Posts Tagged ‘gospel’

Bishop John Shelby Spong debates William Lane Craig on the resurrection


manicstreetpreacher applauds the world’s greatest atheist Christian.

This will be a quickie, I promise.  I first listened to Bishop John Shelby “Jack” Spong on Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? at the end of last year.  He was a breath of fresh air, a joy to hear.  If only all believers were like him.  And since he upset Scottish Presbyterian Calvinist (!) pastor and author of The Dawkins Letters, David Robertson, when DJ Justin Brierley read out the listeners’ reactions on a subsequent show, he must be doing something right.

Spong’s Palm Sunday 2005 debate on the resurrection of Jesus against Christian apologist, William Lane Craig, is well worth watching or hearing.  Not in the sense that Spong “wins” the debate against Craig.  But because he rises above Craig’s petty attempts to rationalise his fairy tale and explains the philosophy of being an atheist Christian.

Although credit is very much due for exposing Craig’s dishonest reliance on authorities who are in fact at opposite ends of New Testament scholarship spectrum, the real treat is Spong recounting a story from his friend, the late, great astronomer, Carl Sagan, who pointed out that if Jesus left the Earth at the speed of light on his ascension to heaven, 2,000 years later he still would not have left our Milky Way galaxy!

I’ll leave it there.  Just download and enjoy.

Audio / Video

William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman debate “Is there historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus?”


manicstreetpreacher presents the best example of when William Lane Craig received a beat down on the rising Son of Man.

I intend to post a reassessment of Christopher Hitchens’ debate against William Lane Craig at Biola University that took place on 4 April 2009 and which I commented on after seeing the DVD.

Hitchens did not come off very well from that encounter.  However, Craig’s first debate on the existence of God against physicist Victor Stenger at the University of Hawaii in 2003 is my first port of call when I need an example of when Craig received a spanking on that topic.

Craig’s debate against agnostic New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman, author of Lost Christianities, Misquoting Jesus and God’s Problem, which took place at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts on 28 March 2006 on whether there is historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the occasion I recall when I need an example of when Craig received equivalent treatment on this topic.


Audio (Irritatingly cuts off a few questions before the end so that Craig wins the final point.)

Full video tape:

As with practically all debates, opinion on the blogosphere is divided.  But my money is that Ehrman won convincingly.  His off-the-top-of-his-head knowledge of who has said what when in the dense world of New Testament scholarship is a joy to hear.  He skilfully exposes Craig’s highly selective and dishonest citation of scholarly authorities who are actually in deep conflict.  Ehrman also has a superior knowledge of similar mythologies of dying and rising Gods and wallops Craig for his second-hand ignorance of Apollonius of Tyana.

The debate is most notable for Craig’s ridiculous attempt in his first rebuttal to overthrow David Hume’s essay “Of Miracles” and demonstrate the probability of miracles using calculus (!) as well as disgracefully and demagogically labelling his PowerPoint slides “Ehrman’s Egregious Error” and “Bart’s Blunder”.  This example of mathematical posturing is put in its proper place by atheist number-cruncher John Allen Paulos in Irreligion who 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.

Unlike Diderot in the story, Ehrman wisely brushes aside Craig’s underhand tactic and doesn’t let it distract him.  He keeps his arguments simple and concise and has no need to appeal to authorities.  Ehrman himself is the authority!

Craig is so clearly an evangelist masquerading as a serious academic and Ehrman proves it by hammering him on his commitment to biblical inerrancy as a professor at Biola’s Talbot School of Theology.  Craig wilfully evades Ehrman’s questions of whether he thinks that there are errors and contradictions in the New Testament.  Unbelievably, he also continues to flog the dead horse of his four “facts” surrounding the resurrection, despite Ehrman providing perfectly rational explanations that they are most likely later additions to the text.

Predictably, Craig finishes his final rebuttal with a plug for the warm fuzzy feeling he had a teenager when he gave his life to Christ.  Ehrman calls him out on it in his reply: Craig has reached his conclusions before he has even begun his research and wants everyone else to share in his religious beliefs.  As Craig himself writes in his ironically titled Reasonable Faith, a person knows the inner witness of the Holy Spirit is true because of God’s assurance to the reader that it is true: reason and evidence can be used to support the inner witness, but they cannot be used to overthrow it.  Robert Price summed it up perfectly in their debate on the same topic:

Dr Craig then freely admits that his conviction arises from purely subjective factors.  To me it sounds no different in principle from the teenage Mormon door-knocker: he tells you that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient Americans because he has a warm swelling feeling inside when he asks God if it’s true.

In conclusion, William Lane Craig is a clever debater, but that does not mean his arguments are sound or even sincere.  He is very beatable.  Stenger proved it on the existence of God, while Ehrman proved it on the supposed resurrection of his son.

Now for a second look at the Hitchens debate…

William Lane Craig and Robert Price debate the resurrection


manicstreetpreacher urges you to listen to the most hilarious opening speech he has ever heard!

On a previous post about William Lane Craig’s attempted slur on Richard Dawkins’ views of religious child abuse, I linked to a YouTube video that quoted former evangelical turned atheist writer Robert M Price‘s slating of Craig.  I duly linked to Price’s article below the video.  A commenter (who I have now banned from my blog and deleted all his comments for rudeness, nitpicking and generally being an annoying troll!) called Price a “crank who couldn’t even get anyone at the Jesus Seminar to accept his ideas”.  He suggested that I listen to the debate between Price and Craig held at Ohio State University in 1999 on whether Jesus rose from the dead.

I have listened to the debate, and while Craig of course doesn’t say anything new whatsoever and the debate runs out of steam by the Q & A, Price delivers an absolutely extraordinary opening statement (starting at 22 minutes on the tape) by lambasting Craig and everything he stands for.

Price quotes Craig’s book Reasonable Faith at length to show that Craig’s apologetics is founded on the presupposition that Christian faith is supported not by reasoned argument, but from God’s assurance to the reader that it is true.  If the reader does not accept the book’s arguments, all that means is that Craig is a poor apologist not that there’s anything wrong with the Gospel.  As Price summarises:

Dr Craig then freely admits that his conviction arises from purely subjective factors.  To me it sounds no different in principle from the teenage Mormon door-knocker: he tells you that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient Americans because he has a warm swelling feeling inside when he asks God if it’s true.

Only towards the end does Price spend about two and a half minutes actually discussing whether or not Jesus rose from the dead.


See also Price’s appearance in Brian Flemming’s 2005 documentary film The God Who Wasn’t There discussing dying and rising gods in ancient mythology.

That bleedin’ Luke census again!


manicstreetpreacher: dog/bone.

Naturally, I was very happy to be given another mention on the 26 December 2009 edition of Unbelievable?, featuring Christian barrister Charles Foster and atheist scientist Robert Stovold. However, I was a little frustrated that the presenter Justin Brierley and the participants didn’t quite get my point about the mystical census in the Gospel of Luke.

While there is some ambiguity over whether a census of any kind took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria and whether he held office more than once, the points I was driving at in my email to Justin before the show was that Roman censuses were:

  1. Based on property ownership of the living, not the dead.
  2. Not based on remote genealogies, let alone false ones.
  3. Local censuses of provinces, not the entire Roman empire.

The reason why I am so insistent is that during my first appearance on Unbelievable? in September 2009, my “scholarly” opponent, Andy Bannister from London School of Fairyology, said that Dawkins, Hitchens etc. had “been machine gunned to the wall by ‘scholars’ of all stripes” by objecting to the apparent nonsense of having the population return to the home town of a distant ancestor because apparently people at that time were not as mobile as they are today we actually have records of such arrangements.

Being a tad green back in the day, I let it go.  However, a friend who had listened to the show emailed me to say that Bannister was talking rubbish.  I emailed him my friend’s comments and he did not respond.  Further research showed that this is actually a common objection by historians (as opposed to “scholars”) of all stripes and not something the Oxford biologist made up off the top of his head.

Despite repeated requests on my blog, Bannister has so far declined to cite a source for his assertion.  Funny.  At first, he seemed like such a straight kinda guy.  Rather like Tony Blair…

Justin did actually ask me to do the show but alas, I did not have enough holiday time till the end of the year.  Besides, I find biblical scholarship rather dense and unexciting.  Robert did a much better job than I could have done.  I had no idea, for example, that Josephus referred to Hercules as if he was a real person.  Kudos Stovold!

For those of us how can’t be bothered with textual criticism, below are the videos of a couple of excellent can-sized expositions of the Gospels’ historical dating botch-ups.

The Jesus Timeline Part 1

The Jesus Timeline Part 2

Lukeprog over at Common Sense Atheism may be a fawning Craigophile, but he does at least post some cracking material from the ‘Tube!

Debates with David Robertson and Richard Morgan on Unbelievable?


David Robertson



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

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

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

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

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

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


You can listen live online at the Unbelievable? homepage.

Or more conventionally on one of the following:

1305, 1332, 1413 MW
Sky Digital 0123
Freeview 725

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also my afterthought piece on the debates here.


15 September 2009

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

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

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

Ed Turner:

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

Perfect. This empties the fine tunning argument very well…

And not least of which is from Dawkins himself:

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

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



29 September 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fleas be with you.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Show One on Skepticule

29 September 2009

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

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

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

Replies to Todd Pitner on Premier Christian Community

30 September 2009

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

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


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

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

Long live the Four Horsemen!


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

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

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

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

Long live The Hitch!


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

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

“Same tired old atheism…”


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Unbelievable? debut – September 2008


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

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

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

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

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

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

Any great loss?


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

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

Replies to Premier Christian Community Discussion Thread on Show Two

2 October 2009

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

Would Europe be better off atheist than Christian?

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

My replies to David:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

And also:

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


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

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

Einstein himself made clear:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then you can make up your own minds.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Bauckham and the Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony





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’?”


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



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



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.”


A Selection of Quotes from the Linguistic Genius of Christopher Hitchens



The clue is in the title.

On the importance of reaching agreement

I’m not looking for consensus, baby, I’m just not in the mood.

On the Church of England

It not only calls itself a flock, it looks very sheep-like.

On Mother Teresa

I would describe Mother Teresa as a fraud, a fanatic and a fundamentalist.

Everything everybody thinks they know about her is false.  Not just most of the things; all the things.  It must be the single most successful emotional con-job of the 20th century.  She was corrupt, nasty, cynical and cruel.

I would say it was a certainty that millions of people died because of her work and millions more were made poorer, stupider, more sick, more diseased, more fearful and more ignorant.

When Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, few people had the poor taste to ask what she had ever done, or even claimed to do for the cause of peace.

What’s motherly about her by the way?  Hideous virgin and fraud and fanatic and fundamentalist.  Shrivelled old bat.  As far from the nurture of motherhood as a woman could decently get!

MT was not a friend of the poor.  She was a friend of poverty.

On which side bears the burden of evidence

What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.

On fairness of the ad hominem argument

A man once accused me of trying to assassinate his character.  I said, “No, your character committed suicide a long time ago”.

On the intrinsic value of religious debate

Time spent arguing with the faithful is, oddly enough, almost never wasted.

On the death of controversial American televangelist, Jerry Falwell

I think it’s a pity there isn’t a hell for him to go to.

The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing.  That you can get away with the most extraordinary offences to morality and to truth in this country, if you’ll just yourself called ‘reverend’.”

He woke up every morning, pinching his chubby little flanks, thinking ‘I’ve got away with it again’.

From his wobbly base of opportunist fund raising and degree-mill money-spinning in Lynchburg, Va., he set out to puddle his sausage-sized fingers into the intimate arrangements of people who had done no harm.

If you gave Falwell an enema, he could be buried in a matchbox.

On religious faith as a guide to morality

My mother’s Jewish ancestors are told that until they got to Sinai, they’d been dragging themselves around the desert under the impression that adultery, murder, theft and perjury were all fine, and got to Mount Sinai only to be told it’s not kosher after all.

The Hitchens Challenge on whether there is a divine source to human morality

Name a moral statement or action, uttered or performed by a religious person that could not have been uttered or performed by an unbeliever.  I am still waiting for a response to this.  It carries an incidental corollary: think of a wicked action or statement that derived directly from religious faith, and you know what?  There is no tongue-tied silence at THAT point.  Everybody can instantly think of an example.

On the Bishop of Carlisle’s remarks that the 2007 floods in England were divine punishment for society’s acceptance of homosexuality

If there was a connection between metrology and morality, and religion has very often argued that there is, I don’t see why the floods hit northern Yorkshire.  I can think of some parts of London where they would have done a lot more good.

On his need for a soapbox

It’s the old demagogue in me.  I need the pulpit.  I need the podium.  And if I can’t be erect, then at least I can be upright.

On the Church’s co-operation with Fascism throughout the 1930s and 40s

Up to 50% of the Waffen-SS were confessing Catholics; none of them was ever excommunicated, even threatened with it, for taking part in the Final Solution.  But Joseph Goebbels was excommunicated.  For… marrying a Protestant!  You see, we do have our standards!

On Dubya’s contribution to the evolution –v- creationism/ intelligent design debate to “teach the argument” to school children

There isn’t an argument.  You don’t hear people saying, ‘Well children, chemistry class is over and then we’ll have a break and then there’ll be the alchemy period.’  ‘After we’ve done our astronomy, darlings, it’ll be the astrology class.’  You don’t get that and it would be ludicrous and hateful if it were.  But under the cover of religion, there is no stupidity that can’t be advocated.  But if that’s going to be the case and we’re going to teach the argument: then any church that gets a tax break or any church that gets any subsidy from the Faith Based Initiative, has to teach Darwin in Sunday school.  Is the President aware of this implication?  I take leave to doubt it.

On incitement to religious hatred law

Somebody said that anti-Semitism and Kristallnacht in Germany was the result of ten years of Jew bating.  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.

On the human condition

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 – see through them.

On the Koran

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 plagurised, 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 the New Testament re-dictated to him by an archangel, I think puts me much more near the position of being objectively correct.

On the Bible

Look anywhere you like in the world 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.

On people’s expectations of other people

If you hear the Pope saying he believes in God, you think, well, the Pope is 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.

On the importance of having your views challenged

How do I know that I know this, except that I’ve always been taught this and never heard anything else?  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.

On being well-travelled

I’ve been to all three Axis of Evil countries…

On endearing oneself to an audience in the Deep South

You know what they think about you people where I come from in the north.  You know what they think.  They think you’re just living in a wasteland of piety and prohibition, snake-handling, punctuated only by offences against chastity with domestic animals.  You and I know better.  We know that quite a lot of that’s not true.

On the Catholic Church’s policy of relocating priests guilty of paedophilia

In the very recent past, we have seen the Church of Rome befouled by its complicity with the unpardonable sin of child rape, or, as it might be phrased in Latin form, “no child’s behind left”.

On the fundamental element of telling good porkie pies

A good liar must have a good memory.  Kissinger is a stupendous liar with a remarkable memory.

On religious faith as a source of consolation

I shall simply say that those who offer false consolation are false friends.

On the value of blind faith

Faith is the surrender of the mind; it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals.  It’s our need to believe, and to surrender our scepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me.  Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated.

On the appeal of Michael Moore

Europeans think Americans are fat, vulgar, greedy, stupid, ambitious and ignorant and so on.  And they’ve taken as their own, as their representative American, someone who actually embodies all of those qualities.

On divine intervention

Miracles do not occur.  Dead people do not cure living people of disease.  It doesn’t happen, it’s a scandal.  There’s no tooth-fairy either.  There’s no Santa Claus.  I have to keep on breaking this stuff to people and every time they say, “Well, are you sure?”  And I say yes, absolutely I am.

On being a tad inebriated live on air

The woman is dead: D-E-A-D, it’s a four letter word.  There’s another four letter word.   All her biological and medical lines are flat: F-L-A-T.  She is the ex W-F-I-E of the wretched, luckless Michael Schiavo who has had to put up with great deal of innuendo and abuse also from your guests.

On freedom in religion

I don’t think it’s any more optional than Abraham saying to his son, “Do you want to come for a long and gloomy walk?”

On the Catholic Church’s moral equivalence of contraception with abortion

Aquinas believed that every single sperm contained a micro-embryo inside it and thus if you like – I hope I don’t offend anyone – hand jobs are genocide.  As for blow jobs; don’t start.

On the meaning of life

Well, I can only answer for myself.  What cheers me up?  I suppose mainly gloating over the misfortunes of other people.  I guess that has to be it, yeah, mainly crowing over the miseries of others.  It doesn’t always work, but it never completely fails.  And then there’s irony.  There’s irony, which is the gin in the Campari; the cream in the coffee.  Sex can have diminishing returns, but it’s amaaaazing.  No, that’s pretty much it and then it’s a clear run to the grave.

On the Archbishop of Canterbury

Dr Rowan Williams – who does the most perfect impersonation of a Welsh sheep I have ever seen – can go love his own fucking enemies; I don’t want him loving mine.

On the virgin birth

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was in this wise.  When his mother, Mary, was espoused with Joseph, before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.’  Yes, and the Greek demigod Perseus was born when the god Jupiter visited the virgin Danaë as a shower of gold and got her with child.  The god Buddha was born through an opening in his mother’s flank.  Catilus the serpent-skirted caught a little ball of feathers from the sky and hid it in her bosom and the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli was thus conceived.  The virgin Nana took a pomegranate from the tree watered by the blood of the slain Agdesteris, and laid it in her bosom, and gave birth to the god Attis.  The virgin daughter of a Mongol king awoke one night and found herself bathed in a great light, which caused her to give birth to Genghis Khan.  Krishna was born of the virgin Deveka.  Horus was born of the virgin Isis.  Mercury was born of the virgin Maia.  Romulus was born of the virgin Rhea Sylvia.”

Even the Koran agrees that the Virgin Mary was born by an immaculate conception.  By the way, the Koran says that Jesus was not crucified at all, the Jews crucified someone else in his place and he never died.

There’s no end to the way that this kind of thing can be fabricated, but those who say you just tell by the potency and pungency of the story, for the memorability of it, that there must be something true about it, are simply inviting you to rely, not on your thinking faculties, or your intellectual capacity at all, but on straight-out credulity and on the repeated manufacture of things that appear to be part of the hard and soft wiring of legend in our mammalian primate history.

Apparently if you want to have a prophet, it’s better if his mother is a virgin.  Want to fabricate another one, that’s what will happen.

Actually, Joseph Smith [founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Mormons], as far as I know, never made that claim.  But I think Mrs Smith was well enough known to the local newspaper reporters of the greater New York area, in which you can read up the whole history of that family, to make it rather unlikely that that thing could be sold.

On brotherly love

It’s awful to hear a member of the Hitchens family sounding like Harold Pinter on a bad day.

On credit where credit’s due

That was terrible, Dinesh.

[Ten minutes later, when D’Souza has sat through a humiliating rebuttal of the historical reliability of the New Testament and has had a second go in an attempt to repair the damage…]

Ok, so it goes on getting worse…

On the only safe way of getting oneself excommunicated by the Vatican

Pius Ncube goes.  The Vatican says, “That’s it, you’re no longer the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo.  You have to go, you’ve gone too far.”

Robert Mugabe, the communicant, the daily Catholic communicant, who thanks God for his electoral victory, which you may have seen, recently, celebrated so warmly by his people has not been forbidden the sacraments, hasn’t been excommunicated.

Now, Pius Ncube, the Bishop of Bulawayo, had an affair with his housekeeper.  Robert Mugabe has subjected his entire country to torture, famine, theft, expropriation, death, death squads and the rest of it, but it seems to me there is nothing he can do to get himself outside the church.  He’d probably have to recommend condoms or abortions at the rate he’s going before anything would be said about him, any condemnation would be thundered from the pulpit.

On choosing your words carefully

The phrase “mind-torched whack-jobs” that’s in the introduction to the paper this evening naturally upset me very much; I hate to be offensive or see religion lampooned, that’s why I didn’t call my book on Mother Teresa “Sacred Cow”, though something in me will always feel sorry that I didn’t do that.

On receiving the news that a screaming rabbi once held a chair at Oxford

I am bound to say that it seems there’s been a bit of a collapse of standards at my old university…

On Thomas Jefferson’s take on the Good Book

You can buy at any Unitarian book store to this day the Jefferson Bible which was what he found was left if he took a pair of scissors and cut out everything in the Bible that could not by any intelligent person believed be believed.  Makes for a slender, convenient read; I recommend it.

On the Torah as a moral guide

It’s true that genocide isn’t recommended in Genesis.  You have to read several books on before you are commanded to leave not one child of the Amalekites behind…  There are learned debates between rabbis in Israel, including rabbis of the Israeli defence force, on whether or not that commandment is still extant.  In other words whether the fact that there are no more Amalekites means that the commandment doesn’t work any more and learned commentaries are published on the possible applicability of this genocidal commandment to present-day conditions.  To know this is to tremble at the effects of religion on a people who are not supposed to have a reputation for bovine stupidity, let alone for racism, let alone for superstition.

On the inner-workings of Der Führer

I personally think I probably could overthrow the arguments for National Socialism in a fairly short time.  I would have great difficulty persuading myself that its founder and leader was a rational person.  I wouldn’t have declared war on the Soviet Union, the British Empire and the United States on the same year myself hoping to have a Thousand Year Reich; wouldn’t be the right way to go about it.

On Stephen Hawking overcoming physical impairment

There’s no secular case to be made for eugenics.  The whole point about our side is that we revere the brain.  If Hawking had no limbs at all and only a brain we’d like him the better for it.  But we would have something to ask perhaps about the person who designed him like that.

On the glory of god’s creation

I notice when people say, “Look at all we have to be thankful for,” or, “Look at what’s so wonderful,” they mean when the baby falls out of the window and bounced on the soft roof of a car, don’t they?  They say, “Oh, God had it his hand.”  They’ve nothing to say when the ditches are full of dead babies and no one did a thing.

Look at the beauty of the design of the plague vassilis or the incredible eagerness and hunger and ruthlessness and beauty of the cancer cell or the cobra.  Who created all this, is what I want to know?  If someone wants to take credit for this creation, let them take credit for the whole thing and for all the despair, misery that goes with it.  For all the babies that are born without brains at all, or with cancer, or with no chance of living beyond a day.  Who’s responsible for that?  In what mysterious ways does the divinity move when this occurs?

Wouldn’t you rather think, harsh as it is that at least it was all random?  But no, the solipsism must go on.

On his dream job

I’ve never wanted a political job, but if I was to be given grace and favour by the president, it would be the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco.

On the impossibility to excuse child rape

The rape and torture of children is not something to be relativised.  It’s not something to be excused as a few bad priests.  It’s certainly not be excused by the hideously false claim made by some Catholic conservatives that this wouldn’t have happened if queers hadn’t been allowed in the Church.   Sorry to say that queerdom in the Church is an old story too.  And it’s worse; it’s much worse than pornography and it’s much worse than bad language on TV.  And it’s the crime that cries out for punishment.  It’s the thing that if we were accused of on this side of the house we would die rather than admit.  And if we were guilty of it we would kill ourselves.  And it’s the one thing the Church has decided to excuse itself for under this papacy.

On the historicity of Matthew 27: 25 –v- the Final Solution

[Bishop Richard] Williamson… has long been a believer that – I’ll put this shortly – that the Holocaust did not occur, but the Jews did kill Christ.  In word others, “Genocide?  No.  Deicide?  Yes!”

On batting for the other side

For condemning my friend, Stephen Fry, for his nature.  For saying, “You couldn’t be a member of our Church, you’re born in sin.”  There’s a revolting piece of casuistry that’s sometimes offered on this point.  “Yeah, we hate the sin only.  We love the sinner”.  Stephen is, I’m sorry to say, not quite like other girls.  It’s his nature.  Actually, he is like other girls, in that he’s, when I last checked, absolutely boy-mad.  He’s not being condemned for what he does, he’s being condemned for who he is.  You’re a child made in the image of God.  Oh no you’re not, you’re faggot!  And you can’t join our Church and you can’t go to heaven.  This is disgraceful, it’s inhuman, it’s obscene, and it comes from a clutch of hysterical, sinister virgins who have already betrayed their charge in the children of their own Church.

On the only reason why he would like to see the Pope dead

I don’t wish any ill on any fellow primate or mammal of mine, even if this primate or mammal claims to be a primate in possession of a secret that is denied to me…  So I don’t at all look forward to the death of Joseph Ratzinger, I don’t.  Or any other Pope, not really.  Except for one tiny reason which I ought to confess and share with you.

When he dies, there’s quite a long interval till the conclave can meet to pick another Pope.  Sometimes it goes on for months till they get the white smoke.  And for that whole time, that whole interval – it’s a delicious, lucid interlude – there isn’t anyone on Earth who claims to be infallible.  Isn’t that nice?

All I want to propose in closing is this.  If the human species is to rise to the full height that’s demanded by its dignity and by its intelligence, we must all of us move to a state of affairs where that condition is permanent.  And I think we should get on with it.

On his primal urges

Those who ask confessions from other people should be willing to make one oneself.  I am obsessed with sex.  Ever since I discovered that my God-given male member was going to give me no peace, I decided to give it no rest in return.  Seems fair to me.

On the cure for world poverty

There is only one cure for world poverty that has ever been found or ever will and it’s very simple.  And it could be phrased very simply too.    It’s called the empowerment of women.  Go to Bangladesh or Bolivia – I have to ask you to hold your applause though I love you – go to Bangladesh or Bolivia, give women control over their reproduce cycle, throw in a handful of corn if you can, make them not just the beasts of burden and the beasts of childbearing that they’ve become and the floor will rise, it just will.  It never fails anywhere.  Against this one solution, the Catholic Church has set its face.  The efforts of the missionary Church in the Third World mean more people die, not less.  It’s as simple as that.  More famine, more disease, more ignorance, more random and avoidable death.

On the sort of person he would let near his children

I say that homosexuality is not just a form of sex; it’s a form of love and it deserves our respect for that reason.  In fact, when my children were young, I’d have been proud to have Stephen [Fry] as their babysitter and I’d tell them they were lucky.  And if anyone came to my door as a babysitter wearing holy orders, I’d first call a cab and then the police.

On the right to his own opinion

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, anywhere, any place, any time.  And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line, and kiss my ass.

So Far: David Robertson


David RobertsonUntitled-3

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  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.


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, “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.


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

David Robertson –v- Adrian Hayter, “Challenging Atheist Myths – Part 2”, Unbelievable?, Premier Christian Radio, 28 March 2009:



[5] Richard Dawkins, “Lying for Jesus?”,, 23 March 2008:,2394,Lying-for-Jesus,Richard-Dawkins.




[8], 19 February 2008:,2285,Fleabytes,Paula-Kirby.

[9] For a wonderful depiction of this Sunday school classic, see NonStampCollector, YouTube, 29 May 2009:   I’d very much recommend viewing the rest of his material as well:

[10] For a terse but effective response to this style of apologetics, see P Z Myers, “The Courtier’s Reply”, Pharyngula, 24 December 2006:

[11] Paulos (2008) 41.

[12] David Lister and Ruth Gledhill, “Students sue over Christian rights at colleges”, The Times, 18 November 2006:

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

[14] Richard C Carrier, “Was Catholic Hitler ‘Anti-Christian’? On the Trail of Bogus Quotes”, Freethought Today, Volume 19, Number 9, November 2002:

[15] Richard E Smith, “Religion and the Holocaust”, Freethought Today, March 1997:

[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:

[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:,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:

[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:

[31] See Richard Dawkins, “The Emptiness of Theology”, Free Inquiry, Spring 1998, Volume 18 Number 2:,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:





[37] Andrew Brown, “Bill Hamilton”, Prospect, January 2003, which can now be read at:


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



[42] Richard Dawkins at American Atheists 09,, 19 April 2009:,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:

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

[44] Richard Dawkins, “Honest Mistakes or Wilful Mendacity?”,, 6 September 2007:,1610,n,n.

[45] A C Grayling, “Bolus of Nonsense”,, September 2008:

All web-based resources accessed 10 July 2009.