Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

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.

Reza Aslan debates Sam Harris on religion and reason

03/08/2013

MP3 audio

Since Reza Aslan’s recent appearance/ultra-conservative, reactionary, right-wing hatchet job on Fox News discussing his new book on the historical Jesus, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth has gone viral in the last week, I thought now would be a good time to re-examine Aslan’s debate with Sam Harris on religion and reason in the modern world in 2007.

The debate was held at the Los Angeles Public Library on 25 January 2007 and was moderated by American-Jewish lawyer, author and public commentator, Jonathan Kirsch, (who in reality turned out to be a second debating opponent for Harris!).

The outcome of the encounter is probably best described as a “draw” since I don’t believe a neutral observer would be persuaded by one commentator’s view over the other.  Obviously, I agree with Harris’ position and therefore would award the debate to him, but I don’t believe that he exposed the fatuity of Aslan’s views as he has done with other opponents.

Aslan is clearly an intelligent and well-read man; at times too intelligent for his own good.  He makes grandiose ad hominems against Harris’ method by accusing him of taking his view of Islam from “Fox News”, when in fact Harris has based his views on peer-reviewed sociological studies and opinion polls that prove “extremist” religious views are far more widely held than Aslan is prepared to admit.

Although Aslan holds himself out as a Muslim, deep down, I suspect that he is really an atheist who fits Daniel Dennett’s idea of someone who “believes in belief in God”.  Yet his thoughtful, allegorical approach to the scriptures is exactly the kind of religious moderation that Harris exposes as providing cover for the extremists and on a proper reading of the texts is intellectually and theologically bankrupt.

If Aslan’s subtle, scholarly, nuanced brand of religion was truly the mainstream; Harris would not have felt the need to write his books attacking religion and indeed the horrific acts which Harris decries such as 9/11 would not have happened.

Alas, not all religious people display such a profooowwwnd sophistication and experteese.

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

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

Answers in Genesis: Creationist arguments not to use

28/05/2010

manicstreetpreacher presents the sole example of Young Earth Creationists talking sense.

Ken Ham, the head of global Young Earth Creationist racket, Answer in Genesis, is not my favourite person in the World and you can witness me lambast him in print and on the air.  However, perhaps he deserves some credit for the section of his website dedicated to forewarning his flock against certain arguments that are so patently false and discredited that their very use seriously harms the YEC case.  For example:

If humans evolved from apes, how come apes still exist?

In an evolutionary worldview, mankind did not evolve from apes but from an apelike ancestor, from which both humans and apes of today supposedly evolved.

There are no beneficial mutations:

Keep in mind that beneficial, information-gaining mutations are a necessary mechanism of molecules-to-man evolution, so focusing on any potential for this is essential for evolutionists.  What doesn’t seem to be often addressed is the vast amount of data to the contrary.  But even if there were a clearly beneficial mutation, this would by no means “prove” the mechanism for evolution (for one thing, beneficial, information-gaining mutations would have to be a regularly occurring phenomenon and would have to “build” on previous mutations so as not to be “undone” and to keep the evolution going “uphill”), nor negate the truth of God’s revelation of His Creation in Genesis.

Darwin recanted on his deathbed:

Beyond these denials, if the tale were true, why did Darwin’s wife Emma not rejoice in this?  She was always troubled by what she perceived as the godless nature of his views.  If he indeed repented, why did she not make this known? Also, if the story were credible, why did Lady Hope wait 33 years before relating it, and even then, relating it in a country across the ocean?

Given the weight of evidence, it must be concluded that Lady Hope’s story is unsupportable, even if she did actually visit Darwin.  He never became a Christian, and he never renounced evolution.  As much as we would like to believe that he died with a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, it is much more likely that he didn’t.  It is unfortunate that the story continues to be promoted by many sincere people who use this in an effort to discredit evolution when many other great arguments exist, including the greatest: the Bible.

Old Testament stories have been confirmed by modern day archaeology:

There is little doubt that the genuine discovery of certain objects would be both exciting and a powerful witness to the truth of the biblical record.  However, we need to be careful not to become like some medieval pilgrims, keen to have relics to supplement (or supplant) the worship of the living God.  Christ actually taught that if people did not listen to ‘Moses and the prophets,’ then neither would something as spectacular as someone rising from the dead convince them (Luke 16).

No doubt such fanciful claims as discussed here will always be with us, made by those seeking either [sic] profit, fame, the fulfilment of some deep psychological needs, or any combination of these.  The ‘discoverers’ will often appear completely sincere, saying all the ‘right Christian things.’  Perhaps at some point they have even persuaded themselves.

The Bible does not say we should ‘believe all things,’ but rather that we should ‘prove all things’ (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  Neither does it encourage a gullible approach toward those claiming the name of Christ.  Rather, it warns about wolves among the flock, and also teaches that the heart of man is deceitful and depraved (Jeremiah 17:9).

As in other areas, extraordinary claims carry an extraordinary burden of proof. There is already a huge amount of archaeological and other evidence consistent with the truth of the Bible.  Bible-believing experts exist in many fields, such as the archaeologist author of our article on Jericho (The walls of Jericho).  They are always glad to assess and publicise actual evidence of genuine finds (there have been many over the years) supporting the historicity of the Bible.

No new species have been produced:

All of these animals’ ancestors – horses, donkey, zebras, tigers, lions, whales, and dolphins – were created with genetic diversity.  Through time the processes of natural selection, mutation, and other mechanisms have altered that original information (decreased or degenerated) to give us even more variation within a kind.  Great variety can be observed in the offspring of animals of the same kind, just as the same cake recipe can be used to make many different cakes with various flavours and colours.  Hybrids have a portion of the same genetic information as their parents but combined in a unique way to give a very unique looking animal.  What an amazing diversity of life God has created for us to enjoy!

While it’s a pity that AiG don’t examine all of their claims in such an objective and sober light (then again, I supposed they’d be putting themselves out of business!), this is a breath of fresh air from an unexpected source.  However, I am still dismayed that I continue to encounter many of these arguments both online and in public debate.  What does it say about the “rationality” of religious faith when its adherents still use arguments that one of the most notorious fundamentalist organisations on the planet has consigned to the third circle of hell?

Peter Hitchens: ‘The Rage Against God’

17/05/2010

manicstreetpreacher is simply appalled.

I have not read Peter Hitchens’ addition to the host of “flea” responses to the New Atheism, The Rage Against God, but I heard him on the Saturday, 15 May 2010 edition of Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? discussing the book with atheist scientific broadcaster and writer, Adam Rutherford.

Without giving a blow-by-blow account, what started off as a reasonable and balanced discussion on the pros and cons Christian versus secular morality swiftly descended into a demagogic point-scoring exercise by Hitchens on the questions of abortion and sex education.  I was most offended by Hitchens’ cheap emotional ploy of stating that abortion was murder and abortion clinics were comparable to the Nazi death camps.

Perhaps Hitchens should take a look at this picture…

…watch Sam Harris’ take on stem cell research from his lecture at Beyond Belief 2006

…read my blog and listen to the debate on Unbelievable? with former Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris on abortion aired a few months ago…

Abortion is a difficult issue and I struggle with it greatly.  Evan Harris did very well to convey the moral minefield of the topic and is a superb spokesman for humanists and secularists everywhere.  Abortion is hardly a wonderful thing that we need to be encouraging more of, but it is alas the least worst option.   Rather like democracy as a form of government, as Winston Churchill once said.

(…)

Paul Hill, a Christian minister who murdered an abortion clinic doctor in the USA, was far more evil than the doctor he killed could ever reasonably be considered.  Hill’s victim terminated foetuses at the request of their mothers.  Foetuses that could not feel pain like we can, who had no memories, no emotions, no wife, no children, no friends, no relatives to mourn them.  I admit that it is an awful choice to make, but I do so without hesitation.

…to realise how crudely simplistic his reasoning really is.  Such moral absolutist hysteria advances the quest for truth not one iota.

I am pro-choice because I believe that fertilised embryos do not feel pain, experience emotions or accrue memories like a living human being after birth until an advanced stage of gestation, if at all.  I’m not holding anything against foetuses as the Nazis regarded Jews as sub-human as Peter Hitchens argues, but THEY ARE NOT HUMAN BEINGS!

However, I would change my stance if convincing evidence were produced that contradicted  my impression of the sensory and emotional content of foetuses.  I wonder what evidence or argument would change Peter Hitchens’ stance on abortion and convince him that it was ethical?  I suspect none whatsoever; he has ruled it out a priori on religious grounds and no evidence or reasoning would change his mind.  I suppose that’s why they call it blind faith.

Debates are always subjective affairs and very often both sides claim victory.  But it was no small wonder that Peter Hitchens attempted to dissuade listeners from watching his debate against older, wiser and funnier brother, Christopher Hitchens, at The Hauenstein Center in April 2008 on the Iraq War and religion, because quite simply he was pulverised by his heretical elder sibling.  It was an embarrassment, frankly.  I don’t even support the Iraq War and I thought Hitch Snr made a better argument.  And as for Petee’s arguments in favour of God?  Let’s just say I won’t be spending my hard earned cash on his new book if this performance is anything to go by.

To conclude this post, I present the video of the full event.  Sit back and enjoy the slaughter.

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”.

Richard Dawkins versus religious moral absolutism

02/05/2010

If the religious want their divinely inspired / transcendent / objective / absolute / whatever-piece-of-philosophical-theological-casuistry-they-want-to-use moral standard, they are more than welcome to it.

Atheist Media Blog page

RichardDawkins.net page

Full episode

Biblical inerrancy FAIL!!!

27/04/2010

manicstreetpreacher is pleased to present the latest offering from the God of YouTube counter-apologetics.  Make sure you check out the other classics on his channel.

Addendum to “William Lane Craig Provides the ‘Scholarly’ Basis for Holy Horror”

06/04/2010

As part of my three posts reassessing Christopher Hitchens’ debate against Christian apologist William Lane Craig held at Biola University on 4 April 2009, I have added the following text to the end of my piece on Craig’s take on the morals of the Old Testament God.

UPDATE 06/04/2010:

Since publishing this piece, I have come across a podcast on this topic as part of the “Reasonable Faith: Conversations with Dr William Lane Craig” series that Craig’s website produces  if you can bear it.  Lukeprog over at Common Sense Atheism has posted an excellent discussion.

I have also found this comment by Richard Dawkins posted on the debate forum of his website:

Theological justification for genocide Part One

Richard Dawkins >> Mon Apr 21, 2008 8:22 am

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5767

One of our commenters on another thread, stevencarrwork, posted a link to this article by the American theologian and Christian apologist William Lane Craig.  I read it and found it so dumbfoundingly, staggeringly awful that I wanted to post it again.  It is a stunning example of the theological mind at work.  And remember, this is NOT an ‘extremist’, ‘fundamentalist’, ‘picking on the worst case’ example.  My understanding is that William Lane Craig is a widely respected apologist for the Christian religion.  Read his article and rub your eyes to make sure you are not having a bad dream.

Richard

That just about says it all.

(H/T: Steven Carr)