Posts Tagged ‘richard morgan’

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

02/05/2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Dawkins 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.

Podcast Interview for Skepticule

22/10/2009

by

manicstreetpreacher

Skepticule

The clue is in the title.

Just a quickie this time to post the podcast of an interview I did for the blog, Skepticule.

I recorded it over Skype with Paul S Jenkins, who runs the blog, Notes from an Evil Burnee (because he’ll surely roast in hell), and who has posted some superb comments on my blog in recent weeks.

It lasts for about 20 minutes and we discuss my journey from passive agnostic to passionate atheist debating on Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable?, my live debates at Liverpool University and my online blogging and debating.

PaulSJenkins

Further reading

Hitchens and Fry versus the Catholic Church: Post Mortem – manicstreetpreacher witnesses first-hand a rhetorical massacre of Vatican hench(wo)men by the cream of British intellectualism.

Merseyside Skeptics Society Lecture on Paranormal Experiences – 17/09/2009 – manicstreetpreacher learns about how the truth is not out there…  it’s up here.

Debates with David Robertson and Richard Morgan on Unbelievable? – manicstreetpreacher goes head-to-head with one of the most determined Christian opponents to the New Atheists.

More Than I Could Chew? – manicstreetpreacher licks his wounds after his encounter with a bunch of fundamentalists at Follow My Way, Liverpool University 12 March 2009.  The rest of the panel weren’t too rational either…

An Open Letter to Rabbi Y Y Rubinstein manicstreetpreacher enquires of a former recent debating opponent on a few points.  Such as whether there is any evidence outside the texts themselves for a group of half a million people being dragged around the desert for decades to the only place in the Middle East that has no oil.  And how could the scribes of the King James Version have botched up so badly that Yahweh has been transformed into a moral abomination…

Peter S Williams: Up Close – Part I – manicstreetpreacher’s review of I Wish I Could Believe In Meaning following his live debate with the author at Liverpool University, 19 February 2009.

Peter S Williams: Up Close – Part II – manicstreetpreacher’s review of A Sceptic’s Guide to Atheism following his live debate with the author at Liverpool University, 19 February 2009.

My Debates on Premier Christian Radio Against Theologian Andy Bannister – manicstreetpreacher’s afterthought piece on his first two formal debates on religion in the light of further research and online debate.  Make sure you check out the comments section at the end.  There are some very interesting responses, not least from my “scholarly” opponent himself…

Afterthoughts: David Robertson

19/09/2009

David Robertson

Untitled-3

http://www.stpeters-dundee.org.uk/

manicstreetpreacher reflects on his Premier Christian Radio debates with David Robertson with a few things he wishes he had phrased better or got round to saying at the time.

On 20 July 2009 I recorded two debates with Scottish Presbyterian minister and author of The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths, David Robertson and former-atheist-blogger-now-converted, Richard Morgan, on Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? This should be read in conjunction with my earlier pre-debate piece on Robertson’s book and public speaking, along with our pre-debate correspondence.

The podcast to Show One: Richard Morgan, David Robertson and MSP discuss religious debating online, Unbelievable? Premier Christian Radio, 12 September 2009 can be downloaded here.

The podcast to Show Two: Richard Morgan, David Robertson and MSP discuss the rights and wrongs of Christian and atheist influences on Europe, Unbelievable?, Premier Christian Radio, 19 September 2009 can be downloaded here.

The moderator is Justin Brierley.

David and I have certainly come a long way since my first vitriolic letter to him back in April 2009 after I heard his first two appearances on Unbelievable? Despite a range of debater’s tricks up his sleeve and a few distortions and rather suspect assertions, it was a pleasure debating him.  David is one of the toughest opponents I have come across while being fair and polite.  He is also an unparalleled incentive for improving my debating knowledge and acumen.  So here goes another six thousand words…

Lying for Jesus?

This is the title to an article by Richard Dawkins following the release of the 2008 documentary-film, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a creationist hatchet-job which attempted to discredit the mainstream scientific community and its rejection of “Intelligent Design Theory” (see ExpelledExposed).   Dawkins, along with several other evolutionary scientists, including Michael Shermer and P Z Myers (who was rather amusingly “expelled” from the film’s premier by the producer!) were conned into giving interviews for what they thought was a film called Crossroads which examined the intersection between science and religion.

Having seen Expelled for myself, I can guarantee that the anger and derision the film has attracted from online atheists is more than justified.  Indeed, it is illustrative of the bogus and disingenuous tactics that apologists routinely employ, of which I have had ample personal experience.

My first two appearances on Unbelievable? in September 2008 were against a supposed “qualified” theologian from one of the country leading theological institutes (which mow seems to me a gross contradiction in terms!).  Partway through our first debate on the historicity of the Gospels, I raised Dawkins’ objections to the historicity of the Roman census in Luke which required the population to travel to the towns of their ancestors to register.  My opponent retorted that Dawkins had “been machine-gunned to wall by scholars of all stripes” since populations were less mobile in those days and they would not have to travel too far to their towns of origin and even that records for such arrangements exist.

One of my friends emailed me after hearing the debate saying that this was complete nonsense, so I checked the relevant passage in The God Delusion which cites historians Robin Lane Fox and A N Wilson in support.  Dawkins didn’t make it up as my antagonist implied.  Here is the passage from Fox’s The Unauthorized Version:

Roman censuses cared little for remote genealogies, let alone false ones: they were based on ownership of property of the living, not the dead.  As the Gospel has already stated at the time of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26), Joseph and Mary were people from Nazareth in Galilee, the home town which later rejected its prophet, Jesus.  A Roman census would not have taken Joseph to Bethlehem where he and Mary owned nothing and were therefore assumed to have needed to lodge as visitors in an inn…

The scale of the Gospel’s error is now clear.  The first census did occur under Quirinius, but it belonged in AD 6 when Herod the Great was long dead; it was a local census in Roman Judea and there was no decree for Caesar Augustus to all the world; in AD 6 Joseph of Nazareth would not have registered in Bethlehem and was exempt from Judea’s registration; his wife had no legal need to leave home.  Luke’s story is historically impossible and internally incoherent.  It clashes with his own date for the Annunciation (which he places under Herod) and with Matthew’s long story of the Nativity which also presupposes Herod the Great as king.  It is, therefore, false.

My only mistake was to drop in the verbal footnote of Dawkins, since clearly this fine theological institution has a team of “scholars” working night and day devising ways of discrediting the Oxford zoologist by whatever underhand methods they like.  Needless to say, the response of the “scholar” in question completely evaded the question when I addressed it on my blog some months later.

I also debated one of the country’s foremost Jewish apologists (allegedly) at Liverpool University in March 2009 who made the completely disingenuous assertion that all references to slavery in the Torah were due to mistranslations in my King James Version (!) and that “slavery has never been part of the Jewish faith.”  Again, I chased him up on my blog after the debate asking whether the warrant to do away with Amalekites was a mistranslation as well, and if so, the rabbis in the Israeli Army, who are to this day solemnly debate whether this commandment is still extant and applicable to the Palestinians, really ought to be informed of such poor scholarship.  The responses were, of course, evasive and unconvincing.

And please don’t get me started on that double-standard touting, hypocrite of a ”scholar” and Unbelievable? stalwart, Jay Smith

So perhaps now the reader can understand why atheists are so exasperated at apologists’ tactics.  I did call David a “liar for Jesus” after hearing him debate The Atheist Blogger, Adrian Hayter, and reading The Dawkins Letters.  I had read Paula Kirby’s “Fleabytes” review of his book before then, but hearing him live seemed to confirm others’ opinions.  I think when someone differs from your own opinion as radically as has – from your perception – neglected a wealth of contradictory evidence and argument, your natural reflex response is to brand them as a liar.   However, David kept coming back at me and countering my charges.  I’m not saying that I am totally convinced by his explanations, particular in regard to his quote from Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, but I have withdrawn all charges of deliberate dishonesty.

David has therefore exonerated himself of charges of lying.  I’m still waiting for proper explanations from the others.

However, I do think it is somewhat hypocritical of David to chastise atheists for prejudging him on Paula Kirby’s review of The Dawkins Letters, when he himself tries to dissuade his readers from actually reading The God Delusion for themselves at the end of his book since “really is as bad as I’ve tried to make out”!

Sex and the Holy City

“I read what the Pope actually said in full and y’ know what…” had a suspicious ring to it (particularly as David didn’t say what Pope Benedict XVI did actually say with regard to condom use in Africa in March 2009), so I scanned the web for a full transcript of the Pope’s comments for myself.

The Pope made his comments on board his official flight to Cameroon on or around 17 March 2009. The Guardian reported His Holiness as saying, “The traditional teaching of the church has proven to be the only failsafe way to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.”  The Daily Telegraph reported him saying “a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems.”  Even the coverage on The Catholic News Service concurred.

So in other words, Christ’s Vicar on Earth said that “AIDS might be bad, but condoms might be worse.”

The closest I’ve been able to get to a Vatican-approved English transcript was on The Catholic News Agency’s report which replaces “condoms” with “advertising slogans”.  The Daily Telegraph blogger, Damian Thompson (who co-incidentally is also the editor-in-chief of The Catholic Herald), in his piece attempted to defend the pontiff on the grounds that he had been misquoted, although an update to Thompson’s post admitted that the Vatican had “cleaned up” the transcript.   Reuters’ report agrees that the transcript was altered.

If I was in a forgiving mood, I might be tempted to quote George Bernard Shaw’s pithy remark on the subject (“Why should we take advice on sex from the pope?  If he knows anything about it, he shouldn’t!”) and leave matters there.

However, this is no laughing matter when you consider:

1.  More than two-thirds – 67% – of the global total of 32.9 million people with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa.

2.  Three-quarters of all AIDS deaths in 2007 happened there.

In addition to:

1.  AIDS is now killing 2.7 million people a year, nearly half of them in sub-Saharan Africa, where 1.9 million people contracted the disease in 2007 alone.

2.  No health professionals claim that the distribution of condoms alone is the answer to AIDS.  Education is equally important, and retroviral drugs help where they are available.  But condoms are, of course, a proven and reliable barrier to the virus.

3.  The Roman Catholic Church opposes all forms of contraception (unless you count the rhythm method) on the grounds that sex is only allowed for procreation.

Disinformation

4.  Numerous Catholic authorities have broadcast disinformation about condoms causing AIDS.  Cardinal Trujillo of the Pontifical Council for the Family said the virus is small enough to pass through a condom.

Surely – though some might argue the Pope is a better judge of this than me – this principle could be extended to allow condoms to prevent AIDS.

Brazilian and Croatian bishops have said the same, the former doing so in a mass-produced leaflet.  Archbishop Chimoio of Mozambique has claimed condoms are actually infected with Aids.  The Vatican has never corrected these falsehoods.

It’s never a good sign for the moral or logical rightness of your position that you have to lie to justify it.

One can understand that the Church’s wants to promote chastity while contraceptives allow promiscuity, perhaps even understand its desire to restrict sex within marriage.  But when this means that the wife of a man with Aids is forbidden to use a condom merely to save her life, and when this is multiplied across the worst pandemic in world history, something has gone horribly wrong.

The bishops argue that chastity is more effective than condoms in protecting against AIDS.  Apart from the fact that this ignores all those who have caught AIDS from their spouses, what it amounts to is the argument that if people didn’t have sex they wouldn’t catch AIDS.  Since they are doing, and will continue to do so, that doesn’t help very much.

Principles

One would have more respect for the Vatican’s position is they admitted that they were asking Catholics to sacrifice their lives for their principles. Instead the claim that condoms are useless or worse is winning obedience unto death through deception.

And now the Pope has added his own weight to this campaign of elective ignorance and misinformation.  A bad conscience over this is suggested by the fact that the Vatican’s published transcript changed his words to “risks aggravating the problems”.

The most frustrating thing is that Catholic teaching on contraception is based on the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which, while banning contraception, allows “therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases” which also happen to prevent conception, as long as that isn’t the motive for using them.

This is faith-based stupidity that carries with it potentially genocidal consequences.  It is only due to the automatic respect that is accorded to religion and its institutions – in effect a “free lunch” – means the Vatican can get away with it.

Imagine if the US president, the chief executive officer of a multi-national corporation or a leading celebrity made similar remarks.  Would their career survive?  Of course not.  So why do we make an exception for clergymen?

The God-Shaped Hole

I said it was the French existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre who coined this term.  Richard and David said it was Blaise Pascal.  I have to admit that I only heard it was Sartre second-hand from a previous opponent.  After the show I conducted some online research and the matter is far from clear-cut.  The phrase is often attributed to Pascal, who certainly wrote something very similar, but it appears that Sartre coined the term itself.

Consider:

Some religious theists cite Pascal as a philosophical and religious authority who also claimed that there is a “God-shaped vacuum in all of us,” but Pascal never said this.  What Pascal really said was that we all have an innate desire to seek happiness: “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end.”

See also:

The existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre described modern culture as possessing “a God-shaped hole.” (1)  From what I know of Sartre, I do not think he was speaking spiritually, but rather was describing the setting aside of religious belief by modern society – something he thought of as necessary and ultimately beneficial to humanity.  A few centuries earlier, the French mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote of the God-shaped hole in each of us that we seek to fill with all of the wrong things. (2)

Footnotes

(1) I believe it comes from Sartre’s Being and Nothingness.  I picked it up from Karen Armstrong’s book, A History of God: The 4,000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, (New York: Balantine, 1993), 378.

(2) I’ve found many references to Pascal using this phrase, including several collections of quotations.  Usually it goes something like “There is a God-shaped hole in the life of every man…”   I have yet to find it in this exact form in Pensees or other writings by Pascal.  The closest I’ve come across occurs in Pensees X 148: “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man [sic] a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?  This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself [sic].”  Blaise Pascal, Pensees, trans A J Krailsheimer (London: Penguin, 1993), 45.

I don’t know about Richard and David, but I’ll stick with Sartre.

Dawkins –v- other atheists

It appears to form a main staple of apologists’ arguments against The God Delusion that the book has come in for so much criticism by other atheist philosophers, not least of whom is Michael Ruse who commented that if Dawkins’ book would fail a beginner’s course in philosophy.  This is was Dawkins would call a classic case of “I’m an atheist BUT…”

Personally, I do not care what anyone else, lay or professional, has said about The God Delusion.  I don’t have a great deal of time for book critics.  Most of the reviews that I am aware of are the result of believers saying, “Look at all the terrible reviews!”  I think it’s a great book, I think it’s brilliantly well-written and argued; more so in fact than the work of David’s atheist hero, John Gray.

What is this: a head-count of opinions?  If The God Delusion is so terrible, why have so many books and articles been written attempting to persuade people of this view?  Albert Einstein’s opponents once complied a pamphlet opposing his theories called 100 Authors Against Einstein.  Upon hearing of this, Einstein memorably replied, “Why 100 authors?  If I were wrong, then one would have been enough!”

Incidentally, the damning review in Prospect magazine of The God Delusion (who had previously voted Dawkins as one of the world’s top three intellectuals) that David cited in the first debate and in his book was penned by one Andrew Brown, a notorious “goddycoddler” who has had the dubious honour of being awarded a Templeton Prize for religious journalism.  For anyone who is vaguely aware of Dawkins, Dennett and Grayling’s opinions on Templeton, this is a dismal endorsement indeed.

Absolute morals

In the second show, I have to come clean and say I stumbled over my words and engaged in the kind of casuistry and evasion that would embarrass a theologian by saying that “I believe in ‘objective morals’ but [did] not like using the term ‘absolute morals’.”  This may seem to be splitting hairs, but I believe there is an important distinction to be made.

David is right that Dawkins writes in The God Delusion that it is difficult to justify absolute morals on anything other than religious grounds, and I agree with Dawkins’ view.  However, Dawkins and I are not moral relativists.  The term I was looking for is consequentialism.

Absolutism means that actions are morally wrong for their own sake without regard to their intended or predicted consequences.  Objectivism has regard to the content of the act itself but also the likely consequences of the act.  In 99.9 per cent of cases we can safely say that acts such as killing, racism and torture are wrong on their own terms.  However, there are some interesting cases where they might be justified and therefore moral.

Sam Harris controversially argues in The End of Faith that torture might be justified in the most exceptional cases.  In a thought experiment that has no bearing whatsoever on the real world, Harris argues that if you know there is a ticking bomb somewhere in a large city that you know is going to kill thousands of people when it goes off and you know you have Osama bin Laden in your custody, it might be justified to use a relatively “mild” form of torture such water-boarding to get him talking.

My views on abortion are typical of my consequentialist views on morality.  I am a supporter of abortion, not because I think abortion is a wonderful thing that we need to encourage more of, but quite simply because the alternative, i.e. no access to abortion, is worse.  While I do not believe that human foetuses can experience pain (at least not until the final stages of pregnancy) or have emotions or memories, I do believe in the concept of the “unborn child”, and that every foetus deserves to have a shot at life.  If I personally was ever landed with an unplanned, I would think very carefully before deciding with my partner to go ahead and have an abortion.

However, denying women access to abortion is a far worse option.  Women are still going to want this procedure and it is better to make it legal safe as opposed to women going to a backstreet abortionist who might harm mother and child without actually carrying out the procedure successfully.  Anyone who has seen the original Michael Caine version of Alfie will know what I’m talking about.

Christopher Hitchens’ gleefully nasty exposé of Mother Teresa, The Missionary Position, puts the abortion question in its proper context:

When Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, few people had the poor taste to ask what she had ever done, or even claimed to do, for the cause of peace.  Her address to the ceremony of investiture did little to resolve any doubt on this score and much to increase it…

“We speak of peace.  These are things that threaten peace.  I think that today is threatened by abortion too, which is a true war, the direct killing of a child by its own mother…  Today, abortion is the worse evil, and the greatest enemy of peace…  We want children, and we love them.  But what about the other millions?  Many are concerned about the children, like those in Africa, who die in great numbers either from hunger or for other reasons.  But millions of children die intentionally, by the will of their mothers.  Because if a mother can kill her own child, what will prevent us from killing ourselves, or one another?  Nothing.”

There is not much necessity to identify the fallacies and distortions which are piled upon one another here.  Few women who have had abortions, even those who feel remorse or regret, will recognise themselves as having committed actual infanticide.  If there are ‘millions’ of children being slain this way, so that they compare to the millions of children dying from malnutrition and pestilence, then there is clearly no hope for Mother Teresa’s adoption solution.  (She claims to have rescued only three or four dozen orphans from entire Bangladesh calamity, for example).  Moreover, these impressive figures should be enough at least to impel reconsideration in those who proclaim that all pregnancies are ‘wanted’ by definition and that there can be no excess population.

Abortion is an ugly reality but rejecting it on the basis of an absolutist view of the sanctity of human life is far worse.  Human morality ultimately comes down to the prevention of human suffering and the promotion of human happiness.  While we still debate whether human foetuses suffer during their own destruction, the misery experienced by women in countries such as El Salvador where abortion is denied even to rape victims, is undeniable.

Hitler’s Pope by John Cornwell

Eugenio Pacelli, Pius XII, who was pope during the Second World War and infamously remained silent in the face of the plight of Europe’s Jews, despite knowing full-well that they were being systematically exterminated by the Nazis practically under the balcony of the Vatican, is of course a highly polarising figure with as many supporters as detractors.

In the first show I described John Cornwell has having produced “some of the best critical work on the Catholic Church with Hitler’s Pope on Pius XII and The Pope in Winter on John Paul II.  In the second show I said that the author of “flea” response, Darwin’s Angel, had written a “damning biography on Eugenio Pacelli with Hitler’s Pope.”

While I do think Hitler’s Pope is a gripping read and raises many serious allegations against the wartime pontiff, I do have a few caveats to place upon it.  Cornwell has been criticised by other historians for being unbalanced.  Catholic defender Ronald Rycklak alleged Cornwell made many errors of fact and context in Hitler, The War and The Pope.  (See Rycklak’s review of Hitler’s Pope here and Kenneth Woodward’s review here.)  The Vatican has denied Cornwell’s claim to have received special access to the Vatican’s wartime archives in researching the book while supporting Rycklak’s.

Cornwell backtracked slightly from his allegations against Pacelli in The Pope in Winter:

I would now argue, in the light of the debates and evidence following Hitler’s Pope that Pius XII had so little scope of action that it is impossible to judge the motives for his silence during the war, while Rome was under the heel of Mussolini and later occupied by the Germans.

Wikipedia’s entry for Hitler’s Pope reports that in a recent interview, Cornwell stated:

While I believe with many commentators that the pope might have done more to help the plight of the Jews, I now feel, 10 years after the publication of my book, that his scope for action was severely limited and I am prepared to state this.  Nevertheless, due to his ineffectual and diplomatic language in respect of the Nazis and the Jews, I still believe that it was incumbent on him to explain his failure to speak out after the war.  This he never did.

The Bulletin, Philadelphia, 27 September 2008

Cornwell has been criticised for not being a balanced writer.  Indeed, I was angered by the gross distortions and ad hominems against Richard Dawkins that pervaded Darwin’s Angel. I do therefore handle Hitler’s Pope with caution.  It is certainly a gripping read and many of its allegations have not been satisfactorily refuted by its detractors, who have simply attempted to play up Pacelli’s unfortunate predicament as a good excuse for his (in)actions during World War II as opposed to outlining a clear case for his defence.

J R R Tolkien wrote The Lord of The Rings as a warning against totalitarianism.  While of course I cannot be sure of the author’s true motives, I see the character of Saruman, the fallen white wizard, (played by Christopher Lee in Peter Jackson’s superb film adaptations) as an allegory for Pius XII.  He may not have been a true supporter of the despotism he was confronted with, but he acted in the name of self-preservation in such a way as to provide support for evil as opposed to fighting it at all costs.

I therefore feel that Pacelli has not shaken the mantra “Hitler’s Pope” and indeed in many respects he has earned it.  Once the worst of the mud has been thrown at him, and irrespective of whether or not he was anti-Semitic, he still acted like a politician, a man as mortal and as fallible as any of the rest of us; hardly the actions of a man who could really claim to hold the keys of St Peter.

One also has to wonder if the Vatican truly has nothing to hide, why it doesn’t open its wartime archives fully to the general public and settle the matter once and for all…

Christianity’s role in the Holocaust

In the second show, David contended that if Hitler had been a Christian the Holocaust would not have happened.  Having recently read Ian Kershaw’s definitive account of Hitler and seeing what an empty, soulless, nasty rat of a man that he was, I was charitable in not wanting to tar Christianity with Hitler’s brush, even if I could prove that he was as devote a Christian as Dubya.

However, Christian or atheist, there is no avoiding the historical fact that the anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany was set against a backdrop of centuries of Christian persecution of Jews.  Martin Luther, the founder of the Protestant sect penned a screed entitled On the Jews and Their Lies (text) which called for Jews to be driven out from Christian countries, and I wonder who put that idea into practice?

In addition, Hitler was greatly impressed with the notorious anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion (Download PDF), which was first published in 1902 by the Tsarist secret police and describes the plans of international Jewry to take over the World, and is still believed by many radical Muslims, not least of whom is the current Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf:

[The Protocols] are based on a forgery, the Frankfurter Zeitung moans and screams once a week: the best proof that they are authentic.  What many Jews may do unconsciously is here consciously exposed.  And that is what matters.  It is completely indifferent from what Jewish brain these disclosure originate: the important thing is that with positively terrifying certainty they reveal the nature and activity of the Jewish people and expose their inner contexts as well and their final aims…  Anyone who examines the historical development of the last hundred years from the standpoint of this book will at once understand the screaming of the Jewish press.

So whether or not Hitler was actually a religious believer, he clearly knew how to pander to religious prejudices for his own ends and Christianity must bear some of the blame for this.

Many of Hitler’s commanders and soldiers most certainly were Christians.  According to Catholic historian Paul Johnson’s A History of Christianity, something in the region of 25 per cent of the Waffen SS were confessing Catholics; not a single one of them was excommunicated for taking part in the Final Solution.  Joseph Goebbels was the only Nazi to be denied the sacraments, but that was much earlier on and he was the author of his own misfortune in that he committed the sin of marrying a divorcée Protestant.   Never let it be said that the Church does not have some standards.

Daniel Jonah Goldhagen (an historian respected and vilified in equal quantities as much as John Cornwell) has produced damning assessments of the Catholic Church’s conduct in Hitler’s Willing Executioners – which David cites in The Dawkins Letters and indeed had with him in the studio at the time of recording our debates – and A Moral Reckoning.  One of the shameful episodes cited by Goldhagen and corroborated by Cornwell and Guenter Lewy was the Church allowing the Nazis access to their records of births, marriages and deaths in order to implement the racial purity laws.  This not only made the Church complicit in Hitler’s euthanasia programme, it took them to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

To finish this section on a personal note, I can relate to how Christianity is so implicitly anti-Semitic.  When I was about 11 or 12, well before discovering Dawkins and Hitchens, I remember reading about the Holocaust in my school history text book.  Following the description of the Nazi’s atrocities was a paragraph at the bottom of the page explaining that the Jews were an obvious target for sectarian hatred since they had been seen in Europe for centuries as “the Christ killers”.

While the religious teaching I received was not blatantly anti-Semitic or racist, I had figured out the answer long before I read that paragraph.  It was so obvious to me after hearing for years in scripture class and morning assembly how “the Jews rejected Christ’s message”, “the Jews demanded his execution over that of a known rebel and a traitor”, “the Jews are still waiting for their Messiah to arrive; they’ve missed the boat.”  Why wouldn’t the Jews be a target of such scapegoating?

With this in mind, together with the fact that the Vatican only rescinded the charge of deicide against the Jewish people as late as 1965, there is convincing case that – far from being a perversion of Christianity – the Holocaust was the natural conclusion for the Passion of Christ.

Evidence that an atheist would accept for God’s existence

It is a debater’s trick in which William Lane Craig is well versed to say that your opponent failed to answer a challenge.   Perhaps I argued against the apologists’ existing arguments for God too much in the first show, but to clarify here is a list of evidence that an atheist would accept for God:

  • A truly spectacular miracle, not just one child surviving a plane crash that has claimed the lives of 153 less fortunate passengers.  May be if the Almighty had guided the plane to a safe landing when all its engines had failed, thus saving everyone on board.  The title of this website is the first and last word for whether there can be a truly loving, intervening, miracle-working God:

www.whywontgodhealamputees.com

  • If one type of prayer were convincingly demonstrated to work better than another type.  For instance, if the efficacy of prayers said by Christians were consistently significantly greater than that of prayers said by Muslims or pagans, or people who just keep their fingers crossed.  Or if any kind of prayer were shown to have a consistent, significant effect.  Or if a single prayer achieved something truly extraordinary, something which simply could not be otherwise explained: see re-growth of errant limbs referred to above.
  • If a new planet were to appear (as opposed to just being seen for the first time thanks to better instruments, for instance) in the solar system. This would violate the law of energy conservation and could only have a non-natural cause.
  • If evidence were to emerge that the universe must have begun in a high state of order, necessarily imposed from outside.
  • If the Bible had contained some specific information about the world which was unknown to science at the time of the “revelation” but which was later confirmed by observation. If it contained successful predictions of specific events in our own time that could have no plausible alternate explanation (not just vague allusions to suffering/ evil/ upheaval).
  • If someone undergoing a religious experience subsequently had new, verifiable knowledge that could not have been gained by other means. Not the usual stuff about how we should all love one another and watch our cholesterol, but something specific such as someone in the 20th century specifically knowing that on 26 December 2004 a tsunami in the Indian Ocean would kill hundreds of thousands of people. We just couldn’t account for such prescience other than by the existence of something outside the material world.
  • If Jesus has returned to Earth trailing clouds of glory to judge the living and the dead and generally bring about God’s Holy Kingdom when he said he would – Matthew 16 and 24.
  • If some of the massive events of the Old Testament and the surrounding characters where confirmed by modern archaeological research.  However, “minimalist” scholars such as William Dever and Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman have written off the patriarchs, the Egyptian captivity, the exodus, the wandering and the conquest of Canaan as myths on a par with King Arthur plucking Excalibur from the grasp of The Lady of the Lake for want of archaeological evidence despite concerted efforts.  Geographers can’t even figure which peak is Mount Sinai!

Having said that, I don’t think the burden should be on me to prove or disprove anything.  I can’t disprove the existence of the Judeo-Christian God any more than I can disprove the existence of Zeus, Thor, Mithras, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  The cosmologist Carl Sagan once said that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”  As the Hitch would say, “what can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.” Apologists present no evidence for God, only “inferences to the ‘best’ explanation”.

So let’s just a hold on what apologists are claiming:

Think about it, religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches every thing you do, every minute of every day.  And the invisible man has a list of ten special things that he does not want you to do.  And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish where he will send to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry for ever and ever till the end of time…  But he loves you!

– George Carlin

But what kinds of explanations that religious types do offer?  They are usually along the lines of:

“Well, there has to be a reason why there’s ‘something’ rather ‘nothing’.”

“There has to be something more than just this miserable little life.”

“Otherwise humans would go about raping and killing each other.”

“This guy who lived 2,000 years ago on the other side of the world, he said some really profound things about the need to be nice to each other.  I mean, come on, he has to be right about everything: it says here that his mum never went to bed with anyone!”

“Without eternal reward after death there would be no purpose in life.”

“’Why?’ I hear you ask.  Well, there just has to be, ok?!”

Reasonable faith based on evidence?  I think not.

And finally: purpose in life without God

I’ll give the last point to David.  He’s right; my glass is completely empty:

Well, I can only answer for myself.  What cheers me up?  I suppose mainly gloating over the misfortunes of other people.  I guess that has to be it, yeah, mainly crowing over the miseries of others.  It doesn’t always work, but it never completely fails.  And then there’s irony.  There’s irony, which is the gin in the Campari; the cream in the coffee.  Sex can have diminishing returns, but it’s amaaaazing.  No, that’s pretty much it and then it’s a clear run to the grave.

– Christopher Hitchens

Books cited or recommended

Cornwell, J. (2008). Darwin’s Angel: An Angelic Riposte to The God Delusion. London: Profile Books.

Cornwell, J. (2000). Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII. London: Penguin.

Cornwell, J. (2005). The Pope in Winter: The Dark Face of John Paul II’s Papacy. London: Penguin.

Dawkins, R. (2007). The God Delusion. London: Transworld Publishers.

Dever, W G. (1993). Recent Archaeological Discoveries and Biblical Research. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

Finkelstein, I and Asher Silberman, N. (2002). The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. New York: Touchstone.

Goldhagen, D J. (1996). Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. New York: Alfred A Knopf.

Goldhagen, D J. (2002). A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair. New York: Alfred A Knopf.

Harris, S. (2006). The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason. London: Simon & Schuster.

Hitchens, C.  (2007). God Is Not Great: The Case Against Religion. London: Atlantic Books.

Hitchens, C. (1995). The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. London: Verso.

Hitler, A. (2005). Mein Kampf. Translated by Ralph Manheim.  London: Pimlico.

Johnson, P. (1990). A History of Christianity. London: Penguin.

Kershaw, I. (1998). Hitler, 1889 – 1936: Hubris. London: Penguin.

Kershaw, I. (2000). Hitler, 1936 – 1945: Nemesis. London: Penguin.

Lane Fox, R. (2006). The Unauthorised Version: Truth and Fiction in The Bible. London: Penguin.

Lewy, G. (1964). The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Robertson, D A. (2008). The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheists Myths. Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications.

Rychlak, R J. (2000). Hitler, the War, and the Pope. Columbus, MS: Genesis Press.

Stenger, V J. (2008). God, The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist. New York: Prometheus Books.

Debates with David Robertson and Richard Morgan on Unbelievable?

11/09/2009

David Robertson

http://www.stpeters-dundee.org.uk/

-v-

Richey

https://edthemanicstreetpreacher.wordpress.com/

manicstreetpreacher goes head-to-head with one of the most determined Christian opponents to the New Atheists.

I recorded two debates with David Robertson, pastor of St Peter’s Free Church in Dundee and author of Christian response to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, The Dawkins Letters and Richard Morgan, a former atheist Internet debater now converted to Christianity through the words of Robertson.

The first is to be broadcast on Saturday, 12 September 2009, 2:30pm BST.

It’s a general chat about religious debating online, although we do touch on a few other issues.

The second is to be broadcast on Saturday, 19 September 2009, 2:30pm BST.

This one is whether Europe should be atheist or Christian, although from memory, that topic went out the window pretty quickly!

Untitled-3

You can listen live online at the Unbelievable? homepage.

Or more conventionally on one of the following:

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

Podcasts of the debates should go up on the site shortly after they are broadcast and can be downloaded here.

The podcast to Show One: Richard Morgan, David Robertson and MSP discuss religious debating online, Unbelievable?, Premier Christian Radio, 12 September 2009 can be downloaded here.

The podcast to Show Two: Richard Morgan, David Robertson and MSP discuss the rights and wrongs of Christian and atheist influences on Europe, Unbelievable? Premier Christian Radio, 19 September 2009 can be downloaded here.

I have also put a discussion topic on the Unbelievable? group page on Premier Christian Community here.

Richard Morgan has posted a discussion thread on the Unbelievable?, forum page on Premier Christian Community here (which he subsequently deleted because the posts against him and David Robertson were too angry accusatory!?!?!?!)

For the second show, David Robertson has posted a discussion thread on the Unbelievable? group page on Premier Christian Community here.

Pre-debate email correspondence between me and David Robertson is on my blog here.

My pre-debate review of Robertson’s book and public speaking is here.

See also my afterthought piece on the debates here.

!!!STOP PRESS!!!

15 September 2009

The first show has been posted on RichardDawkins.net here and Atheist Media Blog here.

I’ve had some very positive comments made from other bloggers:

48. Comment #415404 by Sp!tfire on September 15, 2009 at 6:05 pm

Ed Turner:

“We don’t live in a fine tunned universe at all… God could design us to survive in the cold hard vacuum”

Perfect. This empties the fine tunning argument very well…

And not least of which is from Dawkins himself:

162. Comment #415683 by Richard Dawkins on September 16, 2009 at 9:47 am

By the way, now that I am here, when I said the broadcast was stupefyingly boring I should have excepted Ed Turner, who was certainly not boring. The trouble is, you have to sit through a lot of other stuff before you get to him and I suspect that most people wouldn’t have the patience.

Richard

!!!STOP PRESS AGAIN!!!

29 September 2009

Some troll called Todd Pitner from Ashville, North Carolina, United States, has posted a self-confessed ad hominem attack about me on the Premier Christian forum Enough already! in response to my last two shows.  I quote it in full:

I know that it’s important to have a dissenting voice within ‘Unbelievable’, but I pray that you stop giving airtime to Ed Turner. His lack of originality in ‘all matters atheism’ is exhausting. I noticed during his first guest appearance that he was ‘clunky’ with his arguments and that they were all borrowed from others whom recycled arguments too, but at least they did it with some sense of originality. He talks about “fleas”…my goodness! His self-ordained “subject matter expertise” on atheism is painfully transparent. Why continue to provide a platform for him to continue with his Milli Vanilli act?

Honestly, I can take the arrogant dismissal of God’s truth (with ignorant contempt) from the Four Horsemen, but stop already with Ed Turner. Please! Surely there are other qualified unregenerate representatives of the Godless whom can spread the Gospel According to ‘Much-Ado-About-Narcissism’ in a less nauseating fashion.

If this seems like an ad hominem attack, guilty. “Forgive me Father, for I am not doing 1 Peter 3:15 proud. But you know my heart – I just can’t take this poser anymore. Hit Ctrl-Alt-Del already!”

See, on one hand there is truth – on the other, atheism. Attempting to suck off the teat of both resides Ed Turner, excelling in self-satisfied self-deception.

So then Ed asked the Christian, “May I please borrow your worldview to argue against it?”

Fleas be with you.

Todd

I was in two minds as to whether to respond to this.  The Villi Minnilli comment was a bit below the belt.  I admit that I pinched a line from Hitchens’ debate with William Lane Craig that heaven was essentially a “theme park in the sky” and I based my view that North Korea under Kim Jung Il was essentially a political religion on Hitchens’, but at least I credited him with the latter.

I have never made any secret of the fact that I have been inspired by the Four Horseman.  I dare say that I need another ten years’ reading and writing to come up with something truly original, but then again, none of the arguments for God’s existence are new, so the arguments against aren’t exactly fresh either.  I can’t remember the last time that I read a response to Dawkins’ that didn’t refer to C S Lewis or cite Francis Collins as proof that there is no conflict between science and religion…

What matters in the fight against religion is not whether the arguments are new or old, but that they are repeated often enough by enough people until we eliminate its poisonous influence upon the world.

If the Four Horsemen’s arguments are so tired and stale, believers should have no problem refuting them at a stroke, as opposed to resorting to name calling and accusations of plagiarism.

Besides, if you read all the replies, Mr Pitner exposes himself to be an obnoxious little twerp who (like most Christian apologists) has no actually arguments and has to resort to name calling!  As mysterious atheist blogger Tommy rather sensibly states, Todd resembles:

a drunken boxer flailing in the ring, hurling abuse and trying to get the crowd on his side, but ultimately fighting imaginary opponents.

Since you arrived here you seem to have been so volatile with everyone. We might not all agree but we are all human beings. Accusing others of mental disease and threatening them with an eternity by an open fire is pretty bombastic behavior.

Now, to draft a response of my own to this ignorant little upstart from the Colonies…

Show One on Skepticule

29 September 2009

Paul S Jenkins has posted a podcast of his musings on his Skepitcule blog here.

The comments about me are very positive, but they would be, wouldn’t they?  Paul is a very interesting sceptical character and has made some superb contributions to my blog recently, particularly with his comments on my latest attack on William Lane Craig here, if you scroll down and read the his replies to Richard Morgan.

The words “mouth”, “out” and “took” spring to mind!

Replies to Todd Pitner on Premier Christian Community

30 September 2009

I have posted a series of replies to Todd Pitner’s attack on me on the Unbelievable? group page in response to my latest shows with David Robertson and Richard Morgan.

The links to my replies on the forum and the text are reproduced below:

Comment:258159

Wow!  My first ad hominem attack.  As Oscar Wilde would have it, “The only thing worse that being talked about is not being talked about”!

I was in two minds as to whether to respond to Todd’s trolling, but since he has revealed himself to be a silly little boy who has no arguments whatsoever (original or plagiarised) I thought I would wade in and have some fun.

Long live the Four Horsemen!

Comment:258165

From Day One, I have made no secret of the fact that the Four Horsemen aka New Atheists are my main source of inspiration.  If anyone wants to call me a human quote-machine or a walking bibliography, I take no offence.

The Villi Minnilli comment was a bit below the belt.  I admit that in the last show with Robertson and Morgan, I pinched a line from Hitchens’ debate with William Lane Craig that heaven was essentially a “theme park in the sky” and I based my view that North Korea under Kim Jung Il was a political religion on Hitchens’ arguments, but at least I credited him with the latter.

I think Todd better get his definitions straight though.  Quote-mining is taking a quote out of context in order to misrepresent the true views of their author.  I feel that I have been pretty faithful to Dawkins & Co.

Besides, I can’t remember a theistic debater or apologetics piece that didn’t name-drop C S Lewis…

Long live The Hitch!

Comment:258167

I’m such a fan of Hitchens’ verbal style that I have even complied a collections of his sayings from books, articles, lectures and debates which you can read on my own blog here, and have even typed out the full transcript of his freedom of speech lecture at the University of Toronto in 2006 here and have posted the YouTube videos of a 1988 appearance on C-Span here.

Please also see this piece here, which I have recently published on my blog that attacks William Lane Craig’s take on the God-ordered atrocities of the Old Testament and references an article by Hitchens!

“Same tired old atheism…”

Comment:258172

There is nothing “new” about the New Atheists, they are just recent.  I see myself as taking up the baton and spreading their ideas, because they are not the only ones who are fed up to the back teeth of being pushed around by others who claim that they have divine permission to force their unproven, ridiculous faith-based dogmas down other people’s throats.

However, simply attacking the credibility of my sources is no substitute for attacking the arguments themselves.  David Robertson spends a vast proportion of his book and public speaking denouncing Dawkins’ “shrillness” but actually neglects to deal with the substance of his arguments.

For further elaboration, please see my pre-debate review of Robertson’s book and public speaking here in which I haul him up for this lazy tactic.

Todd, I’m afraid that you are guilty of exactly the same tactic.  Tell me, do they teach ad hominem as a core subject in Bible class around the world?

None of the arguments for God’s existence are actually new and therefore the arguments against aren’t exactly fresh either.  But the latter do require enough people to keep repeating them and then one day we might crack the straggle-hold of religion upon society.

A foot soldier of the Four Horsemen –v- A Flea

Comment:258173

I actually debated one of the “fleas”, Peter S Williams, at Liverpool University at the start of this year.  And trounced him thoroughly.

Williams’ response to Dawkins, A Sceptic’s Guide to Atheism harped on about how terrible everyone else thought Dawkins’ philosophical arguments were, but failed to counter them effectively.

I used some of the Four Horsemen’s arguments in our debate and he simply had no reply to them.

You can read my reviews of two of Williams’ God books in the aftermath of our debate here and here.  Williams’ responses on his blog are linked in the comments section at the bottom.

Unbelievable? debut – September 2008

Comment:258179

I am extremely grateful to Tommy for trashing my performance in my first Unbelievable? debates against theologian Andy Bannister in September last year.  As I said in the first Morgan/ Robertson show, he was the motivation for me to sign up to a few online religious debate forums and start up my own blog which helped me engage more with the arguments and come up with a few of my own.

I drafted an afterthought piece on the Bannister encounters, which you can read here.

I MUST draw your attention to the point about the Roman Census in Show 1.  Bannister said that Dawkins had “been machine-gunned to the wall by scholars of all stripes” for stating in The God Delusion that Luke’s census that required the population to return to the home town of their ancestors to register was historical nonsense.

One of my friends who heard the show when it first went out emailed me at the time saying Bannister was talking nonsense.  I forwarded the comment to him but he ignored it.  I addressed it in the piece on my blog, pointing out that Dawkins actually cites historians A N Wilson and Robin Lane Fox in support and he still ignored it.  I emailed him the full quote from Fox’s book The Unauthorised Version in a later post of mine and he had nothing to say to that either!

Indeed, make sure you scroll down to the comments section of my piece and read his furious reaction of me trashing his specious assertions over “context” here.  Read also Steven Carr’s schooling of Bannister over Richard Bauckham’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses here.

See also my polemic against American Christian apologist of the Hyde Park Christian Fellowship and Unbelievable? stalwart, Jay Smith here, which exposes Bannister further.

Any great loss?

Comment:258181

Todd’s not going to listen to Unbelievable? any more if I’m on again?

Justin, we really need to get round to those debates on whether theology is not a complete waste of the world’s rainforests and whether God wants us to keep slaves…

Replies to Premier Christian Community Discussion Thread on Show Two

2 October 2009

David Robertson posted a discussion thread on the Unbelievable? group page on Premier Christian Community here.

Would Europe be better off atheist than Christian?

Posted by David Robertson on September 21, 2009 at 7:55pm in Unbelievable

Discuss!

I’ll kick things off by saying that I thought Ed was amiable, intelligent, articulate and put his case well. It is such a shame for him that it is such a poor case! A renewal and revival of real Christianity in Europe is the only thing that can save us from social chaos, economic collapse and moral disintegration.

Can I make a small request? When we discuss these things can we refrain from the personal insults?  Much appreciated….

David

The following was by far the most interesting and meaty reply:

Reply by David on September 21, 2009 at 9:57pm

I thought it was a great show and all of you made interesting points. Most of my disagreements, however, are with Ed (although seeing as my biases are obviously towards Christianity, I wouldn’t take it personally: p) I’ll apologise now that my thoughts on the show ended up longer than I expected when I began this post!

I noticed that Ed kept pointing out that Stalin etc weren’t rational however I can’t see why that matters. The discussion wasn’t over whether Europe should be based on reason and logic (with David Robertson, presumably, arguing that politicians should come up with illogical arguments for their policies) If you want a rational Europe then will atheism provide that? Clearly Britain is becoming more secular yet are we becoming more scientific and rational? Where are the TV schedules brimming with science programmes (all of which get high viewing figures)? Why do universities find it harder to fill science courses than other subjects? Why do most newspapers have horoscopes? An atheist Europe does not mean a rational Europe.

Another thing I found curious is the way atheists will claim Hitler was a Christian even though he never went to church on a regular basis, talked about God less and less the longer he was in power and is on record for being critical of Christianity. I wonder, had Hitler been a world famous scientist and Einstein an evil dictator then would atheists still be confident that Hitler believed in God and Einstein did not?

In the show, Ed claimed society gave religion an easy ride, yet does it? If a Christian claims to be morally and intellectually superior to everyone else they are quite rightly accused of being arrogant and judgemental. If an atheist does it, they get a round of applause and sell lots of books. Would, for example, a newspaper dare publish an article claiming only theists can be in charge of the NIH (as Sam Harris and others did with Frances Collins?) How often do people poke fun at religion? I can only think of one example of somebody poking fun at atheism (and that’s John Cleese who has made fun of religion as well).

In the show Ed asked David Robertson what his views on evolution are however I got the feeling this was in the hope he would admit to being a creationist and all the atheists could give a round of applause having seen the litmus test for rationality failed. But the show wasn’t on evolution nor do I believe those sorts of questions are done in the interest of truth. A while ago the Guardian got 3 scientists, two popular writers and two broadcasters and made them do a science quiz. One of the questions asked was ‘how old is the earth?’ Seeing as society is obsessed with the fact creations are wrong you’d think that all eight of the panel would have the age of the universe ready to roll off their tongue. You’d certainly think the scientists would know it off by heart. But no – Robert Winston was the only one to get it right and he’s Jewish. Is being ignorant about the age of the universe socially acceptable but being misinformed wrong? Why does David Robertson’s beliefs on evolution prove Europe would be better off without God? The sad truth is that this ‘enlightened’ secular society is just as scientifically illiterate than many creationists are. The only difference being, that saying ‘I find science boring’ isn’t frowned upon in the same way as religion is.

Finally, like a lot of atheists you seem to think that the moral argument is a claim to Christian superiority. That would be like hearing the fine tuning argument and then asking a Christian whether converting to atheism stops the universe from being finely tuned and causes them to float off into space. The question is a philosophical question about where morality comes from. If explaining the evolutionary origins of religion (as Dawkins spends a whole chapter doing in The God Delusion) disproves God then does writing a chapter on the evolutionary origins of morality prove that all Dawkins moral statements are no more than an accident of evolution?

Nonetheless, it was a fascinating discussion. I think a Christian Europe would be better than an atheist one not because there’ll be less corruption in politics or that Christians make better leader etc. I believe Europe will will be better of Christian because I believe that Christianity is true and a Europe with genuine hope is better than a Europe which is no more than a small spec in a meaningless universe. In a billion years time, will it matter what sort of Europe we ended up with. As I Christian I can say yes.

I’ll get round to responding in due course, but I have to quote Steven Carr’s reply to the following quote from one of Hitler’s secretaries, Traudl Junge, that Robertson quotes in his book and continually posts on Internet forums, emailed to me during our exchange and read out on Show 2 in order to demonstrate conclusive that  Der Führer was not a Christian:

Sometimes we also had interesting discussions about the church and the development of the human race. Perhaps it’s going too far to call them discussions, because he would begin explaining his ideas when some question or remark from one of us had set them off, and we just listened.  He was not a member of any church, and thought the Christian religions were outdated, hypocritical institutions that lured people into them.  The laws of nature were his religion.  He could reconcile his dogma of violence better with nature than with the Christian doctrine of loving your neighbour and your enemy.  “Science isn’t yet clear about the origins of humanity,” he once said. “We are probably the highest stage of development of some mammal which developed from reptiles and moved on to human beings, perhaps by way of the apes.  We are a part of creation and children of nature, and the same laws apply to us as to all living creatures.  And in nature the law of the struggle for survival has reigned from the first.  Everything incapable of life, everything weak is eliminated.  Only mankind and above all the church have made it their aim to keep alive the weak, those unfit to live, and people of an inferior kind.”

Traudall Junge – from Until the Final Hour – Arcade Publishing – 2004 – p108.

Carr replies as follows (NB: David Robertson persists on spelling Carr’s first name “Stephen”):

I see Robertson is still touting the quote from a woman who says on the very next page of the book that she had only a “very vague and inaccurate memory” of what Hitler had said.  Robertson always seems to leave that out.

In the very next line, Traudl Junge says she could remember only “fragments”. Robertson always seems to stop quoting just before that.  Funny…

(…)

And Robertson still cannot spell Traudl Junge’s name correctly, which speaks volumes for his inability to be corrected on even the tiniest detail.  He will never accept even that he spelled somebody’s name wrongly, he is so closed-minded!

Most rational people will accept after 10 or 12 reminders that they have not spelled somebody’s name correctly.  But Robertson is infallible.  If he believes Traudl should be spelled Traudall, then he will never change his mind, no matter how often he looks at the book he claims to have read.

You would think that just once or twice, Robertson would glance at the cover of the book he allegedly owns and see how to spell the woman’s name.

Or at least actually listen to somebody who knows how to spell it, and accept that for once in his life, Robertson might be wrong about something, even if it is only 1 thing in a 70 year lifespan.

Well done, Steven!  I’ll remember that if I ever meet Robertson at the debater’s lectern again!

My replies to David:

Comment:261078

Where are the TV schedules brimming with science programmes (all of which get high viewing figures)?  Why do universities find it harder to fill science courses than other subjects?  Why do most newspapers have horoscopes?  An atheist Europe does not mean a rational Europe.

David – I actually agree whole-heartedly with you here!  It is depressing how little column inches are dedicated to science in favour of horoscopes!

Indeed, my view of religion is that it is the ultimate superstition and/or conspiracy theory!  Humans have the innate tendency to attribute deliberate design and agency to everything that they see around them.

If a car or a watch had a designer, then surely an eye or universe must have come into existence through the same process?

Well, no.  But that’s for another thread.

Watch Dawkins’ Channel 4 series from a couple of years ago, The Enemies of Reason, which debunks superstition and pseudo-science like astrology, crystal-therapy, psychics, faith healers and homeopathy.

Also read my recent blog piece on homeopathy and a write-up of a brilliant lecture I attended on paranormal experiences.  The truth is not out there, it’s up here.

Comment:261081

Another thing I found curious is the way atheists will claim Hitler was a Christian even though he never went to church on a regular basis, talked about God less and less the longer he was in power and is on record for being critical of Christianity.

As I said on the show, I think that a serious case can be made either way as to Hitler’s religious beliefs.  David R quotes Traudl Junge, one of Hitler’s secretaries, who had to endure hours of his tedious ramblings into the small hours about how unchristian he was and how much he opposed the Church.  (Just how accurately Junge is quoted is a source of debate in itself, if you read Steven Carr’s post above.)  Robertson also quotes one of Hitler’s numerous anti-Christian remarks recorded in Table Talk.

On the other hand, it is not true to say that Hitler was a complete lapsed Catholic.  He constantly invoked God and Christ in his speeches and this website contains some fascinating pictures of him attending church and praying at a public rally.

I think that Christianity has to take a fair share of the blame for National Socialism, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, and not just the scientists or the intellectuals as Robertson maintains.

Whether or Hitler was himself a believer, he certainly knew how to play on people’s religious prejudices for his own ends.  He also had massive support from both Catholic and Protestant churches.  I expand on this in the relevant section in my afterthought piece.

Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot etc. certainly were atheists and there’s no way I can get away from that fact.  However, David R ignores the second strand of Dawkins’ argument in The God Delusion and simply equates lack of belief in God with being an evil mass-murder.

While atheism (or more accurately the extermination of conventional theistic religion and its replacement with a new order and a new Messiah) may have been part of the Communist totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, its members were not motivated by their simply disbelief in Yahweh, Christ or Zeus.  These were other political dogmas that combined with modern technology to produce an explosive cocktail of destruction.

I’m not writing one word in defence of Stalin.  I am simply saying that atheism cannot be blamed for him.

Comment:261082

If Ed is allowed to claim that Stalin et al weren’t real atheists then why can’t I claim that all the bad Christian leaders throughout history weren’t real Christians?

David – I certainly don’t make that claim at all!  From my pre-debate review of Robertson’s book and public speaking:

Robertson contradicts himself yet again in response to Dawkins quoting abusive and threatening emails from Christians.  He states that these people cannot be Christians because they are threatening violence as opposed to turning the other cheek and using foul language.  Further on, however, he refuses to accept the same “reasoning” from atheists who apparently argue that Hitler and Stalin could not have been atheists because they weren’t rational people.  What do want to do with your cake; have it or eat it?

And also:

Hitler and Stalin may or may not have been atheists, but they certainly weren’t secularists, humanists or rationalists.   I’m sure we could all topple the arguments for National Socialism if we put our minds it.  I’m equally certain that most people would struggle to accept that its founder and leader was a rational individual.   If he wanted a Thousand Year Reich, going to war with Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union simultaneously wasn’t really the best way to go about it.

Comment:261086

I wonder, had Hitler been a world famous scientist and Einstein an evil dictator then would atheists still be confident that Hitler believed in God and Einstein did not?

Well, this is simply a matter of the proper representation of Einstein’s true views.  At best, he could be described as a pantheist or a deist.  He used the word “God” to convey his belief Spinoza’s God: the God who created held universe together but took no interest in human affairs.  This is entirely metaphorical, but apologists leap on statements such as “science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind,” and leap on them as evidence that Einstein was a theist and therefore religion has scientific credibility.

Einstein himself made clear:

It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated.  I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly.  If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

I for one am certainly not going to try to claim that Francis Collins is really an atheist!  However, apologists think that it is a valid argument in support of the truth or usefulness of religious faith to claim that prominent scientists are really believers.

To finish off this discussion of Einstein’s religious beliefs, I have written a blog piece that shows a commonly quoted statement purporting to be from Einstein in support of the Church in Hitler’s Germany is a fabrication.

Comment:261091

In the show, Ed claimed society gave religion an easy ride, yet does it?

Well yes, it does actually.  Read the section on the Catholic Church’s present policy on condom use in the Third World in my afterthought piece for proof of this:

This is faith-based stupidity that carries with it potentially genocidal consequences.  It is only due to the automatic respect that is accorded to religion and its institutions – in effect a “free lunch” – means the Vatican can get away with it.

Imagine if the US president, the chief executive officer of a multi-national corporation or a leading celebrity made similar remarks.  Would their career survive?  Of course not.  So why do we make an exception for clergymen?

And do you think I don’t get sick of theists telling me that I have no morals or mentioning Hitler and Stalin in the same breath?

Comment:261091

Would, for example, a newspaper dare publish an article claiming only theists can be in charge of the NIH (as Sam Harris and others did with Francis Collins?)

Would you Adam and Eve it?!  It just so happens that I have written a detailed report of the strange case of Dr Collins and Mr Harris on my blog.

In his follow-up article to the piece in The New York Times, Harris well and truly put paid to the bogus idea that there can ever be a harmony between science and religion:

Is it really so difficult to perceive a conflict between Collins’ science and his religion?  Just imagine how scientific it would seem if Collins, as a devout Hindu, informed his audience that Lord Brahma had created the universe and now sleeps; Lord Vishnu sustains it and tinkers with our DNA (in a way that respects the law of karma and rebirth); and Lord Shiva will eventually destroy it in a great conflagration.

American evolutionary biologist and author of Why Evolution is True, Jerry A Coyne, wrote a suitably pithy rebuttal of Harris’ critics on his blog:

[Harris] did not say that Collins should be excluded from consideration.  Harris, like me, is simply worried about Collins using his status as NIH director to spread wacko religious ideas.  Harris has the additional concern (one that I don’t really share) that Collins might deflect research away from understanding the human brain and the behavior it engenders…

What is fascinating is that Collins has said no one single word in reply to Harris’ repeated tongue-lashings when atheist scientists like Richard Dawkins and Michael Shermer (and for that matter Harris himself) have gone to great lengths to make their views known when they have been misrepresented.

As they were with the film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

Comment:261092

In the show Ed asked David Robertson what his views on evolution are however I got the feeling this was in the hope he would admit to being a creationist and all the atheists could give a round of applause having seen the litmus test for rationality failed…  Why does David Robertson’s beliefs on evolution prove Europe would be better off without God?

Actually, David, the reason why I asked Robertson whether he believed in evolution or not was to demonstrate the strange partition in his brain between science and religion.

In The Dawkins Letters, Robertson stands up for the head of the science department, Stephen Layfield of Emmanuel College, after Dawkins rips into him for advocating children be taught “Creation Science” and “Flood Geology” (!) in science classes.  But Robertson adds the caveat that Layfield “may or may not be wrong” about evolution, but it’s better to let the little darlings make up their own minds.

I had two points to make in asking David to clarify his views.

Firstly, I think that deep down, David does believe in evolution because he sees the scientific coherency of it.  However, I think that he is also determined to hold onto his religious belief that all the evil and suffering in the world was due to Adam’s fall in the Garden of Eden for which we “messed up” and “polluted” human beings have been paying for every since.

Accepting evolution fully would destroy this meta-narrative for him, because death, pain and suffering are all part of the natural order and have nothing to do with man’s rejection of his creator.

Secondly, evolution is a fact whether we like the idea of being related to monkeys or not (although how that is any worse than being made from dirt, I do not know) and is part of the science that has rid the world of smallpox and predicts when earthquakes will happen.

It sounds so reasonable to “teach the argument” and let the children decide between evolution, creationism and “intelligent design”.  But just try to apply that to any other disciple:

OK children, we’ve seen photos of all those corpses piled high at places like Auschwitz and Belsen, heard the endless testimony of victims, perpetrators and rescuers and seen the documents showing that the Nazi leaders knew exactly what they were doing.

Now let’s hear from this guy David Irving, who says that it was all a hoax.

Then you can make up your own minds.

This article by Dawkins and Jerry Coyne following the decision in the Kitzmiller –v- Dover PA Intelligent Design trial is an excellent discussion of what is an isn’t proper to teach school children.

David Robertson’s nod to multi-cultural relativism is not going to help anyone.

Comment:261168

Finally, like a lot of atheists you seem to think that the moral argument is a claim to Christian superiority.

All I want to say about the moral argument here is that I am becoming ever more convinced that it is wishful thinking.

David quoted G K Chesterton’s famous remark that “when men stop believing in God, they won’t believe in nothing but in anything.”  I retorted that Chesterton himself was a very vocal supporter of fascism, so clearly his devout belief in God didn’t stop him from believing in anything.

Robertson as Christian doesn’t know anything more than I as an atheist know, or at least he doesn’t have access to any more sources of information than I do.

All this talk about how only a believer can aspire to absolute morality or can justify why they would risk their life to save that of stranger is white noise.

Clearly in reality morals are relative.  There are practices of yesteryear and in other parts of the world today that we in the West find abhorrent.  However the shifting moral Zeitgeist means that humanity makes moral progress without recourse to religion.  I doubt whether anyone today would want to return to the legal systems of the Bible.

Let’s say that in 50 years time it is taboo to eat meat, keep pets or harm animals in any way whatsoever.  The West has followed Peter Singer’s advice and has become vegan.

What will the theists say?  That respecting animals is the absolute standard of morality as dictated by the creator of the universe!

Doubtless there would be some Christians taking part in the fight to accord animals equal rights with human beings.  They would cherry-pick a few nice verses from the Bible respecting animals (and ignoring all those copious passages in Leviticus recommending animal sacrifice) and point to people like St Francis.

Nevertheless, in my imaginary future scenario, there would surely be plenty of non-believers who had formed their view independent of faith and indeed in spite of its opposition to societal change.

This is retrospective evidentialism of a particularly rank and hypocritical variety.

David Robertson does what he feels is right according to his innate morality and add God as a needless layer on top of it.