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.