Studying Islam has made me an atheist

Douglas Murray says that he stopped being an Anglican after analysing Muslim texts and deciding that no book — of any religion — could claim infallibility

29 December 2008

12:00 AM

29 December 2008

12:00 AM

Douglas Murray says that he stopped being an Anglican after analysing Muslim texts and deciding that no book — of any religion — could claim infallibility

Just over a year ago I told a lie. In print. In this magazine. I was one of those asked by The Spectator last Christmas whether I believed in the virgin birth. Since it had always seemed to me that if you believed in God a ‘pick and mix’ approach to the central tenets of the faith was pointless, I said ‘yes’. But in fact I felt ‘no’. It wasn’t that I had been wrestling over the doctrine of the incarnation, I simply felt that if I didn’t believe in the virgin birth, I would not believe in God. The truth is I didn’t and don’t. The guilt has been lingering since. This is my atheist mea culpa.

Many people hold on to belief as an unquestioned part of their make-up. They never have to confront the source of their belief, and as long as nothing actively pushes them into addressing it, they keep it as something which rarely does much harm and might actually do some good. I have been an Anglican since birth — and not just a cultural Anglican but at times (rarest of things) a real, worshipping, believing Anglican. Like a lot of believers, I knew that there were parts of my belief that wouldn’t stand up to analysis. But that was fine. I didn’t need to analyse them. I only lost faith when I was forced to.

Charles Darwin didn’t do for God. German biblical criticism did — the scholarship on lost texts, discoveries of added-to texts and edited texts. All pointed away from the initial starting-block of faith — that the texts transmitted immutable truths. Realising that ‘holy’ texts are, like most other things in life, the result of an accretion of human effort and human error is one of the most troubling discoveries any believer can make. I remember trying to read some of this scholarship when I was younger, and finding it so terrifying, so ground-shaking, that I put it off for another day.

But it found me via another route. Some years ago I started studying Islam. It didn’t take long to recognise the problems of that religion’s texts — the repetitions, contradictions and absurdities. Unlike Christianity, scholarship on these problems in Islam has barely begun. But they are manifest for anyone to see. For a holy book which in its opening lines boasts ‘that is the book, wherein is no doubt’, plenty of doubt emerges. Not least in recognising demonstrable plagiarisms from the Torah and the Christian Bible. If God spoke through an archangel to one illiterate tradesman in 7th-century Arabia, then — just for starters — why was he stealing material? Or was he just repeating himself?


Gradually, scepticism of the claims made by one religion was joined by scepticism of all such claims. Incredulity that anybody thought an archangel dictated a book to Mohammed produced a strange contradiction. I found myself still clinging to belief in Christianity. I was trying to believe — though rarely arguing — ‘Well, your guy didn’t hear voices: but I know a man who did.’ This last, shortest and sharpest, phase pulled down the whole thing. In the end Mohammed made me an atheist.

Though it was a supplementary realisation, the problems that these texts have caused cannot be avoided either. Where else does your real bona-fide bigot find his metier? Anyone can repress a woman, but you need ‘dictated’ scriptures to feel you’re really right in repressing her. In the same way, homophobes thrive everywhere. But you must feel you’ve got scripture on your side to come up with the tedious ‘Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve’-style arguments instead of just recognising that some people are different to you.

Anyone can be a bigot. But divine bigots must count as the most intractable — the most infuriatingly impervious to reason. Besides — to a bibliophile, indeed bibliomaniac — the idea that there is any book ‘wherein is no doubt’ is insulting as well demonstrably untrue.

Even when I stopped believing I pretended I did, or said I did for a bit, for fear of the break in the dike. Like many people, the first thing that troubled me about leaving religion was fear of meaninglessness. Where would ethics come from? If nothing was revealed then surely everything would be relative — and that way lay nihilism. As it happens, it becomes clearer the more I look at it that religious texts are not only unnecessary to the ethical life. More often than believers like to admit, they are directly contrary to it.

Then there is the loss of the guiding hand. It is the one utterly irreplaceable aspect of belief. Without God, where is the enduring melody — the cantus firmus — of life? Alexander Herzen asked, ‘Where is the song before it is sung?’ It is impossible to replace the belief in a deity’s plans for you. Though less comforting, it is simply observably truer that there is no song before you sing it — no path before you tread it. You make the song as you sing it. You make the path as you tread it. It makes life more precarious, certainly — but just as the risk of falling is greater, so, likewise, is the possibility of soaring.

My final fear was one which I think a lot of Christians in this country feel, particularly as they see Islam re-emerging and gaining adherents in spite (or perhaps because) of its intransigence and intractability. It is, I suppose, a sense of cultural abandonment. We know how much of what we enjoy and relish comes through Christianity. Can we really go on without it? Doesn’t it leave our building without foundations? Slowly I discover that it doesn’t. I still can’t pass a country church or cathedral without going in. The texts are still essential to me. They are just (and ‘just’ hardly does the job here) no more divine than Shakespeare.

The question of how, without believing it, we transmit the good of our historical faith to another generation is certainly problematic. Perhaps like many Jewish people who rejoice in their identity but don’t believe in God we could be better — and franker — at being cultural Christians. I tried it this year, at my first atheist Christmas.

I went to church on Christmas morning, and went with my family to the carol service a few nights before. The readings were comforting not only because of their familiarity but because taken as great stories they still transmit, like all great literature, truths which you can live by. The momentousness and simplicity of Adam’s fall was as tragic and resonant to this atheist heart as it once was to the believing one.

Fundamentalist Islam challenges us politically. But tackling literalism of one kind with literalism of another doesn’t work. Complexity is harder to accept, but more evident to the eye. After long struggle, I find reason enough.

My first non-believing Christmas was different, certainly. Different — but, contrary to my fears, no shallower. Quite the opposite. Things this year seemed both more open and more possible. More fragile and more precious. It also struck me, in ways which are hard to explain — and the religious language cannot be avoided — that it was all, if anything, even more miraculous.

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Show comments
  • Dave

    It occurred to me some years ago that:

    A)I believe there is an “other”, quite possibly in the form of supreme being.
    B)This other would have us be “good people”.
    C)All religion is at best formalised/ritualised interpretation of the above; at worst a nasty control mechanism.
    D)Many people seem to need religion as a comfort or support.

  • Matt

    It seems to me you never had a really firm foundation for your your faith, and now it has been washed away. On top of that you’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater. You’ve spotted the absurdity of religion, and taken that to mean that God does not exist.
    You need to start again from first principles. Ask yourself “Why did the Big Bang…bang?”

  • Ray

    Just as the Bible tell us that Jesus’ disciples were frequently at a loss to understand what he was doing or saying and why, so there will always be things about Christian belief and practice that seem bizarre (or even illogical) to a Western mind.

    However, the important thing is to cling to God’s promises by faith – faith in particular that He has redeemed we fallen beings from our sin by an act of utter grace and charity on His part, as demonstrated by Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.

    That’s why – even as a self-outed ‘atheist’ – you still find the Christmas story so alluring and the account of Adam’s fall “as tragic and resonant to this atheist heart as it once was to the believing one.”

    You are not alone. As Paul wrote in Romans 1:19-20, “what may be known about God is plain to (men), because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

    Thank you for being commendably honest, Douglas. Otherwise, I pray that God will make the things that are troubling you clear to you in His own good time – just as the eyes of the disciples were opened eventually to what Jesus had been saying all along about Himself and His momentous mission on Earth.

    “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him”.

    Just keep clinging to that promise found in John 3:16 – as millions of Christians indeed do – and the rest of what the Bible says will one day make sense.

  • veryscarybiscuits.blogspot.com

    So Douglas Murray has gone from being a fundamentalist Christian straight to being a fundamentalist atheist without any intervening moderation?

    I say fundamentalist because that term applies to any adherent who takes things too literally. Of course it is nonsense to take the bible literally – most language cannot sensibly be interpreted that way, religious texts included. (E.g. “well played” said after you have dropped a plate is supposed to interpreted in the opposite sense to its literal meaning and there is nothing unusual about this use of words.)

    I am not sure it is possible to be a fundamentalist and an Anglican at the same time. The whole movement what based on a thinking interpretation of holy texts and a rejection of accepting things as just ‘given’. The Germanic scholars didn’t destroy Christianity by questioning it, they strengthened it enormously and dragged our whole Western civilisation out of the dark ages, where it had been stuck since the collapse of Rome. It is no coincidence that our great universities started as theological colleges and evolved to nuture Newton.

    The idea of a ‘sacred’ text is not in its infallability but in its underlying truth. Just because it happens to be true or contains transcription errors does not make it any less holy. Modern thinking Christians do not question the text but, more often, the standard intreptation of that text, which is often anything but Holy. It is the rejection of temporal authority of the texts (e.g. the Pope) and, by corrolary, an unintermediated relationship with God which is the defining feature of modern Christianity.

  • D. Edward Farrar

    Thank you for an excellent essay. I can say no more. It was both moving and rational, a rare combination. I wish you and your family happy holidays and all the best in the new year.

  • DG Enderhart

    Gosh, our redoubtable author discovers what all the great Church Fathers and mediaeval theologians took for granted: that the Bible is not literally inerrant or true (the fundamentalist reading of the Bible being an invention of the twentieth century); and from that he concludes that there is no God. Not to be too captious, but I must say that the logical sequence of this conversion seems a bit difficult to follow. There are plenty of “large questions” out there–you know, Being, Truth, finality, the moral appetite, etc.–that one has to run through before one is justified in tossing the whole “God hypothesis” aside. Not all religious texts make the sort of claims for themselves that the Quran makes for itself (i.e., that it was directly dictated verbatim by God to an oracular prophet); if you are going to reject a book, make at least an intelligent attempt to ascertain what kind of book it is. This article is simply childish.

  • Bill Rees

    Douglas hits upon what is really needed, and that is a modern critique of Islam.
    Like him, I have studied much of the text of that religion, and find it remarkable that anyone should believe they are reading the word of God when they read the Koran.
    Once you begin to look at how the Koran came to be written (not by Mohammed, incidentally, but by his later adherents), you realise how crazy the idea is that Muslims should hang upon every word as though it is a revealed truth.
    And yet you will rarely read any critique of the Muslim holy book.

  • David Short

    The new Spectator’s illiteracy continues. ‘dike’?

    Sacking sub-editors saves a bit of a cash and gives a much needed feeling of power to an under-testosteroned new boss, but the magazine loses credibility.

  • pauld

    I find the accounts of people who have had near death experiences make it difficult to accept atheism.
    e.g. http://www.iands.org/nde_archives/near-death_experience_(nde)_video_and_audio_accounts/

  • Bill Corr

    Bill Rees wrongly tells us that you will “rarely read any critique” of the Koran. Actually, there’s a shelf-full of very recent stuff, some very scholarly and some less so, some of it by ex-Muslims who have – as they would probably say – “seen the light”.

    Start with the *Jihadwatch / Dhimmiwatch* sites and/or google Ibn Warraq.

    Of course, in some benighted parts of the world, even intelligent, well-informed and sympathetic criticism of sacred texts would be foolhardy, even life-threatening. A professor at a Palestinian university was briskly defenestrated by his outraged students for suggesting that the Koran as we know it is, er, perhaps a slightly altered text.

    Don’t try such criticism in Bradford or Bolton, either.

  • Ray

    D G Enderhart – the belief in the inerrancy of Scripture is not an invention of right-wing American tele-evangelists, as you seem to imply. On the contrary, it has always been central to Christian belief, even as theologians down the ages have delved into the original Hebrew and Greek texts to draw out the real essence of what the Bible is saying (as opposed to taking odd verses from Scripture out of context and building entire belief systems around them).

    As Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”; or in 2 Peter 1:20-21, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

    Furthermore, Proverbs 3:5 reminds us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding”. As such, history has proved time and again that it is when men turn away from Biblical truth and try and work things out without reference to God’s eternal marker points that humanity descends into real tragedy.

  • A. MacAulay

    The opposite of racism, bigotry, superstition, sectarianism, etc. etc. is humanism. Our civilisation has progressed with every step it has left religion behind and embraced, at the very least, an agnostic, rational, sceptical humanism. It’s nice to have old churches and the Archbishop of Canterbury ( even though as High Priest of the State cult the present A of C seems to want to put himself out of a job ) too because they belong to our culture, but it has to accepted that our technical, social, economic and general egalitarian achievements have been made DESPITE the “Church” and not because of it.

  • Susan Hill

    At last – an article bhy an atheist – and a former believer- which is not sneering, jeering, deriding and dismissive. As an Anglican believer who manages to be one in spite of the German new criticism (as have a great many other people since then, including many great Biblical scholars ) I salute someone who is clear in his loss of belief but still feels there are riches left to him in Christianity, and who is not ashamed to go to church with a humble heart. It is so wearying to be treated as intellectually sub-normal by most militant atheists that this is a most refreshing piece. An old friend many years ago told me ‘I am an unbeliever but I hope I am a pious and respectful one because this side of the grave none of us actually KNOWS.’
    There are few ‘pious and respecful’ unbelievers to be met now.
    I will put Douglas Murray on my prayer list – that the Lord will enlighten him in whatever way He thinks best, which may be as a pious and respectful unbeliever.
    But it is perfectly possible to accept the spirit of scripture while understanding that the letter is often the work of man in history and subject to all the inevitable concomitant vagaries of anything within History and Time. Other than Evangelical fundamentalists, I do not know many Christians who believe that Scripture was handed down as we have it, from the clouds. If they do, then their faith deserves to be shaken up. A house built on sand and all that…
    (Talking of which, the Gospels are among the better authenticated scriptural texts !

  • philip riley billingham

    I think you have confused religion with God. Religion is a construct of man, I find it hard to understand how any one can accept Religion, and all its faults, as somehow, having some equivalence with God. You will find God in your heart, not in the bible.

  • Anon

    In which the author loses his faith, conveniently discovers that that has no bearing on any of his other beliefs or how he lives his life, and then seeks consolation in sub- Alain de Botton banalities.

  • Terra firma

    Says A. MacAulay, “Our civilisation has progressed with every step it has left religion behind and embraced, at the very least, an agnostic, rational, sceptical humanism”

    Ah, I can just hear Robespierre, Lenin, Hitler and Kim Il Sung muttering the exact same thing.

  • darsan.

    man cannot bear to look at reality for long. he needs a make believe world which offers him a special place and a preccuous soul.when illusions clash as religions do man becomes a devil.

  • HFC

    David Short
    December 30th, 2008 6:49pm
    The new Spectator’s illiteracy continues. ‘dike’?

    What’s your problem, DS? From my copy of the Concise Oxford Dictionary:

    dike, dyke, n., & v.t. 1. n. Ditch; …2. Embankment, long ridge, dam, … 3. v.t. Provide or defend with dike(s). [ME, f. ON dik or f. MLG dik dam, MDu. dijc ditch, dam; cf. DITCH]

  • A. MacAulay

    Terra firma, I absolutley take your point but would like to propose that Robespierre, Lenin, Hitler, Kim Il Sung, etc. etc. are hardly good examples of, “agnostic, rational, sceptical humanism”.

    I had more thought of practical examples such as say, a hospital where everything from the science and skills, the medical staff to the architects, engineers, builders, are media for our common, Western culture. Of course a medieval Spittal is a step on a way that has not yet reached its end.

    I think you would agree that the question of how megalomaniacs get into positions of power is more complex than just saying they started a revolution and having commenced purging their (imagined) enemies, they just couldn’t stop and that had they been Anglicans they wouldn’t have started. Being Anglican is secondary. Being in a functioning democracy with guarantees to life and liberty saves us from the Pol Pots that undoubtedly also live in our midsts.

    Lastly, no religion has ever been immune to commiting what we now call crimes against humanity. What was the first thing the Israelites did on entering the land of milk and honey that God gave them? Did Islam get so popular so quickly with a great PR campaign? Etc. Etc. Etc.

  • Kevin

    It is no surprise that atheism should leave you finding everything even more miraculous, given that it requires you to believe that, contrary to any scientific observation you will ever make, something material – every material thing, indeed – can come from nothing.

    It appears that it was not Mohammed that made you an atheist but, rather, the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

  • Andrew Forbes

    Investigate the resurrection(“Who Moved the Stone” by Frank Morrison). Many sceptics have looked at the resurrection in order to disprove it, and have been converted, realising that it’s surprisingly near proven beyond reasonable doubt.

    Just because 2 rival religions claim to be true, it doesn’t mean neither are true. I know it’s tempting, when, for example, 2 children argue, to not want to take sides, and to tell the both to be quiet. However, one might be telling the truth, and the other not.

  • Sulayman

    Human being has been given the mind and the free will to believe or not to believe. God gave us that ability as a test of faith. If you choose to disbelieve in God or His Divine Revelations then, you have made that choice using your own mind in its capacity to understand reason. You cannot blame anyone else. It is ridiculous to blame Muhammad or the Qur’an for your disbelief or your lack of faith in Christianity.

  • Jeff Tyler

    Welcome to the real world.

  • Not Even Likely

    My first non-believing Christmas was terribly depressing, and I ignored the following Easter entirely. It seems there was a Byzantine-era author who complained that the gods had shriveled and died in the hands of his generation – I have looked everywhere and not found it. That resonates, though.

    I do believe in Something, though I’m not sure what. If you believe in the power of cultural narratives then you do, too. I believe we need a new narrative, though, a new vision, a new manifestation of the divine. We have used up the old ones.

  • David Short

    I still think it should be ‘dyke’…

    That’s my ‘problem’, ‘squire’…

  • Marina

    What a wonderful piece. I, too, was raised Christian and was very faithful. But after I began to study other religious faiths, I began to question the legitimacy of my own. After some time I came to the conclusion that religion was an attempt by humans to understand their world, but that there was really no God or gods. I’ve been told many times that I wasn’t a “good” Christian before losing my faith, otherwise I wouldn’t be an atheist now. Those are the same people who can only resort to spouting out bible quotes in defense of their faith.

    I don’t need the threat of Hell or punishment to be a good person. And those who do I don’t consider very trustworthy.

    I get tired of certain commentators and bloviators who think we should convert Muslims to Christianity, but I prefer we convert them to thinking rationally.

    Thank you again for this beautiful and reasonably written piece, and have a happy and safe new year.

  • Marina

    BTW, “dike” is actually a proper spelling of a barrier around a body of water. Get your mind out of the gutter. 🙂

  • John H

    “Hitch” would totally agree that that “God is not Great” and produces much evidence in support of this view. Dawkins would – with razor like argument (Occam) – suggest that there is absolutely no need for the Great Architect of the Universe i.e. Science can, or has the potential, to explain the world (but not necessarily origins of the Universe) without resort to Divine intervention. There is a lot of mileage in both these accounts. However, they are also potentially misleading because of their limited horizon. The great Fred Hoyle, was a believer in the “constant state” Universe. Others – hold strongly to the highly questionable view that that everything came from nothing (i.e the Big Bang). My hunch (not worth much I know) is that it would be a mistake to deny any intelligence or consciousness to the workings of the Universe. I tentatively suggest, therefore, that it is entirely reasonable to hold on to ideas that offer some mileage as hypothesis for future exploration? The Platonist view that sees the Mind of God in eternal mathematical ideas and forms cannot be just discarded – unless you have “The Faith”! Neither can the vague animism of Aristotle and the Gaia people. Stephen Wolfram, may have hit on something when he talks of the possible simple 3 line non-reducible computer-like programme at the heart of the Universe. Sheldrake may be on to something when he speaks of “habits (not laws) of nature and the Presence of the Past. Atheism is not the answer to crude creationism and literal/ simplistic interpretation of religious texts. Keep your mind open!

  • Ray

    Marina – Contrary to what you may have sadly experienced at the hands of other ‘believers’, God certainly does not condemn people for harbouring genuine, honest doubts. After all, we’re all human.

    So, at the risk of annoying you by ‘spouting out bible quotes’ once more, I would respectfully draw your attention to John 20:24-29, where Thomas announces to his fellow disciples that he is highly skeptical about the Resurrection, insisting that “unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe it.”

    So what was Jesus’ response? Did he order forks of lightning from Heaven to strike this ‘apostate’ down for daring to question the faith? No, read on…

    “Then (Jesus) said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe, (to which) Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

    In other words, keep an open mind and take a good, long look at all the evidence for Christian belief because God is still there and His offer of salvation still stands.

  • John Thomas

    I must say, the “cultural Christianity”, that even the militant atheists defend, sometimes, seems the least rational and most indefensible form of pseudo-religion (or argument for religion) that there is (I write as a Christian, and one who accepts the “Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship (with Jesus Christ)” approach). Yes, Christians’ attitude to, and relationship with, the Bible, is a difficult one; we should not be literalist – or sceptical. As the bishop of Durham has it, “For the Christian the phrase ‘Authority of Scripture’ must mean God’s authority somehow coming through scripture” (I quote from memory). Yes, Christians’ approach to the Bible is problematic, but to culture, and life, no: either there is ulimate reality, or all is pointless, meaningless, and worthless.

  • CJ

    An excellent and considered article on a subject that troubles us all in different ways. Having been brought up a practising and now a very latent cultural Catholic, the first real cracks in the wall for me came through nothing more dramatic than studying History at University – once you learn of the Council of Nicea, Constantine, etc nothing else is really the same ! Also if there is one universal truth on the planet, then how do you really account for the plethora of beliefs beyond our familiar Judeo-Christian-Islamic Eurasian monotheistic framework ? What if you are a Hindu, Buddhist or Sikh, or indeed an Aborigine, Amazon or even a Druid? This is a hot topic with lots of questions and sadly, no definitive answers from any perspective.

    One observation by a community that felt & still feels the impact of religion – in a previous life (metaphorically, that is!) I spent time in Northern Ireland and I recall being in a pub and seeing a bottle of St Patrick’s whisky. It was Welsh rather than Irish and I made comment of it to the barman who replied “oh yes St Patrick, we were all getting along fine here until he came over and gave us Christianity!”

    Happy New Year to all.

  • kardinal birkutzki

    Congradulations! You have now reached the point that the majority of us reached in the Fifth Form! At least your getting somewhere….now, with a little effort and thought you may be able to contribute an article worth reading.

  • Alf Tupper

    “At least your getting somewhere”

    Did you say fifth form Kardinal?

  • Dino

    It’s like Sherlock Holmes said “Elementary my dear Watson…find the motive and you will find the guilty!” Religion is something both personal and a matter of personal belief. What is the motive that drives people like you to air so publicly your personal beliefs at the detriment and ridicule of other’s faith, I ask?

  • A. MacAulay

    I do not think that Douglas Murray is necessarily being detrimental about other persons religions, but is is making us aware of religion as a globalised commodity.

    Since the C18th we have been able to compare and study religions and cultures, some of which claim universality, not only from a position of supposed and assumed religious superiority, but also scientifically. This has placed Christianity in a market wherein the consumer may decide which religion offers, for instance, the best afterlife or the most comfortable commandments. Anglicanism has attempted to preserve its market share by becoming, “more socialist than thou”, and letting the difficult stuff, like the apocalypse slip under the table. Other brands offer similar products which are perhaps not to our taste, such as Sharia.

    After all, once a religion has lost the power to actively coerce its followers, then it becomes a cultural entity. Acknowledging this, I would suggest that Mr Murray and the Spectator start a new movement to give
    antidisestablishmentarianism new meaning. It could be called AE, or Atheist for Establishment.

    I’ll join.

  • Robert

    A moving description of a journey many of us are quietly making.

  • G.Freeman

    “Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition” (A.Smith)

  • Tusculum

    Reasoning requires…reason.

    Timothy Dwight, President of America’s Yale College examined the teachings of atheism flowing out of Europe at the end of the 18th century. His book “The Genuineness and Authenticity of the New Testament” was one of the many works he produced that served to cause his college students to reject Deism/Atheism as logically deficient…and to examine the Bible’s well reasoned philosophy.

    The criticisms and similar thought collapsed before Dwight’s massive intellectual critiques.

    Dwight’s summary of the issue:

    “Thus have I finished the arguments, which I proposed to produce, in support of the Genuineness and Authenticity of the New Testament.

    No question, perhaps, can be of more importance to the Divine Authority of the sacred Volume, than this.

    If its Genuineness and Authenticity be established, its Authority is also established.

    If there was such a person as JESUS CHRIST; if he was so born; if he so lived; if he was so attested; if he so preached, wrought miracles, died, rose from the dead, ascended to Heaven, commissioned his Apostles, and enabled them to preach, work miracles in his name, and erect his kingdom through the world, in the manner which they have related; then he was the SON of GOD; his Doctrines were true; his Apostles were inspired; and his Religion is of Divine Original, and of Divine Authority.

    Mankind are, of course, bound to receive and obey it.

    Those who reject it, reject it at their peril; and those who sincerely embrace it, are secured, beyond a hazard, in the certain future possession of its invaluable and immortal blessings.”

    To be intellectually honest, has Mr. Murray examined the ‘facts’ of Christianity, or just rejected a contentless’social religion’.

    There is, I suggest, a place to start for Anglicans wanting spiritual substance, the “Thirty Nine Articles” of the C of E. Solid facts from 1563…and so well reasoned!

  • Samsonite

    I have been doing a bit of reading on atheism lately, as it is getting more of a voice on the net. I read the arguments and tenants and try to understand how a person that champions reason and thought could be stupid enough to be an atheist. I say stupid only becasue it is not out of ignorance but out of blind devotion to a concept as stupid as atheism. Please help me understand the atheist argument. How can a person believe in non-belief or accept nonacceptance. Either way you put it, the argument is not logical. Atheism is a myth, b/c there are no true atheists. There are only stupid (not ignorant) people like yourself and many others who try to make a logical case as to why people should believe in nonbelief or recgonize the nonexitance of G-d. The best way to recgonize the non-existance of something is to not recgonize it. I don’t think that running around and saying, ” I don’t beleive that this belief is real” is an acknowledgement that the belief is real. Is atheism is the belief in the absence of G-d, then there must be a G-d otherwise, atheist would have nothing to not believe. I see atheists as people who cannot understand all of G-d’s creation, so instead they say, its not real b/c I can’t undertand it. I don’t understand how many things work, but I don’t say that b/c I don’t understand them then they must not exist, that would be stupid. I guess as an atheist you would believe that people are here on this planet for no particular reason and that there is no order in the world. Any person with a rundrmentar understanding of science could tell you that there is so much order in the way that the universe is created, and that patterns emerge everywhere, that for a person to believe that a higher being had no “hand” in this creation or that things just happened to turn out this way, is preposterous and does not pass the logic test. I challenge all atheist to study science and math to get a better understanding of creation. Atheist want people to believe that it just so happens that we as humans were and are able to understand complex mathematical concepts, predict movement of cosmic bodies, formulate cures for previously incurable diseases and provide food to numerous people without the aid of a creator who belssed us with sense, the same sense of your that has been dulled by your own experiences. The creator did not give all animals our senses. Just as a dog has a better sense of smell, and an eagle has a better sense of site, we as humans were given the sense f creation. Do you think other animals ponder creation as we do. I have never seen a dog worship at the alter of a diety, nor a bear, nor an elephant. The point is that we are animals, with a sense of G-d. And for you to deny this sense or not reconize this sense or whatever atheism is, is stupid. Go with the flow, its natural for humans to worship, b/c that was or gift from G-d, the gift of understandig. Its a pitty that too many people like you choose to turn this gift into a curse.

  • Charles Khan

    In the opening you mentioned that the Quran repeats messages from the Torah and Bible. Well, yes, obviously. This repetition poses no problem to muslims precisely because we believe that the same god, the God, inspired the prophets from all three religions. Those messages warranted repeating I believe: the infinite wisdom and compassion of God, the idea that taking a life is equally deplorable to taking the lives of all humanity. It’s good stuff.

  • Vidar

    Samsonite, it is hard to take you seriously when you call those who disagree with you stupid. However I will give it a try anyway.

    You fail to understand the motivation of most atheists.

    Not all of us run around trying to make people no believe, for starters. As a lifelong atheist, it took me many years until I realized that I was “different” to the kids around me, who had all been spoonfed christianity at home.

    I was told to make up my own mind. I am from Norway, and was given the choice by my parents at 7 whether to take part in classes on christianity, or classes that would cover a wide range of cultures and religions. Because the latter would require me to leave the class room, likely alone, to join a small group of others when the rest of my class had lessons in christianity, my parents made it very clear it was *my* choice and did nothing to push me. I still chose it, because I knew I didn’t believe and I wanted to learn more.

    Most of the rest of the kids in my class never got that choice (it required parental consent).

    The class I took was taught by a devout protestant for the first two years. He certainly had no interest in steering us away from faith, but he was also open minded enough and respectful enough of the small group (4-5 students) that he presented a wide variety of religions and philosophies and had us examine them properly.

    If anything, that cemented in my mind that I did not believe – they were all inconsistent, and there was no evidence that any of them were more true than the others.

    How many christians ever examine the basis for their faith? How many question why almost all christians believe what their parents believe, almost all muslims believe what _their_ parents believe, and so on? Logically that indicates that children are blindly accepting their parents faiths, not coming to an informed conclusion, unless all religions really are equally “well” supported.

    As for why some atheists feel a need to make an issue of their lack of faith:

    Imagine yourself living in a muslin country, one liberal enough to accept your criticism of their faith, yet closed minded enough to assume you are “stupid” for not accepting _their_ religion. Would you not want more people to see things your way, or at least accept that your view does not make you inferior?

    Atheists living in almost every country on earth is in this situation every day. We are surrounded by people who in very many cases are intolerant and mistrustful. We are also surrounded by a great many who use arguments that *we* find ridiculous and stupid, and we have to choose whether to call it out as we see it, or be tolerant and accepting of what we find pure fantasy. Humans are different – a great many of us will be tolerant and accepting, but not all of us want to keep quiet.

    Would you keep quiet if you were surrounded by people who insisted we are surrounded by invisible pink unicorns, or who take santa claus or the easter bunny as literal truth? For many atheists most religions seems just as much as childish fantasy as those examples.

    Atheism is no “harder” once you are used to it than not believing in santa claus.

  • Hassan

    Excellent article. As a Muslim who has also lost his faith I can relate totally to what you say. If others are interested, my story is here: http://abooali.wordpress.com/

  • A. MacAulay

    Trying to prove the New Testament, Koran, etc. is completely superfluous and not very clever. Believers “believe” no matter how unlikely the story may seem. Knowledge is a different category, and no-one can “know” if Christ lived, Mohammed recieved a message, etc. or not.

    Atheists do not believe and if they do not know something, then they remain sceptical.

  • Sparky

    This isn’t my experience. The claims of Christianity are not parallel to the claims of Islam. The divinity of Islam’s text – as it currently exists – actually are central to its claims of truth – hence the ‘Surah like it’ claims and the current fad for claiming miraculous scientific knowledge. The Christian view of the bible is not the same. At the core is a claim by a bunch of people to have seen a miraculous event – not the claim of an individual to have heard God’s voice. Mohammed’s claim stands alone because it contradicts the very earlier revelations that it claims to confirm. The bible’s claims come from multiple sources and can therefore be checked against each other. In my reading of modern biblical scholarship, I’ve not found anything to be afraid of yet.

    But what interests me is what he says about morality.

    Even when I stopped believing I pretended I did, or said I did for a bit, for fear of the break in the dike. Like many people, the first thing that troubled me about leaving religion was fear of meaninglessness. Where would ethics come from? If nothing was revealed then surely everything would be relative ? and that way lay nihilism.

    which is followed by:

    As it happens, it becomes clearer the more I look at it that religious texts are not only unnecessary to the ethical life. More often than believers like to admit, they are directly contrary to it.

    Which is not an answer. It’s a good question but saying ‘ethics doesn’t come from religion’ isn’t an answer to the question about where it does come from or whether it exists at all.

    It seems that he is continuing to blind himself to the problems with where he has landed and instead opts for some self-comforting language about making your own path and soaring…

    Meaningless is the reality. You can’t ‘create your own meaning’ any more than you can make up your own definitions to words and have a sensible conversation. Such an approach is the abandonment of the rational for a leap in the dark. And you don’t ‘soar’ when that happens. You fall over and bang your head. There is no path. You aren’t coming from somewhere any more than you are going somewhere. The truth is nihilism.

    If this is the reality that you have heroically now embraced, why not call it like it is!

  • Fawzia Usman

    I’m an ex Muslim now atheist,and I’m alive and well,I’m married to a non Muslim and raising my three children without a religion. I’m still pretty close to my family including my devout Muslim grandmother. There have been quite a few books by ex Muslims and non Muslims critical of religion in general and Islam in particular.Apart from Ali Sina’s “Understanding Mohammed” and Robert Spencer’s books, which in my opinion are full of unadulterated hate, false statements and exaggerations but which perhaps serve a useful purpose in that the make criticism of Islam legitimate, one can try Ibn Warraq’s books.Ibn Warraq, a Pakistani ex Muslim turned agnostic, is one of the most erudite scholars of Islam imaginable.

  • Donald

    Well, duh.

  • Gregory James

    Welcome to adulthood.

  • Jude

    Lately I’ve been reading Mormonism blogs which defend that faith. I keep thinking that if Christian theologians read these defenses of the Book of Mormon, and how this or that archaeological study confirms this or that passage, they might be more likely to recognize the fallacies of similarly supporting their own irrational faith. I avoid church like the plague, but I still love Christmas carols and that book that so many require me to believe in. Well done.

  • Rob Sama

    Is it really necessary to break this up into FOUR pages??? Come on…

  • Fr33d0m

    Loosing faith in Christian and Muslim texts doesn’t necessarily make you an Atheist–a skeptic perhaps. Are you saying that you no longer believe god exists? Or that you do not believe these texts and the religions they prop up? Considering there are other religions based on deity belief, wouldn’t you have to address them all, as well as the remaining and unanswered question of whether there was indeed a god that these religions do not know before you can claim you are an atheist?

  • implicaverse

    Mencken said, “Morality is doing what is right, no matter what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told, no matter what is right.”

    Hence, Gaza.

  • dlw

    The Bible in Xty is not a blue-print for right conduct in all matters.

    I’d question first whether it was appropriate for a given country, like Britain, to try and make Christianity the basis for its social cohesion… and I’d also question what was meant therein by the truths in the Bible being immutable.

    Reading the Bible is exposing yourself to a diff culture. One where material reductionism does not reign and the issue is not whether there exists a higher power but what sort of higher power exists and what are the implications of the self-revelations YHWH has made in the past for how we live by faith today?

    German criticism is not bad, but there is a tendency to over-state its power. Ultimately an African-American slave can see the meaning of the text better than her or his better educated master, because they relate the text to the right story, a story of Creation, Fall and Redemption.

    The “miracles” of the NT are such as to signal that the redemption of humanity was shifting gears so that it could spread more easily across all people groups in the world, not by the sword, but by acts of self-sacrificial love w.o. hypocripsy.


  • Matthew

    I, like a few others here, really like your humble and intellectually honest approach to your atheism. I think being an agnostic atheist (which I suppose you are) is a result of accepting that you don’t know certain things, namely if there is a God or not, and so you accept your unbelief (which may not really be a firm disbelief). Anyway, I’ve come to the same conclusions as you did. I struggled with the same questions about meaning, ethics, abandoning everything I was taught etc…etc…

    As for the holy texts, most religious people gain their religious beliefs from them. They are the most prized materials to most believers. I would expect people to understand that it likewise is a turn off for people as well. I don’t think Murray is saying that he simply stopped believing because of biblical criticism, but that it was a major part of the process.

  • Matthew

    I also find it interesting that people refuse to accept Murray’s account as if his conclusion cannot possibly be valid. Some seem to say: Hey Murray, you found out that the Bible isn’t innerant, but you refuse to accept it’s moral and underlying truths as a result!? My God how?

    It is as if having faith is required. You may change how you view your religion, but dear God do not lose it! Just trust that the evolution of monotheism may not have been correctly recorded, but it is basically true nonetheless, therefore God exists and you should do as Jesus says: love and trust your God.

    Some people will believe, others won’t. It is one thing to believe that nonbelievers should be prayed for or that God will wait for them to come back. If that is your belief then fine. It is another to delegitimize a personal and completely rational thought process that Murray talks about here. Some of the criticism in this thread seems to be by people on their high horse thinking they must be more right than everyone else because they are “moderate” in their belief system and everyone else is a fundie.

  • Cary Barney

    Vidar: my experience was much as you suggested. I stopped believing in Santa, and a few years later in God. It doesn’t necessarily make one an atheist since, as others have pointed out, our chances are infinitely slim of ever knowing with any certainty whether or not an active intelligence of some sort was behind the Big Bang. But that’s no reason to believe there was one, or that it’s worthy of worship (Dawkins likens this to worshiping the Law of Gravity). It’s a fascinating question. It’s finally irrelevant.

    What’s left of Christianity once we admit this? A character named Jesus whose words and acts come down to us in corrupt texts and expurgated apocrypha. He probably lived; we’ve unavoidably made him into a fiction. Which doesn’t make him any less valid a role model, if we ignore the divinity and miracles. Douglas calls these texts no more or less holy than Shakespeare. Well, if we can be moved and inspired by Lear on the heath, so can we be by Jesus, or whatever we choose to make of Jesus.

  • Steve Schauer

    Once one is disabused of all the misconceptions about faith, one finally is free to experience the joy, the miracle that is belief in God. Being right, being perfect, being infallable are not for most believers what faith is about. I love reading stories like this in which atheists throw off the superfluous trappings of faith and suddenly experience the simplicity and peace that was there all along for those with eyes to see.

  • Lachlan O’Dea

    Great article, thank you!

  • JohnG

    I’d rather believe that god spoke to a great ape and that they are passing his holy word down generation by generation until they develope their own writing system to write it down in a book than to believe that the bible, torah or koran are anywhere near god’s inerrant word. Tell me again why am I to be burned in hell for eternity by an all merciful god?

  • M

    “My first non-believing Christmas was different, certainly. Different — but, contrary to my fears, no shallower. Quite the opposite. Things this year seemed both more open and more possible. More fragile and more precious. It also struck me, in ways which are hard to explain — and the religious language cannot be avoided — that it was all, if anything, even more miraculous.”

    We should be grateful to Murray for keeping us in touch with this kind of reasoning. It keeps us balanced. Perhaps he should give himself this book as an Easter present this year: Hyriacos Markides, _Gifts of the Desert: The Forgotten Path of Christian Spirituality_. It might make him want to apply for a British Council grant to Greece one day. Markides, a professor of sociology at the University of Maine – Bangor, is an authority on esoteric Orthodox Christianity. Actually, “esoteric” and “Orthodox” in this context are redundant.

    Doubt is a form of worship in Judaism and Christianity. At any rate, “faith” in the Septuagint Greek is “Pistis”: Trust/Engagement/Commitment. Not “belief,” which is a very, very late religious term. “Belief/Unbelief” is fine once we understand the underlying meaning. Murray is already there: he has commitment and engagement, and he trusts himself.

    Regarding the Christian Bible, he rightly mentions textual accretions and suggests redaction. But I am certain that as a Western Christian, whose church is at least twice removed from the true sources, he does not realize that his understanding of the bible is not based on the The Original Text culled, honed, and redacted from over 5000 original Greek manuscripts. Of course, he is correct to mistrust the divine dictation stance of Islam. Perhaps when Muslims one day discovery the Eddas, The Nibulungenlied, the Beowulf text, El Cid, The Song of Roland, The Divine Comedy — they will stop insisting that no human being can ever create a text like the Qur’an and therefore it must be divine. Well, yes, it is divine, as are the European epics; as are the epics of Africa; as are the Psalms — and the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church.

    I really like Murray’s piece. It is quite succinctly to the point.

  • Daniel Ortner

    I have gone through the same spiral away from faith and into unbelief only to realize the vital need in my life for the faith and the role of a higher power that Murray speaks of. I find myself constantly seeking for a higher power and finding myself unable to escape being forced to answer these fundamental questions. Whenever I slack or decide that faith does not matter, strong individuals of both faith and non-faith emerge in my life to challenge and push me. I can only believe that these elements in my life are purposeful and that the journey matters as much as the conclusions we reach. We are not meant to hold faith mindlessly and must come to it logically as well as emotionally.

  • Walt

    It seems that several commenters believe that being an atheist means that you are sure that God doesn’t exist. While some atheists believe that, most don’t. They simply do not believe that God exists. However, they aren’t dogmatic. If someone provides credible evidence, they are willing to change their mind.

  • thedude

    “Why did the Big Bang…bang?”

    This doesn’t do much to support any particular faith, and it has a major problem even from a purely deist perspective.

    It assumes that (a) we should jump to the conclusion of the existence of god based on our ignorance of an unknowable question (for the moment – science is self-correcting) and (b) that by introducing god you don’t just raise myriads of even more intractable questions.

  • Steve

    The god atheists stop believing in is not the God that I have experienced. The doctrines that atheists reject are nothing I was ever told I had to believe.

    People’s experience of God varies dramatically from uniformed superstition to beatific visions. If someone encounters poor science (e.g – eugenics or “curing” gays) I would sincerely hope that they could counter that with good science. If someone is faced with bad history (e.g. Holocaust deniers) I would pray that they would be shown the real historical record. And when people see bad theology I wish that they could read some mature reflections on faith.

  • Joel Wheeler

    @ SAMSONITE: Here is your answer.

    “Atheism” is, essentially, a counter to theism. It is not, as you say, “belief in the absence of G-d, …otherwise, atheist would have nothing to not believe.” You confuse yourself.

    It is the person of faith that makes unsupportable (and non-falsifiable) Truth Claims. The atheist position simply says “You have no evidence and I don’t believe you.” It is NOT a faith position! We only created the word atheist because there are theists to counter.

    To paraphrase a common analogy: If I tried to convince you that Alchemy was True and Real, and you (reasonably) didn’t believe me, we could call you a ‘Non-Alchemist.’ Theism, in all it’s forms, with all of it’s claims to authority, came first. Atheism is a rationalist RESPONSE. Get it?

    If you actually want to understand, start with Sam Harris.

  • Mitch

    You present what appears, to me, to be a very addled and misconceived account of what it means to be an atheist. I would first emphasize (at the risk of redundancy) the point made by JW. You are erroneous in stating that the atheist’s position is one of belief. Atheism is a commitment to disbelief of any divinity, and disbelief is not a form of belief, but rather is a form of skepticism: an obstinate doubt that any God exists, and a subsequent refusal to believe in God unless a valid argument can be made which points to the contrary. To call such a position a belief is inaccurate. The atheist’s position is analogous to a man entering a room and, upon seeing nothing, saying that the room is empty. His assertion that the room does not contain anything is not a belief. More specifically, there is no such thing as a belief in nothing. Rather there is only a lack of belief in anything (a point JW made very succinctly). Moreover, there is no leap of faith involved in saying a room which contains nothing is empty. Atheists look to the firmament and do this very same thing.

    Second of all, it is absurd to claim that acknowledging belief in God somehow validates belief in God, or that by disbelieving in God, an atheist proves God must exist. I will not waste space explaining the illogical nature of such a claim, but instead ask you to look up Kant’s 100 thaler objection, addresses your argument.

    Additionally, I was extremely startled that you made the claim that atheists do not tend to understand the world, and that they often deny science and order. Not only has my personal experience as an atheist and as a friend of many atheists, shown me otherwise, but as it appears to me, belief in an orderly, reasonable world, trust in science and the ability of the human mind to understand are all central tenets of the atheist philosophy. By rebuking religion and similar appeals to authority for knowledge, the atheist must (or at least nearly always does) look to science and empiricism to understand the world. By disbelieving in supernatural forces such as God and the divine, the atheist asserts that the world is a logical and orderly place. And subsequently, the atheist realizes he can understand the world around him. Perhaps this phenomenon makes some sense of why Douglas found his sense of wonder preserved through his conversion.

    Moreover, every atheist I have come to know does not believe that life as we know it has simply come about by circumstance, or that it just so happens that humans beings have the capacity for knowledge and reasoning, that we can see and touch and smell, or that we have a sense of wonder. It is obvious to anyone, I think, that life was designed by a creative force. But Occam’s razor would insist that there is no need to assume that the creative force is divine. Evolution is an equally capable and infinitely more valid explanation of the creative forces that have resulted in the complex human condition that is capable, as you said, of knowledge and wonder.

    Atheists, as I see them, do not deny the order of the universe, but instead look to the ability for understanding within the human condition and seek understand the world without relying on two-thousand-years worn-out fables.

  • John

    Step back… and see all the abrahamic group for what they are…. consider studying some dharmic religions as a remedy. It’s quite refreshing, really… lesson one: dualism v nondualism. There will be a quiz.

  • Tusculum

    Hmmm… Quite an interesting assortment of comments here…ranging from well-defined postions on the atheist positions, to ‘blind leap’ neo-christianity to…Christanity as it is revealed in the Bible.

    When ‘impiety’, also known as atheism is the dominant view in any society, the character of the people in general exhibit certain traits. The accounts of ‘vice’ acted out the last 40 years has risen to crisis levels, as recorded in both UK and American news media…

    An American intellectual of Revolutionary period, Samuel Stanhope Smith a president of the originally Royal Chartered Princeton college in the former colony of New Jersey had a few things to say on the matter.

    He educated preachers, politicians and physicians, and the Church of England’s 39 articles, or the Westminster Confession/Catechism was the intellectual base for Princeton students.

    In 1799, speaking to his students about the irrationality of ‘atheism’ also known as ‘Impiety’ Smith observes…

    “IN the sacred language, the fool and the sinner signify the same person. Impiety is opposed to the clearest principles of REASON, and vice makes the sacrifice of the best and highest interests of human nature.”


    “It is the object of all those writers, who have lately distinguished themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ, to establish the licentious idea, that death is an eternal sleep; that there is no moral governor of the universe, no judge to whom we are accountable for our actions.”

    But is religion (Christianity)irrational?…

    “Let it be your first and supreme concern to examine the truth, and underhand the excellence of revealed religion. I am far from requiring you to be implicit believers. Religion has nothing to fear from the most faithful and rigorous scrutiny.”

    The finality of the atheist…

    “That horrible doctrine that removes God from the universe, presents nothing to the rational view but a boundless waste of death—of inevitable sufferings during a few moments of existence, followed by the hideous prospect of eternal annihilation.

    If the system of nature is not arranged and governed by a wise and gracious providence; if we do not exist by the power, and under the protection of a merciful and almighty parent; if there is no happiness but by accident, and the transient possession of it must only augment the pain of being speedily torn from it forever; if misery is urged upon us by the laws of a fatal necessity, and there is no remedy for extreme suffering; if in this life only we have hope, and all beyond is a fearful gulph of everlasting oblivion; then existence is a curse, this world is a dreary prison, the good man may lie down in despair, and weep over his own being; or, like the sons of guilty pleasure, he may renounce his useless virtue, and say, “let us eat and think, for tomorrow we die!”

    Smith’s doctrines taught that this life is a preparation for the next, and what we do in this life is crucial to ourselves, and those we affect. It makes the ancient ‘Brother’s keeper’ concept very relevant to us…

    Imagine, if that Biblical concept ruled in the hearts of all people, it would be a totally safe world…but, modern education ‘experts’ have chosen to expunge it from the public schools.

    As a man thinks in his heart, so he is…

  • Mitch

    I have always wondered why such numbers of Christians seem to think that the human condition would lead us to ruin without religion as some sort of moral guide. Any evidence I have come across has always been to the contrary. Your report that crime has risen over the past 40 years in the UK and America was intended, I infer, to relate to a shift over the past half-century to a more “impious” and indeed more secular cultural paradigm. However such a relationship is correlational at best, and illusory at worst. I wonder if the rise in “vice” reported by the UK and American media was not, in fact, due to an actual increase in occurrence of “vice,” but rather an increase in the frequency of reports on an otherwise steady occurrence of vice. Certainly the latter seems the more probable, given that the ratio of Christian inmates to atheist inmates in American prisons compared with the ratio of Christians to atheists in the American population has shown (through correlation) that a Christian is, by a ten to one ratio, more likely to be a convicted criminal. Vice, it would seem, appears more frequently in the actions of the “pious” than the “impious.” Just a bit of irony, I suppose.

  • Atheist

    Without religion, what is our purpose? Well, what is our purpose WITH religion? To live as a good Christian? Very recursive. To treat others as we would be treated? Yes, but thats guidance, not purpose – the difference between strategy and tactics. How about the old chestnut “to bring delight to God through our good works”? If He exists, he would surely be delighted by poetry or music made by atheists (or maybe He likes Heavy Metal!) and if He doesn’t exist, there is no-one to delight except ourselves and the question is irrelevant.
    How about “propagation of the species”, which nicely sidesteps the whole question of purpose. Our purpose is to make people to continue the purpose – I don’t think so.
    Douglas, now that you no longer do what you do for the glory and delight of God, why do you do it? To make money? Yes, but why? To feed your family? Yes, but why is that important given that it just makes more people to wonder about their purpose. To make your wife and children happy? Yes, but again, why does that matter? How does that relate to our purpose, other than to make more people to work on it.
    Just wondering, now that your perspective has changed. I don’t believe we have any purpose other than to have a good time and help others to have a good time. We are a chemical accident, without a creator, and we have no “great mission”.

    • Lars Mårten Rikard Nilsson

      We’re not an accident though, accident require the will for an outcome that didn’t come to pass.

  • Edwin Tait

    Growing up in a very conservative evangelical environment, I was told that Mr. Murray was right–not about the nonexistence of God, but about the link between recognizing the fully human and historically contingent nature of the Bible and abandoning the Christian faith. However, in fact I have not found this to be true–and as an Anglican (I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church in my mid-20s) I have never been asked to embrace the literalism that Mr. Murray identifies with believing Christianity. I know that there is a much stronger conservative-evangelical faction in the Church of England than in the Episcopal Church, but I still have to wonder if Mr. Murray is not painting a bit of a caricature. The view of Scripture held by most Anglicans of my acquaintance, and most non-fundamentalist Christians, is very different from the Islamic view of the Qur’an. It can both ascribe divine inspiration to Scripture (of a sort qualitatively different from that we would grant to Shakespeare) and recognize gladly that Scripture is the product of complex historical processes and is not simply dictated by God to passive human scribes.

  • Fawzia Usman

    To Edwin Tait,

    Many Muslims are also able to view Scripture as a product of complex historical processes.For eg, the 20 million Ismaili Muslims under Aga Khan. Aga Khan’s daughter Princess Zahra Aga Khan is married to a British Anglican who didn’t convert to Islam and the marriage was held according to both Muslim and Christian rites.Compare this to the conspiracy theories surrounding Princess Diana’s death as she allegedly wanted to marry a Muslim. Or take Muslim Senegal, which is 90% Muslim. Its first President was a Christian named Leopold Sanghor, son of a Muslim mother and a Christian father.Israel is just 80% Jewish. Can you imagine a Muslim President, let alone one who is the son or daughter of a Jewish mother and a Muslim father?

    All Muslims aren’t the Taliban or Saudi Wahhabis,and all Christian aren’t moderate Anglicans.

  • Chui

    All humans are capable of mysticism. Religions, interpreted at the literal level, is as crass as idolatory and rituals.

    Freed from the bounds of someone else’s interpretation of scriptures, Douglas can now find true solace in religious texts again, whose capacity to awe is as high as the cathedral ceilings and as expansive as a view from a mountaintop.

  • Herbert Thornton

    In my teens (which was a long time ago) I had an aunt who, to the slight discomfiture of her relatives, was what they called ‘religious’.

    Whenever there was a family gathering – Christmas usually – she made a point of asking everyone whether they were ‘saved’. Of course, by her standards they were not, so she would harangue them about their need to become saved.

    Once she was recommending the Bible to me, and explaining that everything in it, absolutely everything, was ‘true’.

    I questioned this assertion.

    This made her patiently try to convince me that everything in it was indeed true. Her main argument was this – “The Bible is a fountain. If there is any pollution in a fountain then the entire fountain is no longer clean and pure. So, if any part of the Bible is untrue, it means that no part of it can be really true.”

    “But Aunt Agnes” I said, “The Bible isn’t a fountain. It’s a book….”

    That ended her harangue. She must have decided that I was beyond the reach of her guidance.

    If she’d had any premonition that later in life I’d be somewhat Agnostic but with leanings towards Buddhism as just about the only reasonable alternative, she would have decided that I was hopeless beyond redemption.

  • Steve

    Good for you.

    Religious belief is deluded. It is an utterly unnecessary and irrational submission of reason to ancient superstitions made up by extremely ignorant people. Those who cling to it are trying to live in a sort of fairytale world. Worse, their dependence upon barbaric ancient writers for ideas of human nature and morality perverts their understanding and makes them positively evil, as when they justify oppressing or killing others with different beliefs.

    There is nothing extreme about being a so-called “atheist.” It is simply a common-sense attitude that beliefs should be based on evidence from experience, not on unquestioned traditions, ancient mythological literature, the mystical revelations declared by oddballs, or plain wishful thinking. It would make more sense to call nonbelievers realists and religious people “arealists”–because of their disregard for reality in favour of fantasies about supernatural beings that take their side and can save them from death.

    Welcome to the real world and the incredibly short natural lifespan that is the only existence you will ever have, no different from the lifespan the world allows to all the other living things to which we are genetically related. This makes life all the more precious for every living thing, and makes it more important to respect other people and creatures besides just fellow-believers sharing the same deluded fantasies of their own importance in the universe.

  • dave

    Matt: “You need to start again from first principles. Ask yourself Why did the Big Bang…bang?”

    Sigh. Religious people trying to use science that they don’t understand to argue their faith always make a hash of it. The Big Bang did not “bang”. The name is a complete misnomer.

    Something did not come out of “nothing”; matter and energy were not created; space itself was a singularity; it did not go “bang”; it expanded, creating more space (and it is still expanding).

    Matter and energy were not created “out of nothing”; they were already there when all of space itself was a singularity. So far there has been absolutely zero evidence that “something came out of nothing”.

    We cannot currently say what caused this singularity to start expanding when it did, since we cannot see that far back in time (beyond the event horizon of the observable universe) but there are some very interesting theories about what “got the ball rolling” so to speak, which do have some evidence to support it, which don’t require an old bearded man to speak the universe into existence.



    There’s absolutely no need to assume that the so-called Big Bang happened because Goddidit, nor is it necessary to assume that the Big Bang was the creation of something out of nothing.

    There’s evidence to suggest (and likely to be more evidence in future) that the so-called Big Bang, and our own present universe, is just one stage in a much larger process.

    There’s no reason to assume that we are living in the only Universe, anymore than there is reason to assume that we are living in the only inhabitable planet.

    Just as you don’t need God to explain natural phenomena, so too you don’t need God to “create” anything. If God is supposedly eternal and infinite, than it’s just as easy (nay, easier) to argue that Nature itself is infinite and eternal. And unlike God, we can prove Nature exists.

    Using science to argue religion is a losing argument every time. What you are doing is using the “God of the gaps” argument; and as we learn more and more, those gaps keep getting smaller as science expands our knowledge.

  • Mitch

    To Steve and Dave:


  • BG

    (sigh) 🙂
    ‘In the beginning was the singularity, the singularity was with God, the singularity was God…etc’
    This is the basic statement of your faith.
    Where did the singularity come from? Has it existed for all time? or perhaps before ‘creating’ time all by itself.
    When did you ever come across any single entity that could, of itself, invent itself.
    This is the very core of the question – Did God the infinite, beyond our understanding create it, or did it invent itself.
    The observed mechanics and nature of this universe have so far foiled any attempt to explain it’s origin in naturalistic terms, including the ‘very interesting theories’ you mention. The uniformity of background radiation in the cosmos, the angular momentum of our own milky way galaxy, the origin of planets and stars, etc, etc, are all inexplicable according to current understanding of natural law. No, neither do Christians claim to know all the answers, they just claim to know someone who does.
    Dismissing Christianity is to dismiss the opinions of scientists such as Newton,Dalton, Davy Maxwell, Kelvin, and other giants (full list: http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/bios/ ).
    Einstein, an indeterminate, but soulful person summed it up succinctly: ‘either everything is a miracle, or nothing is’
    It’s your choice.

  • Fawzia Usman

    So BG Newton also believed in alchemy, guess we should all follow suit eh?

    And Einstein wasn’t religious, he wasn’t anti faith, and http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24598856/ identified with his Jewish roots.He called the Bible “childish, primitive myths” A majority of 20th century Noble Prize winners had no religion.

  • Wilhelm

    Studying atheism turned me into a Christian.

    Thanks Dicky Dorkins.

  • BG

    To take your argument to it’s logical conclusion, we should bin all Newton’s work on optics, the laws of motion and gravitation and calculus..and by extension also Leibniz parallel discovery.Newton was aware that his investigations into alchemy were unfruitful. His work was undertaken at a time when very little was understood about the nature of matter and he didn’t publish any of his findings on the subject. His work on natural philosphy (physics) and mathematics was already built that of others such as Galileo, likewise his theology was based on the writings of many luminaries over a period of more than a thousand years, as well as the Bible itself.
    You will note I was careful to describe Einstein as indeterminate. Indeed his view on religion seemed to change throughought his life (as is also suggested in the article), but this doesn’t necessarily detract from the accuracy of his statement.
    Your comment regarding most nobel prizewinners of the 20th century having no religion is not entirely accurate. It would appear that many of Nobel prizes during the last century were awarded to persons who least nominally profess some kind of regious faith, predominantly jewish and/or Christian. http://www.adherents.com/people/100_Nobel.html

  • Fawzia Usman

    Sorry for the late reply BG, I haven’t checked this site for a long time.
    “To take your argument to it’s logical conclusion, we should bin all Newton’s work on optics, the laws of motion and gravitation and calculus..and by extension also Leibniz parallel discovery.Newton was aware that his investigations into alchemy were unfruitful. His work was undertaken at a time when very little was understood about the nature of matter and he didn’t publish any of his findings on the subject. His work on natural philosphy (physics) and mathematics was already built that of others such as Galileo, likewise his theology was based on the writings of many luminaries over a period of more than a thousand years, as well as the Bible itself.”

    Nope, thats’ not the logical conclusion that I suggested, thats the logical conclusion you seemed to suggest, perhaps inadvertently. To reject Christianity is according to you rejecting Newton, right? Likewise, to reject alchemy is also to reject Newton, coz Newton believed in both Christianity & alchemy. At the time of Newton there was scarcely an atheist, & most people, even the geniuses believed in stuff like “alchemy” & witches” which very few do today, likewise more & more people today reject God. Its that simple. As for Newton’s discoveries being based on those of other Christian scientists, that Christian science itself owes big debts of gratitude to the Medieval Arab scientists who invented algebra & the like, & to the freethinking of Pagan Greeks. Newton’s works on alchemy were also based on the works of many noted “alchemists”, & as far as we know, the Philosophers’ stone hasn’t been discovered yet, just like no one’s proved or disproved the existence of God yet.

    “You will note I was careful to describe Einstein as indeterminate. Indeed his view on religion seemed to change throughought his life (as is also suggested in the article), but this doesn’t necessarily detract from the accuracy of his statement.”

    What does his statement imply? He thought there might be a Creator & a Divine Hand behind everything, he didn’t accept the Bible as proof of that.He called the Bible primitive childish stories,so certainly did not believe in the Judeo Christian God, the God He could “mature & advanced” wasn’t the Judeo Christian God.

    As for my comment regarding most Noble Prize Winners, it is correct. Four times Noble Prize winner Linus Pauling was an atheist & many other non believers come to mind. And what does “nominally” believing ,mean? Einstein also identified himself with his Jewish roots, & made some ambiguous statements regarding God, so until the letter where he called the Bible “primitive, childish” myths was published, most theists would quickly lump him into the theist category. Many whom you call nominal believers might simply identify with their family’s faith like Einstein, without believing anything about the Judeo Christian God.

    As to most notable scientists having a Judeo Christian faith I concede that is true. However, all those Jews & Christians are also White men. Where are the Christian Noble Laureates from the world’s oldest Christian nation- Ethiopia? Where are the Noble Prizewinners from Latin America-from Chile, Preu, Haiti, Guatemala or from Zimbabwe & Swaziland?Zimbabwe & Swaziland have abysmal rates of AIDS due to the Christian ban on condoms for sure, but scientists? Nope. Why is Christian Phillipines such a poor nation while non Christian Japan is one of the world’s most technologically advanced nation?

    A White supremacist would be more accurate describing science as a creation of the White man. The fact is that Europe also had a lot of other influences, like the ideas & science of the heathen polytheistic Greeks, or the sicences of Moorish Spain, which all contributed to its Enlightenment. Latin America, Phillipines or Zimbabwe lacked all this.

  • Nick

    I understand you questioning faith, but I do not understand how you can completely rule out God.

    I am bemused that someone in the space of a year can go from believer to atheist. Surely you mean agnostic. You can only question the existence of God, but can never out rule God. I am quite astounded by your selction and use of ‘atheist’.

    • Jesse ethan

      Atheist in the sense of not believing, their not necessarily saying “100 % THERE IS NO GOD”, and the people who do are idiots in their own right (None of the influential atheists make the %100 claim). Were all agnostics in the sense that we all admit (unless were insane) that the idea of God is outside comprehension and recognition in the real world. So saying Atheist just helps imply that you also aren’t convinced of the evidence that theists tout.

  • Shaaz

    “If God spoke through an archangel to one illiterate tradesman in 7th-century Arabia, then — just for starters — why was he stealing material?”

    That’s like accusing JK Rowling of stealing material from Harry Potter 1 when she wrote Harry Potter 2.

    • Lars Mårten Rikard Nilsson

      All the abrahamitic religions are mix-and match pot-pourri’s of previous religions, your analogy is not applicable.

  • Bilal

    So what caused quantum cosmology then?

    • http://twitter.com/ColdDimSum Dark Star

      What caused God then? Your Special Pleading on doesn’t cut it. Saying ‘God’ answers nothing, has no predictive power, tell us NOTHING about what happened or how. It’s a meaningless placeholder.

  • Dr. Carl S. Hale

    I spent 20 years running, then walking, then stumbling around, then crawling–then lying dead on the ground, eating the “fruit” of atheism, before Jesus found me & gave me new life.

    Keep asking, keeping knocking, keep seeking brother, you’ll find what you’re looking for–
    but in the meantime realize that the road is long, winding, dark, rocky, rough, painful–when you come to the end of human wisodom and your own ideas about truth and God, you’ll be broken and ready for a conversion. I pray that it will not take you 20 years.

    Jesus Christ is Lord–I know, it is more unbelievable, more strange, more incredible, more impossible, more mind blowing,
    more unlikely than anything you have ever heard, but it is true.

    Truth is “fidelity to the original.” Jesus is the true
    expression of God the Father, and therefore the Truth. There can only be one Truth–I know that seems elitist and hateful to your mind, but the Truth is “fidelity to the original.”
    If there wasn’t just one Truth, it wouldn’t be the Truth. All who come to Him will see that He is the Light of this world!

    Blessings and peace to you brother in the name of Jesus Christ!

  • David

    The discussion of Atheism versus belief in God is one which will always cause heated debate. However one can grasp a better understanding on this subject by looking closer at science and the evolution of this world, thus interesting questions are raised. The most interesting analogy of whether there is a God (a sole Creator) is this:

    “Imagine you are walking through the Sahara desert in the year 1875 (this is one year prior to when the most basic form of telephone was invented in 1876) and you stumble across a mobile phone just laying there amongst the sand….and amongst closer inspection you begin to realise that this phone is a working masterpiece that enables you to instantly communicate with anyone anywhere at the other end of a telecommunications signal….
    So let us consider this more closely; what are the core raw materials required to make a mobile phone? For arguments sake lets say silicone (from sand) and plastic (from petroleum). Hence, if you were to stumble across this mobile phone in the desert having never seen one before how would your logical mind explain its form and arrival? Perhaps it was the result of a freak series of coincidental occurrences where the sand and petroleum from beneath the desert miraculously came in to contact with one another and through a series of PERFECTLY TIMED OCCURANCES led to a perfectly formed and functioning mobile phone to be created?
    Quite the contrary, such CREATION can only take place through the input and work of a CREATOR hence let us expand this analogy and consider how did such a far more complex product as mankind miraculously appear on the earth? Oh don’t tell me; through a series of perfectly timed occurrences which hey presto left us with the end product of man as we know today?
    Interesting isn’t it if you think deeply you will see that everything in our World and Universe has been “Created” think more deeply and this will lead you to question Atheist beliefs and find the true answer which is: God (i.e. The Creator) is known through reason and that there are signs for those who look closer at our reality.”

    • http://twitter.com/ColdDimSum Dark Star

      The failure of this argument is that you picked ‘phone’ (or sometimes ‘watch’) instead of ‘particle of dust’. Because you KNOW these things are different, the phone required a human mind, the mote of dust… not so much.

  • Mehdi

    Muslims believe in a phrase “There is no god, but God”. You have gone half the way, maybe someday you will go the other half too.

  • Sagal

    Seeing the article I thought Douglas Murray might say something credible and worthy but after reading the bit about ‘plagiarism’ of the Torah and Bible by Islam that I stopped reading further. Just shows another ignorant fool. I have a bit of an advice for you Murray try to read and understand the history of Islam before any attempts of reading the Qur’an then you might not have said that foolish comment.

  • Elizabeth Smith

    You do indeed seem to be throwing out the baby with the bathwater Matt.

  • Muslim HMDL

    David, please dig deeper when you are going to blog about an issue as serious as this (your eternal life depends on this!).

    You complain about God almighty repeating himself, yet despite all of the repetition there are still atheists like you out there.

    The Torah, gospels, Quran all have one and the same author, God almighty, which is why many of the issues are discussed numerous times.

    Those books were brought by his servants/prophets (Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mohammad PBUH) through the angel Gabriel.

    Could you invent a motive for these holy men to bring such scriptures?

    • Lars Mårten Rikard Nilsson

      Grow up, we only get one life make the most of it instead of asking non-existant creatures for forgivness or whatever you do 5 times a day

  • Akshay

    try buddhism, it gives me joy and peace of atheism..

  • Dug Dig

    Help spread the TRUTH! Share this Link!
    Test your Faith!!! Read!!! You may never pray to God again!!!

  • NS AD

    Great article 🙂 I love when people share their experiences on things, especially religion. I was having a conversation with one of my good christian/atheist friends a couple days ago about islam. He was born Christian but never really believed. I’m muslim myself, I was born and raised in Canada. I just wanted to say that maybe you should research more on islam.. It’s genuinely the only scripture that has a fully valid scientific epistemology, which is downright crazy, a phenomenon. I’m really not trying to preach, but like how would prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him), which as you mentioned is one illiterate tradesman in 7th-century Arabia, relay a detailed description of the formation of human beings in the womb? like from the sperm and egg to a full baby?? He didn’t even know how to read never mind have instruments to give him that type of knowledge. And that’s just one of the many scientific examples explained in the Quran, which didn’t get to be proven until much later. It kind of reminds me of Einstein’s theory of light, like how nobody believed that light could bend under gravitational pull. They all called him crazy until we had the technology to prove it, and this means that the light you see in the sky as perhaps a star, can actually be the light of a star that’s behind the sun, and its just being bent by gravity allowing you to see it in our own sky… In no way though am I trying to compare Einstein and prophet Mohammed (pbuh), I’m just saying, if Einstein suffered this type of disbelief from people, imagine a PROPHET FROM GOD. like dude.

    Anyways, the fact that not ONE letter has ever been changed in the quran’s entire existence, which you kind of touched on in this article when you compared it to current scriptures…. I mean, how is that possible? I’m actually an aspiring writer and I know just even as an avid reader, there is no way one piece of text can endure 100’s of years of print, get translated in 100s of languages worldwide and still not have one letter changed. It’s not like it’s locked up and doesn’t get accessed by people and through that it endured the years, no, you can get this book anywhere, it’s everywhere, its accessible. Yet God explicitly mentions in it that it cannot be altered, EVER, like he even challenges people to write a single page like it, one single page dude and guess what? no one has, no one is capable enough, not even scholars in classical arabic, not even terrorists or manipulators in this world are able to change a single syllable. It’s madness. Like that’s impossible to me, u know? Islam is the final scripture brought down by God btw and was not meant to be much different from the rules relayed by previous prophets (i.e Moses and Jesus). It’s one single God you know? like He expresses in the Quran many times how He created us weak, He knows that human beings can’t just drop everything in their lifestyle and live by something else, so everything was revealed to us in stages, so we could slowly change our lifestyles for the better. Also, there’s a purpose to everything, he created us individually and knows what’s in our hearts before it’s even in our hearts, like no one will understand what kind of tests you need in this life, or how you are feeling but Him, so as I would say to anyone, you need to try and talk to God, as cliche as it sounds. Finally though, a good tip a muslim will always give to people interested in simply learning about the religion or that are actually apart of the religion, is to strive to look at the religion as a separate entity from human beings. So when human beings fail and disappoint you (ex. the opression and inequality you mentioned earlier in this article and that we see everyday) they don’t get the chance to tarnish the strength of your own faith and your vital relationship with God 🙂

  • Prospectpark

    What an incredibly weak argument for atheism. Not that I’ve heard many good ones. Why are atheistic Brit neoconservatives like this guy and Charles Cooke the go to guys for American con. mags like National Review when people like Peter Hitchens are obviously smarter and better writers?

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