Friday, November 27, 2009

Einstein and atheism

Was Einstein an atheist? Some have thought so, but Einstein didn't, as the following quotations make clear.

‘I am not an atheist, and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations.’ (Quoted in M. Jammer, Einstein and Religion, Princeton 1999, p. 48.)

'Then there are the fanatical atheists whose intolerance is the same as that of the religious fanatics, and it springs from the same source. They are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who - in their grudge against the traditional "opium for the people" - cannot bear the music of the spheres. The Wonder of nature does not becomes smaller because one cannot measure it by the standards of human moral and human aims.' (ibid, p. 97.)

‘What really makes me angry is that they ['people who say there is no God'] quote me for support of their views.’ (ibid, p. 150.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Militant Atheist Terror Twentieth Century Style

Today is the feast day of Miguel Pro, a young Mexican Jesuit priest and one of the personae of this blog. Writing in 1939, Graham Greene observed that the militant atheist dictator President Calles of Mexico embarked on the fiercest persecution of religion anywhere since the reign of Elizabeth I (aka 'Good' Queen Bess). Calles ruthlessly enforced the anti-Catholic provisions of the 1917 Mexican constitution, which among other things prohibited the Church from involvement in primary and secondary education and made secular education mandatory. It is chilling that atheists in the twenty first century, closer to home, have expressed similar ambitions for secular only education (see Friday's blog below). During the terror of the Mexican regime, churches were closed and mass had to be said in secret. Priests and religious were arrested and executed. Administering the sacraments was a capital offense but Miguel Pro was undeterred from offering the mass and continually outwitted the military police, at times disguising himself as one of them! He was an extraordinary and brave character. According to one of his biographers, he 'had a case filled with disguises, false mustaches, putty noses, spectacles of all kinds, costumes from dungarees to morning coats, and a rubber face that could flicker from peon to patrician in an instant, no matter what the clothes.' He was in disguise when Calles' henchmen eventually caught up with and arrested him. The priest was accused by the state on trumped up charges, no evidence was brought against him, and he had no trial. He was shot dead by firing squad on the 23rd November 1927.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Atheist Child

Today sees the final phase of the atheist bus campaign, not on buses but on billboards. According to the promoters, the aim of the ‘Don’t Label Me’ billboard campaign is to challenge the idea that children can be labelled with their parents' religion. One of the posters from the campaign has a picture of a small child and the caption alongside reads, "Please don't label me, let me grow up and choose for myself". In truth, this campaign by the British Humanist Association (BHA) of which Richard Dawkins is the vice-president, is just a bit of softening up of the British public for the real agenda, which is to get rid of faith schools. According to their website, the BHA’s stated aim is to ‘stimulate and organise local campaigns against new faith schools and lobby government and parliament to reform law that allows state funded schools’. The line that this campaign is about freedom of thought for children reeks of hypocrisy given Dawkins’ recent funding of an atheist summer camp for children as young as six. It seems that in Dawkins’ utopia only atheists are to be allowed to pass on their beliefs to their, and anyone else’s, children.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

It wasn't Mussolini

In the recent discussions concerning the judgement of the European Courts of Human Rights concerning the placing of crucifixes in public buildings in Italy, many of the commentariat in the media have been saying that they appeared there as a result of the concordat between the Vatican and Mussolini. No they didn't; they were there before Mussolini was born. See Anna Arco's Diary. But then the atheist media never let the facts get in the way of a good anti-Catholic story.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Removing Christ from Christmas

The attempted re-writing of Christmas by the German Nazi state is more evidence, if more were needed, that atheism and tyranny are inextricably linked. Any of this sound familiar?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Unhappy Atheist

A recently published book entitled, An Atheist Defends Religion: Why Humanity is Better Off with Religion Than Without It, by Bruce Sheiman, argues that the benefits of religious belief in terms of, among other things, psychological, emotional, existential, and even physical health outweigh the drawbacks. It seems that some atheists at least are coming to terms with the latest scientific research on this subject. Now, while evidence for the psychological and health benefits of religious belief is clear, and while there is undeniably more that a whiff of the melancholic in the writings of atheists, all this psychologising can never be the whole story. After all Thomas More and others who were willing to give their lives for their belief in God didn't go to their deaths because they thought it would lead to psychological health and physical well being! Rather, they accepted death because they thought their belief in the existence of God was TRUE, and because they were willing to go where that truth led them, despite the personal cost to themselves.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The stifling of intelligent debate

Having read some of the triumphalist comments by atheists doing the rounds on the internet about the alleged trouncing received by the representatives of the Catholic Church, Ann Widdecombe and Archbishop John Onaiyekan, in the Intelligence Squared debate, I was expecting to be dazzled by the brilliant wit and intellectual verve of their atheist opponents, Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens. As it turns out what was dazzling about the arguments of Fry and Hitchens was their paucity.

It was mostly familiar stuff. Fry accused the Church of being obsessed with sex, yet his own focus revealed his predilection for the topic, in particular (surprise) his own homosexuality. His main complaint seemed to be that according to the teaching of the Church he had been labelled as a ‘disordered morally evil individual’. But Fry neglects the Church’s careful distinction between the person and the act (popularly known as love the sinner, hate the sin). The Church does condemn homosexual acts as sinful, just as it condemns all adulterous acts as sinful, but it does not condemn homosexuals per se, just as it does not condemn adulterers.

Priests, nuns and monks who chose celibacy were excoriated for being ‘unnatural’, while homosexuals were praised for their healthy joyous attitude toward sex. (This is an odd turnaround for Fry who was himself openly celibate for a number of years.) Argument, in so far as there was argument, proceeded along the lines of - all priests are paedophiles, all homosexuals are wonderful. Yet, it seems to have escaped Fry’s notice that a significant proportion of the child abuse of which he complained was committed by priests who were themselves homosexual. But the debate never got that far.

Hitchens was at his most cringing when he declared that he would, with open arms, welcome Fry, qua homosexual, to baby sit his children while promptly dispatching in a taxi any individual in ‘holy orders’ who turned up at his door to do the same. This piece of wisdom was offered to the, by now, baying crowd (overwhelmingly London metrosexual?) and the grateful Fry as if it was a knockdown argument. But, as with Fry, something has clearly gone awry with Hitchens’ logic. If Hitchens would bar all religious from babysitting his children on the basis that some have committed sexual crimes, then, by his own lights, he would also have to bar all homosexuals, including Fry, from babysitting his children, given that some homosexuals too have been guilty of sexual criminality.

But, what may really be at issue, and what Archbishop John Onaiyekan put his finger on at the end of the debate is that there is an agenda here to silence the Church, or anyone else for that matter who speaks with anything less than fawning admiration for homosexual practice. As the archbishop observed no one is forced to follow the teaching of the Church, neither are they compelled to always speak favourably of its practices. Is the same freedom of speech being extended to Catholics, and others who hold a similar unenchanted view of homosexuality, by those on the opposite side of the debate? The message from the outbursts of Hitchens and Fry was that it most certainly was not, and that if they get the chance these promoters of atheism and homosexuality will ensure that the Church (and any others who oppose them) are silenced, by whatever means.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The multiverse or Why produce a simple solution to a problem, when a complicated one will do?

In their attempt to escape the implications of the fact that the universe we exist in is improbable, some physicists (and others) have reified the notion of possible worlds into that of multiverses. One example is provided by Martin Rees in his Simonyi Lecture, Oxford, 2003:

In the same way that we might marvel at the chances that the Earth supports life, we might marvel at the chances that the laws of physics support such a complex universe.

One possible answer, which is currently purely speculative, is that there may be infinite universes – or several universes packed into the same space in such a way that we are unaware of them because of an extra dimension that we cannot perceive. In the same way that, with zillions of stars, it is not surprising to find at least one biofriendly planet, if there had been zillions of big bangs it would not be surprising to find at least one complex universe. 'This is not metaphysics, but science – albeit speculative science'.

One wonders what happened to that principle so beloved of scientists, occam's razor? We have been told by physicists, mathematicians and others for decades that the simplest solution is best. Now that they fear this might let God in, some seek to avoid this difficulty by reference to what we might call 'occam's snake oil'. After all, why produce a simple solution to a problem, when a complicated one will do?

Is this, to quote William Grassie, 'the 21st century equivalent of counting the number of angels on the head of a pin'?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Atheism and the Simonyi Chair at Oxford

In 1995 Oxford University accepted money from Charles Simonyi (previously of Microsoft) to establish the Simonyi Professorship for the Public Understanding of Science. It's first holder (to 2008) was Richard Dawkins. The current holder is Marcus du Sautoy. Both are declared atheists. This latter fact is not coincidental, because this professorship is actually a chair in atheism. It's just that Simonyi and his friends at Oxford didn't have the guts or the honesty to admit that this is what it was. They sell this position as one which has the commendable aim of helping people understand science. But actually, its purpose is to mislead people into drawing unscientific conclusions concerning matters outside the sphere of the natural sciences, on the misunderstanding that the natural sciences can address questions such as the existence of God. It is, to be more precise, a Professorship for Promoting Atheist Category Errors.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Ideological Atheism again being imposed in Europe

This week the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that crucifixes should be removed from classrooms in Italy. The case was brought by an atheist, Soile Lautsi, a Finnish-born Italian national who argued that the crucifixes were “contrary to the principle of secularism by which she wished to bring up her children”, and should be removed. It is a sobering thought that last week the Church celebrated the feast day of Bl. Mary Restituta, also known as Helen Kafka, who was ordered by the Nazis to remove the crucifixes from the hospital rooms where she worked as a nurse. When she refused she was imprisoned and later beheaded.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Could a group of monkeys produce the sonnets of Shakespeare?

And does life originate by chance? It would appear not. Gerald Schroeder dispatches this argument here.

If you want it with sound and pictures see this (courtesy of Patrick McIntyre).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A question atheists won't ask, let alone answer

Why is there something rather than nothing?

A question atheists won't answer

Why is it that states that have declared themselves atheist have killed their populations on a scale unknown in history and on a scale that dwarfs the violence of religious wars and persecution?