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"A disgustingly evil man ..."

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William Crawley | 12:55 UK time, Sunday, 23 September 2007

030906billy.jpgThe fact that Billy Graham is 88 years old, now retired from public speaking, was recently hospitalized for intestinal bleeding, and is now in seriously failing health, clearly hasn't moved Christopher Hitchens to much sympathy.

In a recent interview, Hitchens describes Billy Graham as "a self-conscious fraud" and "a disgustingly evil man". Speaking on C-Span as part of a promotion for his new book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Hitchens claims that the evengelist made a living by "going around spouting lies to young people. What a horrible career. I gather it's soon to be over. I certainly hope so." You can watch the 2 September interview during which he makes the comments below.

Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, the authors of The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House, have responded to Hitchens in detail here. They write:

The charge that Graham went into ministry to get rich is just as easily refuted, both by what he did and didn't do. Well aware of how easily a famous preacher could be destroyed by financial or sexual scandal, Graham took pains early on to protect himself from both. He insisted that crusade accounts be audited and published in the local papers when the crusade was finished. Having founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 1950, he took a straight salary, comparable to that of a senior minister of a major urban pulpit, no matter how much in money his meetings brought in. He was turning down million-dollar television and Hollywood offers half a century ago. He never built the Church of Billy Graham, and while he lived comfortably, his house is a modest place. If he had wanted to get rich, he could have been many, many times over.

I suspect we will soon be assessing the legacy of Billy Graham -- his cultural impact and his popularist style of theology. Christopher Hitchens has become famous for his iconoclastic journalism (consider his scathing attack on the legacy of Mother Theresa), but do his comments about Billy Graham have the merit of accuracy, notwithstanding the tastelessness of their timing? Or do they merely reflect the intensity of Christopher Hitchens's hatred of all things religious?

Comments

I'm a fan of Hitchens but these remarks are just silly. It isn't necessary to characterise every famous believer as a charlatan in order to make an anti-religious point; if you ask me, this cheapens his message by making his thinking seem less based upon rationality (since no rational process could lead one to the conlusion that Billy Graham was anything less than a good man who believed that what he was doing was helpful).

I think Hitchens is merely trying to live up to his own reputation with this interview in order to garner publicity for his book: not a bad endeavour and a good strategy, but not when it's so blatantly see-through. Billy Graham is hardly a good target for attack.

  • 2.
  • At 05:53 PM on 23 Sep 2007,
  • Manuel wrote:

Clearly a case of self promotion timed for maximum impact. Now that is disgustingly evil...

Oh and I hope you enjoyed your dinner last night Mr Crawley (assuming it was you....)

  • 3.
  • At 09:00 PM on 23 Sep 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

I saw this interview in its entirety when it was broadcast a few weeks ago. So who is more disgustingly evil, Billy Graham or Christopher Hitchens? I cannot refute anything Hitchens said about Graham, I think as you Brits would say he's "spot on" about him although I disagree with his point where he says some religions are about making money. In my view, ALL religions are about money...and power. But the question must be asked, how would Christopher Hitchens 2007 view Christopher Hitchens 1967 or 1977 when he was still a "Trotskyist" and visa versa. The new "American" version of Hitchens would probably condemn the old one before he saw the light as a naive ignorant fool who did the bidding of one of the most heinous conspiracies that ever was, the Communist movement to dominate the world and impose its tyrannical will under a guise of social justice, every bit as dangerous as any religious movement including the Catholic Church of the Dark ages or radical Islam today. In fact, only Communism brought the entire human race to the actual brink of extinction...in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis (and astonishingly maybe again in 1967 if the assertions in the book "Foxbats over Dimona" are correct. Glad to see you have discovered Book TV William.) But what would the old Trotskyist Hitchens say of the 2007 Hitchens if he could confront him? That he had sold out his principles, that he became an American because he saw all of the money and fame he could garner. That he exploited Americans' penchant for adoring the redeemed souls saved from the clutches of atheism (not in this case), Communism, or any other ism it regards as evil. That old Hitchens would have regarded this new one as utterly cynical and without any possible redemption, a hypocritical sellout of the worst kind, worthy of being shot for his sins of betrayal.

Interestingly, Christopher Hitchens has a brother, Peter Hitchens who still is British, still a left winger, who also wrote a book, and was interviewed on Book TV the previous day.

Notice the contrast in the style between some of the best American interview techniques (PBS's Charlie Rose is a master of this) compared to that of BBC's techniques. Watch this again and notice that the exchange between the interviewer and interviewee is very one sided, the interviewer's questions designed to elicit the interviewees views, opinions, history. He lets the interviewee do most of the talking, rarely if ever challenging him, he does not engage him in debate. In the rare instance the interviewee is challenged, it is only to further elicit his views, to draw him out further not to try to change his views or convince the audience he is wrong. Now listen to a BBC interview with someone whose views it is hostile to. What a contrast. It seems as though the very purpose of the interview itself is different.

John Wright #1
There is more to this interview Hitchens presents about Graham than is shown in this excerpt. I strongly recommend that anyone wanting to understand it fully see it in its entirety. Book-TV is presented on C-Span 2 on weekends and IMO is some of the best viewing on American television. Graham made many hateful statements (I think about Jews) earlier in his life which he later recanted. As I've posted previously, I do not trust people who have "seen the light" and spend their lives on soapboxes shouting it to the world, especially when they did the same thing before they saw the light. For these people, it's far less important what they are pontificating than the fact that they are pontificating at all. Their need in life seems to be to dictate to other people what to think and how to live, whatever that happens to be at the particular moment they are doing it, even if it's exactly the opposite of what they had been pontificating earlier in their lives. What Hitchens doesn't realize is that in at least one important way he is exactly like Graham, he does this for money. I do not begrudge either of them making a living preaching their views of the world for mercenary reasons, what I object to is their pretending that the reason is otherwise. From that point of view, they are like two peas in a pod.

  • 4.
  • At 10:30 PM on 23 Sep 2007,
  • Stephen G wrote:

See...this is why I tend to ignore folks like Hitchens. With commentary like this he's obviously a simple publicity grabbing, odious little man - an irrelevance.

'Nuff said...must get back to the more important things of life...

SG

After watching the short video clip of Hitchens I have to say I am disgusted with what he had to say about Billy Graham not being well and saying he hoped he would die soon. What an arrogant little man he also spoke about Mr Graham being in it for the money ( I personally don’t think he was in it for the money )...but talk about the pot calling the kettle black.....
I agree with Stephen G ignore folks like Hitchens

Who escaped from the Care Bears “No Heart” Hitchens.

  • 7.
  • At 11:46 PM on 24 Sep 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

John Moorehead #5; So you think Graham wasn't in it for the money and actually believes his own scam that he has a direct pipeline to god's ear. Even worse.

  • 8.
  • At 03:30 PM on 25 Sep 2007,
  • Roger wrote:

Hitchens regards Billy Graham with disgust for filling the heads of young people with what he calls lies. A number of things need saying about this. I recently took part in a forum in which a young person actually expressed himself in "suicidal terms" because he had read an article by Stephen Pinker in which the renowned biologist very coolly stated the "fact" that we delude ourselves when we attribute to our pecies any greater significance than should be attributed to any other organism in the biosphere. The implication of which is, necessarily, that talking about human dignity makes no more sense than talking about the inherent dignity and therefore "rights" of the microbe. Sensitive young people, fired by idealism and wanting to contribute to making the world a better place for harrassed minorities, who are fed this tosh are quite likely either to become suicidal or to descend into the self-absorbed cynicism of "their elders and betters". Billy Graham, by contrast, has for 60 years addressed the young and the not so young, loudly proclaiming the indescribably great value that every human being has in the eyes of God, and the transforming power of the Christian message of God's justice love and grace as embodied in Jesus Christ. The result has been that thousands of young and not so young people have been liberated from a sense of purposelessnes and even brought back from the brink of suicide and have given over their lives to doing good for their fellow human beings, and for the planet which God has given to us as our physical habitat.

Sceptics will say that Graham is in it for the money - "raking in the millions" as Hitchens put it. That has certainly not been demonstrated in Graham's case (though there is many a charlatan and an "Elmer Gantry" in his line of work). No one has been able to bring a case against Billy Graham on that basis, and many have tried.

Hitchens and his ilk, by contrast, are fêted like royalty wherever they go. They rake in millions from the sale of their ranting, insult ridden and argument-free literature. And they cheerlull peddle their reductionist "truths" (??) that we are nothing but a dispensable haphasard arrangement of DNA, of no greater ultimate worth than what we daily dump in the compost heap in our gardens. Which set of "truths" do we prefer our young people to believe? If Hitchens and Pinker are right then we should, stoically perhaps, brace ourselves for the implications. The truth of the matter is, however, that their materialistic assumptions remain very far from being proven. The fact that we feel a deep-seated need to believe in our own significance as a species, and the fact that we are abhorred when the weak are trampled under foot, actually argues strongly, not that we are deluded, but for our significance. The evidence actually seems more tipped in favour of the gospel proclaimed by Billy Graham than the sad reductionism of Stephen Pinker.

  • 9.
  • At 11:53 PM on 26 Sep 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Roger #8
When my sister was five years old, she worried that if Santa Claus could come down the chimney, so could a burglar. So my parents told here the truth that there is no Santa Claus. She was crushed. No Santa, no Easter bunny, no Tooth Fairy, no Great Pumpkin, no nuthin'. I guess at about 9 years old I was equally crushed that there was no Dracula and that I would never attain immortality by becoming a vampire. Not even a werewolf. Ah the cold cruel realities of the facts of existence and life. No god, no heaven or hell, just eternal oblivion in death in a meaningless universe without limit or end. Watch out for that penicillin, it's a killer to us bacteria.

BTW, listen to Owen-Bennet Jones' interview with Serbia's Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic on "The Interview." It's a perfect example of what I was talking about in regards to BBC interviews and their confrontational style. Bennet-Jones starts out immediately confronting him about his age and experience suggesting him unsuitable for the post and insinuating that he got his job though influence rather than merit and winds up debating him about the independence of Kosovo. (I have no personal direct interest in this issue one way or another and I actually agree with Bennet-Jones' view but that is hardly the point.)

Hey, if you want to believe in the tooth fairy because they keeps you from going insane and pay a priest to teach it to your kids, that's your business but it has no place in a science class in a publicly funded school. At least not where I live.

  • 10.
  • At 04:44 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • nonplussed wrote:

Roger. If someone is left suicidal because their unrealistic expectations have been shattered, is it the fault of the one who disclosed the real situation or the promoter of the false hopes? Religion is solving a problem it created in the first place.

Why should our self-worth be dependent on the belief that we are the pinnacles of creation? That outlook seems dismissive of the very real human attributes we can value. That the universe does not revolve around humanity does not make humanity worthless. The universe may not care about us, but that does not prevent us caring about ourselves.

Given the vastness of the cosmos, it is as if we inhabit one grain of sand on a huge unexplored beach. If more of us could see the wonder in that perspective we might have fewer of the problems caused by an inflated and unnecessary sense of self-importance.

I prefer truths that have the best grounding in verifiable reality. I find it sad that this can be seen as something to be feared.

  • 11.
  • At 02:47 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Roger wrote:

What is "verifiable relaity"? What sort of verification do you require? If you exclude a priori every kind of verification that is not available to the five senses then you are ecluding a great deal of "assumed reality", which it would not occur to anyone to call into question. Verification of God's existence can be found in the very nature of the reason that rationalists claim to invoke to deny his existence, in the very fact of linguistic coherence. Nietzsche said something to the effect that we will not have got rid of God until we can get rid of grammar. I strongly suggest that you try to come by a copy of John Lennox's "God's Undertaker". And enough of that absurd analogy between God and the tooth fairy or God s the "lying spaghetti monster". Surely anyone with a modium of intellgence can see how absolutely stupid such these analogies are.

"And enough of that absurd analogy between God and the tooth fairy or God s the "lying spaghetti monster". Surely anyone with a modium of intellgence can see how absolutely stupid such these analogies are."

Roger, without wishing to be obnoxious I feel I should point out that you haven't told anyone just what the differences are.

  • 13.
  • At 09:43 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Stephen G wrote:

John:

Don't you think there are any relevant differences? Seriously?

SG

  • 14.
  • At 09:54 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Roger wrote:

For one thing, only children believe in entities such as the tooth fairy and Santa Clause, and they believe in them because they don't know any better. Now before you weigh in with the notion that that is precisely the case with belief in God just reflect for a moment on that claim. The whole weight of human intellectual history stands against that notion. Are you really saying that men like Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, Kepler, Newton, Michael Faraday were actually trapped in some sort of intellectual infancy, that they reallly should have known better? Far from believing in God because they did not know any better many of the keenest minds in human history have actually been led to faith via their intelligence (not that there are not oter routes of course). Cosmologists and astrophysicists have by and large come round to the view that the universe necessarily had a beginning, having so long defended a steady state hypothesis even in the teeth of the evidence, because they were fully aware of what metaphysical implications the idea of the universe having a beginning entailed. This is ironic. It is what we are discovering with the technology that is now available to us rather than what we don't know that is pointing in the direction of there being an indescribably intelligent Mind behind it all. Fine tuning in every corner of the universe has led many skeptics to say things like "the impression of design is overwhelmeing" (Paul Davies). Why is it so difficult to follow that insight to its logical conclusion. In the case of leprachauns ad fairies at the bottom of the garden, there are no suspicious looking footprints around where the rainbow was, nor any rustling among the leaves (unless this evidence has been put there to fool someone, or unless the "witness" is extremely naive. But in the case of believe in God, what we are inding out at the cutting edge of scientific enquirey is actually calling our minds towards Him.

  • 15.
  • At 01:32 AM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

"The whole weight of human intellectual history stands against that notion."

Hahahahaha, I almost fell out of my chair I laughed so hard when I read those words. The weight of human intellectual history, what a preposterous notion, a feather in the wind. Augustine et. al. trapped in intellectual infancy? You bet they were. When it came to understanding the universe and the true nature of human existance...they were a pack of dummies. They knew NOTHING. They had NO FACTS. NADA. It wasn't until the very late 19th and early 20th centuries that humans even began to get an inkling of the dimensions of time and space we exist in. Once you do understand it, it is hard to imagine how human existance could be more insignificant than it actually is.

As for cosmologists and astrophysicists coming to the conclusion that the universe had a beginning that is very far from certain, their lack of knowledge is a mountain, what they do know a few grains of salt. For example, they can't account for over 95% of the mass in the universe. Anyway, even if it did have a beginning, it is not likely that it was in any way meaningful in human terms, it is by our nature of understanding a mere abstraction.

The attempt to fit the reality to conform to the theology is a miserable excuse for logic. There is not and never has been even one single shred of evidence to suggest that any form of intelligence was involved in creating anything (...and that goes for manmade things as well) :-)

"We will not have got rid of god until we get rid of grammar." I say we get rid of god and grandpa and keep grammar. After all, she can cook.

  • 16.
  • At 01:32 AM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

"The whole weight of human intellectual history stands against that notion."

Hahahahaha, I almost fell out of my chair I laughed so hard when I read those words. The weight of human intellectual history, what a preposterous notion, a feather in the wind. Augustine et. al. trapped in intellectual infancy? You bet they were. When it came to understanding the universe and the true nature of human existance...they were a pack of dummies. They knew NOTHING. They had NO FACTS. NADA. It wasn't until the very late 19th and early 20th centuries that humans even began to get an inkling of the dimensions of time and space we exist in. Once you do understand it, it is hard to imagine how human existance could be more insignificant than it actually is.

As for cosmologists and astrophysicists coming to the conclusion that the universe had a beginning that is very far from certain, their lack of knowledge is a mountain, what they do know a few grains of salt. For example, they can't account for over 95% of the mass in the universe. Anyway, even if it did have a beginning, it is not likely that it was in any way meaningful in human terms, it is by our nature of understanding a mere abstraction.

The attempt to fit the reality to conform to the theology is a miserable excuse for logic. There is not and never has been even one single shred of evidence to suggest that any form of intelligence was involved in creating anything (...and that goes for manmade things as well) :-)

"We will not have got rid of god until we get rid of grammar." I say we get rid of god and grandpa and keep grammar. After all, she can cook.

  • 17.
  • At 01:37 AM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

"The whole weight of human intellectual history stands against that notion."

Hahahahaha, I almost fell out of my chair I laughed so hard when I read those words. The weight of human intellectual history, what a preposterous notion, a feather in the wind. Augustine et. al. trapped in intellectual infancy? You bet they were. When it came to understanding the universe and the true nature of human existance...they were a pack of dummies. They knew NOTHING. They had NO FACTS. NADA. It wasn't until the very late 19th and early 20th centuries that humans even began to get an inkling of the dimensions of time and space we exist in. Once you do understand it, it is hard to imagine how human existance could be more insignificant than it actually is.

As for cosmologists and astrophysicists coming to the conclusion that the universe had a beginning that is very far from certain, their lack of knowledge is a mountain, what they do know a few grains of salt. For example, they can't account for over 95% of the mass in the universe. Anyway, even if it did have a beginning, it is not likely that it was in any way meaningful in human terms, it is by our nature of understanding a mere abstraction.

The attempt to fit the reality to conform to the theology is a miserable excuse for logic. There is not and never has been even one single shred of evidence to suggest that any form of intelligence was involved in creating anything (...and that goes for manmade things as well) :-)

"We will not have got rid of god until we get rid of grammar." I say we get rid of god and grandpa and keep grammar. After all, she can cook.

  • 18.
  • At 10:31 AM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Roger wrote:

Yo are saying then that scientists even in the 21st century cannot account for 95% of the universe's mass, and presumably the same goes for the biosphere. The more we discover the more we realise that the essence o things eludes us. And yet contemorary scientists blindly insist that the natural selection paradim explains the way it all happened. How can they be so sure, if such a huge percentage of what is to be known remains unknown? Especially in view of the huge difficulties currently associated with natural selection - dificulties which do not seem to e vanishing as quickly as Darwin assumed they would. If we really know so little, is there really a warrant for such swingeing, confident naturalistic assumptions? Can you really deny that there is an unwarranted and very unscientific prior philsophical commitment to materialism. It's a kind of "materialism of the gaps". "Because we don't know let's assume that naturalism will ultimately explain it all". Lewontin was very explicit about his agenda. He was prepared at all costs (even at the cost of intellectual integrity) to go to any lengths "not to let a divine foot in the door". By the way, I am not arguing that evolution did not take place. If it did it was probably of a kind that Darwin's theories cannot even begin to reflect. Whatever the correct scientific description of the process turns out to be, it is just not possible to assert that a highly intelligent Mind and Personality was not responsible for getting the process going. In fact the evidence seems to pointing in the opposite direction.

  • 19.
  • At 12:48 PM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

"Scientists even in the 21st century cannot..."

Thank you for making my point so forcefully for me. "They" not merely of the ancient world who cooked up these fairy tales but even down to relatively recent times had no knowledge of even the simplest things any five year old child knows today. That the earth is a round sphere about 8000 miles in diameter, that it spins on its axis causing day and night, that it revolves around the sun once a year, that it is tilted on its axis 23 degrees causing the seasons, that it is 93 million miles from the sun, that the sun is an average star 864,000 miles in diameter, that the moon only shines by reflected sunlight, that Jupiter is over 100 times the volume of the earth and 400 million miles from the sun. They knew none of this. And they knew nothing of most everyday objects we don't think twice about. The concept of an electric light bulb was far beyond them. A department store Christmas tree would have been for them a bush which burns but is not consumed because the only source of luminosity they knew was fire. They didn't know that bacteria and viruses cause disease. They were fascinated by anything made out of metal. Most things we encounter today in our daily lives are made out of materials or are in forms they never encountered in their lives. Plastic, even aluminum were unknown. They didn't even know what earth, water, fire, and air were made out of. And you expect me to agree that modern scientists who have the most knowledge don't have a clue to what the natural world is about while the philosophers, mystics, and poets of the past who knew none of these simple things did? Absurd! What's even more absurd is that anyone today would believe them because someone else wrote it down in a book.

By the way, the 95% of the matter in the universe scientists can't account for they call "dark matter." You can learn about it easily all over the internet.

Why do scientists insist so tenaciously in evolution? Because it's the only explanation they have which fits the facts, facts they cannot conveniently selectively ignore if they don't fit an alternative theory the way theologians can and always do. Besides, recent discoveries in the last few decades is giving new and consistently strong evidence for evolution at the molecular level of DNA. Miller's lecture which was linked from this blog site around a year ago presented some of it. How much more fascinating real science and knowledge is than pretend science invented for the simple minded by the ignorant. The only trouble is you need to become educated through a long arduous process to understand much of it, you can't hand it down like a fairy tales to kindergarteners in a Sunday school but that is the intellectual level most people's scientific knowledge is at. That is why it is so easy to trick them, they are not mentally competent enough to understand much of what is being said unless it is made simplistic enough for them to digest, they just don't have the tools. Those who are scientifically knowledgeable and reject the intellectual fruits of real knowledge like MacIntosh have some kind of mental disease or defect, Dawkins is "spot on." MacIntosh will not let go of his emotional need for a god to protect and reward him forever even at the cost of his intellectual integrity and reputation among his colleagues for deliberately being an idiot. For others...it comes as a result of a lifetime of mental laziness. Genesis is much easier to understand and remember than thermodynamics, even for MacIntosh.

  • 20.
  • At 05:00 PM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Roger wrote:

I wish you wouldn't be so ****** patronising! Who are you to question the intellectual integrity of scientists like John Polkinghorne and Francis Collins, among many others? Kenneth Miller is, by the way a practising Catholic who, presumably, does not subsribe to a naturalistic origin to the universe. That puts him in the same religious category, for all their differences, as Michael Behe. I have already said that I have, as a non scientist myself, no reason for not accepting some variation on the theory of evolution to account for the development of different forms of life. My quarrel is with those for whom evolution and natural selection necessarily rule out the need for a Creator who stands outside creation. They do no such thing. Even Stephen Jay Gould said at one point "either half of my fellow scientists are idiots or religious faith and science are perfectly compatible". He believed the latter.

I know what dark matter is. I was using your point to make the further point that if much of the matter that the universe is made up of remains a mystery, the same could be said (maybe the percentage would be different) of the biosphere. The deeper molecular biologists delve the more astonishingly complex they are inding the machinery within the living cell to be. It just makes no sense blithely to assume that life somehow spontaneously arose out of a soup of amino acids. Not a shred of evidence has been produced to show that that could have happened. And yet it is the kind of empirical proof that "evolution sceptics" would be hard pressed to deny. But even if life could have emerged therefrom, that by no means rules out the possibilty that the process was "programmed" to occur in that way.

  • 21.
  • At 07:35 PM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

It's often a disappointment to hear the other side's arguments. I think I could make a better case for it myself. Of course it would still be a feeble losing case.

"Who are you to question the intellectual integrity of scientists..."

Call it Yankee frontier mentality. Where I come from people once lived and died solely by their wits and some still do. When faced with the harsh realities of survival in a savage wilderness, being right or wrong was a matter of life and death, one's family name or blood lines carried no currency. Certificates and titles don't cut it either and scientific arguments ultimately stand or fall by their own strength and weakness to prove themselves alone, not by the reputation of who made them. This notion of who said such and such as having inherent value is a typical European mentality, the notion that because someone famous said something makes it automatically right doesn't fly. Who am I to question anyone? Simple, a thinking human being who takes nothing at face value and only accepts tentative truths which can always be toppled by compelling contradictory evidence, that's who. That's what an education in science and engineering teaches us here.

"Kenneth Miller by the way is a practicing Catholic..." Another specious argument, I don't care if he's a practicing MauMau. His area of expertise appears to be molecular genetics, not cosmology. Just because he expounds on his expertise in the area of his own specialty doesn't make him an expert in every other area as well. MacIntosh demonstrated this clearly by showing that while he may be expert in thermodynamics as it applies to mechanical engineering, when it comes to thermodynamics as applied to chemistry, his knowledge is sorely deficient. Yes a common and often fatal mistake is to think that because someone has technical expertise in one area, he is right in every other technical area as well. And frankly, I don't know what to presume about Miller's religious beliefs, it doesn't particularly matter as I see it.

"...necessarily rule out the need for a Creator who stands outside creation." Whose need and needed for what reason? It's an emotional need, not an intellectual one. The spontaneous creation of the universe and of life can be explained if not entirely satisfactorily yet, well enough without the need for any intellect behind it. But if there were a creator, that would raise a whole pack of new questions. Where is he situated now and where was he before creation, what creation does he exist in, who created that...and who or what created him? What happened before he came along. Like a dog chasing its tail, it has no answers, goes nowhere, the same questions come back again in a different form.

"Either half my fellow scientists are idiots..." I think that hit the nail right on the head although only half may be overly optimistic. How do I know these people? Simple, I've been surrounded by them much of my life. I worked at the largest research consorteum in the world for 12 years and rubbed elbows with many of them including candidates for Nobel prizes. Once out of their area of expertise, they are often no more clever than anyone else and have all of the same emotional and other psychological range of problems and hangups as everyone else.

"It just makes no sense to blithely assume that life spontaneously arose out of a soup of amino acids."

Why, because you don't like it? Well nobody knows for sure yet, scientists are relatively new at this, only having had a couple of centuries since they've started while theologians have had thousands of years to perfect their fairy tales based on their ignorance. You still can't face the fact that people like Aristotle knew absolutely nothing about the natural world. Not one shred of real knowledge. Everything he said about it turned out to be laughably dead wrong. You're not alone, people far more educated like MacIntosh turn their backs on everything they've learned to hold on to their cherished psychological security blankets literally for dear life. Must be painful for you to contemplate the possibility that there is nothing after death. Actually, for me as I grow older, that prospect has become an increasingly comforting thought.

Hello Roger

Hope you don't mind if I mix into your discussion with Mark.

"I have already said that I have, as a non scientist myself, no reason for not accepting some variation on the theory of evolution to account for the development of different forms of life. My quarrel is with those for whom evolution and natural selection necessarily rule out the need for a Creator who stands outside creation."

Oh, come on, re-read that last sentence of yours and see how far off that is. It is exactly what evolution does, remove the need for a creator. We see life all around us and evolution offers an excellent explanation for it. And because evolution provides the explanation it removes the need for a creator to have done it. What reasoning could be simpler to follow than that?

And since Ken Miller came up, let me add the link to that webcast again (assuming that is the one Mark referred to). Ken Miller, 'The collapse of Intelligent Design':
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVRsWAjvQSg

  • 23.
  • At 08:21 PM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Roger wrote:

If you hadn't already made up your mind, without hearing him speak that the man must necessarily be an idiot, I would recommend that you read the book "God's Undertaker" by Oxford scientist John Lennox. I would be wasting my time though.

  • 24.
  • At 09:00 PM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • nonplussed wrote:

Roger.

Given the lack of positive evidence, the fact that a majority believes in gods says more about human psychology than it does about the existent of god. The use of the word ‘God’ as a generic brand serves to hide the fact that most believers are using the word to describe very different things. This linguistic sweep obscures a vast diversity of mutually contradictory concepts. ‘God’ is not a majority opinion it is a myriad of minority opinions given the same name. The Koran says that believers in the divinity of Jesus are hell-bound. Even within Christianity, believers cannot agree on basics such as what their god requires for salvation.

The only majority is for the conclusion that there must be ‘something else’, some deistic ineffability. The vagueness of this common ground gives much credence to the view that it is a product of our psychological makeup, not input from some special god sensor.

Most believers are happy to observe the absence of convincing evidence for all religions other than their own, which shows that whatever is convincing them is likely to be of a subjective, non-verifiable nature.

‘Verifiable reality’ is an important grounding, therefore. Our hunches and cultural preferences vary so widely that science has only advanced by restricting itself to the simplest explanations that best explain confirmed findings. Science may only know a fraction of what there is to discover, but that still dwarfs the knowledge available to the writers of all the holy books. Religion has a very poor track record of having its divine explanations overturned by scientific ones. Once Apollo pulled the Sun across the sky, now god inserts the rules of grammar into our brains. Verification of god’s existence in the ‘nature of reason’ is simple assertion, not evidence of any kind.

Even if we set aside the default “I don’t know, yet” and conclude that the action of an external agency was detectable in the creation of the universe and the first replicating molecule, what should we do with this information? It would get us no closer to knowledge of what that being’s intentions were, or if we play any part in them – for all we know it lost interest after the dinosaurs died. It still does not make the many and varied assertions of all the world’s religions any more reliable. We are back to requiring evidence for their claims.

  • 25.
  • At 09:01 PM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Roger, everyone has someone whom they want me to hear speeak or who has written a book I just must read. The last time I made a concession to such a demand, I wasted over an hour of my life listening to a truly blithering idiot named Wilder-Smith when I could have been doing something more important like washing my socks or picking the lint from my pockets.

I will not let you get away with the excuse that someone else should do your arguing for you if I would just listen to him, if you have learned some vast eternal truth from this man then spill it, otherwise you are right, he's not on my shopping list of must reads. Perhaps if he makes it to BookTV on C-Span 2 I will catch him talking about his ideas but that's as close as I will likely come.

Re: #12 and #13. To follow from this idea that there are no differences between belief in Santa Clause and belief in God.... this is an article I wrote a while back on this very question.

Belief in God, like belief in Santa Clause is infantile. So says Richard Dawkins and many of his groupies enthusiastically agree. Of course, engaged in polemic, they want to smear belief in God and to compare it with belief in Santa, the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny suits their purposes of ridiculing the religious. By extension religious believers are written off as infantile, unthinking and naïve.

But, is such a comparison fair and rational or is it itself infantile? It seems to me that belief in God is not remotely comparable to belief in Santa Claus at all. Some atheists seem to argue that the beliefs are equal because neither God nor Santa exist, and therefore believing in either is the same irrational act. But, is there really no difference, even if we grant that God and Santa do not exist? Lets say two physicists sit down to discuss the existence of black holes. Knewton doesn’t believe in them; Einstain does. Would it be fair and rational for Knewton to compare Einstain’s belief in blackholes to belief in the Easter Bunny? Surely not. Alternatively, lets say my aunt lives in Australia and dies, unknown to me. Is my continued belief in her existence comparable to belief in Santa simply by virtue of the fact that both involve beliefs in people that do not exist? Hardly.

Even from an atheist perspective it is odd that belief in God should be compared to belief in Santa, except for rhetorical effect or polemical purposes. The reason is that there appear to be some very relevant differences between the beliefs and between the people who hold the beliefs. So, what are these relevant differences?

Firstly, and most importantly, Santa Claus is known not to exist. All sane and rational adults and older children are well aware that Santa is a mere story told to young children to make Christmas time that little bit more exciting. God, on the other hand, is not known to not exist. Those who talk about God and claim he exists are making serious claims and not knowingly telling stories. Atheists might well think that God does not exist, but they cannot justifiably claim to know that God does not exist. In fact, in my experience atheists rarely if ever claim to know that God doesn’t exist. Rather the typical atheist position is that they are unconvinced by theistic arguments and have no good reason to believe God does exist. Like it or not the existence of God is a matter of intellectual inquiry, even amongst the most intelligent human beings, unlike the existence of Santa. Only children and the mentally deranged seriously consider the possibility of the existence of Santa, the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny. And this is a massive difference between the two beliefs.

Secondly, and following from the above, God’s existence is a matter for debate, evidence and argument. Belief in God is a matter of argument and evidence and those who hold belief in God give arguments and evidence for that belief. There is no moral argument for the existence of Santa. No cosmological argument for the Tooth Fairy. No teleological argument for the existence of the Easter Bunny. No Ontological argument for pixies. In short, no sane and rational human beings will even attempt to defend belief in Santa or the Easter Bunny with reasons and evidence. The proposition “God exists” is therefore in a very different intellectual category. There are serious arguments by serious thinkers for belief in God and the rationality of theism. Of course atheists are not persuaded by such arguments, but that does not warrant the equating of belief in God with belief in Santa, and even less so of equating the rationality of those who believe in God with those who believe in Santa.

Thirdly, millions of people past and present have claimed to have had experiences of God or some kind of “sensus divinitatus” (as John Calvin put it), or inner awareness of God or the divine. As far as I’m aware the same cannot be said for Santa Claus. No sensus Santa Clausitatus has ever been reported. Claims to have experienced God or the divine are not at all incontrovertible evidence to an atheist, but they do provide some further grounds on which to question the equating of belief in God with belief in known fictitious creations of the human mind.

Lastly, belief in Santa, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy are all infantile beliefs, held (mentally deranged adults aside), solely by children. Rational adults all over the world believe in God. Moreover, many of them come to believe in God after childhood - CS Lewis, Alister McGrath and Antony Flew being a few examples. And atheists must accept that this is so, if indeed they are evidentialists. It is popular to claim that belief in God is something most of us hold just because we were taught it as children. But, even if this is the case, and there are good reasons for denying it, it would not show that there is something wrong with the belief or with those who hold it. After all, we are taught many things in childhood - such as that 1 + 1 = 2 - that are true. In any event, belief in God is not a throwback to childhood, nor a delusion that should have died out with belief in the Easter Bunny. It is a much more serious proposition, one entertained by millions, and with plenty of sane, rational and highly intelligent defenders. None of this makes the belief true, but it should surely make us pause for thought before placing it and those who believe it in the same category as belief in Santa and those who believe in that proposition. For many theists belief in God is better likened to beliefs such as “1 + 1 = 2,” “I feel happy,” “I see a tree in front of me,” “I am experiencing the love of my partner,” “the external world exists apart from in my own mind,” I had cornflakes for breakfast this morning,” or “other minds exist.” From a theist perspective their belief in God is worlds apart from a child’s belief in Santa, and it is exceedingly odd that some atheists cannot see the differences.
Insofar as these atheists fail to recognise the very obvious differences here they will continue to be written off by theists, and many intelligent atheists, as unthinking dogmatists. If genuine dialogue between atheists and religious believers is to proceed belief in God must be recognised as much more intellectually serious than belief in Santa. No arguments will be won and no theists will be convinced on the basis of such a comparison.

To believe in God may be to accept a proposition that is untrue, but to believe in God is not infantile like believing in Santa. To claim that it is is infantile and a stumbling block to proper debate.

  • 27.
  • At 09:17 AM on 30 Sep 2007,
  • Dylan Dog wrote:

It all depends by what you mean by 'God' Stephen.

A better analogy than the tooth fairy would be Zeus, Ganesh, Thor, Pachamacha, Amon-Ra etc.

If you are talking about these gods then I would say that most people would be atheist(myself included and that includes the Judeo-Christian god). These gods can be shown to be human constructs.

Santa may be only accepted by children however adults do believe some strange things eg., there have been many converts to Scientology and other weird cults in adulthood-does that make them true?

I have to admit that for all intents and purposes I am an atheist however on a philosophical level I am agnostic in the sense of Bertrand Russell's teapot-it's something that can neither be proven/disproved-it's a moot point I know!

DD

  • 28.
  • At 09:23 AM on 30 Sep 2007,
  • AH wrote:

At last we're making progress here, and many thanks are due to Mark and his insightul comments (undoubtedly gleaned in part from the revolutionary thinking on religion of his mentors, the good Richard Dawkins and Cristopher Hitchens). All religious faith (let's not fall prey to the ingenuous temptation to distinguish between so-called benevolent and so-called malevolent beliefs) is a virus of the mind, a massive obstacle to human progress, a truth-distorting hangover from the Dark Ages. Evangelists like Billy Graham are the equivalent of perpetrators of biological warfare on a massive scale, or the criminal disseminators of HIV amongst unsuspecting innocent victims. It is about time they were silenced! In the presence of an epidemic, th scientiic ommunity does not sit back and watch the devastation that it wreaks. In the presence of the virus of religious faith, the scientiic community and right-thinking people at large should not sit back and watch it happen. It is about time action was taken to cleanse the organism of human society of this contamination. I am not sure what form the inal solution will take, but that is inevitable I have no doubt whatsoever.

What is the nature of the havoc that this virus is causing? For a start, it lulls people all over the world (even people with top degrees from top-notch universities!!) into the dangerous delusion that there is something special about human nature, that human beings have somehow been singled out by "God" as the object of his (its) special affection, that they have ben endowed with some kind of special dignity. The result of this dangerous delusion is that aour efforts in favour of the planet are skewed in favour of our own species rather than being equally distributed amongst our fellow-organisms. We have got it into our heads (in fact it is now deeply engrained in our culture that there is somehow something more horrendous about the massacre of 6 million Jews, or the several million victims of Pol Pot or of Stalin (or the Bush led invasion of Iraq) than about the wanton slaughter of millions of equally sentient creatures simply to indulge our desire to have meat on our plates. The kind of "spiecist" sentimentality that causes us to sympathise with the former rather than the latter is no help to anyone.

Another fatal result of this delusion is that it causes people to harbour within their hearts the hope that there might be something beyond this earth-bound existence. It has caused people suffering from what they perceive as "oppression" at the hands of so-called oppressors to believe that what they touchingly refer to as "justice" might be done in the end. This is, as I say, touching, but it is no less "delusory" for that reason. The present concept of "justice" arose out of our evolutionary impetus towards the survival of the species, and can be (and maybe must be) dispensed with in the interests of the survival of the planet.

But a new dawn is just about visible on the horizon. Maybe the readers now coming under the beneficent influence of our good friend Richard and Cristopher (among many others) will be the forerunners of a kind of "master race" which will (hopefully sooner rather than later) be free of the last strains of this virus. It is to be hoped that these people will make up the main body of our legislators and the visible executors of the will of the community.

Hello Stephen,

I would not go along with a number of points in your post 26. But let me limit my questions to just one. You wrote

"Secondly, and following from the above, God’s existence is a matter for debate, evidence and argument. Belief in God is a matter of argument and evidence and those who hold belief in God give arguments and evidence for that belief. "

You then list some examples of arguments (cosmological, ontological, etc). Could you also list some examples of evidence? Claims of evidence are what I usually disagree more with than philosophical arguments. When you say evidence, do you mean tangible evidence that would be convincing to open-minded but skeptical people who don't hold to any religious beliefs? If so, could you list some examples please.

greets,
Peter

  • 30.
  • At 09:41 PM on 30 Sep 2007,
  • Stephen G wrote:

Peter:

The kinds of things I had in mind when I wrote that particular article were primarily philoosophical. I don't limit the term "evidence" to the science lab. I use the term more in the sense of the court room. It can include one's own experiences, reflections on the facts of existence, testimony from others etc.

In these broad terms I think a hell of a lot of people have been convinced by evidence and argument - CS Lewis was one example; or more recently Antony Flew.

Of course you may disagree with the arguments and evidence (evidence being that which supports the premises of individual arguments) that convinces others, but what is supposed to follow from that? Does it mean there is something wrong with the arguments and evidence?

To get back to the point, I think that the reasons I gave are good enough to put belief in God in a different intellectual category from belief in fairies, santa, or the easter bunny.

Now, if you want to disagree about THAT, then feel free. Tell me what is wrong with my reasons above. Or, even better, if you are making the claim that belief in God IS in the same intellectual category as belief in Santa then I'd be interested in the reasons YOU have for THAT.

To my mind the only reason for putting them in the same category is the polemic effect of so doing. But, it's a double-edged sword, because the theist might reply that NOT believing in God is like not believing the world is round. It's a game anyone can play. But rather than engage in this childish polemics why can't we reason like adults?

SG

  • 31.
  • At 09:58 PM on 30 Sep 2007,
  • Stephen G wrote:

Dylan:

Sorry, I missed your reply.

I'm not trying to argue that all these weird and wonderful beliefs are true. My point is simply that there is a difference between certain categories of belief.

I agree that a lot depends on what meaning we attach to the word
"God." I take the word at it's most basic to mean "a highly intelligent, powerful creator." I think most of the big religions today can agree to that (and, of course will go much further). But, what makes the INTELLECTUAL difference between a belief in Santa, fairies etc and belief in God are those things I mentioned above. In short, it depends on people taking the proposition seriously and seeing it as a credible intellectual option. I don't think that is disputable, and I've been amazed that some people can't grasp the obvious differences. You don't have to think the belief is true to agree it's a serious intellectual option. I'm not an atheist but I'm not about to claim that atheism is like believing the world is flat. Why? Because the beliefs are in different intellectual categories, despite my believing both to be false.

SG

  • 32.
  • At 10:43 PM on 30 Sep 2007,
  • Philip Campbell wrote:

There are mulitplied thousands who were helped to find forgiveness in Christ through the preaching of Billy Graham. He would be the very first to acknowledge not only his own limitations but also that he was merely a preacher of the Christian Gospel.

I wonder how many have been helped by Christopher Hitchens atheism?

  • 33.
  • At 11:07 PM on 30 Sep 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Stephen Graham #26
I think you deliberately mischaracterize the argument of Dawkins and other atheists who compare belief in god with belief in Santa Clause. What they have in common is that there is no substantive evidence for the existence of either. And so Humprheys in the thread of the failed agnostic which follows, acknowledges that belief in god must be taken on blind faith. When people with scientific knowledge try to justify their belief in god with so called scientific evidence such as Andy MacIntosh tried to do, they present badly flawed arguments. This may seem trivial or merely a matter of high brow quibbling over a difference of opinion to the technically untrained but to those who are trained, it is either an outrageous deliberate deception or evidence of utter technical incompetence. Either way, it cannot go ignored or excused.

Your argument that since many rational people believe in god, this is reason enough that it is intellectually honest to give this postulate some credence is also flawed. When they think about it and believe in god for which there is no evidence, then they are at that moment no longer rational. You cannot be rational and believe in something for which there is no evidence and I think many theologians would agree, belief in god does not stem from rational argument, it stems from blind faith. Many people once believed the earth was flat, in fact most people believed it, they had the evidence of their own eyes which is more than theists have but believing it didn’t make it any less round. You can call it a matter of “intellectual inquiry” but the conclusion is always the same…no credible evidence to support the hypothesis that god exists.

AH #28
“What’s the nature of the havoc that this virus is causing?” At the moment, the threat of thermonuclear war with lunatics in Iran who think they are doing god’s work by building an atom bomb to use to force all of humanity to become active participants in Shia Islam. And the threat of an equally insane group who have the same goal to convert whatever is left of humanity after their jihad to Sunni Islam. In the past, the havoc was the Crusades, the Inquisition, religious wars, and more cruel barbaric sadism and murder in the name of Christianity than the world can recount. This world may end because this virus is fatal to the survival of the human species. Don't think you will escape when it comes, the consequences will be far worse than you ever imagined.

Hello Stephen G,

Thanks for your reply. While I stated that I would not go along with some of your earlier points I must confess that my philosophical knowledge on these issues is not the strongest. My doubts have a degree of 'this doesn't smell right' and are therefore hardly a basis for phrasing a solid argument. Putting together clear thoughts and phrasing them convincingly is something I'm not up to at this moment (apart from limited philosophical knowledge also because it's not too far from midnight over here).

There are two small bits where I have a clearer doubt about what you're saying. The first is actually from your reply #31 to Dylan. You wrote

"In short, it depends on people taking the proposition seriously and seeing it as a credible intellectual option. I don't think that is disputable, and I've been amazed that some people can't grasp the obvious differences. You don't have to think the belief is true to agree it's a serious intellectual option."

I must be one of the people you are amazed by. I do not necessarily see any validity in an idea because many (including very smart) people take it serious. In the past people have been convinced en masse of the most erroneous ideas. The 'so many people believe it' argument has come up a number of times on this blog recently. I don't get it, and in fact I think it's wrong.

In your reply to me you wrote

"Or, even better, if you are making the claim that belief in God IS in the same intellectual category as belief in Santa then I'd be interested in the reasons YOU have for THAT."

One thing that belief in god and fairy tales have in common is lack of tangible evidence in a scientific sense. A scientific view is not the only way to look at something, but I would contend it's not the worst way either.

greets,
Peter

  • 35.
  • At 12:09 AM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Phillip Campbell #32

"He would be the very first to acknowledge not only his own limitations but also that he was merely a preacher of the Christian Gospel."

So that's where his anti-semitism came from. I thought so.

"I wonder how many have been helped by Christopher Hitchens atheism?"

I wonder how many justified their hatred for Jews based on Graham's theism.

He was also a liar.

From Wikipedia;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Graham

"In 2002, however, newly declassified "Richard Nixon tapes" confirmed remarks made by Graham to President Nixon three decades earlier. Captured on the tapes, Graham agreed with Nixon that Jews control the American media, calling it a "stranglehold" during a 1972 conversation with Nixon.[20] "This stranglehold has got to be broken or the country's going down the drain,"[21] said Graham, agreeing with Nixon's comments about Jews and their influence in American life. Later, Graham mentions that he has friends in the media who are Jewish, including A.M. Rosenthal, saying they "swarm around me and are friendly to me." But, he tells Nixon, "They don't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country."[20] These remarks were highly controversial to some Jewish leaders that characterized them as antisemitic, such as Abraham Foxman.[12]"

"When the tapes were released, Graham apologized for his remarks, stating that "although I have no memory of the occasion, I deeply regret comments I apparently made ... They do not reflect my views, and I sincerely apologize for any offense caused by the remarks,"[22] and "If it wasn't on tape, I would not have believed it. I guess I was trying to please... I went to a meeting with Jewish leaders and I told them I would crawl to them to ask their forgiveness."[23] According to Newsweek magazine, "the shock of the revelation was magnified because of Graham's longtime support of Israel and his refusal to join in calls for the conversion of the Jews."[23]"

  • 36.
  • At 03:15 AM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

To a child, there is more evidence for Santa Claus and the tooth fairy than there is for god. The child is told by adults if he or she is good and hangs a stocking over the fireplace on Christmas eve, on Christmas morning it will be filled with presents and there will be more under the tree. And when that child wakes up the next morning, voila, they are there as promised. The child is told if he or she puts a baby tooth that fell out under their pillow when they go to bed, in the morning it will be gone and money (I got quarters) will be there in its place. And they do and the next morning there is the money as promised. Then they are told to pray to god and their prayers will be answered and so they do and what happens? More often than not their prayers are not answered. In fact for many, no matter how good they are at being perfect little Christians, Jews, or Moslems, life is sometimes living hell for any of a hundred reasons. Mommy and daddy WILL get a divorce. Grandma WILL die of the cancer she was just diagnosed with. Daddy DID lose his job and can't get another. So what should they conclude? That Santa and the tooth fairy do exist and god doesn't. That's what I believe too. :-) Oh by the way, as a child I got lots of toys on Chrismas even though I'm not Christian....See, toldya Santa exists....I even have a photo of him....Flying!....With the sled and the reindeer!...Not a fake either! :-)

  • 37.
  • At 11:53 AM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • AH wrote:

Indeed Mark, thank you once again for that gem (#33). The sooner we find a way to get rid of religious cranks the better.They're poisoning our young people's minds, brainwashing our children with the false sense of being loved and cherished by some Divine entity, they are finding ways of seeping into the science departments of our universities (which should stand for enlightened thinking) under the guise of their psudo-scienific hocus pocus known as Intelligent Design. Fortunately the threat is being contained somewhat by the massive media-driven popularity that Richard Dawkins and Cristopher Hitchens are achieving (bless their cotton socks!). But we must be on the alert. As for Billy Graham, fortunately not many people listen to him any more, and his mantle-bearers are not really being taken very seriously by anyone but absolute crackpots.

  • 38.
  • At 03:59 PM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

AH #37
"Fortunately the threat is being contained by the mass media-driven popularity driven that Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are achieving..."

I don't know who's containing the threat where you are but where I live it's being thwarted by the courts...as in Dover Pennsylvania where it ruled that Intelligent Design cannot be taught in a science classs in the public schools because it is religion in disguise. And fortunately we have a written down Constitution which explicitly forbids government from entering the world of religion and lots of determined concerned citizens to help keep it that way. They are bracing for religion's next attack on our freedom from religion in whatever form it comes.

  • 39.
  • At 06:22 PM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • AH wrote:

My dear fellow, do you really think legislation of this kind is enough to contain the threat? Sooner or later much more strident legislation will be necessary. Teachers carrying this poisonous infection of religious faith will have to be excluded from teaching positions in our schools and in every area of academia. Research grants will have to be withheld from everyone who does not straightforwardly state their total commitment to secular materialism. Anyone in any of these spheres (especially insofar as they occupy positions of inluence) suspected of having been infected by this virus will have to be pubicly "outed" by their peers. Too much is at stake not to act decisively. You say that the government is constitutionally forbidden from entering the world of religion. Sooner or later it will HAVE TO be PERMITTED to enter, not to oment religious practice but to curtail it. Is it consistent to protect children at school from this pernicious influence and at the same time to allow Sunday Schools to teach what they please. Richard Dawkins is right to expose such practices as "child abuse". But ideological forthrightness must have some kind of legislative metal behind it; otherwise it's just whistling in the wind. But there is no need to fear. In some countries this has already begun to happen. Sunday School material is increasingly coming under the scrutiny of the State. The sooner this happens in the US the better. If we get our way, Sunday Schools (where they exist at all) will be provided with the kind of material that we think it is legitimate for them to use. Maybe people like Richard Dawkins will be prepared to lend a hand at designing the syllabus.

  • 40.
  • At 07:49 PM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

AH #39
The Constitution of the United States is as strident as it gets here, when it comes to the law that's the big enchilada as we say, and the trend has been to enforce it with increasing vigor over the centuries since it was written. It would not surprise me if the words "In God We Trust" is eventually taken off our money. There is serious consideration of excluding the words "one nation under God" from the pledge of allegience to the United States which all public school children recite every morning. And when I went to school, public school assemblies always included a reading of a psalm from the book of David. I'm sure this no longer happens. We still have legal abortion although it's come under attack by the religious right. I think women in the US will openly revolt if it ever becomes illegal again, I know it will open up a lot of opportunities for off shore quickie abortion mills in Canada, Mexico and the Carribean. Public school teachers who espouse their religious philosophy to their students are increasing being regarded as abberent and discharged. They may sue but they always seem to lose. In America, the law of the land is that religion is a private matter and that is how most of us want it to stay. Even Christmas decorations on public places such as in front of city halls or at airports are being banned. BTW, we have an increasing population of Asian origin and heritage which is not Christian and does not want someone elses religion shoved down their throats in public spaces they need to use like the rest of us. And that is their right. Even large department stores and shopping malls are doing away with Christmas decorations and what used to be called "the Christmas Holiday" in public schools is now referred to as "winter break." Despite the noise, I think the religionists in America who want more religion in public life are fighting a losing retreat.

  • 41.
  • At 09:34 PM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • AH wrote:

Great news! I didn't realise the US had gone so far already in taking such steps towards a radical purge. Nothing they can do along those lines can possibly be too little. I suppose that for the moment there is not much we can do by way of stopping people from celebrating their disgusting religious rituals in their own homes. But soon consideration will be given to the poisonous effects of these rituals on the innocent children in the household. If subjecting children to these belefs really is child abuse (which it obviously is) then someone somewhere will surely find a way of doing something about it. After all, if we know that physical child abuse is peing perpetrated by someone in our block we don't sit back and let it happen, do we? Why should we then sit back and let parents abuse their children ideologically? The scars are just as deep, and sometimes deeper. Maybe children will eventually have to be separated from such parents and placed in institutions where they can be reeducated. They could have stories told them based on the insights of Dawkins. When they're a buit older they could have Christopher Hitchen read to them aloud over breakfast. Needless to say, there would be no Christmas trees or anything of the lke in such institutions. "Winter break-fest" might be a good term to replace Christmas with in schools and homes for the reeducation of our children. (Mind you, depending on how it was pronounced it might be a little ambiguous). Or what about "The Festival of Light"? That is fairly multi-cultural isn't it? It could be interpreted as celebrating advances in science. Turkey dinners would have to be outlawed. Despite their being religiously neutral such an event involves the slaughter of millions of innocent turkeys. In view of humankind's place within the cosmos on an equal footing with every other organism (you yourself pointed that out in a message to that idiot Roger) how can the rights of turkeys be regarded as being of any less importance than the rights of those who eat them? Benighted specism! Maybe you have some other ideas about how the State can ensure that these religious maniacs get squeezed out of every possible position of influence to make way for elightened individuals such as yourself, Mr Hitchens, the good Dr Dawkins and Mr Gradgrind.

  • 42.
  • At 10:00 PM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • Stephen G wrote:

Hi Peter…

Just a quick reply…

“While I stated that I would not go along with some of your earlier points I must confess that my philosophical knowledge on these issues is not the strongest.”

I appreciate that, but this isn’t a particularly deep matter. We’re discussing whether or not belief in God can rightly be placed in the same intellectual category as belief in the tooth fairy. If you think it should be then you must be able to defend that position and provide the points of comparison that you think are relevant, and which I as a theist should worry about.

So, lets get down to the nitty gritty. I’m not asking you to see validity in any idea just because many people take the idea seriously. That’s not the issue. The issue is whether some given belief is intellectually serious. As you rightly point out people have historically believed all manner of wrong ideas. Take one example: the earth is flat. But during the time when people believed this to be true do you not agree that they did so rationally? After all, all the evidence and experts before them pointed in that direction and they didn’t violate any epistemic duty in holding the belief that the earth was flat. The belief was wrong but it was rational for people to hold those beliefs, and I think you are mistakenly confusing the two. You seem to think that if you believe something that is false then you are irrational. But, surely not. There is a difference between truth and rationality. For instance, I think God exists but I do not believe you are necessarily irrational in rejecting that belief. Lets say you and I sat down to discuss all manner of topics and we had vast areas of disagreement. Would you put all of those beliefs with which you disagree into the same category as belief in the tooth fairy? That strikes me as odd.

You finish up with a brief attempt at justifying the equating of belief in God with belief in Santa, and it’s not very good to be honest. You say: “One thing that belief in god and fairy tales have in common is lack of tangible evidence in a scientific sense.” Now this really is a bewildering statement. I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “evidence in a scientific sense” and even more confused as to why you think that matters to anyone, atheist or theist - unless you believe this is the only basis on which anything can be known or rationally believed, and that would be a curious position indeed. I have no tangible evidence in a scientific sense for the belief that I had toast for breakfast last Saturday morning, so is that belief just like believing in fairies too? I have no tangible evidence in a scientific sense that anything really exists outside of my own mind. Does my belief in the external world fall on a par with a child’s belief in Santa? Now, maybe you do have tangible evidence in a scientific sense for all these things and more, I don’t know, but I would certainly be interested in it.

But there is an even more serious problem with what you are saying. Lets say we hold the following proposition:

(1) beliefs require tangible evidence in a scientific sense to avoid being comparable to belief in Santa.

Now, if (1) is justified for me then on its own terms I require tangible evidence in a scientific sense for (1). Given the fact that I have no tangible evidence in a scientific sense for (1) then on the very terms of (1) itself I should probably avoid adding (1) to my noetic structure; because on its own terms (1) is a belief comparable to belief in Santa. It fails to meet its own criteria.

I think if you want to use this criteria you are going to run into massive philosophical problems, many which I currently have no more time to mention.

Cheers,

SG

  • 43.
  • At 10:06 PM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • Stephen G wrote:

THIRD TIME LUCKY TRYING TO POST THIS

****************

Hi Peter

Just a quick reply.

"While I stated that I would not go along with some of your earlier points I must confess that my philosophical knowledge on these issues is not the strongest."

I appreciate that, but this isn't a particularly deep matter. We're discussing whether or not belief in God can rightly be placed in the same intellectual category as belief in the tooth fairy. If you think it should be then you must be able to defend that position and provide the points of comparison that you think are relevant, and which I as a theist should worry about.

So, lets get down to the nitty gritty. I’m not asking you to see validity in any idea just because many people take the idea seriously. That’s not the issue. The issue is whether some given belief is intellectually serious. As you rightly point out people have historically believed all manner of wrong ideas. Take one example: the earth is flat. But during the time when people believed this to be true do you not agree that they did so rationally? After all, all the evidence and experts before them pointed in that direction and they didn’t violate any epistemic duty in holding the belief that the earth was flat. The belief was wrong but it was rational for people to hold those beliefs, and I think you are mistakenly confusing the two. You seem to think that if you believe something that is false then you are irrational. But, surely not. There is a difference between truth and rationality. For instance, I think God exists but I do not believe you are necessarily irrational in rejecting that belief. Lets say you and I sat down to discuss all manner of topics and we had vast areas of disagreement. Would you put all of those beliefs with which you disagree into the same category as belief in the tooth fairy? That strikes me as odd.

You finish up with a brief attempt at justifying the equating of belief in God with belief in Santa, and it’s not very good to be honest. You say: “One thing that belief in god and fairy tales have in common is lack of tangible evidence in a scientific sense.” Now this really is a bewildering statement. I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “evidence in a scientific sense” and even more confused as to why you think that matters to anyone, atheist or theist - unless you believe this is the only basis on which anything can be known or rationally believed, and that would be a curious position indeed. I have no tangible evidence in a scientific sense for the belief that I had toast for breakfast last Saturday morning, so is that belief just like believing in fairies too? I have no tangible evidence in a scientific sense that anything really exists outside of my own mind. Does my belief in the external world fall on a par with a child’s belief in Santa? Now, maybe you do have tangible evidence in a scientific sense for all these things and more, I don’t know, but I would certainly be interested in it.

But there is an even more serious problem with what you are saying. Lets say we hold the following proposition:

(1) beliefs require tangible evidence in a scientific sense to avoid being comparable to belief in Santa.

Now, if (1) is justified for me then on its own terms I require tangible evidence in a scientific sense for (1). Given the fact that I have no tangible evidence in a scientific sense for (1) then on the very terms of (1) itself I should probably avoid adding (1) to my noetic structure; because on its own terms (1) is a belief comparable to belief in Santa. It fails to meet its own criteria.

I think if you want to use this criteria you are going to run into massive philosophical problems, many which I currently have no more time to mention.

Cheers,

SG

  • 44.
  • At 12:14 AM on 02 Oct 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

AH #41
You want everyone in society to be subject to religious indoctrination. But what if it wasn't your religion? What would you do if your child had to hear readings from the Koran at school? What if there were statues honoring Allah and Mohammed you had to look at every time you needed to do business at city hall? What if Islamic religious music came out of the speakers as background music when you went to the airport to catch a plane at an airport built at public expense? I'll bet you'd be the first to complain and you would complain the longest and loudest. However, there is one consolation. If your child wants to receive an academic diploma from a public high school in the United States, he will have to read and learn the theory of evolution and natural selection to pass his biology exam or he won't graduate. He doesn't have to believe it but he will have to learn it. But if you don't want him to and prefer he learn all your mumbo jumbo creation nonsense, you will have to teach it to him yourself at home or have another school teach it to him instead....at your own expense, not mine.

Hello Stephen,

Thanks for your post and phrasing things very clearly.

I fully agree with your first point that thinking clearly and taking available information into account you can still come to the wrong conclusion and that that does not have to indicate any irrationality.

On the second point I do not think that scientific evidence is the only basis for accepting things, as noted at the end of my previous post. I think that here the question slips in of how you view your god.
If he/she/it is anything in the deist sense that John Wright professes than I would have little to cry about (vocal atheist probably wouldn't feel much reason to be very vocal if all believers were like that). I have not experienced anything to makes me believe in such a god. But not being too familiar with the philosophical reasons you have to believe, I could not presently just dismiss them.
If however the god is someone you ascribe specific things to, then I would start to disagree. If your god is the one who in 2349 bc supposedly flooded this place then I would ask why that didn't leave any trace. Etc. When the beliefs start being at odds with what we observe around us then I will make the point that these beliefs are irrational. I could perhaps cast it into your own 'toast for breakfast analogy'. That one I was fine with. But suppose you said you had just had breakfast and had gulped down a full liter of milk with it, yet I find you a 9.20 AM suffering from very bad dehydration, then I would probably not believe your liter of milk story. And I would have my doubts about any persons thinking if they saw you struggle to even speak with your dried-out tongue yet are happy to accept that you just drank a liter.

Not that it is any of my business so feel free to ignore, but would you mind telling how you see your god please?

greets,
Peter

(I also seemed to have trouble posting, sorry if this one appears multiple times)

Hello Stephen,

Thanks for your post and phrasing things very clearly.

I fully agree with your first point that thinking clearly and taking available information into account you can still come to the wrong conclusion and that that does not have to indicate any irrationality.

On the second point I do not think that scientific evidence is the only basis for accepting things, as noted at the end of my previous post. I think that here the question slips in of how you view your god.
If he/she/it is anything in the deist sense that John Wright professes than I would have little to cry about (vocal atheist probably wouldn't feel much reason to be very vocal if all believers were like that). I have not experienced anything to makes me believe in such a god. But not being too familiar with the philosophical reasons you have to believe, I could not presently just dismiss them.
If however the god is someone you ascribe specific things to, then I would start to disagree. If your god is the one who in 2349 bc supposedly flooded this place then I would ask why that didn't leave any trace. Etc. When the beliefs start being at odds with what we observe around us then I will make the point that these beliefs are irrational. I could perhaps cast it into your own 'toast for breakfast analogy'. That one I was fine with. But suppose you said you had just had breakfast and had gulped down a full liter of milk with it, yet I find you a 9.20 AM suffering from very bad dehydration, then I would probably not believe your liter of milk story. And I would have my doubts about any persons thinking if they saw you struggle to even speak with your dried-out tongue yet are happy to accept that you just drank a liter.

Not that it is any of my business so feel free to ignore, but would you mind telling how you see your god please?

greets,
Peter

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