manicstreetpreacher is back. Yeah, baby!
Hello again the blogosphere! It has been a good few months since my last post ruminating on my blogging burnout, but the manicstreetpreacher has psychologically recovered more or less and the iconoclastic fire is beginning to burn again in his soul.
I have been tempted to blog on a number of topics in my time away, but after 119 posts and innumerable hours on other blogs and debate forums, I was beginning run out of topics to write about and nothing was exciting me anymore. However, one area that has escaped my net thus far is the question of religious education of children. With this post, I kill two birds with one stone by blogging on a previously untouched topic and taking a pop at an old adversary.
Pastor David Robertson of St Peter’s Free Church of Scotland, Dundee is an ardent opponent of the New Atheism and author of The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths, a Christian response to Richard Dawkins’ 2006 anti-religious polemic, The God Delusion.
After hearing his first two appearances on Premier Christian Radio’s sceptics’ debate show, Unbelievable? I penned a vitriolic open letter and had an exchange of emails that turned from rather angry to really quite civilised before finally debating him in September 2009 on the show on religious debate online and whether Europe should be atheist or Christian along with Christian convert, Richard Morgan.
During my sabbatical I have been following Robertson’s own blog and in particular his “Fleabytes” series of YouTube videos in reply to Dawkins’ Channel 4 series, Root of All Evil? (Google Video links: Part I / Part II).
I registered for a user account with the St Peter’s Church website under my usual Internet moniker so that I could post replies to these videos, but my application was not approved. I was not provided with an explanation, despite emailing the site’s administrator, copying in Robertson himself to that email.
Since I have not been allowed to post on Robertson’s website directly, below is a copy of the reply I had intended to post:
I have been watching these instalments with fascination. If you really believe that Christian faith is based on evidence and – as you state quite categorically in your book – the moment that evidence is disproved you will cease to believe, then I take it you must teach the young members of your congregation to think about the things that ought to make them stop believing in Christianity.
Some religious people claim that trust in science and particular Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is as much a faith claim as belief in a personal creator God. I must point out to you that science is self-validating and scientists are constantly striving to prove each other wrong, and even themselves wrong. Stephen Hawking jokes that he became famous for proving that the universe and space time began with a singularity known as the “Big Bang” and then he became famous again for proving that the universe and space time didn’t begin with the Big Bang.
While I appreciate that you “don’t know and don’t care” about the scientific truth of evolution (while still ridiculing Richard Dawkins’ main argument in The God Delusion as amounting to nothing more than “evolution is true, therefore God does not exist” and asserting that Darwin’s idea of “favoured races” inspired Hitler’s eugenics and Stalin’s atrocities with the other side of your face), Darwin in fact dedicated an entire chapter in The Origins of Species discussing the potential problems with his theory and stated in no uncertain terms what would be required to disprove it:
If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case.
As you can see, Darwin is explicating laying down the gauntlet to his opponents and saying “Come and have a go if you think you’re smart enough”, and even providing them with the weapons to defeat him. Over 150 years later, no one has managed to do so.
Continuing is this vein of self-scrutiny and the constant quest for falsification, I expect you provide the children in your congregation with the tools to examine critically their Christian faith. For example, they ought to consider whether:
- an all-good, all-loving God would be so intent on remaining hidden from his treasured creations. After all, it has been said that the invisible and the non-existent look very similar.
- there is any more evidence to support the Gospels’ account of Christ’s resurrection than Almighty Zeus sending his only begotten son Perseus to Earth to wield his big, strong weapon to slay Medusa and rid humanity of the Kraken. If you can’t believe what you saw this morning on a bastion of daily journalism such as Sky News, how can you accept something that was written two-three thousand years ago by people who were primitive by our standards, decades after the events they purport to describe and copied and recopied by scribes who were careless or grinding their own theological axes?
- all New Testament scholars see the basic Gospel narratives as an accurate depiction of history. For example, Robin Lane Fox’s The Unauthorized Version describes Luke’s nativity as “historically impossible and internally incoherent”, particularly in relation to the apparent fabrication of a Roman census that had the onerous requirement for the population to return to their town of origin.
- the miracles of Jesus reported in a two thousand year old text are any more believable than those allegedly performed by today’s charlatan gurus and mystics that are testified as authentic by thousands upon thousands of devoted followers – including many Western educated people – and available to view on the modern miracle of YouTube.
- there is any evidence outside the text to confirm the events of the Old Testament, in particular the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt. Biblical “maximalists” such as James Hoffmeier and Kenneth Kitchen are satisfied that the stories of Moses and Joshua are historically accurate, however, “minimalists” such Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman have declared that there is no corroborating evidence whatsoever for these stories and have consigned them to the same mythical status as Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. How come we do not see such disagreements in relation to other historical characters such as Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan?
- double-blind controlled experiments on the effectiveness of intercessory prayer show that Christian prayers have an objectively higher success rate than those of other religions.
- one child being plucked from the sea following a plane crash that killed 153 really constitutes a divine miracle as the girl’s family claimed.
- if there is a divine link between morality and metrology, as the then Bishop of Carlisle pronounced in July 2007 blaming the recent floods in Northern Yorkshire on gay marriage, then why don’t we see a few more tidal waves crashing down the centre of Manchester’s Canal Street during Pride?
- regardless of whether the resurrection is an historical fact, the Pope is morally right to go to sub-Saharan Africa, where 2 – 3 million people die of HIV/AIDS in any one year and actually say words to the effect, “AIDS might be bad, but condoms might be worse”.
- they ought to view programmes like Root of All Evil? and read books like The God Delusion for themselves without any prior input from your good self, their religious parents or school teachers.
Please understand that I am not claiming that I hold the correct view on any of these issues; I am merely advocating them as food for thought for you and your flock. I therefore look forward to the fly-on-wall episode showing one of your Sunday school classes discussing these very points.
With best wishes for Christmas and 2011 to you, your family and your congregation