Sunday, October 24, 2010

Dishonest to God

The philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock has a new book out called Dishonest to God: On Keeping Religion Out of Politics. Last week she took part in the discussion programme Start the Week on Radio Four. Her contribution was subsequently commended by a writer in the Catholic Herald for showing that polite discussion between believers and non-believers is still possible. But one is tempted to ask what in the end politeness has to do with it. Are we supposed to be grateful to those who talk kindly to us while all the time telling us that our views are so abhorrent as to have absolutely no place at all in civilised society?

Warnock is careful to concede the appeal and power of religion, its cathedrals and musical traditions for example. What she seems to find most irksome is that the religious think they have in her words a 'superior right to dictate what is and what is not a law'. But there is a world of equivocation between denying someone a 'superior right to dictate' laws and denying them 'any right to make laws at all'. Despite the reassuringly reasonable tones the underlying message is still the same bossy and intolerant one of Dawkins, Hitchens, or Fry: if you are a believer you should be kept from wielding influence in the public/political sphere. It appears that only the pure free-thinking atheist is capable of delivering the well reasoned dispassionate analysis that political decision-making requires. But in the light of the pope's visit, when Benedict XVI demonstrated a depth of philosophical reasoning and political acumen that most secularists and most politicians can only dream of, such a view looks not only old hat but, to borrow a term from Warnock, just plain silly.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What the Fool says (5)

Philip Pullman clearly sees himself as the atheist's answer to C.S. Lewis and his mission to oppose in Lewis' Narnia books what he dubbed 'one of the most vile moments in the whole of children's literature.' Now this little remark would probably be enough to raise the suspicion that Pullman is a ha'penny short of a shilling but a recent reply he made to an audience in Oxford when asked about the offensive nature of the title of his latest book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ suggests all this celebrity atheist attention has really gone to his head:

"Yes it was a shocking thing to say and I knew it was a shocking thing to say. But no one has the right to live without being shocked. No one has the right to spend their life without being offended. Nobody has to read this book. Nobody has to pick it up. Nobody has to open it. And if you open it and read it, you don't have to like it. And if you read it and you dislike it, you don't have to remain silent about it. You can write to me, you can complain about it, you can write to the publisher, you can write to the papers, you can write your own book. You can do all those things, but there your rights stop. No one has the right to stop me writing this book. No one has the right to stop it being published, or bought, or sold or read. That's all I have to say on that subject."

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Two pictures speak a thousand words

Here is a cartoon published by the atheist Martin Rowson in The Guardian. Interesting to compare it with the reality. But then one can rarely accuse atheists of letting the truth get in the way of their propaganda. Rowson is unsurprisingly a supporter of the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Society. Enough Said!

Here is the reality. Two hundred thousand people greet the Pope with enthusiasm as he makes his way towards Hyde Park. Add to that the eighty thousand people awaiting his arrival in Hyde Park. The few thousand atheist protestors were swept away by a sea of joy.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What the Fool says (4)

A message from Claire Rayner on The National Secular Society website extols visitors to join the society and 'be on the side of all humanity, the side of intelligence, rationality and decency.' According to Rayner, who is also Vice-President of the British Humanist Association and an Honorary Associate of the Rationalist Association:

'I do hope you’ll join the Society, because its work helps keep alight the torch of clear rational thought and plain common sense in a world that is beset by confusion, superstition and very muddled thinking'.

Here is a recent example of the sort of 'clear rational thought and plain common sense' that Rayner espouses:

'I have no language with which to adequately describe Joseph Alois Ratzinger, AKA the Pope. In all my years as a campaigner I have never felt such animus against any individual as I do against this creature. His views are so disgusting, so repellent and so hugely damaging to the rest of us, that the only thing to do is to get rid of him.'

So much for humanity and intelligence, rationality and decency! Little wonder that The National Secular Society is struggling.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Roger Scruton on God

You can listen to Roger Scruton's 2010 Gifford Lectures on the theme of 'The Face of God' by clicking this link.

Scruton tells in his own thoughtful, philosophical manner how he regained his religion in the final chapter of his autobiography, Gentle Regrets.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

An organisation in terminal decline?

The National Secular Society that organisation which claims to represent the majority population of Great Britain is struggling.

From Gavin Drake's blog:

'In the year to 2009, the Society’s income from membership subscriptions and donations totalled just £158,890. If you divide this by the basic membership fee of £29 then at most there can be just 5,479 members.

But the Society has different membership categories with differing fees; and the figure quoted also includes donations. I would estimate that the Society only has between 3,000 and 3,500 members. And yet they accuse the churches of being irrelevant on the basis of numbers.'

These pathetic numbers explain why the atheist NSS refuses to publicise details of its membership. It would be interesting to see what the makeup of their membership is: geographic distribution, class, ethnic make-up, etc. As Damian Thompson pointed out in his excellent blog concerning the no popery demonstration in London last Saturday:

'And look at what a thin demographic sliver of the population they represented: mostly white, middle-class, metropolitan. (Needless to say, none of them could be bothered to make the trek up to Birmingham: the Pope may be the atheists’ Antichrist, but you mustn’t let your principles get in the way of a lazy Sunday morning cappuccino.)'

The fact is that very few people, even atheists, want to be aligned with this weak-minded and hysterical bunch of extremists.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

We do God

Baroness Warsi gave a speech in Oxford yesterday in which she affirmed that the new government, unlike the previous administration, would do God. This is a reference to Alastair Campbell's famous remark some years ago that the Labour Government didn't 'do God'. Following her comments, Baroness Warsi appeared today on the Daily Politics show on the BBC where she put in a confident performance and made mincemeat of the show's attempt to trivialise the role of religion in politics. The programme's hostile treatment of the issues succeeded only in illustrating Baroness Warsi's point that the religious viewpoint is now being treated, routinely, with suspicion and prejudice. Anti-religious bigotry in the media seems to be compulsory. Although, no doubt, always present to some degree, what has changed is that it is now being voiced more openly and unashamedly. Anita Anand (usually an intelligent presenter) behaved like a mouthpiece for Richard Dawkins by quizzing Warsi on her support for faith schools as if it were a crime. This is bizarre given that faith schools are among the most popular in society and parents want them. Don't we live in a democracy anymore?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A category mistake

According to reports in today's newspapers, in a new book co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking writes, 'Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.'

If there is nothing then there is no law of gravity. If there is no law of gravity, then the universe cannot create itself from nothing as a result of the law of gravity. Hawking appears to think that nothing is a kind of something. But something (even a set of laws) is precisely what nothing is the opposite of.

Those of a scientistic world view will try and argue that gravity does not depend on matter, that 'laws' and 'forces' can exist even when there is nothing. This is because they confuse the category 'nothing' with the category 'no material thing'. But nothing refers to the complete lack of anything, whether material, immaterial, whether a physical object or an idea, or a law, or a force.

If gravity exists without matter, then there is not nothing even if there is no matter, in which case the universe does not create itself from nothing. What Hawking appears to be describing is the mechanism by which the material universe is generated. He is in fact unwittingly putting forward a proof of the existence of a Creator, since he suggests that the universe requires 'something' to exist in order for it to be generated, 'something' that exists even when there is nothing. This 'something' must be 'something' the existence of which explains any mechanism of creation. That's what is meant by God as Creator.

That nothing is a kind of something is a category mistake, to which physicists seem to be particularly prone.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Another atheist deception

The influential American Constitution Society for Law and Policy has recently published a pamphlet containing the texts of the US Constitution, the American Declaration of Independence, and Lincoln's Gettysburg address.

According to this pamphlet Lincoln said, 'It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us ... that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.'

Of course what he famously said (as all the contemporaneous witness accounts testify) was in fact, 'that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom'.

It is amazing how openly dishonest atheists and their secularist friends can be, and get away with it. It's reminiscent of the criminal rewriting of history one always finds in atheist states. Perhaps I should send a copy of George Orwell's 1984 to my learned friends in the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Read Terry Eagleton's hilarious review of Christopher Hitchens' new book here. At Balliol Hitchens was known as 'Hypocritchins' because of his two-faced habit of ingratiating himself with 'knobs' while at the same time being to all intents and purposes a revolutionary socialist and their class enemy. And, according to Eagleton, 'made Uriah Heep look like Little Nell'. In Eagleton's view, 'Hitchens, despite being one of the world's most renowned public intellectuals, was never very adept at ideas.' Now anyone bored by the recent round of so-called 'debates' in which atheists such as Hitchens regularly claim to trounce their theological opponents, largely through a mixture of ignoring or simply failing to grasp the subtlety of their opponents' theological arguments, packing the venues with their atheist supporters and playing to that gallery, might wish that Eagleton, who knows how to be entertaining, would engage Hitchens on the question of God. Eagleton's insight into the mind and personality of Hitchens suggests he is someone who has the nous to take Hitchens on in what, let's be honest, amounts to a public brawl, and win. Now that would be a 'debate' worth attending. Of course, the down side of this is that it would provide more oxygen of publicity for Hitchens' new book.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The intellectual poverty of the so-called 'new atheists'

David Bentley Hart presents an illuminating analysis of the so-called 'new atheists' and the failure to provide their beliefs with any rigorous intellectual foundation.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Haldane versus Hitchens

The philosopher John Haldane and Christopher Hitchens are taking part in a moderated debate at the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, tonight. The title of the debate is 'We Don't Do God' and is about the role of religion in public life.

In an article written for The Tablet 'In the Crossfire', John Haldane speaks about his part in the Antony Flew controversy and what he calls the vulgarisation of the intellectual debate in the USA which he fears may infect discussions of theism versus atheism here. It would be interesting to find out his view on the current state of the debate in this country after his encounter with Hitchens.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dawkins' witch-hunt

Dawkins' latest invitation to anti-religious hatred has been to call for the arrest and prosecution of Pope Benedict when he visits the UK in September. Dawkins' article in Tuesday's The Guardian newspaper proceeds by attempting to muddy the waters around the Pope's involvement in the case of an abusing priest by drawing an analogy between the actions of the Pope (then, Cardinal Ratzinger) and those of a teacher in a secular institution who failed to report a teacher, who he knew to be abusing children, to the police. But Dawkins' analogy is a misrepresentation of the facts because the priest in question had already been reported to the police. In the letter repeatedly cited in the current media frenzy the then cardinal was treating the issue of whether the priest should also be defrocked, which, as a matter of fact, he subsequently was. But then atheists never let facts get in the way of a good story as anyone who is accustomed to reading the wildly defamatory, and usually violent, comments by atheists on comment threads understands. For instance, this piece of erudite reasoning was posted under Dawkins' article in The Guardian: 'Lets accuse him [Pope Benedict] of witchcraft and see if he floats'.

Dawkins' attempt to make child abuse into an anti-religious issue, and specifically an attack on the Roman Catholic priesthood per se draws attention away from the widespread incidence of child abuse which is endemic throughout society, in secular, as well as religious, institutions and in the family. Indeed research indicates that the incidence of child abuse is higher in the general population and in secular institutions than among Roman Catholic clergy. But what tops all this in terms of hypocrisy is Dawkins' sudden interest in the topic of child abuse given his previous lack of concern for such victims voiced in The God Delusion. There he complains about the 'hysteria' and 'mob psychology' over pedophilia which he likens to a witch-hunt. Yet he has shown himself only too happy to ignite the hysteria of the mob when it suits his atheist agenda. In particular, his ill-judged comment that subjecting one's child to a Catholic education was in itself more damaging than sexual abuse had the effect of branding millions of teachers and parents who send their children to Catholic schools as guilty of crimes more heinous than those of a child rapist.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Beginning of the Argument

In this, at times, moving video Peter Hitchens talks about the motivation for writing his new book, Rage Against God: How Atheism Led me to Belief (see post below, Monday March 15th 2010).

According to Hitchens it was 'atheism', which he describes as 'the beginning of the argument', that led him to faith. He talks about why he changed his mind and how his brother Christopher Hitchens' atheism was a major motivating force in writing this book. As a young atheist and 'revolutionary socialist', reporting around the world in his capacity as a journalist, Peter Hitchens witnessed at first hand the hostility of totalitarian regimes to belief in God and the dangers posed by atheist attempts (both old and new) to drive God from the world.

Hitchens also talks about some of the other influences in his life and recalls the moment his consciousness was raised by seeing Van der Weyden's startling depiction of The last Judgement. It was then that he realised for the first time that his life, like everyone else's, would be judged.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The ungrateful atheist

We have been told (and keep being told) that belief in God is old fashioned, outmoded, on the wane etc, but even a brief look at the figures disputes this. In the middle of the eleventh century it has been estimated that there were around eighty million Christians in the world. Today the number of Christian believers in the world is thought to be more than two billion and is on the increase (to say nothing of Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Buddhists). Novak suggests that this may be one of the reasons why atheists hate religion, why they are so angry with believers: there are just so many of them.

It appears that the default position of humanity is belief in God. Indeed it seems one has to work quite hard at non-belief. As Sartre noted on observing a sunset, one's natural inclination is to thank someone (God) for it. But who can the atheist be grateful to? He can hardly give thanks to God. Maybe this points to another deeper reason for the atheists fury, beyond a mere frustration at being outnumbered, an inability (or unwillingness) to express gratitude or give thanks for what has been received. Perhaps it is true that as Scruton suggests, 'gratitude is the precondition of joy. Only those who give thanks are able to rejoice, for only they are conscious that life, freedom and well-being are not rights but gifts'.

Michael Novak, No one sees God: The dark night of Atheists and Believers, New York 2008, p.177.
Roger Scruton, Gentle Regrets: Thoughts from a Life, London 2005, p.238.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dawkins on Anselm

Dawkins approach of ridiculing rather than addressing serious philosophical arguments and concerns is becoming more than a little tiresome to serious scholars. Here is what Ian Logan, an Oxford Anselm scholar, has to say about Dawkins' treatment of Anselm's famous philosophical argument to prove the existence of God.

'In the process of writing my book on the Proslogion, I came across hundreds of accounts of Anselm's argument, some more flawed than others, to the most serious and influential of which I tried to respond. Nothing, however, comes close to Dawkins' account in terms of sheer stupidity.'

It seems that Dawkins has failed to heed Anthony Flew's advice that in order to be taken seriously as an academic one should present one's opponents' arguments in their strongest form. Perhaps Dawkins is afraid that if he presents his opponents' arguments thus he will be unable to refute them?

Monday, March 15, 2010

From atheism to belief in God

Peter Hitchens has a new book out today called Rage against God which, according to the publisher, is 'an autobiographical and spiritual journey from atheism to faith in God through the power of reasoning'. In this article Peter Hitchens describes how his generation thought they 'had grown out of the nursery myths of God, angels and Heaven. We had modern medicine, penicillin, jet engines, the Welfare State, the United Nations and 'science', which explained everything that needed to be explained.' Hitchens later came to see the poverty of this vision, and the inadequacies and dangers of atheism led him to eventually reject it as a worldview and embrace belief in God. In this article he also discusses the lifelong rivalry between him and his brother, Christopher, and, interestingly, his brother's failure to acknowledge, let alone address, the problems with atheism.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Why is there something rather than nothing?

'Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe? Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing? Is the unified theory so compelling that it brings about its own existence? Or does it need a creator, and, if so, does he have any other effect on the universe? And who created him?'

(Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes, London 1988, p.174.)

Stephen Hawking is a scientist who recognises there is a distinction between questions which ask what exists in the universe and those that concern why the universe exists, even if his subsequent, and notorious, comment about knowing the mind of God is forgetful of this.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Atheists and Fairytales

At a literary conference in Oxford ten years ago Philip Pullman, talking about the final book in his well known children's trilogy in which God dies, said: 'We're used to the Kingdom of Heaven; but you can tell from the genera thrust of the book that I'm of the devil's party, like Milton. And I think it's time we thought about a republic of Heaven instead of the Kingdom of Heaven. The King is dead. That's to say I believe the King is dead. I'm an atheist.'

However, all this blatant atheistic propaganda didn't go down too well in the United States where they still care about the messages their children receive. And, in spite of Pullman's hypocritical attempts to conceal his atheistic message, The Golden Compass flopped at the American box office in 2007 and plans to complete the trilogy were dropped by the film studio.

This month Pullman is again talking in Oxford about another book which he is promoting at the Oxford Literary Festival. An atheist of long standing and as far as I know not a New Testament scholar, Pullman has written a book on Christ. According to Pullman his new book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is part novel, part history and part fairy tale. This sort of thing, of course, has never been done before! Do I detect a slight whiff of desperation?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Pursuing The Truth

Contrary to persistent atheist rumours, Antony Flew has not backtracked on his commitment to theism, though, as he himself freely admits in this BBC interview, he has not reached a finally settled position. It seems that any degree of uncertainty in the pursuit of truth is anathema to atheists who mistake openness to enquiry as a sign of weakness, rather than strength.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dawkins' sexed-up atheism

How does Richard Dawkins respond to Antony Flew's allegation that in The God Delusion Dawkins misrepresents Einstein's view of divine intelligence:

'Antony Flew, having lost the ability to write a book, was persuaded by a Christian ghost writer, Roy Varghese, to let him write it instead. It is one thing for a footballer or a supermodel to use a ghost writer, but there is something absurd about a philosopher using a ghost writer. Flew has now apparently lost the ability to read a book, too, for his 'review' of The God Delusion turns out to be a review of its index and nothing but its index. He only needed to read Chapter 1, in order to see the absurdity of his claims about my treatment of Einstein.'
(Quoted in The Telegraph)

The unashamedly personal nature of much of Dawkins' response, from someone who makes much of being a promoter of well reasoned argument, hardly amounts to an adequate rebuttal of Flew's charge. Leaving that aside, lets take up Dawkins' point that one only need read Chapter 1 of The God Delusion to see that he has provided an accurate representation of Einstein's view of God:

'A deist, too, [like a theist] believes in a supernatural intelligence, but one whose activities were confined to setting up the laws that govern the universe in the first place. The deist God never intervenes thereafter, and certainly has no specific interest in human affairs. Pantheists don't believe in a supernatural God at all, but use the word God as a nonsupernatural synonym for Nature, or for the Universe, or for the lawfulness that governs its workings. Deists differ from theists in that their God does not answer prayers, is not interested in sins or confessions, does not read our thoughts and does not intervene with capricious miracles. Deists differ from pantheists in that the deist God is some kind of cosmic intelligence, rather than the pantheist's metaphoric or poetic synonym for the laws of the universe. Pantheism is sexed-up atheism. Deism is watered-down theism.

'There is every reason to think that famous Einsteinisms like 'God is subtle but he is not malicious' or 'He does not play dice' or 'Did God have a choice in creating the Universe?' are pantheistic, not deistic, and certainly not theistic. 'God does not play dice' should be translated as 'Randomness does not lie at the heart of all things.' 'Did God have a choice in creating the Universe?' means 'Could the universe have begun in any other way?' Einstein was using 'God' in a purely metaphorical, poetic sense. . . . .'
(Quoted on Dawkins' website)

Is it accurate to portray Einstein as an adherent of Dawkins pantheism as 'sexed-up atheism'? Here's what Einstein had to say on an occasion when he was asked to define God:

'I'm not an atheist and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist.'
(Quoted in M. Jammer, Einstein and Religion, Princeton 1999, p. 48.)

Looks like Flew might have a case.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A secularist bigot

Desperate atheist cries of foul play over Antony Flew's 'conversion' continue (see Thursday's post below). In 2008 a number of comments on the customer reviews on Amazon of Flew's book, There is a God, maintained that Flew's contribution to the book was not genuine and he had been a victim of manipulation because he was old. Flew has been moved to refute such serious allegations here.

This link also contains a review by Antony Flew of Dawkins' book, The God Delusion, where Flew takes Dawkins to task for, among other things, failing to properly represent Einstein's views on divine intelligence. Flew, justifiably angered by Dawkins' underhand attempts to discredit him, also charges him with being a secularist bigot.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The honest ex-atheist

Anthony Flew, the well known philosopher, having argued the case for atheism for fifty years, caused a scandal when he revealed in 2004 that he had changed his mind and now believed in the existence of God. Flew's philosophy has always been guided by the Socratic principle to follow the argument wherever it leads and it is a tribute to his openness of mind that he remained wedded to this maxim even when it led to what must have been for him uncomfortable conclusions. Unlike the so called 'new atheists' who sidestep serious philosophical arguments, Flew has spent the whole of his academic life in active engagement with philosophical theism.

Atheists have had great difficulty accepting the revision in Flew's thinking with anything approaching good grace. It is telling that on hearing of Flew's conversion Dawkins accused Flew of 'tergiversation' (apostasy) in his 'old age'. Rumours immediately began to circulate on the internet that, weakened by fear, Flew had succumbed to a deathbed conversion. Flew repudiates this charge in his book, There is a God: How the world's most notorious atheist changed his mind, New York, 2007, where he points out that since he does not believe in an afterlife he has nothing to gain from his conversion in this respect.

Here is an interview with Flew where he talks honestly and with modesty about the evidence of 'irreducible complexity' that led him to revise his beliefs in favour of some sort of intelligent design. However, atheists rumours have not abated and a bizarre introduction has been pasted onto this film suggesting that Flew is suffering from the first signs of dementia, and hence the victim of a religionist plot by its makers. Certainly in the film Flew occasionally pauses to think before he speaks, and at one point has difficulty pronouncing a word, but all this is hardly remarkable in a philosopher and a man of eighty plus years. If these are the symptoms of the onset of dementia then I suspect we must all have it. It seems that ordinary explanations like thinking before one speaks or revising one's beliefs are alien concepts to the atheist.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A.C. Grayling's Careful Logic

The philosopher A.C. Grayling has written a special piece for Dawkins' website prompted by the much publicised judgment by Cherie Booth (aka Mrs Blair) in which she is reported as letting a man off with a suspended sentence for an assault because he was religious. In the piece which was posted last Thursday Grayling boasts he will 'pick through the logic of Mrs. Blair’s view carefully':

'[Cherie Booth's] remarks to the jaw-breaking ‘devout Muslim’ (so the newspapers described him) Shamso Miah imply that she thinks that religious people have a greater tendency to be good than non-religious people. What justifies this assumption? Is it the fact that self-avowed non-religious people commit atrocities against other all other people, religious and non-religious alike, explicitly in the name of their non-religion, indeed driven to such actions in service of their non-religion? Of course not. So on what basis other than prejudice and religious sentiment can Mrs. Blair claim, in a judgment made in a British courtroom, that someone ought to be more leniently treated because he is religious? The wrong done to non-religious people of good character by this judgment, and the perversity of the judgment in itself, make it right that the National Secular Society (NSS) has lodged a complaint against Mrs. Blair.'

Grayling's judgement of Booth is unremitting:

'The point that emerges from this unedifying matter is that Mrs. Blair has proved herself unfit for the bench, and a vigorous reassertion of judicial impartiality and inclusiveness is needed. It ought to come as a corollary to a disciplinary action against Mrs. Blair, her removal from the bench, and a commitment to having better reasons for keeping violent people out of prison than that they believe in ancient pre-scientific superstitions.'

But Grayling's non sequitur has come under fire from a legally minded fellow atheist who, to his credit, points out that a defendant is allowed to put to the judge whatever mitigation they see fit to establish good character, which could be a wide variety of things. From the fact that Cherie Booth in this particular case accepted the religious observance of the defendant to be an indication of good character, it does not follow that she considers it to be a necessary condition of good character. Nor does it mean that this was the only factor she took into consideration in reaching her decision. So much for Grayling's careful logic.

Having failed to demonstrate that Booth discriminated against atheists, by showing some leniency to a religious believer, Humanists are now trying to make out that the 'real story' is not discrimination, but whether religious belief should be accepted at all as an indicator of good character. Some people never know when to give up.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Sour Grapes ?

Tomorrow the National Secular Society's Irwin Prize for Secularist of the Year 2010 award will be given to an 'individual who has contributed significantly to the cause of secularism'. One of those nominated for the award is Peter Hearty for his 'hilarious and telling' blog, Platitude of the Day, which is a parody of the Thought for the Day early morning slot on BBC Radio 4. The problem with Hearty's attempted parody is that everyone who contributes to Thought for the Day is 'satirised', no matter what they say. The indiscriminate nature of this makes Hearty's agenda seem more like petty spite than biting satire. Now, one need not be a fan of the Thought for the Day programme to wonder why something which attempts to provide some brief edification among the daily horror of news stories and political events would be targeted at all (aside from the simple fact that it has religious content, of course). One might be forgiven for concluding that this is petty revenge for the fact that the secularist/humanist/atheist cabal were unsuccessful in their attempt to hijack the programme for their own ends. Looks to me like a nasty case of sour grapes.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Physician Heal Thyself

You've got to hand it to those jolly souls at the National Secular Society who are flogging the notion of 'de-baptism' and a 'de-baptism' certificate to go with it. The certificate, they suggest, in true comedic form, should be displayed in the 'hallway (porch, loo, lean-to, etc.) as an outward sign of the inner rationality that inspires your being'. Their website exhorts the baptised: 'Liberate yourself from the Original Mumbo-Jumbo that liberated you from the Original Sin you never had!' Given that, according to the NSS, 'the concept of baptism is a complete fantasy that has no meaning outside the heads of the religious', its members seem to be peculiarly exercised by it. Followers are urged to make their 'de-baptism' official by insisting that their names be removed from baptismal registers and church records which, if the letters to the website are to be believed, involves going to extraordinary lengths to achieve. According to Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society:

'They simply don’t want to be part of the statistics that are used by the churches to demand more privileges. They don’t want to have any formal connection with institutions that they perceive to be counterproductive to peace, harmony and common sense.'

But, the attempt to undo historical records has an Orwellian ring which makes Sanderson's commitment to 'common sense' look a bit shaky. His fondness for 'peace' and 'harmony' looks equally loosely based given his opinion expressed elsewhere on the site:

'The growing amount of interest in the concept of de-baptism indicates that people are not just indifferent to religion – which has been the traditional British approach – but are actually becoming quite hostile to it.'

Perhaps someone should point out to Sanderson that the 'traditional British approach' is one of tolerance. Sanderson clearly relishes the growing hostility that he and other secularists are promoting towards the religious, and the claim that this is all intended as 'irreverent' and 'lighthearted fun' sits uneasily with Sanderson's unmistakable intentions. But then secularists and atheists seem to have a predilection for this way of proceeding: on the one hand proudly proclaiming themselves as the very epitome of reasonable and rational behaviour while all the time excoriating, insulting, and openly encouraging animosity towards those who they accuse of failing to make full use of their reason, simply because they don't reach the same conclusions as they do. But then I expect it would infuriate secularists to be taken to task for failing to abide by the maxim: physician heal thyself.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

An atheist speaks the truth!

Occasionally one comes across an honest atheist. Here is an example: Atheists are more annoying than believers. However, as the comments section shows, the brain of the atheist is generally addled.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Equality and tolerance secular style

Many in the media are, predictably, in a state of indignant hysteria because the pope has voiced an opinion on an issue in British politics: Harriet Harman’s Equality Law. For most secularists and humanists the pope's input is beyond the pale. The fact that the pope represents Catholics in this country who are British citizens, and that they, like everyone else in the country, have a right to be heard in a democracy seems to have escaped even the more restrained voices.

On today’s Daily Politics show, Jo Coburn, one of the presenters, gets to the heart of the matter which is about the rights of the Catholic Church to choose to appoint who it wishes to senior positions. Jo asks why the Catholic Church should be exempt from some aspects of the equality legislation which would force it to consider employing practising homosexuals for high ranking jobs. Shouldn’t the Catholic Church, like everyone else, be bound by the same laws designed to promote an equal and tolerant society?

But this is very little to do with creating an equal and tolerant society and everything to do with certain groups (in this case, gay activists) seeking, not simply tolerance of their choices, but rather approval and endorsement of their practices from those who they know for certain are ideologically opposed to them. But, opposition per se to the thought and practices of others is not an infringement of their human rights, unless you live in a police state. Personally, I find the views of humanists offensive. Yet, should I wish to become a high ranking member of the British Humanist Association it would hardly be reasonable of me to expect to be considered for the position while continuing to publicly espouse and practice my religious beliefs, and neither could the refusal by the British Humanist Association to consider me for the post be considered by any sane person as an infringement of my equality rights.

Friday, January 29, 2010

What the Fool says (3)

'The universe could so easily have remained lifeless and simple - just physics and chemistry, just the scattered dust of the cosmic explosion that gave birth to time and space. The fact that it did not - the fact that life evolved out of nearly nothing, some 10 billion years after the universe evolved literally out of nothing - is a fact so staggering that I would be mad to attempt words to do it justice.' (R. Dawkins, The Ancestor’s Tale, p. 613).

Yes, it would be mad to attempt to describe the process by which something evolves from nothing since nothing is not something and therefore is not something that can be the subject of empirical enquiry. Like many a pseudo-philosopher (and ‘brilliant scientist’ to quote his publisher’s blurb), Dawkins treats the word ‘nothing’ as if it refers to a kind of something. If something can evolve out of it, it is not nothing, but if it is not nothing, what is it? On one level he seems to be saying that the universe evolved out of something we know nothing about, but he actually uses the phrase ‘literally out of nothing’. It looks like he is equivocating and does not consistently mean ‘literally out of nothing’, but rather ‘almost as if out of nothing’. But that is to make a quite different claim about the universe, and is no longer a claim about its origins, but is rather a claim concerning its post-original development.

According to Dawkins the universe would look different if it were created by God, and consequently God is a scientific hypothesis. But neither of these claims can he show to be correct. The difference between a situation in which there is a world created by God and one in which there is no world created by God is the difference between something and nothing. God is not a scientific hypothesis, although He is the precondition for the universe and hence for all activity in the universe, including the natural sciences. The natural sciences can each in their own limited ways investigate the post-original universe, what they cannot do is to investigate its metaphysical preconditions. From within their own discipline they cannot even comment meaningfully on these preconditions. For any scientist qua scientist to do so would be for them to commit a category error - a symptom that one might consider renaming 'Dawkins’ disease'.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Making use of freedom

The following is an excerpt from the diary of Gertrude Li Minwen, a young Chinese Catholic imprisoned for her beliefs and one of the personae of this blog. After being released from prison Gertrude was ordered to enroll in an indoctrination course in order to free her from her 'old ideas'. In some ways this could be a greater ordeal than being in prison because the courses and the interrogations went on inexorably and the accused were made to defend themselves in public before large crowds. The questions of the committee and participants were designed to trap the accused and get them to implicate others:

'On the afternoon of August 15 the course committee forced Giovaanni Liu and me to go up onstage to declare our attitude publicly. We obeyed. Those attending were free to interrupt with their objections. The prefect of the course leveled several accusations against me and asked me to reveal, without deceit, the reason for my last visit to Father Giovanni. I tried to excuse myself, saying that I was not prepared to answer questions like that. Those present began to rail against me and to curse me. Many times the committee tried to force me on to the stage, from which I had come down. Since I was resolved more than ever not to go back up, the girls from the school were mobilized against me and dragged me by force onto the stage. With rebellion in my heart and greatly agitated, in front of about a thousand people, I declared: "During these days of indoctrination Comrade President and all the rest have been very helpful to me... But I must admit that, unfortunately, my mind has not made any progress, that I do not feel capable of obeying the order to join the reform and to denounce the Catholic Church, and I refuse to respond to what the president has just asked me".
"But why did you go visit the European?"
"Because I intended to make use of my freedom."'

The Red Book of Chinese Martyrs, Edited by Gerolamo Fazzini and translated by Michael Miller, San Francisco 2009, pp.274-5.

Let no-one be in any doubt about the willingness of ideological atheism to use whatever means it deems necessary against those who wish to 'make use of their freedom' and remain wedded to their principles and the maxims of their faith.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Forgiving atheists

I like Alice Thomas Ellis. Reading her book, God Has Not Changed, made me laugh and I cannot resist quoting from it again (see last Tuesday's post below). In this piece Ellis is talking about Christopher Hitchens' infamous book on Mother Teresa, The Missionary Position, which she was asked to review. Ellis provides some useful insights into the atheist mindset:

'He [Hitchens] goes on to mention a documentary on her [Mother Teresa's] work that he and others made called Hell's Angel: "Her response was to say that she 'forgave' us for making it." And here Mr Hitchens displays ignorance of the tenets of Christianity. He says that was odd since he had not sought her forgiveness, and it was odder still if you were inclined to ask "by what right she assumes the power to forgive." The only petition in the Lord's Prayer that carries a condition is the petition for forgiveness: 'Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us';and as Christ said to Peter, who had asked how oft he should forgive his brother: 'I say not unto thee, until seven times seven, but until seventy times seven'. Mother Teresa was following orders, and you would have thought that anyone of Mr Hitchens' age who had passed through the school system might have some glimmering of awareness of these well-known quotations. The blurb of his book says, as blurbs will, that he is 'One of today's most devastating polemicists.' But he does not sound very well educated and his reaction to Mother Teresa makes him seem slightly unhinged. Goodness in others is perceived by some individuals as an affront and we should understand and forgive them, not only because it is incumbent on us, but because we know - God forgive us - that it will annoy the hell out of them.'

Alice Thomas Ellis, God Has Not Changed, London 2004, pp.175-6

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What's the problem?

Richard Dawkins appeared on the TV programme the Daily Politics yesterday talking about his pet hate which is 'labelling children with the opinions of their parents'. Dawkins objects vehemently to calling a child with Catholic parents 'a Catholic child', a child of Protestant parents 'a Protestant child', a child of Muslim parents 'a Muslim child', etc. Dawkins talks about this so called 'labelling' in strong terms as something that has 'surely got to be wrong' and 'must be something that should be rectified'. To be honest, it is pretty difficult to see what Dawkins thinks the problem is apart from the fact that he doesn't like it of course. Calling a child of Catholic parents a Catholic seems like a perfectly natural and reasonable assumption to make. The rest of the guests on the show, and even the presenters, were struggling to see what Dawkins was getting so incensed about. Credit to John Denham, one of the guests, who had the wit to recognise where Dawkins' argument was heading: an acceptance of Dawkins' point would mean that parents should 'lose the right' to pass on their religious faith to their children. This of course is Dawkins' real agenda and what all the pussyfooting around about labelling is designed to conceal. Dawkins comes across as an interfering busybody who doesn't like the idea of religious beliefs being passed on to anyone and thinks it is his business in particular to stop other people from passing on their religious convictions to their children, whilst, of course, retaining the right to bring up his own children in the way he sees fit. When pressed on this, i.e whether he brought his own children up to be atheists like himself, he dodged the question insisting somewhat disingenuously that he was a cultural Christian. Given that Dawkins has been caught out organising atheist camps for children as young as four we can be in no doubt as to what values he thinks his, as well as everyone else's children, should be receiving. There is a chilling moment in the film where Dawkins attempts to reassure us that he is not advocating 'coercion' or 'state run child farms'.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Atheism and Vegetarianism

'I lived through one age of atheism/vegetarianism and high-minded humanism, with whiskers, sandals and amber beads, and it was tedious then. Seeing it come up on the dreary wheel yet again is almost more than I can bear. I've heard it all before.'

Alice Thomas Ellis, God Has Not Changed, London 2004, p.66.

If anyone should doubt the link between the 'new' old atheism and vegetarianism this piece of madness from Richard Dawkins' website (where he likens the acceptance of meat eating to the acceptance of slavery) should reassure them.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The irrational expectations of atheists

Some atheists claim that the theist must prove the existence of God to them in a way that they (i.e. atheists) find convincing, if the theist is to be considered rational. But this is an irrational expectation as Brian Leftow points out. Of course, there are proofs of God that some philosophers find convincing, but as in all matters philosophical there is never complete agreement, which by implication is what such atheists demand. On such a basis, then, nothing could be considered rational, unless everyone considered it rational. Or to put it another way, anyone would have a veto on what could be considered rational, on the basis that they were not persuaded.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Atheist crimes

Yesterday the obituary of Bishop Yao of China appeared in L'Osservatore Romano. Originally of the Zhangbei region, Leo Yao Liang was ordained to the Catholic priesthood on the 1st August 1948 at the age of 25. He died on the 30th December aged 86. Almost the whole of Father Yao's priestly ministry was marked by the intense and brutal atheism of the Chinese state.

After his ordination Father Yao worked as an assistant parish priest but was stopped from functioning as a priest and in 1956 condemned to forced labour for the 'crime' of refusing to cooperate in the movement to separate the Catholic Church in China from allegiance to the Pope. For this so-called 'crime' he was sentenced to life imprisonment and spent nearly 30 years in prison. He was ordained a bishop in 2002 but after four years (by now in his early eighties) he was arrested again and spent two and a half years in prison. After his release he was kept under close surveillance by the authorities.

It is a sign of the paranoia of the Chinese civil authorities that after the death of Bishop Yao they banned Catholics from using the title of 'bishop' to refer to him and exhorted them to use the title 'illegal pastor' instead. It seems that in the officially and deeply atheistic state of China some things have not changed.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The honest atheist

Woody Allen is an honest atheist. He acknowledges that without God there is no basis for morality. His view is that if you can get away with it, then it's OK. This is brilliantly depicted in his film, 'Crimes and Misdemeanors', where the successful family man, Judah Rosenthal, murders his former mistress, when she threatens to reveal the affair and some of his dubious financial dealings. Judah is an opthalmologist, 'a man of science', who fears that it might just be true that, as his father taught him, 'the eye of God' sees everything. Following the murder, he appears to be plagued by his conscience until he realises he is going to get away with it. At this point, the weight of conscience is lifted. At the end of the film you can see him relaxing back into his old life, contented and forgetful of his crime, his conscience and 'the eye of God'.

Friday, January 8, 2010

What the Fool says (2)

Ricky Gervais is a comedian who makes much of his atheism and the fact that he has a degree in philosophy. According to Gervais, an honorary associate member of the National Secular Society, being an atheist makes one a 'clearer thinking, fairer person'. This piece of erudite reasoning was found on his website:

By the age of eight, he [Gervais] could read people. "I remember the day I became an atheist," says Gervais. "I was doing my homework. I'd been to Sunday school from the age of five to eight. I had gold stars and used to win Jason in the Lion's Den books, and everything was great. And, er, I f---ing loved Jesus, I thought he was brilliant. What a great man." Then his brother Bob, who was 19, came in and took an interest in the homework. He asked Ricky why he believed in God "and my mum got nervous. My mum went, 'Bob' [in a warning voice] and I thought, something's up. Then he went, 'Well, what proof is there?' My mum said, 'Of course there's a God.' He went, 'No, I'm just asking.' And I said something ludicrous: they've found evidence, they've found his blood in a bottle. I was just guessing. And Bob laughed. I could tell just by looking, that he was telling the truth and my mum was lying. I knew the truth in that instant. That's why I put such a value in body language."

Persuasive stuff.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Ditchkins and the yeti view of God

Here is a series of clips of Terry Eagleton talking in a humorous and engaging way about his latest book, Reason, Faith, and Revolution:Reflections on the God debate. According to Eagleton, it was "sheer irritation at the ignorance and illiteracy" of "Ditchkins'" (an amalgamation of "Dawkins" and "Hitchens") atheism that drove him to write this book. Interestingly, Eagleton was at Oxford with "Chris" Hitchens and in their Trotskyite days they used to leaflet car factories together. Eagleton gives a sophisticated critique of Dawkins' "good old fashioned Victorian rationalism" and his unwitting commitment to fideism. He also makes some nice points about the sheer naivety of Dawkins' theory of God as a sort of yeti, and the weaknesses in Dawkins' worldview. Unlike either Dawkins or Hitchens, Eagleton is a serious thinker and at times talks movingly about the radical nature of the New Testament and the realism which takes the suffering and crucified Christ as the truly authentic starting point of history.