Posts Tagged ‘islam’

Jihadist walks free after ‘Islam will dominate…’ and ‘Kill Gordon Brown’ graffiti on war memorial ruled not hate speech

02/05/2010

Now this is religion getting a “free lunch”, David Robertson.

Further to my recent post on 59-year-old Harry Taylor receiving a 6 month suspended jail sentence, 100 hours unpaid work and ordered to pay £250 in legal costs for leaving “offensive” and “obscene” religious images in the multi-faith room at Liverpool John Lennon Airport, I am appalled to read this story in The Daily Mail:

A Muslim protester who daubed a war memorial with graffiti glorifying Osama Bin Laden and proclaiming ‘Islam will dominate the world’ walked free from court after prosecutors ruled his actions were not motivated by religion.

Tohseef Shah, 21, could have faced a tougher sentence if the court had accepted that the insults – which included a threat to kill the Prime Minister – were inspired by religious hatred.

But – citing a loophole in the law – the Crown Prosecution Service chose not to charge him with that offence and he escaped with only a two-year conditional discharge and an order to pay the council £500 compensation after admitting causing criminal damage.

Yesterday the decision was attacked by politicians and veterans who were shocked by the desecration of the memorial in Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire…

Shah sprayed the words ‘Islam will dominate the world – Osama is on his way’ and ‘Kill Gordon Brown’ on the plinth of the memorial in December.

He was arrested after his DNA was found on the discarded spray-can but refused to give an explanation for his actions or show any remorse, a court heard.

The story has also been posted on website of The Freethinker.

What really beggars belief is that the Counter Terrorism Division of the Crown Prosecution Service in London decided that the incident was not racially or religiously motivated saying, “While it was appreciated that what was sprayed on the memorial may have been perceived by some to be part of a racial or religious incident, no racial or religious group can be shown to have been targeted.”

Does not all 4.5 billion non-Muslims in the world today not count as a racial and / or religiously defined group?

Shah, who reportedly lives with his parents in a £200,000 detached house, has a picture of a flaming lion’s head superimposed on crossed Kalashnikov rifles on his Facebook profile.

This latest legal debacle angers me in particular since during my first debate Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable?, against Scottish Presbyterian Pastor David Robertson, author of The Dawkins Letters, a “flea” response to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, scoffed that I was “living in a fantasy world” for claiming that the New Atheists were attempting to break the taboo of criticising religion our in social discourse, which I remarked had been receiving “a free lunch”.

Following his most recent appearance on Unbelievable?, Robertson is now pushing the myth on Premier Christian Community’s online debate forum that Joseph Stalin was converted to atheism after reading Charles Darwin’s On The Origin of The Species and it influenced his brutal politics, despite being corrected on an earlier occasion by yours truly that the Russian dictator rejected Darwinism in favour of Lamarckism that lead to Lysenko’s insane “miraculous” agricultural programme which was responsible for the starvation of millions.

Robertson is also insisting that evolution leads to immorality, refusing to accept that the human species’ survival depends on co-operation and altruism even though his answer was “I don’t know and I don’t care” when I asked him whether he actually believed in the scientific truth of evolution during our second debate.

After comparing my report on the heavy-handed treatment of atheist Harry Taylor – who never threatened anyone with violence – with this latest episode of religious beliefs receiving special treatment, I hope Robertson will revise his views.  But then again, I think that our good Pastor has a preconceived notion of the World and picks and chooses arguments, facts and authorities to back that up while ignoring a wealth of contradictory evidence and even contradicting his own reasoning.

As with his preconception of Darwinism being inherently immoral, it is part of Robertson’s worldview that Christians are persecuted for their faith.  In a similar way that the pseudo-fact of Jesus’ disciples dying for their faith, this is held out as evidence for the truth of doctrine.  And no evidence or argument is going to change his mind any time soon.

Richard Dawkins on David Berlinski

09/04/2010

DawkinsBerlinski

manicstreetpreacher presents the damning verdict on a pseudo-intellectual by a genuine one.

Further to my recent series of posts on the Intelligent Design creationist propaganda piece Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Mike Godfrey over at God3’s Blog quotes one of the film’s participants, David Berlinski.  In his response to the New Atheism, The Devil’s Delusion, Berlinski, a supposedly secular Jew, writes on the crimes of so-called atheist totalitarianisms in the 20th century:

Dawkins is prepared to acknowledge the facts while denying their significance.  Neither the Nazis nor the Communists, he affirms, acted because of their atheism. They were simply keen to kill a great many people. Atheism had nothing to do with it.  They might well have been Christian Scientists.

In the early days of the German advance into Eastern Europe, before the possibility of Soviet retribution even entered their untroubled imagination, Nazi extermination squads would sweep into villages, and after forcing the villagers to dig their own graves, murder their victims with machine guns.  On one such occasion somewhere in Eastern Europe, an SS officer watched languidly, his machine gun cradled, as an elderly and bearded Hasidic Jew laboriously dug what he knew to be his grave.

Standing up straight, he addressed his executioner.  “God is watching what you are doing,” he said.

And then he was shot dead.

What Hitler did not believe and what Stalin did not believe and what Mao did not believe and what the SS did not believe and what the Gestapo did not believe and what the NKVD did not believe and what the commissars, functionaries, swaggering executioners, Nazi doctors, Communist Party theoreticians, intellectuals, Brown Shirts, Black Shirts, gauleiters, and a thousand party hacks did not believe was that God was watching what they were doing.

And as far as we can tell, very few of those carrying out the horrors of the twentieth century worried overmuch that God was watching what they were doing either.

That is, after all, the meaning of a secular society.

I can only assume that Berlinski had forgotten about the events of September 11, 2001 when he was writing this passage.  This was an outrage carried out by people who were thinking only too much of what heaven would think of them.  Hopefully, the more recent events on the Moscow tube will jog his memory.

Appealing to authority and credential inflation are common tactics of creationists and Intelligent Design proponents.  Expelled’s host, Ben Stein, went to great lengths to hold out Berlinski as an example of a smart guy who believed in Intelligent Design in order to give it some credibility.  However, all Berlinski succeeded in doing was to be a particularly obnoxious and unlikeable character, saying that Richard Dawkins is “a crummy philosopher” and “a little bit of a reptile”.

In an article reminiscing on an infamous book review for The New York Times in 1989 where he wrote, “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that),” Dawkins had this to say about Berlinski:

Are there, then, any examples of anti-evolution poseurs who are not ignorant, stupid or insane, and who might be genuine candidates for the wicked category?  I once shared a platform with someone called David Berlinski, who is certainly not ignorant, stupid or insane.  He denies that he is a creationist, but claims strong scientific arguments against evolution (which disappointingly turn out to be the same old creationist arguments).  Together with the great John Maynard Smith and others, he and I were guest speakers at a debate organized by a prominent Oxford rabbi.  Maynard Smith spoke after Berlinski and, not surprisingly, he soon had the audience roaring with laughter as he lampooned Berlinski’s bad arguments.  But what amused me was Berlinski’s tactic for dealing with this mocking laughter.  He sprang to his feet, held up a reproachful open palm towards the audience, and said (approximately of course, I can’t remember the exact words): “No no!  Don’t laugh.  Let Maynard Smith have his say!  It’s only fair!”  Happily, the Oxford audience saw through this tactic of pretending to think the audience were laughing at Maynard Smith rather than with him.  And the rabbi, himself a devout creationist, afterwards told me he had been shocked at Berlinski’s duplicity.  By itself, this is too trivial an example to deserve the name wicked.  But it did make me wonder about Berlinski’s motives.  As I said, he is certainly not ignorant, stupid or insane.

After witnessing his performance in Expelled, Dawkins’ assessment of Berlinski is borne out all too well.

Craig –v- Hitchens: Fourth Thoughts – Sleepless in Biola

06/04/2010

The third and final part (Part I / Part II) of manicstreetpreacher’s reassessment of Christopher Hitchens’ debate against William Lane Craig will examine the “emotional blackmail factor” that pervades Dr Craig’s case for the Almighty.

When Craig is not appealing to flawed logic, he appeals to common sense and inner feelings to guilt trip his audiences into accepting his arguments as this last post will demonstrate.

Argument from objective morality

After name-dropping atheist philosophers like Michael Ruse who contend that morality is just a by-product of evolution and universal norms such as the wrongness of rape and torturing children have no deeper meaning than assisting our survival, Craig argued that human morality is objective and therefore must come from God with nothing more than “the problem is that objective moral values do exist and deep down we all know it” to back it up.  As he phrases it:

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

Both of Craig’s premises are flawed, so his conclusion is invalid.  Firstly, objective morals could well exist without God.  They could be hardwired into our genes as an evolutionary survival mechanism.  So clearly, Craig’s first premise is incorrect.

However, objective moral values de facto do not exist.  Not everyone has the same moral standards.  Our perception of what is right and wrong have changed over the centuries with Richard Dawkins has termed “the shifting moral Zeitgeist”.  Indeed, practices in other parts of the World today which are considered the height of piety seem barbaric to Westerners.  You only have to look inside the books of our religions and see what these pronouncements mandate to see that this is the case.

I am becoming increasingly convinced that the moral argument for God is just rank wishful thinking, (how this differs from all other arguments from God, I am not entirely certain).  Perhaps it would be wonderful if there was a list of rules set in stone somewhere in the metaphysical universe, but I simply don’t see any evidence for it.  We just have to feel our around, sometimes getting it right, sometimes making mistakes, always striving for a state of moral perfection regardless of whether that will ever be achieved in reality.

I really wish that Hitchens had raised Craig’s appalling views on the morality of the God of the Old Testament.  I had been very suspicious of Craig declaring the atrocities of the Israelites’ slaughter of the Canaanites to be off-limits in debates, since it was a question of biblical inerrancy, not whether God existed.  I found my answer in an appalling radio interview and then with an article on Craig’s website which I commented on a few months after the Biola debate in which Craig argued that since God sets down moral values, he can arbitrarily overrule them with the result being that murder, torture and ethical cleansing are suddenly all fine and dandy.  Therefore, the Israelites were acting entirely in accordance with the will of God in exterminating the Canaanites and the Bible’s inerrancy is unaffected.

I won’t repeat my piece here; I suggest that it is read in full, but it is a stunning indictment of the theological mind which totally undermines Craig’s argument from objective morality, since he knows that murder, torture and genocide are wrong independent of God’s commands.  It is also a graphic illustration of Plato’s “Euthyphro Dilemma”: if God tells you to torture a baby, it becomes morally right and indeed obligatory to torture a baby.

Resurrection of Jesus

A key component in Craig’s argument for the resurrection of Jesus is that his followers would not have believed in a dying and rising Jewish messiah, much less have died for that belief.  For his second rebuttal after cross-examination, a clearly weary Hitchens invoked Tertullian’s maxim credo quia absurdum: “I believe it because it is absurd”.  He recounted his research on Mother Teresa and the circumstances surrounding her thoroughly discredited post-death miracle that will see her canonised by the Vatican and will in fact contribute to the misery and suffering of millions in the Third World by promoting shamanism and devaluing modern medicine.

A fair point, but I have seen Hitchens do much better on the historical Jesus.  Check out these two clips from his debate against D’Souza at Freedom Fest 2008 in Las Vegas.

On the historical Jesus and the criterion of embarrassment:

On the virgin birth and potency of the story:

Craig is basing his argument on discredited sources that are self-contradictory, written decades after the events that they purport to describe, copied and re-copied over centuries by fallible scribes with their own theological axes to grind.  And as we shall see in the next section, this is not even the reason why he believes in the resurrection at all.

Argument from personal experience

In his opening speech, Hitchens quoted from two editions of Craig’s book, Reasonable Faith, where Craig argues that a person knows that Christianity is true because the “Inner Witness of the Holy Spirit” assures him that it is true.  Whereas reason and evidence can be used to support this proposition they cannot be used to overthrow it.  A person has enough assurances from God with regard to his existence and the consequences that will be metered out for rejecting belief in God are entirely on the shoulders of the non-believer.

Although Craig’s response to this in his first rebuttal was somewhat convoluted, I cannot see how he refuted Hitchens’ interpretation, or even amended it significantly.  According to Craig, all belief in God entails is a warm fuzzy feeling inside that there has to be something more than this veil of tears and all arguments and evidence in support are wholly ancillary.  Atheist theologian Robert Price summed up Craig’s stance perfectly in their 1999 debate on the resurrection:

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.

Craig said that Hitchens had to show that he is delusional; otherwise his belief in God through personal experience is still valid.  Again, this is a prime example of Craig placing the burden of proof on his opponent.  Without access to Craig’s medical records (I’ll avoid making the cheap shot that they would make for interesting reading!), this is an impossible task.

Nevertheless, people have all sorts of personal experiences that seem real to them: out of body, alien abduction, near death.  Without any corroborating evidence, the sceptic is perfectly justified in writing them off as deluded, not matter how sincere they are.  Indeed, virtually all of these experiences can be reproduced on subjects in the lab under control conditions.

So what sort of evidence would corroborate personal religious experience?  As Victor Stenger points out in God, The Failed Hypothesis and The New Atheism, perhaps if someone returned from such an experience with some new knowledge in their heads that they could not have otherwise obtained except through the agency of an all-powerful, all-knowing supernatural being.  If Craig really does have a hotline to the Big Guy in the Sky, then I don’t know why he hasn’t found a better way to spend his evenings than arguing with miserable heretics like Hitchens who are all fire-bound anyway.

Perhaps personal experience of God is something I will address in a future post, but for now I’ll direct Craig to Sam Harris’ take on the argument from meaning and purpose with his “Diamond The Size of a Refrigerator Buried in Your Back Yard” Gambit for him to realise what a risible non sequitur his reasoning is.

The last “Hussar!”

The debate moderator, Hugh Hewitt, posed the final question of the evening to Hitchens and asked why there was such a high public demand for debates on the God question at present.  Hitchens’ reply was that he is part of a small group of people who want to take a stand against theocratic bullying from Islamist regimes in the Middle East who are soon to obtain nuclear weaponry, terror attacks against civilian non-combatants by Al-Qaeda, fanatical Jewish settlers stealing land from Palestinians to bring on the Messiah and fundamentalist American Christians who want junk taught in school science classes.   For the first time that evening, Craig had to wait politely as the audience’s applause died down before he could retort.

Hitchens may well have wanted to debate the wrong topic that night.  The New Atheism may well be a form of “village atheism”; hostile to the social effects of religion rather than appreciative of the subtle nuances of theological “scholarship”.  But I’ll conclude these posts with a thought from my original piece after first watching the debate that I definitely stand by:

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

Craig may have won the battle.  But the outcome of the war might not be so rosy for him.

Craig –v- Hitchens: Third Thoughts – Deconstructing William

05/04/2010

manicstreetpreacher’s second out of three posts (Part I / Part III) reassessing Christopher Hitchens’ debate against William Lane Craig discusses the “Rubik’s Cube factor” of Craig’s continually evolving God in the face of objections to design.

As always, Craig started off the debate by presenting his bog-standard five “arguments” that make it seem rational that God exists: origins of the universe, fine-tuning of the universe, existence of objective moral values, resurrection of Jesus Christ and personal experience of God.  In CraigWorld these are so amazingly irrefutable that he has used them in just about every debate for the past 15 years, despite their obvious weaknesses and being corrected ad infinitum by opponents and critics.

However, Craig will still say he has won the debate unless and until his arguments have been “torn down” and “a new set of arguments” put in their place.  Has it ever occurred to Craig that his “arguments” are not worth expending the effort?  After all, you can make a plausible case that the Earth is flat or that the Holocaust never happened if you limit the debate to a narrow set of facts and arguments.

Consider the case of Thomas Aikenhead, a teenage medical student who was the last person in Britain to be executed for blasphemy in Edinburgh, 1697 for scorning the Holy Trinity as “a rhapsody of feigned and ill-invented nonsense” and “not worthy of man’s refutation”.  Can’t Craig learn anything from this?

Why resort to “arguments” at all?

Atheists hardly ever raise the argument from hiddenness in a debate, but let’s face it: there is no empirical data whatsoever in support of the existence of God.  The fact that debates have to be held on this question at all has to say a great deal.  If God does exist, why does he choose to remain hidden?  Wouldn’t it just be great if we could see God creating new planets and species in front of eyes rather than just having to makes “inferences to the best explanation”?

Anselm’s Ontological Argument declares by fiat that existence is both a necessary and great-making property and therefore a maximally great being by its very definition must exist in reality.  Fine.  I could engage in the same smart-Alec sophistry by declaring that evidence, proof and certainty beyond reasonable doubt in the minds of all living creatures in the universe are great making properties and therefore by definition such a being does not exist.

Before turning to Craig’s “arguments”, I have previously posted a series of highly amusing and irreverent YouTube videos refuting Craig’s arguments.  Victor Stenger, American atheist physicist, presented plausible rational alternatives to Craig’s supernatural “God of the Gaps” reasoning during their 2003 debate the University of Hawaii.

Cosmological argument

Craig is being flagrantly dishonest by continuing to assert that the universe began to exist with the Big Bang singularity.  Although not on this occasion, Craig has quoted Stephen Hawking as writing, “Almost everyone now believes that the universe and time itself had a beginning at Big Bang.”   However, Hawking and his partner in physics, Roger Penrose, have recanted an earlier thesis when they said that the universe began with the Big Bang singularity.  But hacks like Craig and conservative Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza mine extracts from Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and The Nature of Space and Time to make it appear that Hawking still believes that the universe began with the Big Bang singularity.

Hawking acknowledges in Brief History, “So in the end our [Hawking and Penrose] work became generally accepted and nowadays nearly everyone assumes that the universe started with a Big Bang singularity.”  However, the very next sentence Hawking writes, “It is perhaps ironic that, having changed my mind, I am now trying to convince other physicists that there was in fact no singularity at the beginning of the universe – as we shall see later, it can disappear once quantum effects are taken into account (p. 50).”

In his latest book, The New Atheism,Victor Stenger clarifies:

D’Souza has glanced at A Brief History of Time, mining quotations that seem to confirm his preconceived ideas.  He quotes Hawking as saying, “There must have been a Big Bang singularity.”   D’Souza has lifted it out of context and given it precisely the opposite meaning of what Hawking intended…  Hawking was referring to the calculation he published with Penrose in 1970, and D’Souza cut off the quotation.  This act of editorship makes it look like Hawking is confirming that the Big Bang actually happened when in fact the full quote reveals just the opposite.

Craig’s assertion “out of nothing, nothing comes” is sheer folk wisdom.  We see apparently uncaused events all the time in radioactive decay.   Firstly, Craig ought to have looked at the smoke detectors in the Biola gym and considered when a particular Americium atom decays inside it, what caused one to decay rather than some other one.  The answer is nothing that we know. Secondly, even in a vacuum, virtual particles come into existence all the time and are measurable.  Appealing to “common sense” reasoning when it is at odds with modern physics contradicts is not intellectually honest.

“Is atheism true?”

Craig responds to Hitchens’ speech by saying that he has no positive arguments to show that “atheism is true”.  This is a misrepresentation of the atheist position and part of Craig’s debating trick to shift the burden of proof onto his opponent when he is the one advancing the positive claim.  Atheism is a term devised by the religious to label people who do not share their views.  It is the opinion that theism is untrue since there are no good reasons to believe that God exists.  There is no evidence for God and saying “God did it” in order to explain away the existence of the natural world is no explanation at all.  Craig is asking the impossible by demanding arguments or evidence that God does not exist.

Having loaded the burden of proof onto his opponent’s shoulders, Craig excused himself from having to provide anything like the extraordinary evidence that his extraordinary claims warrant.  He said that he was arguing for the “best explanation of the data”.  But even if the debate were only about inference to the best explanation, Craig has still not provided anything like the level of proof required to discharge his claims.

Craig closed his first rebuttal by saying that all the evidence has been on his side.  He certainly presented reasons to believe, but that does not mean that they were any better than those for Russell’s teapot or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Subsequently, Craig showed that providing evidence against God is pointless, since far from “Christians being able to follow the evidence wherever it leads”, believers can move the characteristics of their God around like a Rubik’s Cube so that God confirms with the empirical data post hoc.  Craig’s responses to Hitchens’ objections to arguments from design proved this in spades.

Teleological argument

In his first rebuttal, Craig quotes Christian apologist Alvin Plantinga and portrays Hitchens’ belief in the scientific truth of evolution by natural selection as a faith-based commitment: atheists are ideologically committed to evolution since as an alternative to God it is the only game in town.  This is a gross misrepresentation.  Believing in evolution is not a faith claim at all, but accepting a coherent scientific hypothesis supported by masses of evidence and one that has survived sustained assaults by creationists.  Even if evolution had not been discovered, or indeed was untrue, this would still not provide one shred of evidence either for design or a designer.

After Hitchens in his opening speech rather beautifully recounted how he had the mitochondria trail of his African Homo sapiens ancestry traced with a DNA swab from his cheek by the National Geographic Genographic Project, Craig employed a ridiculous sound bite about the sheer “improbability” of evolution by natural selection.  This next clip is from a different event, but it is virtually identical to what he said at Biola.

There are two objections to a priori improbability of which Craig has no doubt been informed repeatedly.  Firstly, Craig’s obsession with low probability is irrelevant since improbable events happen every day.  If you crunch the numbers in relation to your own existence (i.e. the probability that a particular sperm united with a particular egg multiplied by the probability that your parents met, repeating the calculation back until the beginning of time), invariably you will get a fantastically low probability.

Secondly, what is the probability of the supernatural alternative?  What’s the probability that the universe is the product of a divine design?  What’s the probability that the laws of nature are violated?  It could be even lower.  And what empirical data do we have to make the calculation at all?  I have never heard an apologist answer these questions and Craig disappointed me yet again at Biola.

Then Craig moved onto Hitchens’ “98,000 Year Wait” Gambit claiming that God’s timing in bringing the Christian revelation to the largest number of people possible was perfect since only 2 percent of humans who have ever lived were born before the year 1AD.  The claim sounded highly dubious.  Sure enough, the report by the Population Reference Bureau to which Craig referred (download PDF) actually shows that at least 47 billion out of the estimated 106 billion people that have ever lived were born before 1AD. That’s about 43 percent, not 2 percent.  Craig may well have based his argument on this article by D’Souza:

I’m indebted to Erik Kreps of the Survey Research Center of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.  An adept numbers guy, Kreps notes that it is not the number of years but the levels of human population that are the issue here.  The Population Reference Bureau estimates that the number of people who have ever been born is approximately 105 billion.  Of this number, about 2 percent were born before Christ came to earth.

“So in a sense,” Kreps notes, “God’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  If He’d come earlier in human history, how reliable would the records of his relationship with man be?  But He showed up just before the exponential explosion in the world’s population, so even though 98 percent of humanity’s timeline had passed, only 2 percent of humanity had previously been born, so 98 percent of us have walked the earth since the Redemption.”

Kreps/ D’Souza/ Craig either misread the chart thinking the number of 1,137,789,769 at “Births Between Benchmarks” for 8000BC represented the people born before 1AD or just divided 106 billion by 47 billion and thought the 2.25 meant 2.25 percent.  I just wonder how Craig’s God will be reinvented in the light of this correction.

Argument from fine tuning

This idea that the universe is fine-tuned for human life is an utter distortion of physics by apologists who have leaped on part of a scientific concept as supposed evidence for their God.

One look at the universe shows that it is anything but congenial for our kind of life.  The Earth is the one speck of dust that we know is capable of supporting life in a vast abyss of virtual nothingness. Our observations of the nearest solar systems and planets do not bode well for the prospect of having intelligent carbon-based neighbours.  Is that a universe that is friendly towards life?

The planetary version of the Anthropic Fine Tuning Principle makes even less sense.  Theists are basically saying, “Look how hostile the solar system is life.  If it wasn’t for the gravity of Jupiter sucking up all the space debris, we’d have a cataclysm of the kind that wiped out the dinosaurs every five minutes.  God must have placed Jupiter in the path of the asteroids when he was finally bothered to create beings who could worship him!”  What nonsense!

The Anthropic Cosmological Principle is like Darwinism.  It is an alternative to the design explanation, not a feature of it.  An all-powerful God would be capable of designing life to exist irrespective of the heat, cold, sunlight and asteroid conditions.  Indeed, he could design us to survive in a hard vacuum!

However, the inhabitants of CraigWorld see the vast emptiness of space and the sheer improbability of life and say, “Oh, it points to a designer God who created the universe with humans in mind!”  But theologians keep their children fed by constantly reinventing their God to conform to the empirical data.

Suppose we reverse the data and imagine a Star Trek-like universe where intelligent life is overwhelmingly probable and our extra-terrestrial neighbours visit us regularly (and not just long enough for a single frame blurry photo to be taken by someone driving a potato truck in Iowa).  The theologians would still say, “Oh, it points to a designer God who created the universe with humans in mind!”  The words, “cake”, “eat” and “have” spring to mind.

Hitchens argues that the failed galaxies and certain destruction of the Earth by the explosion of its own sun do not imply a benevolent designer.  Craig’s reply is that this does not disprove that they were designed, since manmade objects such as cars and houses are not built to last forever.  True, but this was never part of Hitchens’ argument.  However, you would be hard pressed to argue that this was all the result of an all-wise and all-loving designer who cared for his creations.

Finally, Craig says that this objection has no purchase on Christian theism, since for Christians; the end of life on Earth is the beginning of eternal life.   This is a ludicrous assertion that has no more substance than a child’s fairytale.  Craig offers no evidence for a soul separate from the physical body or the prospect of life after death, aside from ancient scriptures, which of course predicted the end would come 2,000 years ago (Matthew 16).

We are still waiting.  Perhaps it’s time to give up and move on, Doctor?  No, evidence is an occasional convenience in CraigWorld.  What matters is good ol’ fashioned faith, as my third and final post tomorrow will demonstrate to degree of probability beyond mere inference to the best explanation.

William Lane Craig –v- Christopher Hitchens: Second Thoughts

04/04/2010

With his 100th post 😮 manicstreetpreacher begins his reassessment of a notorious debate as he tries to figure out where his hero went wrong.

Craig was flawless and unstoppable.  Hitchens was rambling and incoherent, with the occasional rhetorical jab.  Frankly, Craig spanked Hitchens like a foolish child.

So went the verdict of the web’s most fawning atheist Craigophile, Lukeprog, over at Common Sense Atheism a year ago today in respect of Christopher Hitchens’ debate against Christian apologist, William Lane Craig, at Biola University on the motion “Does God Exist?”.

Luke subsequently commented that his piece was linked all over the web.  Craig himself quoted it in his post-debate newsletter to his flock.  Lee Strobel quoted it in his foreword to Craig’s latest apologetic, On Guard.  I linked to it in my original comment piece back in June last year when the Biola DVD hit the torrents sites.  I’m certainly not giving Luke the satisfaction of linking to it again here.

I have mixed feeling about my original piece.  After the damning verdict against Hitchens on the blogs was clearly exaggerated, I wanted to stick up for the guy.  At the same time, my blood was very much up that he had let Craig get away with so much and smugly declare that his five pathetic “arguments” for God’s existence were unassailable and that his opponent had provided no evidence or argument that God did not exist, that it turned into an ad hominem rant against Craig.

I originally titled it “We should all feel very sorry for this man”, which irritatingly still appears when the post is automatically generated by WordPress as a “possibly related” post.  I even made some very unkind remarks about Craig’s spindly hands that since he is obviously close to punching his last ticket, he is dreaming of eternal life next to the Father’s right hand more than usual but will be sorely disappointed.  “What a great analysis,” I thought when I hit “Publish”.  Until one of the post’s first commenters pointed out that Craig suffers from a neuromuscular disorder that affects the appearance and movement of his hands.  Damn.  It has been my most reviewed and re-edited post.

So one year after the actual debate, I have taken a step back and watched the tape again with the benefit of having seen and heard a lot more lectures and debates by Craig.  The remainder of this post and my second and third posts will present what I now think.

Hitchens and Craig meet at the Christian Book Expo

Two weeks before their debate, Hitchens sat on a panel with four Christian authors: Craig, Douglas Wilson, Lee Strobel and Jim Denison at the 2009 Christian Book Expo held in Dallas, Texas on Saturday, 21 March 2010.  The debate moderated by Christianity Today writer Stan Guthrie, who in reality turned into a sixth discussion participant.

The full audio of the discussion can be downloaded here; the full tape video is uploaded to YouTube below.

Hitchens dominated the discussion and received most of the airtime and audience questions.  However, in his closing remarks, Craig baited him by saying that his arguments amounted to “I don’t like it”, as opposed to “I don’t believe it’s true” and condescendingly asked him to engage more with him and his cohorts’ wonderful arguments in their upcoming debate at Biola.  In an Apologia podcast immediately afterwards, Craig sounded incredibly pleased with himself, saying that Hitchens did not have the “intellectual capacity” to answer his arguments.  The clip with Craig and Hitchens interviewed can be listened to here.  Following the encounter, the blogs predicted a beat down for Hitchens at Craig’s hands, including former student of Craig and evangelical preacher turned atheist author and blogger, John W Loftus.

Letters from Biola

I’ll come right out and say that Hitchens lost the debate.  No two ways about it.  While he didn’t come off as badly as Lukeprog’s infamous sound bite implied, he simply didn’t prepare enough in advance to answer Craig’s arguments.  Hitchens is more concerned with the social effects of religion.  Craig wanted to argue over its truth and after all, that was the debate’s motion.  Craig boasts a great delivery at the lectern.  He compresses his points very well and splits his arguments up piecemeal.  Hitchens sears, flows and mixes it all up into one.  He also has a habit of making “throat-clearing” precursors before answering points.

Even so, I had severely underestimated Craig.  A very few others aside, I had only seen his debates against Bart Ehrman and Victor Stenger which were the two occasions when he had been convincingly beaten.  Having now seen and heard many more of his debates, I can see that Craig does not debate his opponents has such, but executes premeditated hit-jobs on them.  Craig makes a point of not debating anyone without a doctorate.  He made an exception with Hitchens, who has been a visiting professor at several universities, but as far as I know does not hold an actual PhD and during the debate, Craig referred to him as “Mister” rather than “Doctor” or “Professor”.   Was this an attempt on Craig’s part to discredit the leading debater of the Four Horsemen?  Very possibly.

Craig employed every single one of his dirty tricks at Biola: scientific distortion, quote-mining of authorities, dropping in as many points as possible, patronising and intimidating erudition, demagogically pandering to the audience… the lot.  It can take ten times as long to answer a question than to ask it.  Craig fires out arguments in quick succession and then chides his opponent for failing to answer all of this arguments and objections.  He also presented straw man versions of Hitchens’ own arguments, which took up a great deal of Hitchens’ time in his rebuttals, only for Craig of course go on and then say that Hitchens had not properly refuted his original arguments!

Craig also constantly appeals to authorities.  During the Hitchens debate he quoted external sources no fewer than 19 times!  However, he is extremely selective in the way that he uses quotes.  In their debates against Craig on the resurrection, Bart Ehrman and Bishop John Shelby Spong exposed Craig’s use of authorities on New Testament scholarship who in reality are deeply opposed.

Richard Dawkins was quite right to refuse publically a debate against Craig on the grounds that the man is simply a “professional debater” rather than a proper academic worth taking seriously.  Hitchens was too respectful and had clearly been taken in by the Craig hype, as his slightly nervous demeanour at the pre-debate press conference showed.

So with the dust well and truly settled, let’s take a look at Craig’s arguments now he is unable to hide behind his debating tricks.  My next post tomorrow will begin the deconstruction of Craig’s arguments and tactics piece by piece.

Sam Harris at TED 2010: Science can answer moral questions

23/03/2010

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

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

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

Sit back and enjoy.

TED link

Thread on Richard Dawkins.net

Sam Harris’ homepage

Project Reason

Sam Harris’ Wikipedia page

Back door blasphemy prosecution in Liverpool

20/03/2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Koran 9: 5

Edmund Standing on The British Labour Government’s Ruinous Approach to Combating Islamic Extremism

13/03/2010

Prolific secular and anti-fascist blogger Edmund Standing has a new article published on Butterflies & Wheels, which can be accessed here.  The clue is in the title.

The approach taken by the Labour Government has been ruinous for community relations and for the integration of immigrant groups. A formula for a successful and cohesive society is found in the promotion of patriotism, individual responsibility within a framework of individual rights, and the entrepreneurial spirit. Instead of this, the Government’s approach has resulted in a disjointed society, collectivism and communalism, demands for a parallel legal system, and the empowerment of a particularly belligerent element in the British Muslim community.

With a prime minister claiming post-9/11 that the Koran is “remarkable, progressive and inclusive… extols science and knowledge and abhors superstition… practical and far ahead of its time in attitudes toward marriage, women, and governance”, you begin to wonder whether our elected politicians appreciate the gravity of the problem they are facing.  Or whether they just need to sack their spin doctors.

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

10/03/2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intelligence Squared debate: Europe is failing its Muslims

09/03/2010

Douglas Murray has a new fan in manicstreetpreacher.

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

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

Speaking for the motion

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

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

Speaking against the motion

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

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

Moderator

Zeinab Badawi, television and radio presenter.

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

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Voting results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE 10 MARCH 2010

Click here for further comment and reaction to the debate.