Posts Tagged ‘premier christian radio’

David Robertson on modern day Christian martyrs

18/11/2013

“Dead Martyrs” by Manic Street Preachers

Pastor David Robertson of St Peter’s Free Church in Dundee and founding member of SOLAS – The Centre For Public Christianity, my old rival from my days debating on Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? and their now alas deleted online forum has set up a new blog: theweeflea.  Robertson recently decried the lack of mainstream media coverage over the deaths of 81 Christians in Pakistan at the hands of Islamist suicide bombers in September of this year.

I’ll begin by conceding one of Robertson’s points.  The Pakistan bombing could have and maybe should have received the same level of attention from this country’s media and government that the Kenya shopping mall bombing did.  Perhaps the latter was considered more “televisual” by media editors.  I’m sure there are many parents of missing and murdered children who are aggrieved that the media coverage of their torments is dwarfed by the attention piled on Madeline McCann.  In this respect, we can more or less swallow Robertson’s post whole.

However, Robertson’s piece unwittingly reveals a deeper motive of his apologetic.  One of the categories it is filed under on his blog is called “The Persecuted Church” and during our debates on Unbelievable? in 2009, Robertson made out the Christian beliefs were coming under disproportionately harsh attack by “militant atheists” and “atheist fundamentalists”.  I am reminded of Paula Kirby’s excellent review of four of the “flea” responses to Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion (which includes Robertson’s The Dawkins Letters), “Fleabytes”.  Kirby addresses the topic of Christian paranoia in detail:

It is simply impossible to read these four books back-to-back and not be struck by the extraordinary degree of paranoia that is apparent in them.  Their authors seem determined to see themselves as persecuted and to predict worse persecutions in the future.  And this characteristic is not limited to the “fleas”: only recently one of the more evangelical Christians on this site declared his conviction that he would face imprisonment for his Christian beliefs in his lifetime.  Since, whatever these fears are based on, it’s not the actual content of TGD or the intentions of any atheist I know of, where do they come from and why have they taken such a hold of believers’ brains?

I would argue that it is pure wishful thinking.  This may sound unlikely: why should anyone wish to be persecuted?  But when we recall the persecution that the early Christians did suffer — incarceration, public floggings, other forms of torture, being ripped apart by lions or slowly roasted over hot coals (and bearing in mind that history teems with examples of Christians inflicting similar torments on others whose beliefs did not take precisely the approved form) — it becomes apparent that the mockery and candid scepticism that is the worst they face in Western societies today are a feeble trial indeed.  Would-be disciples in the 21st century can be forgiven for feeling slightly inadequate when compared with their more heroic predecessors.

It is not just the Koran that welcomes martyrs: the Bible, too, makes it clear that being persecuted is part of the job description for any serious Christian.  Consider these quotes:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5: 10-12)

(…)

A Christian’s instructions are clear.  Suffer for your faith!  Be persecuted!  If you’re not being persecuted, you’re just not trying hard enough!  But oh dear: how hard that is when they are surrounded by people who tolerate their belief, even if they don’t actually approve of it.  There is only one solution, and that is to make the very moderate criticism that they’re subjected to sound like the most vicious of persecution.  Write of the desire to ban religion, to wipe it out, annihilate it, exterminate it.  Claim that those who practise it will be imprisoned, disenfranchised, physically assaulted.  That their children will be forcibly removed from them.  Recreate the horrors of the Holocaust and the gulags in believers’ imaginations.

How else, in a liberal democracy, are they to stand any chance of claiming the rewards of the persecuted?

Kirby’s analysis strikes at the heart of the religious persecution dilemma.  On the one hand, Christians are being persecuted for their beliefs ranging from moderate criticism via the written and spoken word to the extreme religious conflict like that seen in Pakistan.  But on the other hand, persecution is very much part of their agenda.  Their founder was allegedly publicly executed for his beliefs and the Church has always taught that many of his followers died for their faith in the following years (even though the Bible doesn’t mention what happened to the 12 apostles!).  At the end of the 20th Century, the Church of England positively celebrated the sacrifice made by martyrs to the cause with the unveiling of ten statues in the stones of Westminster Abbey.

Therefore, persecution and martyrdom is very much part of the Christian religion and makes it all the more sickeningly masochistic for it, as both Kirby’s analysis and the Manic Street Preachers’ song I posted at the head of this piece demonstrates.

Robertson has argued elsewhere on his blog that the existence of evil and suffering in the World is all part of God’s plan.  If we take this appalling “theodicy” to its natural conclusion then in a similar way to theists arguing that atheists have no basis to judge any action as “right” or “wrong” because there is no cosmic outcome beyond the grave; equally the atheist could argue that the theist has no basis for saying that an action is morally right or wrong since those murderous religious persecutors were ultimately instruments for God’s will in testing their Christian victims’ faith, conducting Job-like trials and sending them to a martyrs death where they will experience everlasting bliss beyond the grave!

I have not seen Robertson reproduce this claim directly on his newest blog, but all over the Internet you will read the “statistic” that 100,000 Christians die for their faith ever year.  However, as this article by the BBC’s Ruth Alexander neatly demonstrates, this figure is at best a massaging of the figures and at worst an exaggeration.  Many of the Christians dying in the World every year are actually victims of other Christians in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DCR), which has claimed the lives of in excess of four million from 2000 to 2010:

This means we can say right away that the internet rumours of Muslims being behind the killing of 100,000 Christian martyrs are nonsense.  The DRC is a Christian country.  In the civil war, Christians were killing Christians.

For the record, I disagree with the following paragraphs in Alexander’s article that religion had no part to play in the Rwandan genocide.  Religion was an essential factor in the mass murder of civilian non-combatants as the post-war genocide trials featuring the prosecution of priests and nuns amply demonstrates.

The remainder of the issue actually speaks to the atheist’s side of the argument.  Conflict, persecution and balkanisation of communities along religious lines are very much part of our case against God.  Who is carrying out the persecutions?  Secular humanists?  Godless Marxists?  No, they are Islamic fundamentalists!  This is not so much a case of Christian persecution as it is religious conflict.

Robertson continually barks on about “militant atheism” and “atheist fundamentalism”.  Yet if this charge is to stick, I challenge him to name a war that is currently being fought by atheists/secularists/humanists in the name of their non-belief in his invisible deity and/or their love of reason, honest debate and scientific scepticism or a non-believing terrorist movement whose adherents are blowing themselves and innocent members of the public to smithereens for the promise of an eternal reward.  In his post, he admits that the Islamist suicide bombers belief that they are acting under God’s instructions.  Yet as Sam Harris stated in his debate on morality against Christian apologist William Lane Craig (who Robertson clearly thinks very highly of):

Just think about the Muslims at this moment who are blowing themselves up, convinced that they are agents of God’s will.  There is absolutely nothing that Dr Craig can say against their behaviour, in moral terms, apart from his own faith-based claim that they’re praying to the wrong God.  If they had the right God, what they were doing would be good, on Divine Command theory.

This is a system of morality that is nothing short of psychotic and not for the first time, Robertson’s apologetics has fallen down like a house of cards once a step is taken outside his own personal echo chamber.

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David Aaronovitch debunks the evidential standard for pseudo-history (and perhaps that for biblical scholarship)

09/10/2013

VoodooHistoriesCover

I highly recommend the book Voodoo Histories: How Conspiracy Theory Has Shaped Modern History by journalist for The Times and public commentator, David Aaronovitch.  Every chapter is a gem but I was particularly intrigued by Chapter 6, “Holy Blood, Holy Grail, Holy Shit”, which deconstructs the “scholarly” tract, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, that inspired Dan Brown’s international bestseller, The Da Vinci Code.  Aaronovitch quotes the authors’ extraordinary admission in the first chapter:

It was necessary for us to synthesise in a coherent pattern data extending from the . . . Gospels and Grail romances to accounts of current affairs in modern newspapers . . . For such an undertaking the techniques of academic scholarship were sorely inadequate.  To make the requisite connections between radically diverse bodies of subject matter we were obliged to adopt a more comprehensive approach, based on synthesis rather than conventional analysis.

Aaronovitch translates thus:

It is easy to miss the significance of these lines on a first reading . . . Look at it again . . . What do these sentences actually mean?  Why exactly would the techniques of scholarship be inadequate?  If the evidence was present to be able to make a decent hypothesis, then where was the problem?

The interesting word here . . . is ‘requisite’.  Presumably what made any particular connection ‘between radically diverse’ subjects ‘requisite’ can only have been the needs of the hypothesis; it was the authors’ theories that required links to be made that normal standards if analysis weren’t going to permit.  So to provide these hook-ups the authors abandoned scholarly methods of analysis, describing – with considerable chutzpah – their alternative method as ‘a more comprehensive approach’.  [London: Vintage, 2010, pp. 197 – 198]

In other words, the writers of Holy Blood, Holy Grail did not have any actual evidence to support their preconceived conclusions so they just made up a whole new standard of evidence to make their conspiratorial musings sound semi-plausible.

I believe that Aaronovitch’s remarks apply with equal facility to mainstream biblical “scholarship” and their inane ramblings about “context”, “criterion of embarrassment” and “who-first-started-to-believe-what-when”.  I have previously posted opinions on Christian theologian Andy Bannister against whom I debated on Premier Christian Radio’s debate show Unbelievable? in 2008, Unbelievable? stalwart Jay Smith and Richard Bauckham who appeared on the show in 2009 debating atheist scholar, James Crossley.

All three of these Christian apologists (and even Crossley to an extent) argue from within the “theological bubble” and invoke a standard of “evidence” that does even overcome the first huddle in The Real World and which they do not even use in their refutations of other religions.

If I ever debate biblical “scholarship” again, I will definitely refer to Aaronovitch’s analysis.

Premier Christian Radio Debate 13/08/11: MSP –v- Peter Harris – “Hitler’s & Stalin’s regimes”

14/08/2011

 

manicstreetpreacher goes for Round 2.

The second of my two recently recorded debates for Justin Brierley at Premier Christian Radio for his sceptics debate show, Unbelievable?, was whether atheism or Christianity was responsible for the so-called secular atrocities of the mid-20th century.

My opponent was Peter Harris, a teacher and a doctorate student of theology and apologetics who has a page on BeThinking.

Web access

Listen on demand from the Unbelievable? homepage

Download MP3 podcast

Premier Christian Radio Debate 30/07/11: MSP –v- Peter Harris – “Does religion make people kill?”

30/07/2011

manicstreetpreacher blows off the cobwebs.

After nearly a 2-year hiatus I decided to accept another invitation from Justin Brierley at Premier Christian Radio and give the atheist point of view on matters of faith on his sceptics debate show, Unbelievable?.  My opponent was Peter Harris, a teacher and a doctorate student of theology and apologetics who has a page on BeThinking.

We were only supposed to debate atheism’s role in the atrocities of Hitler and Stalin’s regime in the 20th century.  However, with the outrage committed in Norway by Anders Behring Breivik (or Andrew Berwick as he Analgised his name, which was my preferred option!) and the mutterings in the press immediately afterwards that he may have been a “Christian fundamentalist”, that topic will have to wait until a fortnight’s time.

We therefore debated the potential harmful effects of religion on people’s minds and whether it caused them to kill.

You can listen live at 2:30pm BST 30 July 2011

London 1305, 1332, 1413 MW
National DAB
Sky Digital 0123
Freeview 725

Listen live from the Premier Christian Radio homepage

Web access

Listen on demand from the Unbelievable? homepage

Download MP3 podcast

Sources

Below are the links to a few of the sources upon which I relied.

TIME magazine, “The Atom & the Archbishop”, 28 July 1958

Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, welcomes the prospect of a nuclear Holocaust with open arms.

Sometimes just to declare Christian doctrine can shock and stir bitter debate – even among Christians.  Last week Dr Geoffrey Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury, did just that.

Thomas Sutcliffe, “When is a Bishop like a suicide bomber?”, The Independent, 3 July 2007

A savvy piece of journalism comparing the then Bishop of Carlisle, the Right Reverend Graham Dow’s absurd comments that the July 2007 North Yorkshire floods were punishment for homosexual marriage laws to the Muslim fundamentalist who drove a truckload of explosives into Glasgow airport.

The bishop restricts himself to condoning the actions of a terrorist God, while the human fireball appointed himself as a direct tool of divine wrath.  It’s hardly a distinction to be sneezed at in these dangerous times. But it’s not quite enough to quell the sense that the bishop finds himself in a distant intellectual kinship with the suicide bomber – both worshippers of a God who communicates through the deaths of innocents.

And finally, my write-up of the I2 debate on whether atheism is fundamentalism with my question to the panel during the Q & A.

The clip of me is halfway down the post.  I’m the baldy headed toff in the cream shirt…

David Robertson’s Fleabytes: On Science and Faith

13/11/2010

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:

Dear David

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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?
  9. 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”.
  10. 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

manicstreetpreacher

Stephen Law’s ‘Evil God’ Challenge

03/05/2010

The Saturday, 1 May 2010 edition of Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? is well worth a listen for philosopher Stephen Law’s ‘Evil God’ Challenge: Why is it more reasonable to believe in an all-good god than to believe in an all-evil god?

Law’s opponent on Unbelievable? was Denis Alexander of The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion.  You can download the PDF of Law’s paper.  Scanning the blogosphere, Luke over at Common Sense Atheism has published two discussions of Law’s challenge:  Part 1 discusses the ‘Evil God’ Challenge itself, while Part 2 gives some Christian responses.

It is hard to see why an all-powerful, all-good God would unleash so much suffering upon the sentient creatures of Earth over hundreds of millions of years.  Why not posit an all-powerful, all-evil God to explain all this suffering, as many religions have done?

In defence of the Evil God hypothesis, we can use reverse versions of the theodicies that Christians use to defend the Good God hypothesis:

  1. Free will. Evil God gave us free will, so we sometimes choose to do good, even though Evil God hates it.  And free will also allows us to be morally responsible for evil acts, which Evil God loves.  He could have made us into puppets that only do evil, but then he would not have the pleasure of seeing us choose evil.  To maximise evil, Evil God designed us so that we can perform evil acts from our own will.
  2. Character-destroying. Why does Evil God create some beautiful things?  For contrast.  To make the ugly things look uglier.  Why does Evil God make some of us unusually healthy and wealthy?  To make the suffering of the sick and poor even greater.  Why does Evil God let us have children that love us unconditionally?  So that we will worry endlessly about them.
  3. First order goods allow second order evils.  Some evils require certain goods to exist.  For example, jealousy could not exist without there being someone who has something good for you to be jealous about.  Evil God had to give some of us good things so that the rest of us could feel jealousy.
  4. Mystery.  Evil God has a plan for how all the apparent goods in the world will ultimately lead to maximal evil, but Evil God is so far beyond our reasoning ability that we cannot understand his plan.

The ‘Evil God’ Challenge is an ingenious exposition of how utterly vacuous theology is as an academic subject.  The theologians’ conclusions have been arrived at before they have conducted any research or put pen to paper.  They invent various models of gods out of something that does not even qualify as thin air and move the essential characteristics of that god around like the rows on a Rubik’s Cube so that their god is logically consistent and broadly conforms to the empirical facts of the universe.

However, like characters in a computer game with superhuman powers, the models of these gods have little application to the real world.  They exist very much in a world called “virtual reality”.

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.

Bishop John Shelby Spong debates William Lane Craig on the resurrection

27/03/2010

manicstreetpreacher applauds the world’s greatest atheist Christian.

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

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

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

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

Audio / Video

Premier Christian Media’s screening of ‘Expelled’: From Darwin to Hitler?

21/03/2010

Part Four of my analysis of Premier Christian Media’s screening and debate of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed examines the film’s claim that Darwin’s theory directly inspired Hitler and 20th century eugenics.

The final quarter of the film makes the outrageous allegation that Darwin’s work directly inspired Hitler and eugenics.   The host, Ben Stein, visits Darwin’s former home of Down House in Kent and his memorial at the London Natural History Museum.  He visits the Dachau concentration camp and Hadamar Clinic where he interviews the tour guide Uta George and Richard Weikart, Discovery Institute research fellow and author of From Darwin to Hitler.

I haven’t read Weikart’s book, but I listened to this lecture and was distinctly underwhelmed by the tenuous links made between the ancient idea of eugenics and Darwin’s theory.  Darwinism describes a scientific process for which there is ample evidence.  Whether we like its moral implication is irrelevant and Weikart is guilty of the naturalistic fallacy; confusing “what is” with “what ought to be”.  Weikart’s arguments rely heavily on some disgraceful quote-mining of Darwin’s work, more of which below.

Weikart also ignores a wealth of other social, economic and indeed religious factors that resulted in the rise of Nazism.  For excellent refutations of his thesis, I came across his radio debate against atheist Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University, Hector Avalos, as well as Avalos’ extensive blog posts on Debunking Christianity here and here.

Towards the end of Expelled, Stein reads out the following passage which is often quoted by creationists from The Descent of Man, first published in 1871:

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

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

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

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

There are several other passages from Darwin that creationists mine in their attempts to show that he was immoral, but reveal quite the opposite when read in their true context.  In the post-screening debate (at 43 minutes on the podcast) I asked the panel a question that drew their attention to this distortion, adding that while Darwin was about as racist as anyone else in Victorian England, he was a passionate abolitionist of the slave trade.  Surprisingly, my comments drew nods of agreement from Steve Fuller.  I also added that I have read Hitler’s Mein Kampf for myself.  It contains not one reference of Darwin, evolution or natural selection, but talks rather a lot about his faith in Heaven and the Almighty as well as his theological hero, Martin Luther.

Alastair Noble made noises about how Darwin influenced Stalin.  This claim is straight off the Answers in Genesis website and was repeated by David Robertson in our second debate on Premier’s Unbelievable? last year.  The truth is that Stalin rejected Darwinism in favour of Lamarckism which lead to Lysenko’s insane programme to grow giant vegetables and deliver multiple harvests in one year, leading to the starvation of millions:

Mendeleyev’s “periodic system of elements” clearly shows how very important in the history of nature is the emergence of qualitative changes out of quantitative changes. The same thing is shown in biology by the theory of neo-Lamarckism, to which neo-Darwinism is yielding place.

– Stalin 1906, 304

Steve Fuller replied that Mein Kampf discussed “selection”.  However, Hitler was referring to artificial selection which humans have known about for centuries.  Dog breeding and pigeon fancying have more responsibility for Hitler than On the Origin of the Species.

There is widespread confusion over Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and “Social Darwinism”, which was coined by the Protestant anthropologist Herbert Spencer, who also came up with the term “survival of the fittest”.  Although still tarring Darwin’s good name, Hitler’s ethic is better described as “Social Darwinist”.

Irritatingly, many respectable scientists and historians have linked Darwin to Nazi Germany.  Sir Arthur Keith is often quoted by creationists as writing in Evolution & Ethics (1946) that Hitler was an evolutionist and was trying to create Darwin’s utopia based on the principles of eugenics, though Keith never showed which parts of Origins inspired Hitler.  Laurence Rees’ otherwise excellent study of the Final Solution, Auschwitz, was tarnished somewhat with the assertion that the Nazis’ ideology was “expressly Darwinian”, again without citing any primary sources in support.

The full original title of On the Origin of Species is infamously “Or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life”.  Again, creationists have argued that this is clear evidence that Darwin was in favour of a brutal struggle for survival where the strong would crush the weak.  However, as Richard Dawkins explained following the film’s release in an “Open Letter to a victim of Ben Stein’s lying propaganda”:

Darwin was using the word “race” in a very different sense from ours.  It is totally clear, if you read past the title to the book itself, that a “favoured race” meant something like “that set of individuals who possess a certain favoured genetic mutation” (although Darwin would not have used that language because he did not have our modern concept of a genetic mutation).

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

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

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

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

Steve Fuller also argued that people who support the teaching of evolution also support abortion and euthanasia on the grounds that it will lead to a better version of humanity.  Again, I found this claim deeply offensive.  I have recently written that I am pro-choice on the grounds that the alternative is worse.  Abortion should be the last option.  Prevention is better than cure.  The answer is increased access to contraception and education as to its proper use.  I am not in favour of abortion because it is a quick and convenient method of wiping out Down’s Syndrome.

I can think of no better way to end these posts than with this compilation by YouTube auteur, Thunderf00t, that features Stein on a Christian TV network shortly after Expelled’s release making the appalling claim that “science leads to killing people”, juxtaposed with his own delusional fantasies about America needing to start World War Three in order to protect itself against Iran and North Korea.

P Z Myers couldn’t have phrased it any better:

What a vile little man.  I sincerely hope that his career is dead now … and that the rest of his life will be spent eking out speaking fees at Christian fundamentalist conventions, before audiences who will cheer him while dreaming of the day the Jews are exterminated or converted, bringing on Armageddon.

Right on, brother.

Now, a “call to arms” (in the strictly metaphorical, non-jihadist sense of the term) to all atheists, rationalists, humanists, secularists and everyone else who cares about truth in science and a proper education of school children which is free from religious dogma and presupposition: Let’s go to work.

Premier Christian Media’s screening of ‘Expelled’: Arguing from ignorance

21/03/2010

Part Three of my analysis of Premier Christian Media’s screening and debate of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed examines whether Intelligent Design has any genuine merit.

The film never sets out a definition of Intelligent Design.  The host, Ben Stein, makes noises about how teaching it to school children might be like teaching them the alternative theory of history that the Holocaust never happened, which is not what he wants.  But he fails to explain why ID is any more viable than Flat Earthery.

The closest the film comes to genuine science is some CGI sequences (which were were the subject of an unsuccessful copyright action by XVIVO having been lifted from the Harvard University DVD, The Inner Life of the Cell!)  showing the mindboggling complexity of the cellular “machinery” at work.  OK, what does that prove?  That molecular biology is enormously complex.  Cells wouldn’t always have been like that; they had to evolve from scratch the same as the larger organisms they comprise.

Atheist evolutionary biologist and blogwit par excellence P Z Myers explained during his lecture at the American Atheist International Conference 2009 (which I posted in my castigation of William Dembski’s Unbelievable? debate against Lewis Wolpert), that IDers and creationists falsely claim that Victorian scientists knew nothing about the inner workings of the cell: the sheer mind boggling complexity of the cell is a relatively recent discovery.  IDers are adamant that it will just take a few more years for the rest of the scientific community to catch up with their way of thinking and evolutionary theory as we know it will be no more.  As Myers pithily explained, “Dembski said that the bottom would fall out of Darwinism within five years…  seven years ago!”

In the post-screening debate, former schools inspector and lay Christian preacher, Alastair Noble, speaking in favour of ID was a thoroughly unpleasant character, shouting down the evolutionist members of the panel and making cheap, erm, “jokes”, which played well with the clap-happy God squadders in the audience.  I can understand why evolutionists refuse to share a platform with creationists after witnessing Noble’s attempts to put off the other members of the panel.

It really does worry me that people like Noble overtaken by their religious prejudices may ensure that junk-science will be taught to school children in the near future.  Steve Fuller, who at least had the courage to admit that the school board in the 2005 Kitzmiller -v- Dover District PA “Intelligent Design trial” which he testified as an expert witness for the Intelligent Design side, were using ID to get creationism into the science classroom by the backdoor.  They were really creationists who didn’t believe in ID; they just saw it as a convenient tool.  I’m certain that Noble sees it that way as well.

Noble kept insisting (loudly) that only Intelligent Design could account for abiogenesis since the only known source of new information was an external designer.  Intelligent Design, like the fine-tuning of the universe argument is simply Paley’s watchmaker analogy wrapped up in scientific jargon, usually ending with a whole lotta zeros after a decimal point.  It explains nothing since it only leads to another stage back in the infinite regress and only begs the question of who designed the designer.  It is a classic case of arguing by over-extended analogy.  The very language of Intelligent Design screams “argument from personal incredulity”.  Phrases like “irreducible complexity” are an inadvertent code for, “it’s too complex, we can’t understand it, therefore God did it”.

David Hume refuted the design argument 250 years ago on the grounds that we are taking our knowledge of how things for which we have direct personal experience are created, such as houses and watches, and applying this experience for things that we have no such equivalent personal experience, such as eyes and universes.

Intelligent Design is also fatally flawed in that it declares by fiat that a powerful but invisible designer is the only escape from staggering complexity and improbability.  What ID proponents singularly fail to answer is what is the complexity and probability of such a designer itself, let alone being responsible for the natural phenomena we see around us.  Surely this designer would have to be even more complex if it has the power to create all the things with which it is credited.   Therefore its existence would have to be even more improbable than the objects and organisms it is supposed to have created.

While Sue Blackmore was giving her opening statement, a heckler in the audience asked why no “skeletons” had been found to verify evolution.  I felt like bashing my head on the desk in front of me.  Clearly, there are certain memes in creationist circles that simply will not go away no matter how often they are refuted.  Such as:

  1. If humans are descent from apes, why are there still gorillas and monkeys alive today?
  2. Why have no transitional fossils been found?
  3. Why don’t we see apes giving birth to humans?
  4. Evolution is just a theory.
  5. Darwin inspired Hitler!

The fourth and final post of my analysis examines whether the last point has any credibility.