285,Fleabytes,Paula-Kirby

Yours as ever

manicstreetpreacher

From: David Robertson
To
: MSP, Justin Brierley
Date:
8 June 2009 10:22
Subject:
Jay Smith

Ed et al,

Fascinating….this made my day!  Thanks for providing me with yet more evidence of the irrationality of fundamentalist atheism!  I guess when you restrict your reading and research to youtube, Robin Lane Fox and atheist blogs.  My own favourite below is the comments cited from Paula Kirby – according to you I claimed that Stephen Hawking stated that God created the universe – and I did so believing that people are so ignorant that they would not be able to read Hawking for themselves.  So I committed the cardinal sin of ‘lying for Jesus’ etc.   It is an amusing scenario, only to be believed by a peculiar kind of fundamentalist atheist conspiracy theorist.

If you actually applied the use of reason and a proper understanding of the English language (and also the basic principle of reading in context – and thus reading my response to Paula) you should have been able to work out the following:

1) I did not claim that Stephen Hawking was a creationist.  I claimed that Hawking stated that it would be very difficult to explain the universe without God.  Which he did.  The fact that Hawking then goes on to try and explain a universe without God is why A Brief History of Time is such a difficult book to read and ‘the most unread book in history’.

2) Therefore I did not lie.  In fact on the Dawkins website I am continually accused of lying for Jesus.  Because our fundie friends claim they they are rational empiricists who only work on evidence, I have continually asked them for evidence of this lying.  A lie written down should be easy to evidence.  I am still waiting for this evidence to be produced.  The bottom line is that fundamentalist atheism is an irrational emotive force, which like all fundamentalism, cannot look at any thing outside its own box, and just resorts to name calling and self congratulation.

3) I did make one mistake.  I assumed that people would have the intelligence to realise what I was saying about Hawking.  Obviously I was in some cases mistaken.  Apologies….

All the best

Know the Truth and the Truth will make you Free…

David

From: MSP
To:
David Robertson, Justin Brierley
Date:
8 June 2009 18:49
Subject:
Jay Smith

Dear David

Thank you so much for your reply.  I have approved your comment on my blog in all its unedited glory.  (Thank you for at least posting on the right thread, which is more than some people can manage, mentioning no names, Y Y!)

As a treat for being such a predictable boy and firing yet MORE ad homs at my reading list without actually dealing with the substance of my arguments, here is a sneaky-peaky at my review of your book, YouTube vids and Unbelievable? debates:

Robertson simply asserts that the Bible is inerrant and truth can only be found in Jesus Christ without mentioning Matthew 10:34 (“I am not come to bring peace but a sword”) or Matthew 16 (where JC promises his Second Coming within the lifetime of his listeners!).   In Letter 9 – The Myth of the Immoral Bible, he recognises that passages such as Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11) represent “problems” in the Bible, but says not a word in attempting to solve said problems (unless you include “weasel” terms such as “context” and “literally”, which frankly, I’ve had enough of hearing).

(…)

There are also tedious ad hominems against bibliography as a means of avoiding answering Dawkins’ actual arguments.  In replying to Dawkins’ objections to the reliability of the Gospels, Robertson snidely contends that using Robin Lane Fox, A N Wilson and Free Inquiry magazine for advice on biblical scholarship is “a bit like me suggesting that those who want to find out about evolution should only go to the Answers in Genesis website!”

Well, “Reverend”, if these people are such talentless hacks, you should have no problem refuting every single one of the fallacious claims they make, should you?  Again, however, Robertson stops there, so I’ll only have to guess at the water-tight historicity of the New Testament he hints at and be stuck with Dawkins’ opinion that the whole farrago is made up pile of baloney; self-contradictory and laughably unhistorical.

Continuing in this vein, Robertson cannot boast enough about his reading list enough.  In the final letter, he states that he read over a hundred books and articles in writing his book and gives several glowing recommendations.  Apparently Marilynn Robinson’s Gilead (2004) is the greatest novel of the last century and Niall Ferguson’s The War of the World is all the reassurance you need that there ever was a Failed Atheist [sic] 20th Century.

Indeed, in his one reply to my tongue-lashings on the Premier Christian web forum following his debates with Adrian Hayter, he categorically stated that he would refuse to consider any argument lifted from atheist websites.  Be that as it may, “Reverend”, but I think the very title of this next website should give you pause for thought as to whether a loving, intervening, miracle working God really does exist:

www.whywontgodhealamputees.com

I’m sorry, it has to say something.  In fact, it has to say a great deal, that children can and do pick holes in this stuff.

I have provisionally entitled my review “I have no argument with this man”, although given that it has already topped 5,000 words (including endnotes), and I have yet to check what Niall Ferguson and Ian Kershaw actually do say in their books!   Such volume would imply that I DO have an argument with you.  Either I’ll have to trim it down or come up with another title.  Any suggestions?

Thank you for your drawing to my attention your response to Paula Kirby’s article.  Can you please confirm that it is to be found at the link below?

http://www.christianfocus.com/item/show/1079/

If there’s anything else, I shall be very grateful if you will please forward me the URL or the original text and I promise that I will consider it before publishing my review.  You mentioned that you had responded to Kirby review on RichardDawkins.net, although I’m going to have a hard time finding it, because there are about a squillion replies to her article, superb piece that it was.   Or was it thrown into the abyss when WeeFlea was barred from the web forum?

Having said that, I think perhaps you’ve incriminated yourself enough; your response re: Stephen Hawking had me in stitches!

The fact that Hawking then goes on to try and explain a universe without God is why A Brief History of Time is such a difficult book to read and ‘the most unread book in history.’

Riiiiiiight, so Stephen Hawking doesn’t actually think that the universe was created by a God after all, it’s just that his scientific explanation rather difficult to get to grips with and since he’s mentioned God, we won’t bother with the true explanation and just leave things at that.  I can’t wait to seeing your re-writing of Einstein’s theory of general relatively and quantum theory: “It’s far too complicated for a lay-person to understand, therefore let’s say that God did it and pretend that Hawking is in agreement!”

Priceless!!!!  Talk about digging yourself in deeper.  That’s DEFINITELY going in my review!

Your work seems to be “distorted” and “misinterpreted” rather a lot.  Perhaps you ought to have had it proofed by your opponents and critics, instead of the bunch of simpering “yes” men and women you thank in the intro to your book, and then you might not be branded a liar quite so often.

In this vein, I’d recommend you watch Dawkins’ speech to the American Atheist Conference 2009 in which he exposes apologists’ tactics of quoting-mining atheist scientists:

Pay particular attention to where he says that in The Blind Watchmaker he wrote that the explosion of fossils in the Cambrian period is so amazing, “It is as though the fossils were planet there without any evolutionary history.”  However, this was a piece of rhetorical overture intended to whet the reader’s appetite for what was to follow.  Sadly, it has been mined by apologists like you, wishing to misrepresent Dawkins as doubting evolution.

Know the truth?  I don’t know it all but I know enough to know that it ain’t gonna come from you, “Reverend”, or your book or your false prophet.

Atb

manicstreetpreacher

From: David Robertson
To
: MSP, Justin Brierley
Date:
8 June 2009 21:28
Subject:
Jay Smith

Hi Ed,

Please forgive me not responding in detail….I tend to find that these discussions are a complete waste of time – mostly because my atheist accusers find it difficult to stick to one point.  I will make a couple of points and then I will sign off – as I am pretty sure it would be a waste of your time and mine.
I will add my comments in below…..in red….and wish you all the best in your search for truth….

But this is my last piece of correspondence in what will be a circular argument…

David

Dear David

Thank you so much for your reply.  I have approved your comment on my blog in all its unedited glory.  (Thank you for at least posting on the right thread, which is more than some people can manage, mentioning no names, Y Y!)

As a treat for being such a predictable boy and firing yet MORE ad homs at my reading list without actually dealing with the substance of my arguments, here is a sneaky-peaky at my review of your book, YouTube vids and Unbelievable? debates: – Yep – missed that one.  I did not see any substance and basically they were accusations not arguments.

Robertson simply asserts that the Bible is inerrant and truth can only be found in Jesus Christ without mentioning Matthew 10:34 (“I am not come to bring peace but a sword”) or Matthew 16 (where JC promises his Second Coming within the lifetime of his listeners!).   In Letter 9 – The Myth of the Immoral Bible, he recognises that passages such as Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11) represent “problems” in the Bible, but says not a word in attempting to solve said problems (unless you include “weasel” terms such as “context” and “literally”, which frankly, I’ve had enough of hearing).
(…)

There are also tedious ad hominems against bibliography as a means of avoiding answering Dawkins’ actual arguments.  Avoiding Dawkins arguments.  I have been involved in many many debates and so far I think there was one that was a draw – the rest varied from massacre to annihilation on the atheist side.  Generally because most atheist evangelists havn’t really thought about their opponents position.   Dawkins himself absolutely refuses to debate with me….I suspect for two reasons – firstly he is a snob and an elitist (why bother debating with a Scottish plebe) and secondly he cannot really debate.  His main ability is in sneering and mocking – whilst that runs well with the fans, its not good debating technique. In replying to Dawkins’ objections to the reliability of the Gospels, Robertson snidely contends that using Robin Lane Fox, A N Wilson and Free Inquiry magazine for advice on biblical scholarship is “a bit like me suggesting that those who want to find out about evolution should only go to the Answers in Genesis website!”

Well, “Reverend”, if these people are such talentless hacks, you should have no problem refuting every single one of the fallacious claims they make, should you?  Again, however, Robertson stops there, so I’ll only have to guess at the water-tight historicity of the New Testament he hints at and be stuck with Dawkins’ opinion that the whole farrago is made up pile of baloney; self-contradictory and laughably unhistorical.  Actually I could refute most – but not all of them.  But I suspect you are  not asking questions but making accusations…

Continuing in this vein, Robertson cannot boast enough about his reading list enough. I think I mention it once… In the final letter, he states that he read over a hundred books and articles in writing his book and gives several glowing recommendations.  Apparently Marilynn Robinson’s Gilead (2004) is the greatest novel of the last century and Niall Ferguson’s The War of the World is all the reassurance you need that there ever was a Failed Atheist [sic] 20th Century.  I see Robinson, the author of Gilead just won the Orange prize for fiction for ‘Home’ – now all three of her books have won major prizes.  It is my opinion that Gilead is the greatest book of the last century – and that is an opinion shared by many.  Of course it is all opinion.    Niall Ferguson’s book is one of many that could have been cited…

Indeed, in his one reply to my tongue-lashings on the Premier Christian web forum following his debates with Adrian Hayter, he categorically stated that he would refuse to consider any argument lifted from atheist websites.  Be that as it may, “Reverend”, but I think the very title of this next website should give you pause for thought as to whether a loving, intervening, miracle working God really does exist: Sorry guv…not guilty.  I have never said I would NEVER consider any argument lifted from atheist websites – given that I regularly consider the Dawkins website that would be a bit stupid.   I do however find it somewhat tiresome when I speak in numerous pubs, unis , bookstores debates and the same old arguments keep coming up from people who have read them in atheist websites – think they are brilliant – but because they never really engage with (as opposed to shout at) another point of view have not thought it through themselves.

www.whywontgodhealamputees.com

I’m sorry, it has to say something.  In fact, it has to say a great deal, that children can and do pick holes in this stuff.  Straw man….I totally agree about all the false healings etc.

I have provisionally entitled my review “I have no argument with this man”, although given that it has already topped 5,000 words (including endnotes), and I have yet to check what Niall Ferguson and Ian Kershaw actually do say in their books!   Such volume would imply that I DO have an argument with you.  Either I’ll have to trim it down or come up with another title.  Any suggestions? You could save yourself time and just do what the other Dawkins fans do….its rubbish, lies, stupid etc, don’t read it, he ‘s ignorant and only trying to make money….Or you could read Paulas – all 20,000 words of it.  Shame that Paula wasn’t even prepared to defend her review either.  Of course the fact that she was commissioned to write it by Dawkins himself may have something to do with that.

Thank you for your drawing to my attention your response to Paula Kirby’s article.  Can you please confirm that it is to be found at the link below?

http://www.christianfocus.com/item/show/1079/-Nope – it was in numerous responses on the Dawkins website.

If there’s anything else, I shall be very grateful if you will please forward me the URL or the original text and I promise that I will consider it before publishing my review.  You mentioned that you had responded to Kirby review on RichardDawkins.net, although I’m going to have a hard time finding it, because there are about a squillion replies to her article, superb piece that it was.   Or was it thrown into the abyss when WeeFlea was barred from the web forum? A lot of my posts were removed.  The delicious irony is that several of your fellow fundies then used this as proof of my ‘lying for Jesus’ – stating that because the posts cited in my book were not on the Dawkins website they did not exist.  They did not manage to work out that they had been removed.

Having said that, I think perhaps you’ve incriminated yourself enough; your response re: Stephen Hawking had me in stitches!Glad you have a sense of humour.

The fact that Hawking then goes on to try and explain a universe without God is why A Brief History of Time is such a difficult book to read and ‘the most unread book in history.’

Riiiiiiight, so Stephen Hawking doesn’t actually think that the universe was created by a God after all, it’s just that his scientific explanation rather difficult to get to grips with and since he’s mentioned God, we won’t bother with the true explanation and just leave things at that.  I can’t wait to seeing your re-writing of Einstein’s theory of general relatively and quantum theory: “It’s far too complicated for a lay-person to understand, therefore let’s say that God did it and pretend that Hawking is in agreement!”

Priceless!!!!  Talk about digging yourself in deeper.  That DEFINITELY going in my review!  More than happy for it to do so.  Most people can work out that in citing Hawkins (and please note he was not cited out of context or distorted) I was not saying that he was a creationist but rather that it is very difficult to explain the universe and humankind without the existence of God.  Which is precisely what he says…..You then manage to take this and pronounce that I was saying that Hawkins is a creationist and only hoped to get away with it because people are so dumb.  It is indeed priceless.  The fact that you believe this only exacerbates the offence….

Your work seems to be “distorted” and “misinterpreted” rather a lot.  Perhaps you ought to have had it proofed by your opponents and critics, instead of the bunch of simpering “yes” men and women you thank in the intro to your book, and then you might not be branded a liar quite so often.Perhaps Ed you can help…I am still waiting for someone to answer my challenge – provide one example of a lie I used.  Whatever happened to evidence?  If you can do that I will certainly break my silence…..

In this vein, I’d recommend you watch Dawkins’ speech to the American Atheist Conference 2009 in which he exposes apologists’ tactics of quoting-mining atheist scientists:

Pay particular attention to where he says that in The Blind Watchmaker he wrote that the explosion of fossils in the Cambrian period is so amazing, “It is as though the fossils were planet there without any evolutionary history.”  However, this was a piece of rhetorical overture intended to whet the reader’s appetite for what was to follow.  Sadly, it has been mined by apologists like you, wishing to misrepresent Dawkins as doubting evolution. I hate misquoting – and Dawkins is certainly an expert in it.  However you will need to redefine ‘quote mining’ – for most atheist fundies it is quoting anything that disagrees with you.  It is of course a tactic that you use a lot….you don’t bother reading Mein Kampf or any primary sources – you just take the wikipeida approach to knowledge, find quotes which have been cited by other people, and cite them as though you are the authority on them.  Of course some Christians can behave in this way some times as well.  I of course have not used the quote you cite above (interesting how you use an example I do not use….why not provide one I do?).  The Hawking quote is excellent.  I cited in context and most people would be able to understand what was being said.  However I do have to admit that I should not expect a post-modern fundamentalist atheist to grasp the basic concepts of logic and language….I guess it only has the meaning you want it to have.

Know the truth?  I don’t know it all but I know enough to know that it ain’t gonna come from you, “Reverend”, or your book or your false prophet. The day will tell…..

Tot Ziens…

PS.  Stop using my favourite band as your name.  The real manics are so much better….’if you tolerate this, then your children will be next….this is my truth tell me yours…”

Atb

manicstreetpreacher

From: MSP
To:
David Robertson, Justin Brierley
Date:
9 June 2009 13:56
Subject:
Jay Smith

David

Thank you for another reply.  I find it hard to remain angry with a man whose favourite band is the Manics.  Have you heard their new album, Journal For Plague Lovers, made up from Richey’s lyrics that he left behind?  It’s rather good.  I saw them play in London a few weeks ago and they were really tight playing once again as a three-piece.

Unfortunately, I am still going to continue to use their name.  It has a wonderful ring to it and after 8 albums and loads of gigs; I think I have earned the right.

On your Premier forum reply to me you said:

big hint – evidence does not mean ‘things wot I read in my atheist websites’ – but rather primary sourced material in which Christians state that they practice slavery because God orders me to.

For the record, I replied by saying that Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America stated in Congress on the eve of the American Civil War, recorded in his biography based on the US equivalent of Hansard, that men were expected by God to keep slaves who had mandated in Old and New Testament, from Genesis to Revelation.

I suppose all human evil can be put down to man’s heart of darkness, but no one makes political ideologies as flexible and as immune to criticism as faith based religion.  No one would say, “it’s not Nazism that is to blame for the Holocaust.  It’s just the evil that men do.”

Please then, tell me what is specious about the arguments of Robin Lane Fox and the Free Inquiry articles about how every mythical element of Christ (Virgin Birth, veneration by Kings, star in the East, miracles, 12 disciples, execution, resurrection after three days)?  I really would like to know.  That is a question, not an accusation.

I don’t see why I should defend the private decisions of Richard Dawkins, but he clearly states in TGD that the debate format is not the best way to get at the truth and he regularly refuses invitations to take part in debates.  He refuses to debate creationists because he would be giving them the oxygen of publicity in sharing a platform with a prominent scientist making it appear that there is a serious issue to debate:

http://richarddawkins.net/article,119,Why-I-Wont-Debate-Creationists,Richard-Dawkins

I wouldn’t take it too personally that Dawkins has refused to debate you.  He has actually refused to William Lane Craig.  Hitchens debated Craig a few months ago and whilst I haven’t seen the actual video yet, the word on the blogs is that Craig is such a slippery character who won’t consider anything other than his 5 arguments/ 4 facts that Hitch didn’t wipe the floor with him like he usually does with his opponents.  You and Craig are evangelists, not academics (you admit the latter at the very least in you book).  I think if Dawkins debated one of his “fleas” it would descend into a slanging match and not a debate that the crowd would actually enjoy.

I have decided to abstain from debating certain apologists, because their tactics are aimed wholly at scoring points as opposed to an honest enquiry into the truth.

If Paula Kirby was commissioned to write her article (what is the source of this information?) then it was worth every penny.  I’ve also read Cornwell and McGrath’s books and I agree with everything she wrote.  But I would be very interested in seeing your full replies to her piece if you still have them.  Please?

We’ll have to agree to differ on the Hawking quote.  I read it as a rhetorical introduction ready for the properly explanation as per Dawkins’ quote on the Cambrian explosion.  I nailed Peter S. Williams in my review of his book I Wish I Could Believe In Meaning for engaging in the same tactics

https://edthemanicstreetpreacher.wordpress.com/2009/03/07/peter-s-williams-up-close-%e2%80%93-part-i/

although he denies it with similarly vague and unconvincing responses:

http://idpluspeterswilliams.blogspot.com/2009/03/response-to-edward-turners-review-of-i.html

But if you want evidence of lies, please see below another extract of my draft review, addressing you arguments on Unbelievable that Darwin believed in “favoured races” and eugenics:

On the second Unbelievable? debate against Adrian Hayter, Robertson made much of the full title to the first edition of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin’s was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.  “Darwin clearly believed in favoured races,” Robertson opined.

Well no, “Reverend”, I’m afraid that’s what the hard scientific fact of evolution is whether you like it or not.  Species will replicate their genes by producing more offspring if their biological traits are more favourable to their physical surroundings…   Oh, forget it; go to an evolution website that will answer your queries.

The view that Darwin advocated eugenics is a complete lie.  Darwin deplored eugenics and stated that such a programme would only ever have a contingent effect on the appearance of the human race.  This is the passage often quoted by creationists from The Descent of Man (1871):

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated.  We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination.  We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick, thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind.  No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.  Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

However, the very next passage shows that Darwin was deeply compassionate to the handicapped and was not in favour of any euthanasia programme:

The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused.  Nor could we check our sympathy, if so urged by hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. (Emphasis added)

In 2008, the American TV presenter and charisma vacuum, Ben Stein, headed up the documentary-film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.  The film was an effort to promote “Intelligent Design” (ID), the theory that life on Earth is too complex to be explained by evolution alone and in need of an external “designer” to assist the process.

Among its many crimes against intellectual honesty, the film attempted to portray Hitler’s eugenics programme and the Holocaust as having been directly inspired by Darwinian evolution.

The Anti-Defamation League, an American pressure group concerned with the protection of Jewish people and fighting anti-Semitism, issued the following statement regarding Expelled which is the first and last word against anyone claiming that Darwinian natural selection is in any way a direct link to eugenics or Social Darwinism:

The film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed misappropriates the Holocaust and its imagery as a part of its political effort to discredit the scientific community which rejects so-called intelligent design theory.

Hitler did not need Darwin to devise his heinous plan to exterminate the Jewish people and Darwin and evolutionary theory cannot explain Hitler’s genocidal madness.

Using the Holocaust in order to tarnish those who promote the theory of evolution is outrageous and trivializes the complex factors that led to the mass extermination of European Jewry.

Now please kindly exonerate yourself by providing hard evidence that Darwin was indeed a eugenicist.  It’s a pretty serious charge to lay against a man’s memory and making such a defamatory an accusation on the basis if insufficient evidence is lying in my book.

Also, please quote the passage from Hitler’s Mein Kampf were his praises Darwin and says that Nietzsche’s nihilism is his utopian goal?  According to Ian Kershaw (I’ve read the condensed version of his two-part Hubris/Nemesis biogs – I need to check his thoughts on Table Talk which are in full version) Hitler did read Nietzsche after his time in Vienna and before the failed putsch but by then he was reading material that confirmed his already-established prejudices and he never quoted him.  He did however mention God and Jesus rather a lot:

From a speech in 1922:

My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Saviour as a fighter.  It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by only a few followers, recognised these Jews for what they are and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter.  In boundless love, as a Christian and as a man, I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord rose at last in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders.  How terrific was the fight for the world against the Jewish poison.

From Mein Kampf (written c. 1925) and repeated in a speech to the Reichstag in 1938:

By defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.

There are also serious misgivings about the reliability of Table Talk.  This is the one source where Hitler expressed anti-Christian (not necessarily atheistic remarks) and they were not directly audio-taped, but taken down by stenographers in his bunker, when his health was rapidly deteriorating.

However, that’s beside the point.  The only English translation of Table Talk, edited by High Trevor-Roper, is actually based on the French translation by a notorious fraudster and Nazi-sympathiser, François Genoud, who has tried to passed off a forgery on David Irving called, “Hitler’s Last Testament.”

Below is a piece by “Internet Infidel” Richard Carrier, published in German Law Review journal and Free Thought Today magazine, which I’ve come across which shows that Hitler’s comments about “never coming to terms with the Christian lie” and “Christianity is the illegitimate child of Bolshevism” etc. are utter fabrications by Genoud:

http://www.ffrf.org/fttoday/2002/nov02/carrier.php

I need to find a few more like that, hence why I want to see what Kershaw has to say about the Table Talk conversations.  Will forward you my paper on Hitler and religion when it’s done.

Nevertheless, even if Hitler was an atheist it was entirely incidental to his acts.  It would be like me tarring Christianity with the brush of cannibal serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer because he happened to be a devote Christian (which he was).  Dahmer was a mind-torch whack-job who would have killed regardless of whether he was a snake-handling congregationalist or a godless Marxist.

The greatest crimes of the twentieth century argument does not depend on men’s simple disbelief in a supernatural creator or opposition to organised religion; it was due to other extreme dogmas such as nationalism, communism and racial superiority thrown together in a potent cocktail that exploded thanks to modern technology.

I honestly don’t understand your reasoning here at all.  You don’t say why Hitler and Stalin’s atheism was influential in their brutality.  You say in your book and YouTube vids that simply because a person does not belief in God does not make them less moral any more than it makes them less attractive.  Yet you then try to pin crimes against humanity on atheists precisely because they were atheists????

Atb

manic

From: David Robertson
To:
MSP, Justin Brierley
Date:
9 June 2009 17:54
Subject
: Jay Smith

Ed,

That was such a nice letter I feel compelled to reply – despite my vow of silence…

Just a few points…

  1. I am a Manic Street Preacher….you just claim the name!  I would love to see them live….Just bought Journal for Plague Lovers (also Paolo Nuitinis latest – an absolute gem!).
  2. A little help for you – the theologican R L Dabney made a strong defence of slavery from a biblical perspective –his view was followed by most Southern landowners who were mainly episcopalian.  I just think he was wrong.
  3. I agree that religion can cause a great deal of harm and exacerbate human evil.
  4. As for Robin Lane Fox…his view that the Gospels just reflect similar middle eastern/Greek myths (a view welcomed and cited as fact by most Wikipedia atheists) just does not bear historical scrutiny.  For example the view that people were more likely to believe in resurrections in 1st century Greece than today – just does not have any historical evidence.   It is the kind of Zeitgeist view of history – which at first (to those who do not know the primary sources) sounds authoritative, but once you begin to investigate it you find that it is mostly smoke and mirrors.
  5. Re Dawkins – interesting that just as you posted I found that my posts were being banned again….thats atheist tolerance for you….
  6. Paula was commissioned (she admitted so) – I don’t think she was paid though.   Her reward was that she got to chair Dawkins meeting in Inverness.   Glad that you agree with her view that my book is the best of the anti-Dawkins books!
  7. Re the Kirby thread – I’m afraid when I changed my computer I did not bother to keep a lot of stuff – including them.  Some of them are still there…it is a full refutation….until I got banned (again!)
  8. Still waiting for the lie.  I did not say that Darwin supported Eugenics.  I did say that Darwinism as espoused by some of his later followers did.   And I gave examples from Dawkins own mentor – Bill Hamilton who amongst other things argued that in order to preserve the race upper class women should be encouraged to breed…

Just out of interest have you read Mein Kampf? I have.   I notice that all atheist bloggers use the same two quotes – do you have an atheist book of quotes to use?  I have read most of Hitler’s works in English, studied Weimar Germany and the rise of Hitler for my University degree and know that there is not a serious historian of the period who thinks that Hitler was a practicing Christian, or that he had anything other than contempt for the church.  His use of the words ‘Lord’ or his perversion of the Scriptures was only done to appeal to a population who largely still considered themselves to be Christian and were educated in State Christian schools.   The irony is that the forces of ‘rational liberalism’ had so undermined the Bible that when the tide of Nazism came, the churches largely caved in.  It was mainly the scientists and intellectuals who supported Hitler.   In terms of his views I give a quote in my own book which sums up his position well –

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

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

9.  You are right about Dahmer.  Would that Dawkins followed your example – why else does he cite the odious Fred Phelps as an example of Christianity?  Hitler being an atheist (which by the way is doubtful) or Stalin or Mao (which is not) does not of course mean that all atheists are Nazis.  Correct.
10.  You want me to state why Hitlers and Stalins atheism was influential in their brutality.   Ok.  If you believe that there is an Almighty God who has an absolute moral standard by which one day you will be judged – this does tend to moderate your behaviour.  If like Stalin you believe that there is no God to answer to, and no absolute moral law (a view which Stalin came to after reading Origin of the Species) then you have no fear of what may happen.  All that you fear is around you, and the loss of your own power – so you can kill and destroy as you wish.  Hitler believed that history would judge him (not God) – Stalin believed that no one could judge him.  If you believe in relative morality then logically you have no real basis for judging them.  And as Dawkins admits it is virtually impossible to believe in an absolute morality without God.

Must go……this time I will try to leave it….

I have a debate in London to prepare and a whole lot more going on so may I just wish you all the best…

Keep looking for the Truth….

David

From: Justin Brierley
T
o: David Robertson, MSP
Date:
10 June 2009 08:33
Subject
: Jay Smith

Sounds like you guys should come on my show to talk about this!

FYI David link to show with Peter Cave is here:

http://www.premierradio.org.uk/listen/ondemand.aspx?mediaid={83522139-8E9C-4069-919B-4BF46B8C0650}

Or in t e archive its the show of 19 Apr 2008

Thanks

Justin

From: MSP
To
: Justin Brierley, David Robertson
Date:
11 June 2009 08:50
Subject
: Jay Smith

Justin – Thanks for the invite.  I’m sure we’ll both take it under advisement.  Did you forward my piece to Mr Smith?

David – further points:

I think a lot of your arguments centre on bibliography and qualifications, which P Z Myers has termed the Courtier’s Reply, which is as relevant as it is witty:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/12/the_courtiers_reply.php

I admit that, yes, there a few very useful Internet articles with Hitler’s quotes for cutting and pasting in discussions like this.  Copying straight from a book is rather laborious (that quote from Robin Lane Fox took me ages!  I’ve now bought a book stand so I can type with both hands!).  This article by Richard E Smith

http://www.ffrf.org/fttoday/1997/march97/holocaust.html

is very handy and does reference other published works, particularly Alan Bullock’s Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1958).  I have read Bullock’s Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives (1991) myself which is good.

However, just because quotes are from the Internet, doesn’t render them false for that reason.  OK, using Wikipedia as a primary source exactly doesn’t look good, but that website does have a wealth of links to other material for further investigation.  I am getting tired of apologists attacking my bibliography, since such comments about qualification and source material ought to be reserved for the last paragraph of a negative review rather than being the be all and end all.  I could say exactly the same about your quotes from Table Talk.

I agree that Hitler wasn’t exactly a church-going Christian whilst in power, but he did have a Catholic upbringing, never formally renounced his membership of the Church and had a hankering for “Providence”, particularly after the assassination attempts.  His religious views were certainly odd, but then what exactly is normal in this regard?

I have read Mein Kampf which you can buy from Amazon, along with that other classic of racial hatred, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.  It’s pretty unreadable, particularly as you know what it has inspired.  Rather like the Koran.  I’m glad I can speed read.  However, you didn’t respond to my point that Mein Kampf doesn’t reference Darwin or Nietzsche at all, but God and Christ a lot.

However, it’s too easy blaming atrocities on one figurehead.  There are potential Hitlers, Stalins and bin Ladens on every street corner.  What about the people who put Hitler in power and carried out his wishes?  Many of them certainly were Christians.   One of your fellow “fleas”, John Cornwell, wrote a damning biography of Pius XII, Hitler’s Pope (1999), which I discuss in my draft paper on Hitler and religion.  Cornwell claims to be a devote Catholic and Paul Johnson, another practicing Catholic, isn’t exactly complimentary about Eugenio Pacelli either in A History of Christianity (1976).  Johnson also mentions that 25% of the SS were practising Catholics, although none of them were excommunicated for crimes against humanity.

I largely agree with your comments on Stalin: he wanted to be accountable to no one else and thus declare himself as God.  However, I still don’t think your arguments over the rejection of a personal creator and the threat of hell or at least no place in heaven and the propensity to violence are properly made out.  Personally, since reading Dawkins and coming off the fence of agnosticism, I have appreciated the value of human life even more, because I know that our time on Earth is the one life we DO have.

I do agree with Kirby that your book was the best of the Dawkins replies I’ve read because it does put up the best fight and at least gives a clear indication of what you believe and I state as much in my review.

Enjoy your debate in London.  I’m not going to wish you luck, because I don’t want you win.  However, this exchange has been positive and I might just tone down some of the more vitriolic elements of review of The Dawkins Letters before it is posted.  Perhaps the comments about Scotland’s answer to Jerry Falwell can come out…

MSP

From: David Robertson
To
: MSP
Date:
22 June 2009 09:27
Subject
: My piece on William Lane Craig

Hi Ed,

Haven’t heard this debate so can’t comment – but your article does read a wee bit like desperation!   Hitchens does not always massacre his opponent – in fact against Lennox in the Usher hall Edinburgh he clearly lost.  Before the debate a vote was taken – which was around 40% Lennox, 35% Hitchens and 25% don’t knows.  After the debate the same vote was taken – 50% Lennox, 35% Hitchens and 15% don’t knows. It is the first time I have seen a significant swing within a debate.   From your somewhat desperate reaction and the other things I have read about the William Lane Craig/Hitchens debate it sounds to me as though your boy got hammered.

Anyway thinking of you as I listen to Journal for Plague Lovers – brilliant!

I also agree that Hitchens is by far the best of the atheist debaters (not that he has much competition!).  I like him a lot and one of my small ambitions would be to debate him one day.

Hope you are well,

David

From: MSP
To
: David Robertson
Date:
22 June 2009 19:47
Subject:
My piece on William Lane Craig

Hi David

Thanks for taking the time to read the piece.  I hope it was the “revised” version!  The first edition was published in anger too soon after I saw the debate and was littered with ad homs of the kind I berate apologists for and contained some really inappropriate remarks about Craig’s bony hands!

Have you noticed how he often hold his hands like claws?  Apparently it’s a neuromuscular disorder, but at first I said that rigour mortis was setting in and he’s desperate for a spot on a white cloud playing a harp!  Whoops!  Fortunately another blogger put me right and I took out that comment, along with a lot of other stuff and generally toned it down so I’m attacking his arguments and debating tactics as opposed to his character.

Here is the link to the torrents file, if you don’t mind breaking at least one of the commandments:

[LINKS EXCLUDED BECAUSE I’M NOT RUNNING THE RISK OF BIOLA SUING ME FOR BREACH OF COPYRIGHT!]

I felt like I had to stick up for Hitchens after the pasting he received on the blogs.  I haven’t seen his Edinburgh Festival debate with John Lennox, but I came across a subsequent debate between the two of them held in Birmingham, Alabama in March this year and he was superb.  However, no vote was taken.  He actually lost the audience vote on his Freedom Fest 2008 debate against Dinesh D Souza, but I don’t care; he wiped the floor with D Souza!

I’m doing a similar editing job on my review of The Dawkins Letters.  Alas, it still will be negative, but I’ve excised a lot of the vitriol along with a few of Miss Kirby’s damning remarks!  I heard your last debate on Premier on the moral argument for God as saw your debate at Edinburgh Uni against Alistair from the NSS and you don’t make my blood boil any more.

Just reading Niall Ferguson’s book to see whether we have the same perspective.  About 150 pages in and I haven’t come across a direct indictment of atheism (save a quote from Paul Johnson about the abandoning of Judeo-Christian values), but we haven’t reached the really nasty atheists like Stalin and Pol Pot yet.

I love “revisionist” history.  You should watch Hitchens’ debate with A C Grayling on the morality of aerial bombing of civilians.  Grayling had just published Among The Dead Cities on the subject (which I have bought, but not read yet) and the talk was really illuminating.  Apparently those Bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to impress Joseph Stalin…

Oh Mummy, what’s a Sex Pistol?
Oh Mummy, what’s a Sex Pistol?
Oh Mummy, etc. etc.

Atb

MSP

From: Justin Brierley
To:
MSP
Date:
26 June 2009 17:03
Subject:
Mr Manic – its Justin

Hi Ed

hope you are well, its been good to read your to and fro with David Robertson.

I have him coming down on Mon 20th July in the morning, and wondered if we could get a debate going between the two of you.  Your correspondences covered many areas.  But I wondered about possibly doing “Would Europe be better off as an atheistic or Christian Society.

This is of course dependent on your being available on that Monday.  Let me know!

(I’ve been told that David has had too easy a run on my prog with “layman” atheists, so I think a pairing with you would counter that imbalance!)

Justin

From: MSP
To :
Justin Brierley
Date:
27 June 2009 15:10
Subject:
Mr Manic – its Justin

Hello Justin

You’re quite right; it’s about time Pastor Robertson met his match in the flesh!

Things are quite hectic at the moment as I’m trying to secure employment before September when I qualify as a solicitor and it’s not the easiest of financial climates to do it.  However I can’t let an opportunity like this pass me by, so I’ll book the time off first thing Monday, purchase my train ticket now and finish my review of The Dawkins Letters.

Thanks to our correspondence following my piece on Professor Smith my review is looking A LOT less vitriolic.  David’s not bad, just misunderstood by atheist bloggers, but I think he could elaborate in his writings so people don’t think he’s trying to hold out Stephen Hawking as a creationist…

Hope you’re well.  See on the 20th at 22 Chapter Street.  What time??

Ed

Unreasonable Faith: William Lane Craig

21/06/2009

WLC

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/PageServer

manicstreetpreacher analyses the apologetics of William Lane Craig following his debate with Christopher Hitchens at Biola University, 4 April 2009.

I used to hate William Lane Craig.  I first saw him debate one Professor Mike Begon at Liverpool University in 2007.  Unfortunately his opponent on that occasion did not know enough to refute Craig properly and was far too passive; playing for the draw as opposed to the win.  Craig walked all over him.

Since then, I saw Craig debate several other atheists and my loathing of him grew and grew.  His style was far too lazy; trotting out the same five “arguments” in respect of God’s existence and the same four “facts” in relation to Jesus’ resurrection.  I also found him thoroughly pompous.

In arguing that objective morals can only be grounded in God, Craig made the grotesque assertion that “an atheist cannot say that torturing children for fun is wrong”, when of course someone who will torture a child – possibly not for fun, I grant you – but certainly because they feel that they are objective moral in so doing will do it precisely because they acting in accordance with God’s will.  Female circumcision anybody?

When I first heard that Craig and Hitchens were going to debate on 4 April 2009 at Biola University, I very nearly bought a plane ticket to Los Angeles to see it for myself.   Hitchens is by far my favourite writer/ speaker/ public commentator at the moment.  I can’t get enough him verbally and logically crushing an opponent at the lectern.  I was looking forward to the prospect of him giving Craig similar treatment.

Therefore, it was with great dismay that the newspaper reports and the blogs gave a resounding victory to Craig.  Hitchens was, they said, too rambling and unfocused, evasive of Craig’s arguments and going off on his own tangents.  One atheist blogger commented, “Frankly, Craig spanked Hitchens like a foolish child”.

Oh God, how could you have let this happen?

I was dreading watching it for myself.  My agony was only prolonged by Biola University guarding the video like a jealous child.  Bootleg clips and recordings were swiftly banned from YouTube.  I eventually saw the full video after downloading it from a torrent website.

Whilst it is true that Hitchens wasn’t on his usual top form, he actually acquitted himself very well.  Reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated.  He conducted himself with an understated dignity that I have never seen in him before.  Hitchens didn’t massacre his opponent like his usually does, but I saw something better perhaps.

Craig wheeled out the same five arguments he’s been using since the George Bush Senior administration and topped them off with his usual brand of smugness; declaring that Hitchens had failed to answer his arguments and presenting no positive evidence for atheism.  However, I don’t hate Craig any more.  If anything, I feel a little sorry for him.

I was confronted with the sight of an apparently intelligent and rational adult indulging in the worst kind of childish wish fulfilment.  This was the first time I’ve seen Craig argue so vehemently about the coming of the Kingdom of God and the promise of eternal life after we are returned to the dust.

Craig waxed lyrical about the purpose of human life is, as Hitchens rightly pointed out, to end up in some theme park in the sky.  Mark Twain once said that most people cannot bear to sit in church for one hour on a Sunday, so how are they supposed to cope being stuck somewhere very similar to it for an eternity?  Are we sure that’s what we really what?  Worshipping and singing your leader’s praises for eternity?  Sounds like hell to me!

Craig also displayed a detestably Richard Swinburne brand of theodicy.  When asked by a member of the audience to answer Epicurus’ objection that God is unable or unwilling to preventing evil then he is not omnipotent/ omniscient/ omnibenevolent, Craig replied that an atheist would have to show that God had an immoral purpose for allowing suffering an evil to occurring.    This is simply making excuses for your lord and master and simply shows how desperately Craig wants it all to be true and will grovel in the dust and undergo any humiliation.   He is God’s plaything and will allow himself to be abused and humiliated and be thankful for it.  I was reminded of Richard Dawkins’ tale of Swinburne arguing on a television panel debate that the Holocaust gave the Jews a splendid opportunity to be noble.  Apparently their Oxford colleague, Peter Atkins, growled at Swinburne (in an exchange that was alas edited out of the final broadcast version), “May you rot in hell!”

Craig is desperately trying to hold on to the idea that someone up there loves him, that’s it’s all about him and he will twist and distort his opponents’ arguments and declare himself to be right no matter what.  In the Hitchens debate he finally showed his true colours: he’s a fundamentalist, not an academic scholar.

After debating (actually, during the debate itself would be more accurate!) bookish Christian apologist Peter S Williams at Liverpool University earlier this year and seeing how different our approaches were, all the ontological and scriptural arguments for God’s existence seemed so trivial.  We don’t have sophist philosophical conundrums to argue for the circumference of the Earth or the historicity of the Holocaust.  We have good old-fashioned, undeniable evidence.

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

Craig’s arguments, particularly the resurrection of Jesus, seem so petty and irrelevant.  As Richard Dawkins has contended, having a “skyhook” to come in and arbitrarily change the laws of nature is an affront to the majesty of the natural order.  Carl Sagan’s famous passage from Pale Blue Dot hits Craig’s nail on the head:

In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe.  How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought!  The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant.  God must be even greater than we dreamed”?  Instead they say, “No, no, no!  My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.”

And as Hitchens pointed out in the debate, even if it were all true and could be proved beyond doubt, it changes nothing with regard to our daily lives.  All our problems would still be with us.

Craig’s style of arguing is deeply flawed.  He will only consider his five arguments and nothing else.  In the debate with Hitchens he avoided defending the Bible, stating that the immoralities of the Old Testament were irrelevant to the questions of whether God actually exists and was the arbiter of objective moral values, but was determinate of whether the Bible is inerrant and whether the Israelites had interpreted the will of God in slaughtering the Canaanites, which was “not on the table tonight”.  What we weren’t told was that Craig teaches at Talbot School of Theology at Biola which teaches that the Bible is inerrant.  I’m still waiting for a convincing answer as to how we are supposed to know which are the nice bits of the Bible that we are to follow in the 21st century.

Prolific blogger Steven Carr made a very amusing point in a dry, sardonic way that only he can with respect to Craig’s four facts surrounding the resurrection of Jesus on the Premier Christian Community forum:

Craig comes up with four pseudo-facts and demands people explain them.  Imagine if people used that approach in other fields.  Suppose a Holocaust-denier came up with these four facts.  And these are real facts, unlike Craig’s pseudo-facts:

Fact 1: Hitler never signed a document ordering Jews to be liquidated in Europe.

Fact 2: No German ever recorded hearing Hitler saying orally that all Jews were to be killed.

Fact 3: The building now known as Gas Chamber 1 at Auschwitz was an air-raid shelter in 1944.

Fact 4: After the war, trained historians like David Irving and clergymen like Bishop Williamson testified that there was no systematic killing of 6 million Jews.

Now these are all genuine facts, unlike Craig’s claim that it was a fact that a person called Joseph of Arimathea (where’s that?) buried Jesus.  Imagine if Holocaust-deniers suddenly demanded that people explain these four facts, and refused to consider anything else in a debate.  Craig’s four facts approach to a debate is so bad that even Holocaust-deniers do not use that kind of logic!

In the Hitchens debate Craig drew upon John Barrow & Frank Tipler’s The Anthropic Cosmological Principle and posited an argument that sounds utterly ridiculous.  Apparently Barrow and Tipler give ten points that make the evolution of Homo sapiens so improbable, that if it did occur on Earth, then it would be a miracle and thus be good evidence for Christian theism.  While I would be certainly be grateful for an evolutionary perspective from any scientists reading this, even as a layman this sounds like anthropic nonsense.

I would strongly recommend a marvellous little book called Irreligion by mathematician, John Allen Paulos.  He puts paid to Craig-style tactics of frightening audiences with massive improbabilities.  The chance of being dealt any combination of cards in a game of bridge is something like 600 billion to one, but we would only say that the eventual hand was improbable if it were determined a priori.

Watch and listen to Craig’s debate from 2003 with American cosmologist, Victor Stenger, author of the superb Has Science Found God? and God, The Failed Hypothesis.  The video stops half way through, but stick with the audio and Stenger truly wallops him for his God of the Gaps mentality and on the reliability of the New Testament documents.  “Dr Craig keeps mentioning ‘the majority of scholars’.  I don’t know where he takes these polls of scholars.  You take them at Bob Jones University?!”

And a classic from Stenger’s first rebuttal:

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 it 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 at Adam and Eve, you will get a fantastically small number.

To use Dr Craig’s own words, ‘improbability is multiplied by improbability by improbability until our minds are reeling in incomprehensible numbers.’

Dr Craig has a mind-reeling, incomprehensibly small probability for existing, yet here he is before us today.

Genius!

Craig is so obsessed with probabilities that he even used Bayes Theorem to argue for the probability of miracles contra-Hume in his debate (video/transcript) against Bart Ehrman on the resurrection!  Ehrman wisely didn’t respond to all the equations and later in the Q & A section condemned such idiotic reasoning as capable only of “convincing people who want to be convinced”.

Once again, John Allen Paulos recounts an amusing fable that perfectly sums up Craig’s approach:

Catherine the Great had asked the famous French philosopher Denis Diderot to her court, but was distressed to discover that Diderot was a vocal atheist.  To counter him, she asked the mathematician Leonhard Euler to confront Diderot.  On being told that there was a new argument for God’s existence, the innumerate Frenchman expressed a desire to hear it.  Euler then strode forward and stated, “Sir, (a + bn) / n = x.  Hence God exists.  Reply.”  Having no understanding of math, Diderot is reported to have been so dumbfounded he left for Paris.

I seriously doubt the story, but it is perhaps suggestive of how easily nonsense proffered in an earnest and profound manner can browbeat someone into acquiescence.

As Ehrman rightly stated in his closing remarks in that debate, Craig is an evangelist masquerading as an historian (and certainly masquerading as a scientist!) who wants people to follow his false prophet.  I have no doubt now that he does believe all he says.

I just don’t see the point in arguing with anyone like that…

The Last Straw

06/06/2009

Jay Smith 2

manicstreetpreacher exposes the dishonesty, double-standards and hypocrisy of Christian “scholar”/ evangelical/ demagogue, Jay Smith, in light of his public speaking appearances.  And takes a swipe at few former adversaries in the process.

That’s it!!!!!  I’ve had enough and I just can’t TAKE IT ANY MORE!!!!! The Saturday, 30 May 2009 edition of Unbelievable? on Premier Christian Radio here was the fourth time I’ve heard Jay Smith speak and I can remain silent no longer.  I HAVE to expose this man’s distortion, hypocrisy and double standards.

The previous three encounters were him giving a joint lecture with Andy Bannister (who I twice debated on Unbelievable? back in September ‘08), “The Historical Jesus –v- The Historical Mohammed” on the Bethinking website here, “Does Islam Oppress Women?” on Premier’s Unbelievable? here and an Unbelievable? special programme, “Up The Ladder In Hyde Park” here.

For those of you have not had yet had the pleasure, Smith is an American Christian apologist living in London and affiliated to London School Theology who is on a mission to convert all Muslims to Jesus.  His method?  Well, for starters, there’s going down to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park with a ladder, a soap box and his cronies in tow and screaming what is perilously close to flat-out abuse and bigotry about why there are no prominent Muslim scientists.  And then there’s doing pseudo-academic lectures at his institution in which he applies wholly different standards of investigation and evidence than to he applies to his own religion.

In a nutshell, my argument is that Smith displays an extraordinary partition in his brain.  In respect of Islam, he is most definitely an atheist.  He judges the Qur’an at face value.  When it says all non-believers will roast in Fire/ Hell/ Gehenna forever, that is precisely what it means.  No allegories, no metaphors, no “scholarly” sophist interpretation.

When it comes to his own religion Christianity, however, he displays an inordinate level of irrationality.  I know a psychologist who takes more than a passing interest in human religious behaviour.  I forwarded him the above links to Jay’s appearances.  He says he could write a PhD dissertation on what he’s heard.

Historicity of the sacred texts

Listening to Andy Bannister’s tedious segment on the historical Jesus on the bethinking lecture and debating him on the historicity of the Gospels on Unbelievable? myself here has helped to persuade me that theology and biblical scholarship are really not academic subjects at all.  Rather like pondering the shape and colour of fairies’ wings, if you don’t accept the very existence of the first proposition – God or fairies – there’s no point carrying on; you are quite literally talking about the appearance and qualities of nothing.

Bannister’s nonsense about the “context” (surely his favourite word in the English language) of First Century Palestine, Jesus conforming to Second and Third Temple Judaism and the ignition of a “resurrection-shaped bomb” (?!) is exposed as precisely that next to Smith’s confident presentation of hard archaeological and scientific evidence which shows Islam as the man-made fabrication, plagiarised from the two preceding monotheisms.

I stress that I have not taken the time to research and verify Smith’s claims for myself; however, they are certainly the kinds of methods that I use in discrediting the claims of religion.

Scripture and morality

On the most recent Unbelievable? debate on Biblical inerrancy here, Smith stated that whilst he accepted the “problems” with the God of the Old Testament and the inherent barbarity of some of its passages, he said that the text must be judged as a whole rather than sceptics focusing on one area.  In addition, we ought not to impose our 21st century viewpoints on what was happening in 1,400BC to understand fully what God was doing at that time.

Oh really?  Perhaps our eminent “scholar” should take another listen to his lecture on Mohammed here, in particular c. the 75 minute mark where he discusses the following revelation regarding the Prophet’s family values:

Narrated ‘Ursa:

The Prophet wrote the (marriage contract) with ‘Aisha while she was six years old and consummated his marriage with her while she was nine years old and she remained with him for nine years (i.e. till his death).

– Hadith collection of Imam al-Bukhari

Smith states that whilst that would not be considered paedophilia at the time, this isn’t a model for mankind today.  Rather like Abraham almost making a human sacrifice of his son Isaac?  (Genesis 22) Or Moses ordering the slaughter the Midianite boys and the enslavement of the girls? (Numbers 31:13 – 18)

There is absolute no circular, unintelligible padding about “context” or “scholarship” or “the early Islamic movement”.  It is a flat-out admonition of the text at its face value of exactly the type I as an atheist of all religions would make.

Similarly when he debated Mohamed Ali of the Islam Channel, he made similar face-value condemnations of the Qur’an’s treatment of women regarding how a woman inherits one third of what a man receives (4:11), how a man may beat his wife if he becomes angry with her (4:34) and how a man’s testimony is worth half of a man’s (2:282).

Whilst I didn’t necessarily disagree with what he was saying, there was no engagement with scholar discourses of the kind he surely would demand of an atheist when debating Christianity!  In fact, I could have done that debate.  All I needed to have done was print off What The Qur’an Says About Women’s Rights from The Skeptics Annotated Bible and take that into the studio!

This is makes me all the more incensed, since Smith’s partner in intellectual crime, Andy Bannister, criticised me in our second Unbelievable? debate, here, for using the SAB due to its lack of references to the “scholars”.

Well, I like to return the favour to both of them and remind everyone what the Bible has to say about women: The Skeptics Annotated Bible: What The Bible Says About Women’s Rights.

After listening to these two travesties, the words “pot” and “kettle” spring to mind.   In fact, they are a disgrace.  There, I’ve said it.  I am tempted to say that Smith behaves like a schoolboy who’s found his father’s gun.  However, I think discovery of aforementioned patriarch’s pornography collection is probably a more realistic description.

Epilogue

I suppose you’re thinking now I have sent off a vitriolic email to Justin Brierley (one of the few theists I have met who is unbiased, impartial, welcomes having his faith challenged and frankly, if he’ll leave my comments about the Catholic Church making itself a soft target and that religious war is a fight over who has the best imaginary friend in the show unedited here, he deserves a place in heaven if I turn out to be wrong) challenging Smith to a live debate?

Well, you’d be wrong.  I have no argument with people like Smith.  There is a growing list of apologists with whom I will never share a platform.

Andy Bannister and Rabbi Y Y Rubinstein, who I have debated myself, distorted my arguments, made petty ad hominems against my sources and even fabricated arguments and evidence for the sake of keeping their own flock happy.   I have written pieces of my encounters with both of them respectively here and here.

I did receive replies from the two of them, but little of substance that actually tackled my arguments.  Andrew, I’m still waiting for that lost Roman census that required the population to trek back to the home town of a distant relative…

David Robertson, whose pamphlet-style reply to Richard Dawkins, The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths was a pathetic cocktail of empty arguments and the kind of smug moral superiority that only Christians can pull off. I first heard Robertson debate The Atheist Blogger, Adrian Hayter, on Unbelievable? here and here, and his disgraceful tactics, particularly in relation to Darwin’s views on eugenics and the “Hitler and Stalin were both atheists!” card, made my blood boil.  The frontispiece of Robertson’s book quotes some bile-laden replies from atheists on the RichardDawkins.net forum and I can well understand why he provokes such fierce reactions.

In my initial burst of anger after listening to the shows, I challenged Robertson to a live debate here.  However, on further consideration, I withdraw this challenge.  It would be pointless exercise.

The debate format is not well suited to discover the truth at the best of times and not just because of time constraints.  As well as arguing a position, speakers also have a crowd to please; and the theist more than the atheist.  My intended audience is simply those who are there to listen to the arguments and have an open mind.  I’m not even out to impress my fellow secular-humanists.  I have never deliberately misrepresented facts or made a straw man of my opponents’ positions.  When I have made mistakes, I have gratefully accepted the subsequent rebukes and corrections of my audience.

I am concerned with one thing: The Truth.  The religious apologists on the other hand have to keep their flock happy, not to mention Invisible Big Brother in the sky who just might send them and their family into Room 101 for all eternity after they depart this life if they slip up and let an atheist argument hit the bull’s-eye.  With stakes that high, what’s a few sacrifices to the alter of intellectual honesty?

It is very difficult to debate someone who can produce “arguments” and “evidence” out of thin air.  Public speaking is stressful enough; thinking on your feet in a verbal confrontation a million times more.  Even if your opponent is honest and straight-arrowed, you will still encounter new arguments that you won’t be able to refute on the spot.  I haven’t done a debate yet where I haven’t had to conduct substantial research post-debate.  It is frustrating enough to have that feeling of “If only I’d known that at the time!”   It is uttering infuriating to discover that your opponents argument was a made up load of tripe all along, voiced for the purpose of discrediting you and your sources in front of their followers, whilst preserving the reputation of their own religion.

Richard Dawkins has coined a special term for it: Lying for Jesus.  These are the tactics that the above mentioned apologists employ, and I want nothing more to do with them.

Jay Smith is the latest addition to this list of hack apologists who I would not touch with a bargepole.  There’s no point debating people like this.  Let them spout their specious trash to their flocks.   I have better things to do than argue with a brick wall, much less hit my head against one.