Posts Tagged ‘muslim’

Update to Hitchens on Free Speech

03/08/2013

I have today added the following text to my post of Hitchens’ speech to the University of Toronto in 2006 proposing the motion “freedom of speech includes the freedom to hate”.

UPDATE: 03/08/2013

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

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

Enjoy.

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Sam Harris: On God

15/11/2010

manicstreetpreacher presents another gem from the master of the reductio ad absurdum

The beginning of the above clip is taken from ABC Nightline’s Face-Off from 23 March 2010 featuring atheists Sam Harris and Michael Shermer against sophist-merchant Deepak Chopra and believer in belief Jean Houston on “Does God Have a Future?”

Harris’ opening statement is a brilliant description of the basic characteristics of the Almighty creator of the universe adhered to by the vast majority of religious believers.  Stick this in your pipe and smoke it, all you sophisticated “scholars” of religion:

We can talk about religion as it is for most people most of the time, or we can talk about what religion could be, or should be.  Or perhaps what it is for the tiniest minority of people…

If we talk about consciousness and the laws of nature, we won’t be talking about the God that most of our neighbours believe in, which is a personal god, who hears our prayers and occasionally answers them…

The God that our neighbours believe in is essentially an invisible person.  It’s a creator deity, who created the universe to have a relationship with once species of primate.  Lucky us!

He’s got galaxy upon galaxy to attend to but he’s especially concerned with what we do, and he’s especially concerned with what we do while naked.  He most certainly does not approve of homosexuality.  And he has created this cosmos as a vast laboratory in which to test our powers of credulity.  And the test is this: Can you believe in this God on bad evidence, which is to say on faith.  And if you can you will win an eternity of happiness after you die.

And it’s precisely this sort of god or this sort of scheme that you must believe in if you are to have any kind of future in politics in this country, no matter what your gifts.  You could be an unprecedented genius, you could look like George Clooney, you could have a billion dollars and you could have the social skills of Oprah, and you are going nowhere in politics in this country unless you believe in that sort of God.

So we can talk about anything we want – I’m happy to talk about consciousness – but please notice that when we migrate away from the God that is really shaping human events or the God-talk that is really shaping human events in our world at this moment.

Full Debate Video

Full Debate Audio

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

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.

Anjem Choudary on Newsnight: 12 January 2010

14/01/2010

manicstreetpreacher comments on what will hopefully (yeah, right!) be the last time we will have to put up with this clown.

Islamist hate-preacher, Anjem Choudary, made a complete fool of himself on Tuesday night’s edition of Newsnight (11 January 2010) when he debated Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation on the UK government’s decision to ban his crackpot fundamentalist organisation, Al-Muhajiroun, also known as Islam4UK.

The full interview can be viewed over at BBC iPlayer.  The report begins at c. 20 minutes and it will be available until 11:19pm on Tuesday, 19 January 2010.  I will update this piece to include the YouTube videos as soon as some kind person edits and uploads them.  😮

UPDATE 29 January 2010

The YouTube clip is below.

Choudary comes across incredibly badly and will not make any friends from this appearance.  He relies on shouting and talking over people as a tactic in debating and by being evasive and deceptive.  Harry’s Place has listed all the lies and evasions that Choudary spouted during the interview:

Lie 1

  • “Al Muhajiroun is not a HT offshoot” – ALM was set up by Omar Bakri who used to be the leader of HT in the UK and set up ALM after he had been expelled from HT.

Lie 2

  • “I was never with HT” – Anjem was an activist with HT for a number of years and met Bakri through HT lectures.  I personally met him when he was with HT, as did many others including Maajid.

Lie 3

  • “I have never met Maajid Nawaz” – Anjem represented Maajid in a legal case at Newham College in 1993 and they met again on The Big Questions last year.

Lie 4

  • “I have not received any money from the government” – Anjem and his family of 4 have been living off state benefits for over 10 years.

Lie 5

  • “We don’t believe in appealing against man made law” – Yet Abu Izzadeen (ALM member) lodged an appeal at the court of appeals in 2008.

Lie 6

  • “Islam4UK got banned because it was exposing the Government foreign policy” –  Islam4UK is working to bring convert Britain into a Caliphate under Shariah law and they support the Taliban and Al Qaeda in places like Afghanistan.  They also approve of terror tactics and praise terrorist attacks. It is not a lobby group that exists to highlight bad policy – there are many such lobby groups that have not been banned.

Lie 7

  • “Britain is an apartheid system” – Anjem clearly does not know the meaning of this word.  He lives freely in the UK, has the same legal rights as everyone else, is free to express his anti-western views, speak out against British Foreign policy and claim generous state benefits.  As Maajid pointed out, he has not spent any time in jail and is regularly invited on various TV shows to express his views.  Clearly, his organisation has abused these privileges to incite violence, support terrorism and spread fear and hate. As such they deserve to be banned.

Questions avoided

  • “Are you on the dole?”
  • “Will I (Maajid) be executed in Anjem’s version of the Khalifate?”
  • “Is non-Muslim blood halal for you”

Choudary’s and Nawaz’s previous clash on BBC One’s The Big Questions from March 2009 can be viewed below:

Part 1/2

Part 2/2

I was left rather cold by Nawaz after seeing him against Choudary on this occasion.  He attempted to portray the mad mullah as a fringe radical who was a perverting “true Islam” and his use of the “serious scholarship” card (known to atheists as “The Courtier’s Reply”) made my eyes roll.  I have recently given my thoughts on this brand of religious moderation, but in a nutshell, Choudary may well be a nasty piece of work who risks giving demagogy a bad name, but he is no psychopath.

A layman listening to Nawaz would not think that the core texts of Islam were to blame, when I know that they are most definitely are.  I have to disagree with the writer of the above Harry’s Place post on a few points.   While Choudary is a “charlatan” with “neither principles nor basic manners” and “how anyone can look up to the guy or regard him as a leader” is indeed beyond me, he is still a man guided by his faith.  He does really believe this stuff.

Nevertheless, Nawaz redeemed himself on Newsnight by playing a blinder in asking Choudary the same three questions over and over again without getting a straight answer.  Even the usually stone-faced Paxman was practically in stitches as Choudary avoided Nawaz’s questions about whether he would be executed as an apostate under Choudary’s caliphate and how much in state benefits he was claiming.  It was all rather reminiscent of Paxman’s notorious interview of former Conservative Home Secretary Michael Howard where he asked his subject 12 times about his alleged overruling of the head of the Prison Service, Derek Lewis without success.

However, what is utterly tragic about Choudary is that a few years ago, he was a hard-drinking, hard-smoking, soft-core porn reading student who had a sense of humour like the rest of us.

I only hope that now his pathetic jihadist organisation has now finally been criminalised, mainstream television can stop giving him airtime, even if it is to wheel out the court jester.

Of Moderates

10/01/2010

manicstreetpreacher lets you in on what really makes his blood boil.

By failing to live by the letter of the texts, while tolerating the irrationality of those who do, religious moderates betray faith and reason equally.

– Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and The Future of Reason

A lovers’ tiff

I read this post a few days ago on Edmund Standing’s blog (also cross-posted on Harry’s Place) regarding Norwegian “liberal” Muslims who have come out in support of Kurt Westergaard, one of the Danish cartoonists who caricatured the prophet Muhammad and provoked the fury of Islamists on an international scale in 2006:

A liberal Norwegian Muslim organisation named LIM (Equality, Integration, Diversity) is standing up for free speech and against Islamism.  Shakil Rehman of LIM has spoken in defence of republishing the notorious Jyllands-Posten cartoons in the Norwegian newspaper Klassekampen…  Now LIM have challenged the Islamic Council of Norway (IRN) to organise a demonstration in defence of free speech, not that they think this is likely to happen…  Rehman is unimpressed with arguments about it being ‘offensive’ to depict Muhammad…  Muhammad is not God, says Rehman, and he is not above criticism…

Before I go any further, I must make clear that Standing is a personal friend of mine and we see eye-to-eye on a great number of issues.  In fact, he has been an important source of advice and support and without his example I would not have done as much as I have in the one year I have being writing this blog.  Standing has written some truly excellent pieces on the Old Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, the “value” of theology, the Qur’an, the far left’s abuse of the language of racial prejudice and Rage Against the Machine’s UK Christmas Number 1.

Standing has a gift for trawling the darkest reaches of the Internet in his spare time when the rest of us find it depressing enough to read the BBC News homepage.  The result has been a devastating report for The Centre for Social Cohesion which cuts through the British National Party’s attempts to clean up their politics and exposes them for the racist, anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi scum that they are (download PDF).  Even before we began corresponding, I kept some of his articles in a hard-copy folder alongside Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and (he’s not going to thank me for this next one!) Johann Hari.

However, the concluding paragraph of Standing’s post really made me see red:

Islam, as Rehman shows, can be ‘liberalised’ and can co-exist peacefully with liberal European culture.  Just as Jews no longer stone disobedient children, and Christians no longer burn ‘heretics’ at the stake, so a future is possible in which Muslims in Europe are as ‘European’ as anyone else.

I get it.  So, Muslims are capable of common sense and rationality as much as anyone else and are well able to cherry pick their appalling holy book to exorcise the nasty bits that do not sit well with 21st century Western secular society, right?  Let’s not forget that this is coming from someone who has written of the Qur’an:

I am at a complete loss as to understand how anyone can hold such a high opinion of a book which, it turns out, is so crude, so blatantly a product of a specific time and place, and so filled with childish threats and superstition.  Reading the Qur’an is an arduous task, for in translation at least it is not a book whose literary style naturally commands admiration in the reader; in fact it is an exceedingly tedious book, made up of a collection of disjointed and often self-contradictory texts, filled with tiresome repetition of certain key phrases and themes, and brimming over with threats of torture and torment for those who will not accept its authority…  I hope to demonstrate… quite what a divisive, primitive, and insulting book it actually is…

While Jews may no longer think it acceptable to stone their children to death for drunken insolence, many of them still think it is perfectly kosher to slice off the foreskin of their days-old infant boys in a procedure done without the use of anaesthetic which would otherwise require the subject’s expressed or implied consent in law.  This is clearly one piece of Bronze Age parenting that has survived the Enlightenment.  Similarly, most Christians do not torture or burn heretics at the stake, although they would look rather blushed if you told them that Augustine and Aquinas – still two of the leading lights in theological seminaries the world over – endorsed such practices in their writings.

Islam: the fringe is the centre

Last year I read my copy of Arthur J Arberry’s English translation of the Koran in full and it was an appalling experience.  I started to write my own opinion on the Koran for this blog, but I can’t bring myself to complete the piece, because the prospect of re-reading the central text in greater detail is utterly unpalatable.  On page after page the reader is informed that God will administer a painful chastisement in Hell, Fire or Gehenna to non-believers.  It’s not like we have a choice in the matter either.  The Koran oozes with a particular sinister brand of predestination that would make John Calvin raise an eyebrow: God has blinded and deceived those whom he chooses into disbelief and there is no way that they can save themselves.

In 2007, two years after a well-to-do group of young British Muslims blew themselves up on London transport and took many innocent people with them in the process; Ed Husain published The Islamist, an autobiographical account of how he was transformed from his parents’ moderate Muslim upbringing to become an extremist bent on the Islamisation of the world as a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir.  As is so often the case, it was only the love of a good woman that brought Husain back from the edge.

I have great praise for Husain’s book.  It is a touching story about how an otherwise sane and rational individual had his mind poisoned by religious dogma.  However, I do have one caveat.  Husain fails to address the intrinsic violence and tribalism in the Koran and the Hadith.  He cherry-picks passages that portray his prophet in a favourable light, while ignoring those that show he was in fact a medieval butcher.  Someone who has not read the Koran for themselves would come away thinking that Hussein’s descent into fundamentalism was a perversion of “true Islam” and that he simply “fell in with the wrong crowd”.  My own experience of the central text shows that exactly the opposite is true.

Now, whenever I see “moderate” Muslims on Newsnight calling for their ilk to come out against extremism and saying that Islam does not mandate such things, I know they being disingenuous.  The actions of the 9/11 hijackers may not be typical of all Muslims, but they were a perfectly rational interpretation of the Qur’an and the Hadith.  The recent case of Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian man charged as the Christmas Day Detroit underpants bomber, who was a former head of University College London’s Islamic Society and lived in a £4 million house while studying, is further proof, if any were needed, that Islamism is not a movement where the poorest of the poor have risen up against the ills of the Israeli government and US foreign policy.

Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush.  But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free.  Lo!  Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

– Koran 9: 5

There’s no such thing as “moderation” in religion

I also find Standing’s closing paragraph to be unintentionally patronising to Muslims by applauding them for their liberal approach.  It is like praising a Roman Catholic for admitting that he does not really believe that the Pope is infallible, which shows Standing’s position to be intellectually untenable.

Those passages about insolent children and homosexuals being stoned to death are as canonical as love thy neighbour as thyself.  Religious moderates simply apply their humanistic morality to ignore those unsavoury passages on the grounds of the “context” in which they were written.  However, they do not have the courage to admit to it.  And Christians, please don’t tell me that Jesus rescinds the barbarism of the Old Testament, because he doesn’t.  If anything, the New Testament ramifies much of the Old Testament with Jesus beginning the Sermon on the Mount that he has “not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but fulfil” and “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5: 17 – 18).

I have to concede that religious moderates are far better than religious extremists.  They are not blowing themselves up in marketplaces or flying planes into buildings.  However, one of the most startling ideas to have come from the New Atheists is that religious moderates are actually fuelling fundamentalism by creating a taboo of criticising religious faith as much as social and political ideas.  The Christian dogma that Jesus will return to Earth trailing clouds of glory and judge humanity for 2,000 years of sexual indiscretion may be a ridiculous belief to a non-believer (and certainly a promise that is long overdue!) but it would not on its face appear to be a mandate for extremism.  Until you realise that there are fundamentalist Christians hard at work in the Middle East attempting to incite Armageddon among the warring factions to bring about the return of their Messiah.

In a recent Intelligence Squared debate I attended featuring Richard Dawkins and A C Grayling, theist panellists Charles Moore and Richard Harries denounced “mad creationists” in response to a question I asked.  Fair enough, but are their beliefs regarding the resurrection and the Second Coming any more rational?  Surely these involve scientific claims regarding the decomposition of corpses and human flight without the aid of technology.  Why shouldn’t we laugh at them when they espouse these beliefs?  If Harries was so offended by Dawkins’ comparing the likelihood of the existence of the God of Abraham with leprechauns, he should have spent the rest of the evening defending the claim that Almighty Zeus sent his only begotten son Perseus to Earth via a virgin birth to rid humanity of Medusa and the Kraken, and then he would have realised how much we – believers and atheists alike – really respect religious claims.

I know that Lord Harries is not a creationist.  Indeed, he has supported Richard Dawkins in the fight against creationism entering school science classes.  I am sure he doesn’t take stories such as Noah’s Ark and Sodom and Gomorrah literally and thinks that there is a link between metrological and seismic phenomena and human morality.  Doubtless he disagreed strongly with his colleague in the Church of England, the then Bishop of Carlisle, who’s verdict on the July 2007 floods in Northern Yorkshire was that they were divine retribution were punishment for homosexual marriage.  But if Harries ever said or wrote in public condemnation of the Right Reverend Graham Dow’s decidedly Old Testament take on the bad weather, I have yet to discover it.

If the moderates do not police their religions, then the atheists will be forced to.

Accordingly, I am not prepared to say that a world inhabited only by religious moderates would be a much better place.  That can only be possible in a world with no religious believers at all, moderate or extremist.  Whereas many Roman Catholics may feel uncomfortable with the thought that their Church is lying to people in AIDS ravaged countries in Africa, where around 3 million people a year die of the disease, by preaching the sinfulness and ineffectiveness of condoms, they are inadvertently contributing to the problem by creating a climate in our public discourse that makes it impossible for the Vatican to receive the same level of condemnation that a US president would receive for getting a blow job in the Oval Office.

Moderate atheists and agnostics: more annoying than believers!

I’m an atheist butters like the philosopher Michael Ruse infuriate me more than liberal theologians like Alister McGrath.  Ruse accuses Dawkins of being a poor philosopher and not taking the arguments for God existence seriously enough, but ultimately he agrees with his position on the existence of God.  This is rather like someone in the 1930s saying that while they disagree with Nazism and do not accept the claims of Mein Kampf, they nonetheless respect National Socialism, appreciate its nuances and feel that only a proper and sincere engagement with Nazi philosophy could overthrow Hitler’s regime.

In contrast to Standing’s tolerant approach, my hand-to-throat response was demonstrated by my reaction to a recent edition of Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? Christian apologist to Muslims, Jay Smith, debated Muslim moderate, Muhammad Al-Hussaini, on the Ethical Guidelines for Christian and Muslim Witness in Britain (download PDF), in particular point 6: the requirement not to ridicule or demean other faiths.  I am not the biggest fan of Jay Smith (!), however, the attempts by Al-Hussaini to portray the Koran as a moderate text made me even angrier; especially his quoting of “Let there be no compulsion in religion” at Sura 2 of the Koran.   With my blood still very much up, I fired off a bile-laden email to the presenter and the participants:

[T]he verse constantly quoted from Sura 2 of the Koran by apologists eager to claim that Islam is a tolerant and pluralistic religion, “Let there be no compulsion in religion”, is followed a few verses later with the promise that all unbelievers will dwell forever in the Fire in the next life.  There doesn’t seem to be anything optional about that preachment…

Although I am unimpressed by the gross hypocrisy and double-standards that Jay Smith employs when promoting his own religion over Islam, I agree that the Koran should be “ridiculed and demeaned” at every opportunity, because frankly I am insulted and offended every time someone tries to tell me that it is a miracle of literature that could only have been authored by an omnipotent deity.

As it happens, Al-Hussaini sent me a very civil and respectful response and probably didn’t deserve the full-on MSP treatment that he received.  But the idea that Christians should respect a religion that ineptly plagiarises their own holy book was akin to historian Hugh Trevor-Roper’s reaction to the Rushdie affair:

I wonder how Salman Rushdie is faring these days under the benevolent protection of British law and British police, about whom he has been so rude.  Not too comfortably I hope…  I would not shed a tear if some British Muslims, deploring his manners, should waylay him in a dark street and seek to improve them.  If that should cause him thereafter to control his pen, society would benefit and literature would not suffer.

As Ibn Warraq rightly pointed out in Why I Am Not A Muslim:

Will that “closest hooligan” Trevor-Roper wake up from his complacent slumbers, when those “poor hurt Muslims” begin demanding the withdrawal of those classic Western literature and intellectual history that offend their Islamic sensibilities but must be dear to Professor Trevor-Roper’s heart?

In conclusion – a pragmatic means but far from an end

While Standing may well agree with much of what I have written in principle, he knows that religious faith is not going to be eradicated within our lifetimes and is prepared to play real-politick and endorse religious moderates even if it means making an ideological trade-off.  I certainly see the practical sense in this, but for once I am thinking with my gut and am not yet prepared to compromise my philosophy.  This is one example where integrity is everything for me.  Standing’s approach’s is scarily reminiscent to the “you’ll never get rid of it” line taken by many of the Four Horseman’s atheistic opponents such as Ruse.

And of course if you start thinking like that, you never will get rid of religious faith.  Ever.

KKK Ken

27/12/2009

manicstreetpreacher discovers another wonderful new toy idea for Mattel.

Further to my recent piece on Burka Barbie, I have since come across this video for her male counterpart, which just about says it all.

HEALTH WARNING: Not to be viewed by expectant mothers and those of a nervous disposition.

Burka Barbie

21/12/2009

manicstreetpreacher cannot believe his eyes.

I came across this article on the website of The Daily Telegraph last week which would have made me tear my hair out if I still had sufficient quantities of the stuff to grab hold of:

The look is part of an exhibition, backed by Barbie creator Mattel, of the doll in multicultural outfits by Italian designer Eliana Lorena.

Two of the Barbies are wearing the burka, the loose fitting robe with veiled holes for the eyes which is worn by some Muslim women.

The collection of more than 500 Barbies is being sold at a Sotheby’s charity auction in Florence, Italy, in aid of Save The Children.

The sale is part of Barbie celebrations for her 50th anniversary this year.

Britain’s biggest Barbie collector Angela Ellis, 35, who owns more than 250 dolls, said: “I think this is really important for girls, wherever they are from they should have the opportunity to play with a Barbie that they feel represents them.

“I know Barbie was something seen as bad before as an image for girls, but in actual fact the message with Barbie for women is you can be whatever you want to be…”

To put the matter at its mildest, I’m afraid that I beg to differ with Ms Ellis.  This is yet another example of multiculturalism gone mad.  The burka is the symbol of Islam’s inherent oppression of women.  It is not a symbol of freedom; it is a symbol of submission, a sign that they are the property of their husbands.

To quote from the Qur’an (Pickthall translation):

2:222 They question thee (O Muhammad) concerning menstruation.  Say: It is an illness, so let women alone at such times and go not in unto them till they are cleansed.  And when they have purified themselves, then go in unto them as Allah hath enjoined upon you.

2:223 Your women are a tilth for you (to cultivate) so go to your tilth as ye will, and send (good deeds) before you for your souls, and fear Allah, and know that ye will (one day) meet Him.  Give glad tidings to believers, (O Muhammad).

2:282 …And call two witness from among your men, two witnesses.  And if two men be not at hand, then a man and two women, of such as ye approve as witnesses, so that if one erreth (though forgetfulness) the other will remember…

4:34 Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women).  So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded.  As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them.  Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them.  Lo! Allah is ever High, Exalted, Great.

12:28 So when he saw his shirt torn from behind, he said: Lo! this is of the guile of you women. Lo! the guile of you is very great.

24:6 As for those who accuse their wives but have no witnesses except themselves; let the testimony of one of them be four testimonies, (swearing) by Allah that he is of those who speak the truth;

66:1 O Prophet!  Why bannest thou that which Allah hath made lawful for thee, seeking to please thy wives?  And Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

Dealing with these verses in layman’s language as they appear: men should not touch a women when she is on her period, women are men’s property, a woman’s testimony in a court of law is worth half that of a man, a husband may beat his wife if she displeases him, women in general are duplicitous, a husband can accuse his wife of adultery with one witness, and the Prophet can cop off with his wives whenever he likes.

And here’s what one of Islam’s most esteemed “scholars” Abu Hamid al-Ghazālī (1058 – 1111 AD) said about women’s role, The Revival Of The Religious Sciences:

She should stay at home and get on with her spinning.  She can go out only in emergencies.  She must not be well-informed nor must she be communicative with her neighbours and only visit them when absolutely necessary.  She should take care of her husband and respect him in his presence and his absence and seek to satisfy him in everything.  She must not leave her house without his permission and if given his permission she must leave secretly.  She should put on old clothes and take deserted streets and alleys, avoid markets, and make sure that a stranger does not hear her voice, her footsteps, smell her or recognise her.  She must not speak to a friend of her husband even in need.  Her sole worry should be her “al bud” (reproductive organs) her home as well as her prayers and her fast (starvation for Allah).  If a friend of her husband calls when her husband is absent she must not open the door nor reply to him in order to safeguard her “al bud”.  She should accept what her husband gives her as sufficient sexual needs at any moment.  She should be clean and ready to satisfy her husband’s sexual needs at any moment.

This piece of theocratic lunacy is not something that Western liberal society should be condoning, let alone replicating, for the sake of political correctness.

Dawkins and Grayling Defend Atheism: Afterthoughts

03/12/2009

manicstreetpreacher relaxes with a cigar and a glass of brandy following a dashed fine battle of rhetoric between the godly and the infidels.

The rain it raineth on the just
And also on the unjust fella;
But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust steals the just’s umbrella.

– Lord Bowen

When you demand “respect”, you are demanding we lie to you.  I have too much real respect for you as a human being to engage in that charade.

– Johann Hari, “Why should I respect these oppressive religions?”

On Sunday, 30 November 2009, I attended a debate hosted by Intelligence Squared at Wellington College, Berkshire entitled “Atheism is the new fundamentalism”.

Speaking for the motion were former bishop of Oxford Richard Harries and former editor of The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator, Charles Moore.

Speaking against the motion were prominent professor of philosopher from Birkbeck College, University of London, author and public commentator A C Grayling and evolutionary biologist, former Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University and “Britain’s Most Prominent Atheist”, Richard Dawkins.

The moderator of the debate was Dr Antony Seldon, master of Wellington College, who deserves an MSP blog profile to himself!

The event was streamed live over the Internet by the organisers and questions were taken over email and Twitter from viewers at the other end of the fibre optics.  Within 24 hours, the full recording was posted on the Intelligence Squared website.

The YouTube playlist begins here:

You can download an MP3 audio of the debate here.

The pre-debate/ live-streaming page for the debate on RichardDawkins.net is here.

The post-debate page on RichardDawkins.net is here.

The motion was defeated in both audience and online polls before and after the event.  The results were as follows:

Initial audience vote

For: 333
Against: 675
Undecided: 389

Final online vote

For: 37
Against: 889
Undecided: 12

Final audience vote

For: 363
Against: 1,070
Undecided: 85

Since the debate was made available on the Internet so soon after the event, I will not give a blow-by-blow account, but will let the viewers judge for themselves and provide my thoughts from the frontline.

As I predicted before the event, this one was far more evenly matched than Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry’s massacre of the Catholic Church in London at the end of October.  Against my predictions, however, was that the tone of the debate was far more hand-to-throat than the tea-and-cucumber-sandwiches-garden-party that I had envisaged.  There was genuine anger between the parties, which surprised me because Richard Dawkins and Richard Harries have shared a platform on a number of occasions and have been united in the fight against the teaching of creationism in science school classes.

Harries especially appeared to have taken matters awfully personally that his friend and colleague, Dawkins, had been so forceful in his condemnation of religion.  Charles Moore, I have say, even as a lifelong reader of The Daily Telegraph, let his side down badly.  His opening speech was packed with ad hominems Richard Dawkins, accusing him of treating the debate on religion like a game of Cluedo: “It was Reverend Green, with the Bible, in the nursery”, and even called him “Kommandant Dawkins” at one point.  Grayling drew a pretty large cheer later on in the evening for hauling Moore up on his below-the-belt tactics.

A commenter on RichardDawkins.net summed Moore up rather well:

After that loathsome Charles Moore used his entire time on a ranting, batshit crazy personal attack against Richard, calling him “Commandant Dawkins” and comparing him to Josef Mengele, I was at first astonished that Richard didn’t bother to respond to any of that garbage, but proceeded to issue a focused attack on the debate proposition which effectively ended the discussion; his points were unanswerable and Harries and Moore didn’t even bother to try.  But then I realized that this is one of the reasons I admire Richard so much: he is perfectly capable of becoming enraged if someone lies about the theory of evolution, but the fact that an asshole slanders him at length is of no interest to him.  Is there anybody around, atheist or otherwise, more passionate about fighting for the truth?

It was Dawkins and Grayling were the stars of the debate and were on tip-top form.  Dawkins was cool and rational.  Grayling – who I saw speak live for the first time on the night – said the least on the panel in terms of words, but spoke volumes more than any of them.  I was very impressed.  The cartoon to which he referred in his opening speech is below:

Grayling continually hammered home the point that it is simply not possible for an atheist to be fundamentalist about their non-belief.  You either believe or you do not.  The word “atheist” is an invention by believers to label those who do not share their views.  Except we do not have words like “afairyist” or “non-stamp collector”.  Grayling was understated and good humoured and drew a big “aaaaaaaah!” from the crowd when he said that the most religious experience he has had was meeting his wife.  He  also also a bitching impression of an old Irish woman greeting a leprechaun.

One member of the audience asked Dawkins why he refused to debate American Christian apologist William Lane Craig, as surely he was avoiding religion’s “best case” in so doing.  Dawkins pithily dismissed Craig (without repeating his name) by saying that he debated with bishops, scientists and theologians who had a valid contribution to make and not just someone “whose only claim to fame is being a professional debater; I’m busy”.

There has been an Internet campaign to get Dawkins and Craig on the same platform and apologists have accused Dawkins of cowardice in refusing the invitation.  Craig himself said that Peter May, Chair of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in the UK contacted Dawkins shortly after The God Delusion went on sale to invite him to debate as part of Craig’s upcoming “Reasonable Faith” tour in the UK in 2007, but Dawkins replied saying that “he had never heard of him” and “it wouldn’t look very good on my CV”.

I’m glad that Dawkins took the opportunity to put this matter to rest.  I will certainly credit Craig with being an expert debater, but that is all he is.  His five “arguments” have been refuted ad nauseum yet he still keeps on using them.  American physicist and author of God, The Failed Hypothesis, Victor Stenger commented during a recent lecture (YouTube Part One) that he refuted Craig’s cosmological argument during their debate in at the University of Hawaii back in 2003 (video / audio) on the basis that Stephen Hawking in A Brief History of Time recanted his and Roger Penrose’s earlier thesis and now state that the universe did not begin in a singularity known as the “Big Bang”.  According to Stenger, Craig is clearly “lying” to his scientifically ignorant audiences by continuing to use the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

Craig’s strongest weapon is to drop in several points of misinformation and scientific hokum during his time at the microphone and then ridicule and belittle (even by the standards of Christopher Hitchens!) his opponents and say that they have not answered his points.  Pathetic.   I’m sure Craig would mop the floor with Dawkins in a live debate, but it would be the result of multiple punches below the belt.  Besides, Dawkins soundly refutes all five of Craig’s “arguments” in The God Delusion.

The same arguments keep coming up as well.  Dawkins and Grayling had to refute the old “Hitler and Stalin were atheists…” canard for the umpteenth time.  While Dawkins’ line that their atheism was as incidental to their evil acts as their moustaches goes so far, I am still frustrated that he has never really tackled the issue of Stalin’s brutal oppression of the Russian Orthodox Church.  Grayling made up for this minor deficiency by arguing that the 20th century totalitarians were strikingly similar to the three monotheisms in that they set up a monolithic ideology with a leader that could not be questioned under pain of horrific punishment.  It is unsurprising that despite Stalin being an atheist in respect of Yahweh, Christ and Zeus, was still educated to become a priest in a Georgian seminary.  This would have immeasurably influenced his politics and his methods.

And I have to say that Dr Seldon was one of the best moderators I have ever seen!  He was an absolute hoot and very nearly upstaged the speakers with sparklingly wit and camp demeanour which reminded me of John Hurt’s performance in The Naked Civil Servant!

My question to Moore and Harries about their subtle, scholarly, nuanced brand of religion –v- creationist ignorance of the kind I witnessed Ken Ham, head of Answers In Genesis, preach at Liverpool University in March 2008 is at the beginning of part seven.  I’m the baldy headed toff in the cream shirt:

I was reasonably satisfied with their answers in that they did not attempt to evade the question, although of course I wasn’t convinced by them.  Harries played that theist’s trick of saying that the New Atheists are ignoring the evidence.  WELL WHAT IN THE NAME OF GOD AND ALL THAT’S HOLY IS THIS EVIDENCE?!?!?!?!?!

Earlier on the in the Q & A, Harries drew jeers and whistles (including from myself) when he objected to Dawkins and Grayling comparing the probability of the existence of God to the existence of leprechauns.  If Harries thinks we are being shrill and strident in rejecting the Judeo-Christian God as a fairytale, he really ought to consider for a moment whether there is any more evidence to support his faith than belief in Zeus or Amon-Ra!

And I just love the way that both men consider that young-earth creationist beliefs are mad without giving a moment’s thought to the plausibility of a virgin conceiving, a corpse walking and a man defying all the laws of gravity and natural prohibitions with regard to flight without the aid of technology by descending from the sky trailing clouds of glory, surrounded by angels to commence his two thousand year overdue judgment of humanity (both living and dead) for its wrongdoings, before casting most of them into a pit of fire and taking a select few to live happily ever after in his “kingdom”.

Where is the evidence in support of that?

In conclusion – how dare you call us fundamentalists!

This was a truly electric debate.  It was great to be in the audience.  The video really doesn’t do it justice.  While not quite as much fun as the cheap thrill of witnessing Hitch and Fry steamroller the Vatican, the more balanced spread of audience support and the stronger showing by the theist side of the house made for a tense experience.  I had genuine doubts about whether the motion would be defeated in the audience vote.

And all credit to Dawkins and Grayling.  They were polite yet forceful.  They were passionate without being angry.  There were no theatrical performances or cheap personal attacks.  They focused on their opponents’ arguments and demolished them thoroughly.  Moore and Harries were firmly on the back foot and as one questioner towards the end pointed out, they were getting defensive because their side is losing the argument.

More like this Intelligence Squared, please.  And get Antony Seldon to moderate all your debates!

manicstreetpreacher relaxes with a cigar and a glass of brandy following a dashed fine battle of rhetoric between the godly and the infidels.

Richard Dawkins and A C Grayling Debate Atheist Fundamentalism Against the Sweet Mediocrity of Our Native Church

22/11/2009

manicstreetpreacher wets the appetite for his next live debate on religion.

UPDATE 03/12/2009: My afterthought piece of the debate, with video and audio links is here.

Having just about recovered from the other-worldly experience of witnessing Hitchens and Fry exact retribution on a biblical scale against the Catholic Church in London at the end of last month, I am geared up to attend my next live debate.

This time, two of Britain’s finest atheist writers, zoologist Richard Dawkins of Oxford University and philosopher A C Grayling of Birkbeck College, University of London go head-to-head against former Anglican Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, and former editor of The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator Charles Moore to debate the topic “Is Atheism the New Fundamentalism?” The moderator is Dr Antony Seldon, Master of Wellington College.

The debate is being held at on Sunday, 29 November 2009.   The doors open 6pm and the debate starts at 7pm.

Once again, Intelligence Squared is hosting the debate.

The venue is Wellington College, Berkshire:

Wellington College
Duke’s Ride
Crowthorne
Berkshire
RG45 7PU

Tel: 01344 444 000
Fax: 01344 444 002

Email: info@wellingtoncollege.org.uk
Web: www.wellingtoncollege.org.uk
Event page: http://www.wellingtoncollege.org.uk/page.aspx?id=8686

Previous form

Richard Dawkins needs no introduction!  However, this is a rare public debate for him.  Dawkins writes in The God Delusion that he rarely takes part in formal debates because he is not a confrontational person and feels that the adversary format is ill-suited to discover the truth.  Dawkins also refuses to debate creationists because if one of them shared a platform with a prominent evolutionary biologist, it would give the lay pubic the impression that there was a serious issue worth debating!  For the creationists, winning or losing the debate is irrelevant: the victory is that the debate has gone ahead at all.  Dawkins has no desire to provide them with the oxygen of publicity.

However, there are still plenty of debates Dawkins has participated in that are worth investigating.

Dawkins and Grayling teamed up with the Hitch to debate against – as Dawkins later put it – three “rather half-hearted religious apologists (‘Of course I don’t believe in a God with a long white beard, but…’)” on whether “We would all be better off without religion”, the audio of which can be accessed here, or on YouTube:

You can read a review of the event by a pleasantly-surprised believing journalist, Ruth Gledhill, The Times’ religious affairs correspondent here.

Incidentally, Charles Moore, who is standing up for God on this occasion, wrote of that debate:

Although I voted against the motion both times, I think the shift of votes was justified, on the basis of the speeches.  All six spoke well, but the opponents of religion were more eloquent, more passionate, more – odd though it sounds to say it – believing.

The last big debate Dawkins took part in was on 21 October 2008 at the Oxford University Museum of natural history against Oxford University mathematician and Christian John Lennox.  The audio of the debate can be accessed at RichardDawkins.net here.

Dawkins and Lennox also had a closed-door conversation on religion and science earlier in the year with only a tape recorder present, the audio for which can be accessed here.  As American biologist and blogwit, P Z Myers concluded:

Dawkins just probes with a few pointed questions, and Lennox, a theologian, babbles on and on and on, asserting the most amazing things.  All those miracles in the bible?  They literally happened – he doesn’t hide behind metaphor and poetry.  Water into wine, resurrections, walking on water… it all actually happened, exactly as written, and further, he claims that all of these accounts represent historically valid evidence.  This is the sophisticated theology we godless atheists are always skipping over, I guess.

Dawkins’ debate with then head of the Human Genome Project and evangelical Christian for the pages of Time magazine in 2006 is worth a read:

DAWKINS: I accept that there may be things far grander and more incomprehensible than we can possibly imagine.  What I can’t understand is why you invoke improbability and yet you will not admit that you’re shooting yourself in the foot by postulating something just as improbable, magicking into existence the word God.

COLLINS: My God is not improbable to me.  He has no need of a creation story for himself or to be fine-tuned by something else. God is the answer to all of those “How must it have come to be” questions.

DAWKINS: I think that’s the mother and father of all cop-outs.  It’s an honest scientific quest to discover where this apparent improbability comes from.  Now Dr Collins says, “Well, God did it. And God needs no explanation because God is outside all this.”  Well, what an incredible evasion of the responsibility to explain. Scientists don’t do that.  Scientists say, “We’re working on it. We’re struggling to understand.”

Dawkins and Richard Harries had a very civilised discussion for Dawkins’ 2006 Channel 4 documentary, Root of All Evil? (Part 1 / Part 2).  The full uncut interview can be viewed below:

They also debated Darwin and Christianity at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History on Darwin Day 2009:

And let’s not forget that Dawkins and Harries both signed an open letter to the then Prime Minister Tony Blair to protest against the head of new-fangled city academy Emmanuel College, Gateshead, after the head of the science department (!), Stephen Layfield delivered a lecture proposing that young earth creationism and flood geology be taught in science classes:

Dear Prime Minister

We write as a group of scientists and Bishops to express our concern about the teaching of science in the Emmanuel City Technology College in Gateshead.  Evolution is a scientific theory of great explanatory power, able to account for a wide range of phenomena in a number of disciplines.  It can be refined, confirmed and even radically altered by attention to evidence.  It is not, as spokesmen for the college maintain, a ‘faith position’ in the same category as the biblical account of creation which has a different function and purpose.

The issue goes wider than what is currently being taught in one college.  There is a growing anxiety about what will be taught and how it will be taught in the new generation of proposed faith schools.  We believe that the curricula in such schools, as well as that of Emmanuel City Technical College, need to be strictly monitored in order that the respective disciplines of science and religious studies are properly respected.

Yours sincerely

The Right Reverend Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford
Sir David Attenborough, FRS
The Right Reverend Christopher Herbert, Bishop of St Albans
Lord May of Oxford, President of the Royal Society
Professor John Enderby, FRS, Physical Secretary, Royal Society
The Right Reverend John Oliver, Bishop of Hereford
The Right Reverend Mark Santer, Bishop of Birmingham
Sir Neil Chalmers, Director, Natural History Museum
The Right Reverend Thomas Butler, Bishop of Southwark
Sir Martin Rees, FRS, Astronomer Royal
The Right Reverend Kenneth Stevenson, Bishop of Portsmouth
Professor Patrick Bateson, FRS, Biological Secretary, Royal Society
The Right Reverend Crispian Hollis, Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth
Sir Richard Southwood, FRS, Past Biological Secretary, Royal Society
Sir Francis Graham-Smith, FRS, Past Physical Secretary, Royal Society
Professor Richard Dawkins, FRS

Aside from that, Dawkins had a public discussion at The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival in 2007 with Anglican theologian Alistair McGrath following the publication of The God Delusion and McGrath’s reply (if that’s the right word for it), The Dawkins Delusion? (McGrath’s effort is terrible, even by the low standards of the “fleas”.  Paula Kirby does the book justice in her “Fleabytes” review of four Christian responses to The God Delusion.)

However, the real treat is Dawkins’ full uncut interview with McGrath for Root of All Evil?

None of the footage was used in the final version of the programme.  McGrath claimed it was because he had landed several blows on Dawkins and made him “appear uncomfortable”.  My theory is that the producers were concerned for the well-being of viewers who might be operating heavy machinery while watching it.  McGrath is horrendously boring and babbles incomprehensibly.  One blogger at RD.net summed up his style thus:

A fly on the wall in the McGrath household:

MRS McGRATH: What would you like for dinner, dear?

MR McGRATH: Well, if I can just come back on that actually, I think you’ve raised a very interesting point, pivotal to the way this discussion should continue.  This is certainly something that needs to be engaged with and explored further.  It seems to me that there are areas we can push into here that can challenge us and I welcome that.  When I was an atheist, these on-going philosophical subjects were subject to different interpretations and perspectives so, suffice to say, the Christian faith has fortified me and others to take all of these very very very interesting points into account and offer an explanation such as this: Egg and chips will be fine, love.

MRS McGRATH: I’m leaving you.

Nevertheless, try and stay awake because Dawkins uses his wonderful brand of pithy sarcasm, to which McGrath is seemingly oblivious.  And the knock-out punch comes at 45 minutes when Dawkins nails him whether God intervened to save one child in a tsunami that claimed the lives of thousands.  As one blogger commenting on the interview’s entry on RD.net put it:

For 45 minutes it’s a gentle game of ping pong and then when it comes to the issue god and suffering McGrath’s arms get tired and Dawkins switches to a tennis racket.  At 50 minutes McGrath is undone.

Magic!

A C Grayling is a slightly less-known quantity to me.  I have read a few of his books and seen some of his debates and lectures and can recommend the following to whet your appetites.

Against All Gods is Grayling’s contribution to the New Atheism.  It is brief – more of a pamphlet than a book – but there are some real gems in it.  Of particular interest to the topic at hand is Grayling’s rubbishing the concept of “atheist fundamentalism” by asking what a non-fundamentalist atheist is: someone who sort of doesn’t, but not quite not believes in God?!  Grayling also predicts that far from seeing a resurgence of religion, we are actually witnessing its death-throes; a violent convulsion before it’s gone for good.

Grayling is a champion of the enlightenment and wrote Towards the Light in celebration of rationalism’s conquest over dogma.  Be sure to read his hilarious exchanges with wedge-driving ID hack from the ironically-named Discovery Institute, Steve Fuller over Grayling’s damning review of Fuller’s Dissent Over DescentGrayling’s reply to Fuller’s indignant response to his review contained this all-time classic which I have quoted myself on at least one occasion:

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.

Grayling’s appearance at Beyond Belief 2008 on Human Flourishing and Eudaimonics is also worth watching:

Although it has nothing to do with religion, Grayling’s discussion with Christopher Hitchens on the moral implication of the Allies’ devastating bombing campaign against civilians of the Axis powers during World War II at the Goethe-Institut, Washington in 2006 following the publication of Grayling’s Among The Dead Cities is a real treat.   It’s on YouTube in 11 parts or you can watch it on FORA.tv and C-Span.

Predictions for this one

Unlike the rhetorical slaughter by Hitchens and Fry of the Vatican, which I predicted in advance of the actual event, I feel that this one will be too close to call.  Probably both sides will come away claiming victory.  Dawkins and Grayling are far more cordial and polite in comparison to Hitchens’ bull-in-a-china-shop/ take-no-prisoners approach at the lectern.

However, I hope that the two heretics will push the point that atheists are offended by what they read in the holy books of the world’s religions and how this is put into practice all too literally by millions of believers the world over, whether it be  indoctrinating their children into thinking that their non-Catholic/Protestant/Muslim/Jewish [delete as applicable] friends will suffer an eternity in hellfire, to ploughing millions dollars every year into spreading creationism – money that would be far better spent on potentially life-saving scientific research – or flying aeroplanes into skyscrapers.

I know what these books say because I’ve read them.  Why should we respect the utterly ridiculous claim that they could only have been authored by an omnipotent deity?  Why shouldn’t we get angry when such ideas are granted special privilege in public discourse?

The idea that we must automatically “respect” other people’s ideas is complete nonsense.  It is a special favour granted only to religious faith.  In every other area of conversation we most certainly do not respect people’s views and opinions.  If one member of the panel wanted to promulgate their honest, sincere, faith-based claim that the Holocaust never happened, that National Socialism was the only proper form of government, or even something less sinister such as Elvis was still alive, is that a view that the audience would “respect”?  Of course not!

In every other conversational topic we demand good reasons.  We demand evidence.  Reason and evidence really are contagious.  If you give good reasons, people will accept your claims as they accept the colour of your hair.  Religious faith is a reason not to give reasons.  It is a conversation stopper.  Even if the New Atheists are completely wrong about the existence of God and the negative effects of religion upon society, they have at the very least helped moved religious faith into the same sphere.

Perhaps into ten years time whenever someone opens their mouth or puts pen to paper in criticism of religion, this will be accepted as if they had criticised a political ideology as opposed the hysterical responses of the present day where theists and atheists alike rush to publish books and articles denouncing the “shrillness” and “stridency” of those brave few who dare speak out.

At the very least, I hope I get the chance to thank Dawkins for his very kind comment that I was “most certainly not boring” during my appearance on Premier’s Christian Radio’s religious sceptics’ debate show Unbelievable? with author of The Dawkins Letters (another “flea” response to The God Delusion), Pastor David Robertson and former-atheist-converted-to-Christianity, Richard Morgan.

It’s on YouTube in 11 parts or you can watch it on FORA.tv and C-Span.