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Atheists vs Dawkins

My fellow atheists, it’s time we admitted that religion has some points in its favour

9 February 2013

9:00 AM

9 February 2013

9:00 AM

Sometimes a perfectly good argument can be stretched too far. I heard the resulting snapping noise last week in Cambridge during a debate with Richard Dawkins. We were meant to be on the same side at the Union. But over some months the motion hardened and eventually became ‘This House believes religion should have no place in the 21st century.’ While an atheist myself, it seems to me that claiming that religion should disappear is not just an overstatement but a seismic mistake. So I joined Rowan Williams and my close enemy Tariq Ramadan in trying to explain to Dawkins and co where they might have gone wrong.

The Union was packed, with screens relaying the debate live around the building. It was a reminder — a few days before Justin Welby, Williams’s successor as Archbishop of Canterbury, made the point — that the role of religion in our national discussion is by no means absent.

The more I listened to Dawkins and his colleagues, the more the nature of what has gone wrong with their argument seemed clear. Religion was portrayed as a force of unremitting awfulness, a poisoned root from which no good fruit could grow. It seems to me the work not of a thinker but of any balanced observer to notice that this is not the case. In their insistence to the contrary, a new — if mercifully non-violent — dogma has emerged. And the argument has stalled.

These new atheists remain incapable of getting beyond the question, ‘Is it true?’ They assume that by ‘true’ we agree them to mean ‘literally true’. They also assume that if the answer is ‘no’, then that closes everything. But it does not. Just because something is not literally true does not mean that there is no truth, or worth, in it.

Schopenhauer said that truth may be like water: it needs a vessel to carry it. It is all very well to point out — as Dawkins did again the other night — that Adam did not exist. But to think that this discovery makes not just the story of Eden but the narrative of the crucifixion and resurrection meaningless is to rather startlingly miss a point. You can be in agreement with Professor Dawkins that Adam did not exist, yet know and feel that the story of Eden speaks profoundly about ourselves.

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Dawkins and his colleagues were wholly unprepared to consider this. I know and appreciate how heady the fuel of iconoclasm can be. But it is while high on destruction that one ought most to consider whether what you are pulling down is as wholly valueless as you might temporarily have to pretend it is, and whether you have anything remotely as good to put in its place.

In the same way that many of the religious refuse to admit what their arguments miss, for fear the whole edifice will crumble, so it is that many atheists fear any similar concession for fear that their line will break and the religious flood through the breach. But I think we should be frank. There are things which atheists miss.

For example, my fellow atheist opponents the other night portrayed the future — if we could only shrug off religion — as a wonderful sunlit upland, where reasonable people would make reasonable decisions in a reasonable world. Is it not at least equally likely that if you keep telling people that they lead meaningless lives in a meaningless universe you might just find yourself with — at best — a vacuous life and a hollow culture? My first exhibit in submission involves turning on a television.

Religion, whether you believe it to be literally true or not, provided people, and provides people still, with a place to ask questions we must ask. Why are we here? How should we live? How can we be good? Atheists often argue that these questions can be equally answered by reading poetry or studying philosophy. Perhaps, but how many people who would once have gathered in a place of worship now meet on philosophy courses? Oughtn’t poetry books to be selling by the millions by now?

We do not have many vessels for truth-carrying in our age. While of course not being an organised body of thought, atheism might one day speak to all those things religion once answered. But at present its voice is faint. It is faint on human suffering and tragedy. And although it does not have nothing to say, it barely speaks about death. It has little if not nothing to say about human forgiveness, remorse, regret or reconciliation. These are not small ellipses. Until atheism can speak into these voids, desiring to ban religion entirely seems a push not only to deprive individuals of a consolation at which Professor Dawkins scoffs — though he would do better to address it — but also to strip many discussions of profound dimensions.

As each side aimed the usual blows at the other that evening, I wondered again if this gulf between believers and non-believers can ever be addressed. Do we have to resign ourselves to a continuous, circular fight between the believers and the non-believers? I do not think so. If I might suggest a deal, it would be this.

First, religions must give up the aspiration to intervene in secular law in the democratic state. In particular they must give up any desire to hold legislative power over those who are not members of their faith. In much of the world the Christian churches have already done this. Of course there are other religions and places where this separation has not been so nearly achieved. But the concession is vital, not least because the ability to dictate politics or law is the ability that most rightly concerns the non-religious about religions.

But non-believers like me should make a concession as well. We should concede that, when it comes to discussions of ideas, morality and meaning, religion does have a place. Rather than dismissing it as some mere relict of our past, we should acknowledge that religion has an important contribution to our present and future discussion. We may not agree with the foundational claims, but we might at least agree not always and only to deride, laugh at and dismiss as meaningless something which searches sincerely for meaning.

The role of conciliator may not come naturally to many atheists. But something must be done to prevent believers and non-believers spending yet another century talking past each other.

Douglas Murray is a contributing editor of The Spectator.

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Show comments
  • Shorne

    This tells us much about Dawkins in my view:

    http://www.sheldrake.org/D&C/controversies/Dawkins.html

    • Panikos

      Perhaps the emails from the program makers assistant were ambiguous – we’ll never know. In any case they were not written by Professor Dawkins. Surely no one who knew anything about the Professor would imagine for a moment he wanted one of those shows where people turn up with pet theories. He was there to discuss the nature of evidence.

    • Dr_Spence

      Sheldrake – my god! You really think this man is worth listening too?

      • Chris Morriss

        Sheldrake is decidedly odd. But he certainly is someone who is worth reading. (Not listening to, as he shouldn’t really attempt public speaking).

    • Graham Lawrence

      Sheldrake is an unfortunate case to pick on, isn’t he? Misusing language and concepts is not the same as “saying something which tells us something useful”. Dawkins, for example, simply does not have a “mental firewall which blocks out any evidence for something against his beliefs” – he just doesn’t have any stupid beliefs; and he does know about the “evidence” for telepathy, which only a superficial review of is sufficiently convincing; and if any decent evidence for such things turns up, people like Dawkins will be the first to examine the evidence and change what they say about what is true and what isn’t. Why hasn’t James Randi ever paid anybody a million dollars for demonstrating paranormal phenomena? Because under sufficiently controlled conditions, they evaporate into a handful of smoke and psychology.

      • http://twitter.com/AnPhilOnline Ancient Philosophy

        Graham,

        Im really not sure how much Dawkins looks at the evidence, and how much he just goes for anything that fits his worldview. For example look at his discussion on the history of the New Testament in his bestselling book. It is full of amateur mistakes, conspiracy theories and hack psuedo-history. He can’t have got it from any scholarly sources, he just seems to have googled atheist webpages.

        • Chris Morriss

          Quite. Dawkins really should have everything he writes properly peer reviewed. Not by his cronies, but by people learned in all those other disciplines that he so cavalierly misuses. He makes some absolutely blinding howlers when his writings touch upon physics, or statistical analysis. Both subjects in which his lack of knowledge is embarrassing.

          • DGStuart

            There is a book called The Dawkins Delusion – a riposte to his tome The God Delusion. I haven’t read it, yet.

  • Panikos

    It’s not about religion being true. We settled that it was fictional a while back. The real problem is what religion does to the religious and how that in turn affects others. It’s not that some religious people are evil or that some abuse. It’s that the very central strand of religion, faith itself, reduces the believers ability to evaluate behavior and make rational decisions. This makes religion a danger to society for much the same reason as alcohol. You can portray sipping a fine wine as cultured and civilized, but the judgment is impaired and the drinker no longer fully responsible for their actions.

    I have no interest in banning religion. I do want it to carry a health warning and removed from public places – most especially schools. If you want to be intoxicated all day that’s your right, but don’t be a teacher.

    • Gareth

      Alcohol impairs judgement through specific physiological effects on the brain caused by changes in levels of specific neurotransmitters. By what mechanism are you asserting that faith “reduces the believers [sic] ability to evaluate behavior [sic] and make rational decisions”?

      • Panikos

        The mechanism is usually ‘practice’,

        Faith IS learning not to think about evidence, about the likelihood of something being true or of cause and effect. Believing something you are told without question or simply deciding to believe something that you’d like to be true. This is praiseworthy, something to strive for.

        There’s even a derogatory term ‘doubting Thomas’ based on a character from your own bible who wanted to check something was true before believing it.

        If you ask why God doesn’t simply appear in a blaze of glory so that everyone can know he exists you will be told that this would ruin everything. That the whole point is that people must believe in him without evidence. Without any reason to do so.

        Religion teaches this (from an early age if you let them near your kids) and undermines the normal decision-making ability that humans need to function.

        Faith requires constant attention. When your religion is based on obvious contradictions you must work hard to compartmentalize the different ‘facts’ and not view them at the same time. That way lies loss of faith. Becoming skillful at believing facts that contradict each other is a symptom of a growing mental disorder.

        It gets worse. When we have the urge to act we weigh up the proposed action against a lifetime of experience and knowledge. Or if we are religious we can simply think “I expect this is Jesus prompting me to do this”.

        That act could be harmless, but it may not be. Let us not forget that Abraham was praised for having so much faith that he was willing to stab to death his own son because he had faith that this is what god wanted.

        • Dan Hayter

          @PanikosOnThames:disqus, I’m not sure that simply rehearsing the oft-quoted idea that faith means “belief against the evidence” will make it any more true. I can’t speak for all religions, but all it takes is a brief read of 1 Corinthians 15 to show that Paul is very intent on giving evidence. Some may not judge that the evidence he gives is good evidence, but it is impossible to read that chapter and assume that he means: “Christ rose from the Dead but no-one saw him; therefore trust against the evidence” He’s saying precisely the opposite!

          I do agree with you, though, that the word “faith” has come to mean something very different from what it meant in the Greek New Testament. Whereas the closest modern word I can think of to do it justice is “trust” (i.e. I know this person’s character, so I will trust them), the term “faith” has come to mean (even in the Merriam-Webster dictionary) “belief in something for which there is no evidence.

          • Panikos

            As I recall Paul is speaking of eye witnesses. “Ask Fred! he was there” which is fair enough and if they were here now I would ask them. The fact that Paul in that instance isn’t saying that belief without evidence is paramount ought to prove something about the nature of the church. However the church has changed over time. Altering the unchanging truth of the universe to suit their needs.

            Certainly if you ask around now you will be told that that kind of faith is central. Ask why god doesn’t reveal himself openly and that will be the reason. And ask about Abraham. He is held up as a role model for his faith and willingness to kill a child.

            I agree faith can have two meanings. Many Christians have said to me that they mean faith in the sense of ‘trust’. They say “but you trust your friends don’t you?”

            I explain to them that I do, but that ‘trust’ isn’t random. It is based on experience and knowledge. I know not only what my friends have done in the past, but in many cases what opinions and beliefs prompted their decisions. To trust in god you must first have faith that he exists. ‘Trust’ in that context makes no sense, so it has to be ‘belief without evidence’.

            ‘Belief without evidence’ is a mental aberration that if applied across the board would lead to the believer being confined for their own safety.

            A common misunderstanding by Christians (it’s mostly Christians I speak to, but this applies to all organized religions with deities) is that I refer to absolute and conclusive evidence. I don’t even have absolute and conclusive evidence that New York exists. What I have is a mountain of anecdotal and circumstantial evidence that it does. Internally consistent evidence that would be enormously difficult to fake. So much so that I can put it on the 99% proven pile. I don’t have a 100% proven pile since it’s possible I’m in a coma and dreaming this. That means if you come to me with credible evidence that New York doesn’t exist or that god does then I will listen and consider it.

            Sadly the evidence for god is zero. None whatsoever. Not a bean.

          • http://www.facebook.com/craig.campbell.14019 Craig Campbell

            Romans 1:18-32

            English Standard Version (ESV)

            God’s Wrath on Unrighteousness

            18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,[a] in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

            24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

            26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

            28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

        • Gareth

          That is a much better reasoned argument, but I think it’s still a misunderstanding of what faith is for people like myself. Faith is not a disregarding of the evidence; it’s an exhortation to act once the evidence has been weighed. Dan Hayter (in this thread) is correct that the Biblical writers do seek to present evidence:

          “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim… we have seen it and testify to it… and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard…” (1 John)

          ‘For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty… We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him…’ (2 Peter)

          “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants… With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you… so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (Luke)

          ‘But [Thomas] said to [the disciples], “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.” … A week later… [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.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”’ (John)

          In the latter case, it isn’t that Thomas is criticised for wanting to weigh the evidence. By this point, the disciples have spent over three years with Christ, observing his character,listening to him, asking questions. They have plenty of evidence on which to make their decision, yet the gospel accounts all show the disciples being pretty slow to grasp Jesus’ claim to divinity. This mirrors the experience of most committed adult Christians I know; most spend a good amount of time reading, discussing and weighing the evidence before making a Christian commitment. And even once becoming Christians, the majority spend significant time on a regular basis reading the Bible, studying, unpicking, reflecting. This is not a casting off of mental faculties; Bible study needs all the intellect we can give it! An unthinking faith is likely to be a weak faith, as it would be (as you suggest) based on nothing and therefore supported by nothing.

          What faith is, is a determination that once evidence has been weighed and a commitment to Christ made, that commitment it will be lived out. I’d liken it to my decision to marry my wife: it was not made flippantly but after deep and serious consideration that I wanted to commit my life to her. However, now we are (very happily!) married, it’s not particularly helpful to keep digging over those same questions to the same degree; it would actually be quite damaging if I kept on questioning whether she actually loved me, and whether I’d be better off elsewhere. My focus and energy is on making our marriage work, caring for my wife and enjoying our life together.

          The case for God,and for Christ, is something that committed Christians do continue to weigh throughout their lives. Most Christians go through difficult patches where they question in particular. Again, the Bible has plenty of examples of people doing this, and those who do generally emerge with a stronger conviction. For those of us who have weighed the evidence and come to the conclusion that Jesus claims about himself are true, it isn’t irrational to respond to them. It would be irrational not to. For my part, I’ve not yet once regretted doing so. Other people are (necessarily) free to make their own minds up.

          • Panikos

            You might see my reply to Dan Haytor and also look at margaret benjamin who has ‘evidence’.

            I’ll just quickly add that those who believe that Jesus wasn’t god and those who believe that there are a whole family of gods all with different shapes are just as sincere as Christians.

            Belief without any basis doesn’t make something true and teaching people that the universe works like that is harmful no matter how good your intentions.

          • Gareth

            Sorry, hadn’t seen your reply to Dan Haytor. I would point out that two of the three writers I quoted (John and Peter) were there at the time, while the third (Luke) was a contemporary. What they offer is documentary evidence relating to events, people and places – precisely the form of evidence which a rational person could reasonably expect to use in making a decision about the claims of Christ.

            It is plainly incorrect to assert that there is ‘no evidence’. Whether you consider Christ’s claims about himself to be true or not is for you to decide. But those of us who have come to commit ourselves to him specifically through this evidence have not done so in an irrational way. If you have come to your different conclusion through careful and balanced examination of the same gospel evidence I examined, your conclusions are based on the same processes of reason. Someone who has rejected Christ without having given the gospels a serious, informed and detailed consideration over many years has arguably made their decision based on less evidence than I have.

          • Panikos

            But we don’t know that John & Peter were there do we or Christ himself for that matter. Even if we accept for the sake of argument that Christ existed (it’s quite flimsy, but there is evidence of a sort), you are taking someone else’s word for what he is supposed to have said. Having decided that was ok you are then taking Christ’s word as evidence for something that contradicts everything else you know and have experienced.

            Now if that is a well thought out decision then how is it you don’t take Muhammad’s word for Allah being the only god and Jesus just being a prophet. Or the word of whoever revealed the Hindu gods. Why not the word of Joseph Smith with his golden spectacles and tablets. There is more ‘evidence’ for Joseph Smith existing than there is for Jesus. I bet they even have the hat he talked out of in a museum somewhere.

          • Gareth

            You weigh the strength of the evidence for each.

            There’s plenty of evidence that Joseph smith existed, but allegedly he was convicted in court of “glass-looking”. He could pretty well of used his hat to “see” whatever he liked in the golden plates. As far as I’m aware, there is little or no archaeological or documentary evidence for people, places or battles mentioned in the book of Mormon. the majority of the “witnesses” cited in the book of Mormon later retracted their statements or left the Mormon church. It’s pretty clear what Joseph Smith got out of making his claims.

            By contrast, there’s good evidence that eleven out of the twelve disciples whose evidence we have in the New Testament documents was prepared to die for those beliefs that Jesus was Lord. There were many other contemporaries who went through similar persecution. In addition, the Bible consists of writing by at least 40 different authors working over a period of almost 2,000 years, yet there remains a remarkable consistency in their theology.

          • Panikos

            When I was small I was taught (by baptists) that the gospels were written by the disciples who followed him around taking notes. I later discovered that they were written much later and based on hearsay.

            So when you say “eleven out of the twelve disciples whose evidence we have in the New Testament documents” I trust you mean the stories in the New Testament that claim to be based on people they once heard someone tell them about. You are not trying to say they were there I hope.

            No matter how many documents you have they can only be copies or based on copies of things said by people who once heard from someone that there was some guy claiming to be god. 40 different authors doesn’t mean 40 independent sources. You can get another 400 to write about it, but the source material remains the same.
            They ought be completely consistent since there was only one original source, but even the gospels don’t match up and they were at least written in the same century.

            Your reasoning with regard to Joseph Smith is spot on, but then you don’t apply it to the god you want to believe in. My whole point exactly.

            You also fail to mention other mainstream religions like Islam and Hinduism which I’m sure have as many books written about them, but are ‘obviously’ untrue.

          • http://twitter.com/AnPhilOnline Ancient Philosophy

            No historian thinks that Jesus did not exist, at least no historian who has a position as a secular University. His position as a historical character is quite well secured. Also, I doubt very much you can show that the gospels were written from “hearsay” rather than being taken down from notes. Both are just as hard to prove, and both as likely from the evidence we have: although I think there is quite good evidence that somewhere along the line there was some eyewitness testimony (e.g. see Richard Bauchham’s work, as well as this lecture by Peter Williams http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5Ylt1pBMm8)

          • Panikos

            I hate to break it to you, but I think you will find that not even the pope claims that the gospel writers were the disciples. I can’t blame you for being confused because I was tricked too when I was young, but if you investigate you will find that is the case. There are arguments mostly over how much later they were written and if it was possible they could have interviewed someone who was alive at the time.

            As for the existence of Jesus there is more disagreement about that, but there is no direct evidence. If you were told that the Romans had his birth certificate then I hate to break it to you, but that was a lie. All we have is comments made by people who had met people who said they had heard of Jesus.

            I’m not claiming he didn’t exist since there are at least some indications that he might have. Of course you realize there is no proof he was god or came back to life right?

          • http://twitter.com/AnPhilOnline Ancient Philosophy

            There is a lot of work going on into the dynamics of eyewitness/oral tradition and the Gospels. I referenced once such scholar, Cambridge’s Richard Bauckham. You should also read Rafael Rodriguez, Anthony Le Donne, Chris Keith, Jon Schroter, Alan Kirk. And no, not all of these scholars are Christians! Do some reading in this area, (i.e. University level books), not raiding low-hanging, polemitcal fruit that you have apparently been imbuing.

            If there is disagreement over Jesus’ existence it is unknown to the academy. Who disagrees? Do you know of any historian (one employed by a University) who argues that Jesus did not exist? Why when there are thousands of secular historians studying it and who argue that yes, Jesus did exist, have you articulate what is the historical equivalent of creationism/9/11 conspiracy theory?

          • Panikos

            Yes, I know about Richard Bauckham.

            Okay look baby Jesus did exist and he exists now and he is holding your hand. Don’t worry about all this stuff. it’s not important.

          • JoyfulC

            What I don’t get is why Christians often seem to brush past the sensible teachings of Jesus, and run straight for the hoodoo mysticism, bread into body, wine into blood, back from the dead, son of god, miracles, died on the cross for our sins, blah, blah, blah. If Jesus really was the son of god who took human form, then obviously it wasn’t to test us to see if we’d fall for a scam that appears in almost every culture and every religion. It was to teach us something.

            And let’s not forget that if Jesus was taken out, he was taken out by the established church of the time. Jesus was not a Christian, but a Jew. The temple or church of the day had a stranglehold on power and wealth. Jesus came along and taught that, to be acceptable in god’s eye, you simply had to be a decent human being. To hold yourself to a higher standard than you hold others to. To treat others as you’d like to be treated yourself. The one time Jesus lost it (we’re told) is in the temple with the money changers. So even if we did believe that Jesus was the son of god (which is not necessary to accept his teachings, is it?), then what must we believe Jesus would think of the Vatican? The Catholic church? Televangelists?

            The sad thing about Christians is that they get so caught up in the mythology surrounding Jesus that it eclipses the teachings of Jesus. If he were god’s prophet or son or some 3-in-1 deal, he lived and taught and ministered on earth as a man. That tells me that he wanted to be seen as a man. As long as you embrace his teachings (taking into account anthropological differences), then why would it matter to Jesus if you believed he was a god.

            I think it wouldn’t be. The only people to whom it would be important are those who want to seize and hold onto power and wealth by exploiting the myth of Jesus.

          • nosyechidna

            Some historians believe Jesus is pure myth, others that he probably existed, but the question is always how much do you trust religious writings to be historically accurate? The evidence is scant. There is no contemporary evidence for Jesus (that is, no artifacts, no records, and no one wrote about him at the time, even though we might have expected them to.) But what do you mean by Jesus? Any man named Jesus who preached? A carpenters son named Jesus? A descendent of Miriam the Hasmodean princess, married to Herod, and her brother-in-law Joseph, who would have been born king of the Jews? A miracle worker? If Jesus existed, he probably was nothing like what you imagine him to be.

          • http://twitter.com/AnPhilOnline Ancient Philosophy

            nosyenchidna,

            What historians think Jesus is pure myth, where do they teach? Who published their books? Why do no academics know of this?

            Scholars use a whole of criteria to interpret the New Testament and show the developments and traditions that made it up, merely suggesting that because it is “religious” we can’t trust it is a amateuristic position to articulate.

            You say that there is no contemporary evidence of Jesus, and that we should have expected him to have been mentioned by them? I have two degrees in Classical History, and an current preparing my PhD for submission. Perhaps you can enlighten me on who exactly should have recorded facts about Jesus? What people who lived circa 25-35 C.E. in Palestine are you implicitly referring to?

            You should realize that any person in antiquity who would not likely be recorded about in physical assets such as coins, epigraphs (etc…), that we are dependent upon literary documents. These are extremely rare from antiquity. We probably have less than .001% of all literature from Classical period currently extant. Apart from a few examples, and most of these during specific events such as the Athenian-Spartan conflict, the Second Punic War, or the upheavals during the fall of the Roman Republic, we do not have sources from the time on people in Classical history. We have almost nothing written from the time about dozens of Roman Emperors who ruled one of the largest and most literate societies pre-enlightenment Europe. We only hear of great generals, such as Scipio, decades after the event. Perhaps we might suggest that he didn’t exist too? Great philosophers who mingled with Emperors, politicians and business men, who would have had infinitely more influence (and connections with literate people) than the itinerant failed messiah figure Jesus in rural Palestine with twelve followers!

            How much do we know of them from the time of their lives? Practically nothing. People like the founders of Stoicism and Epicureanism (Epicurus, Chrysippus, and Zeno) –the two most popular philosophical schools in the late-Roman Republic/ Early Empire– their writings were part of every educated Romans’ libraries. They had students and followers (like Christianity) in every major city. So there must be thousands of copies of their writings… No. Apart from three letters of Epicurus almost nothing. Alexander the Great who conquered the whole known world. Well, we must have thousands of reports about him from the time? Think again. We can fit it on about half a page of A4.

            Perhaps you need to read some rather better sources to understand ancient history or the historical Jesus.

          • Gareth

            It seems to be that you are severely misrepresenting the gospel texts. They were not written at the time, they don’t claim to be. In an oral culture, they were written at exactly the time you’d expect them to have been, when the original contemporary generation was starting to die out. But numerous of them make strong claims to be written by people who were eyewitnesses, present at the time. Moreover, to me, they read in this way. It’s interesting to compare the details given by different gospel writers, particularly comparing specifics given by John to well researched background facts provided by Luke. Both are pretty clear about their degree of closeness/distance from the evidence about which they write.

            Regarding consistency, each writer selects events in order to make wider points about Christ’s identity/purpose etc. You wouldn’t expect four identical texts for this very reason, and there would not be any point in having more than one if they were. But I’ve never been strongly convinced by any of the alleged discrepancies. One writer may give extra details which are useful to their purpose, whereas the other aims to be more concise, or draws out different points. Some refer to different aspects of the same event. Some minor points are purely matter of choice of words. Crucially, all four gospels are strongly consistent in their portrayal of Christ, his claims to be the Son of God, his death and resurrection.

            In view of this, I do see a difference between the Bible and Joseph Smith’s writings, and it is for that reason that I don’t apply the same criticism to (as you put it) “the god [I] want to believe in”. Regarding this last phrase, I would challenge you as to whether you genuinely are open to considering the Biblical evidence I’ve described in a balanced, neutral way. It seems to me as though you characterise the New Testament writers as being far less reliable than they actually are, perhaps because it may be the easiest way of dismissing the god in whom you may have already chosen not to believe. You have the right to do so, of course, and I fully respect that. But I would urge anyone who, like yourself, places a high value on reason and evidence, to read the gospels in a fully open-minded way in which you fully explore exactly what claims the writers are making before you make a judgement. The deeper an understanding you have of the evidence, the more rationally based your final decision will be, whether you then choose to accept or reject it.

          • Panikos

            To me it’s not terribly important if they were written at the time. I just find it irritating that people are still being taught that the disciples wrote the gospels in notepads as they followed Jesus about and that the Romans had a birth certificate for Jesus and so on. Not saying you would go that far, but there are enough experts who disagree with what you are saying.

            The thing is that even if we had a recording of Jesus saying what he said it wouldn’t be proof and I find it amazing that people can’t see that.
            ————————-
            I Panikos am god!. I’m telling you to go out and kill everyone wearing a necktie. I have spoken!

            err why are you still sitting there? Didn’t you hear me?

            Oh of course just because I say so doesn’t make it true does it.

            We’ve established that you wouldn’t follow me just because I said I was god. We have seen that you dismiss Joseph Smith as fake. Also Allah and the Hindu gods, the Norse gods and hundreds of others. For no reason you can express other than that you feel impressed by one story other another. That’s fine, but it’s got nothing to do with evidence. It’s just “I like the color of that wallpaper better – let’s have it”

          • Gareth

            So, just supposing for a minute (go with me on this) that Jesus was the son of God. What would he have to do to convince you of the fact? What would be a suitable enough level of evidence for you to believe?

          • Panikos

            Well doing anything that can’t be done by any snake oil salesman would be a start. All I have so far is people telling me that they think he existed and that he wants me to do some things which he didn’t mention at the time, but deputized them to explain.

            About as convincing as a Nigerian Email.

            For me to consider the possibility that Jesus was god would only take a small thing. Any evidence at all. How about he goes to Lourdes and for the first time ever replaces a lost limb. Miracles happen there all the time, but suspiciously never one that can be verified by a casual observer.

            That might not be proof that he created the universe. There are levels of proof, but would justify believing it possible that he might be.

            The real point is that if he wanted people to believe in him he could have made it clear from the start. He could stick a really big arm chair up in the sky and be there waving at us whenever we looked outside.

            The usual reason given for not doing that sort of thing is that it’s vitally important that we believe in him without evidence – which I think is where I came in.

          • Gareth

            You haven’t addressed my question at all: if his words wouldn’t be sufficient to convince you to believe his claim to be God, what would? Your claim to have a rational disbelief can only be true if you allow for the possibility that the some degree of evidence WOULD persuade you. So what evidential standard is this?

          • Panikos

            Did you miss a post then?

            I mentioned Lourdes as one example. Replacing a lost limb as something that an ordinary human couldn’t do or fake. That would prove he was more than human and make it reasonable to consider the possibility that he might be god. I would be open to the possibility.

            Of course proving you are actually the creator of the universe is tricker. For all I know someone who replaced a limb might be a visiting alien with advanced transplant skills, but certainly at that point I wouldn’t be ruling out a supernatural being with great power.

            I’m sure though that god could easily do something spectacular to prove it wasn’t just advanced technology. Find me someone who can replace that limb and I’ll talk it over with him.

            You say “if his words wouldn’t be sufficient to convince you to believe his claim to be God, what would?” as though a normal person would believe because some guy said so. This supports what I have been saying all long

          • Gareth

            No, I don’t say that a normal person would believe just because some guy said so. But the gospels are hardly lacking in accounts of miracles, healings, not least the resurrection is not something that an ordinary human could do, or could convincingly fake. But the typical atheist line is to say “the gospels aren’t credible because miraculous events like that just don’t happen.” You demand signs which, when given, you refuse to acknowledge as plausible. You’re not open any sort of evidence at all.

          • Panikos

            But we have no reason to think those events really happened.

            And you still haven’t explained why you don’t follow Hanuman. He carried an entire mountain to the scene of a battle because a herb grew on it which was needed. Surely that is proof that Hanuman is god?

          • Gareth

            So, in essence, you only believe in events you have personally witnessed taking place, because you’re unable to rely on written accounts by third parties? Is this really the standard of evidence you live your life according to? Or is it just the Biblical events?

          • Panikos

            You are still denying that Hanuman is god because you want to believe in what you want to believe in.

            All you have to offer for your god is ancient myths. Stories no more believable than fairy tales and with no outside proof of their accuracy.

            Not even original myths. If you look into it there are older stories containing most if not all of the elements of the Jesus story and older stories before that and so on. People make up stuff all the time and out of that multitude of fiction you point to one and say “ha! that one is true and the others are clearly all nonsense” and you do that by faith which is just “I want it to be true”

          • Gareth

            It’s a circular argument: the evidence you would need would be something extraordinary. But accounts of anything extraordinary must necessarily be unreliable or mythical, solely because they are extraordinary. Similarly, you want outside proof of God, but neither Jesus Christ, nor the apostles are ‘outside enough’ for you. There’s no intellectual integrity in your reasoning, unless at some level you allow for the possibility that God may be real and may have acted in human history.

          • Panikos

            I’m not looking for outside proof of God any more than I’m looking for outside proof that the universe is made of green cheese with a cheery on top.

            The whole god thing is a childish fantasy which I’d be able to totally ignore if not for the interference in my life by people who have been tricked into thinking it has some basis in reality.

            If someone comes along with some proof I’ll look at it, but saying you that read a story about someone who claimed he knew someone who had performed miracles isn’t proof and it’s a bit embarrassing that you think it is.

            You speak of intellectual integrity, but you still haven’t explained why you rejected Hanuman as god.

          • Gareth

            “If someone comes along with some proof I’ll look at it…”

            By your own admission, you won’t.

          • Panikos

            Last chance to consider letting Hanuman into your life. You know deep down he is a real god. You just won’t face it.

          • JoyfulC

            Gareth, what would it take for you to admit that there is reasonable doubt?

          • Panikos

            Which of these would you believe.

            Fred walks in and says “It’s raining outside”

            Fred walks in and says “I saw a large penguin and it was healing sick dogs using a magic pogo stick handed down by the king of the Fairies”

            If you feel you’d believe both equally without evaluating them based on previous experience and knowledge of how the world works then put your therapist on overtime

          • http://www.facebook.com/federico.casanova1 Federico Hansen

            I would not believe in J. even if he sat on my lap… unless he sat in yours and everybody else’s.

          • JoyfulC

            Hold on. If Jesus really were the son of god, and had chosen to influence mankind by taking human form and walking among humans, then why would he want to convince anyone that he was the son of god? He’s already going to great pains to be incognito, if that were the case. It seems to me that, if a god wants to be taken seriously as a god, he would not take human form. And if a god did take human form, it would be because he wanted to influence mankind as a man. He wouldn’t want to blow his cover.

            So to answer your question, if any human being is trying to convince me that he is not a human, but a god, I’m going to be skeptical. Humans can have many reasons for wanting to be recognized as a god, and few of them are noble. It’s not uncommon. Many leaders have assumed divine provenance. It’s a scam as old as mankind itself. It shows up in one religion after another. So it’s really not surprising that it pops up in Christianity.

          • Nan

            He came down from Heaven that he might take on our sins. He loves us.

          • JoyfulC

            Aaaaand all he wants in return is for us to submit to the domination of a select group of men who claim to represent his interests here. Riiiiight.

          • Gareth

            The clue is in the name. We’re not “selectgroupofmenians”. We’re Christians.

          • JoyfulC

            But Christ does not represent himself here on earth. We are told he chooses instead to be represented by any number of priests, ministers, etc. If Christ is a god, then it should be no problem for him to represent himself and deal with each of us individually. That way, there’d be no doubt in anyone’s mind, and we wouldn’t have to worry that someone was taking advantage of us and trying to manipulate us in god’s name.

            I’d have no problem whatsoever believing in Jesus Christ, if he allowed me to experience him directly, myself, without requiring me to sign up for any religion or requiring me to go through a third party. And, in fact, I believe that the real god does that. Religions seek to distract us from god to men who claim to speak for god.

            I disagree with this article. I think religion is a problem, and offers us nothing positive. Religion keeps us divided. You just can’t get around that. As long as everyone isn’t the same religion, you can wax long about ecumenical efforts, but in the end, it means that people are on different teams and believe that god favours their team over others.

          • Gareth

            I know a lot of Christians who are motivated by their faith to serve food to homeless people, mentor drug addicts, work with refugees, set up orphanages… If you’re going to give a balanced critique of religion, it needs to acknowledge this.

          • JoyfulC

            Would you be willing to do the same for terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah, who perform humanitarian aide? Or mafia organizations that put back a lot to their communities? What about atheists and agnostics who are motivated to do good works? Are you trying to suggest that people are only motivated to do good works or be charitable only because they’re Christians? Since doing good in the world isn’t something only Christians or only religious people, or even only people we think of as being overall good people do, I don’t think it needs to be included in a “balanced” critique of religion.

          • Fergus Pickering

            Gareth you’ll get nowhere with these people. Their arguments are the kind of thing twelve-year-olds trot out. ‘If God wants us to believe in him why doesn’t he wave from that cloud?’ I can remember doing exactly that at exactly that age. I was doing it to spit at my parents and my teachers and everybody older than I was. Later on I took up leftwing politics for the selfsame reason. God, for them, is their daddy and they didn’t like their daddy. Ask their children what they think of them.

          • Gareth

            Thanks Fergus. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me in a discussion like this; even the Bible’s pretty stark in identifying that not everyone will! But there are people who haven’t made up their minds about the case for Christ, and I think they’re better served by having views from a committed Christian as well as the atheist perspective that others can give. Those who seek to shut down this sort of discussion would deny them that opportunity to make their own minds up.

          • JoyfulC

            There are people alive today who claim that Jesus came to them in a vision or communicates with them in some way. Do you believe any of them? Some of them? All of them? None of them? What is your criteria for believing such a claim?

            If Jesus really was the son of god, then the easy way to prove it would be to communicate with every single person alive now or who has ever lived, in a clear, unmistakable way. If he’s a god, that’s certainly possible. I don’t have to believe in my husband. I experience him. I don’t have to believe that there’s a bathroom at the end of the hall. I’ve experienced it. How difficult would it be for a god to allow us to experience it in some way that is unmistakable and in which we’d all agree. I mean, if my little old agnostic self were here with a Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim, we might not agree on god, but we’d all probably agree that there’s a bathroom at the end of the hall and that my husband exists. Right?

            Surely you acknowledge that, in other cultures, existing now and throughout history, this notion that a particular version of god had to be taken on faith was used, confused and abused by others. So unless god clears it all right up for us all, isn’t asking us to believe asking us to be suckers?

          • Nan

            If you look at witness accounts of any event, they’ll never be exactly the same. Each of the apostles recorded that which he thought was most important. Also recall that in a society whose history was oral, there are likely to be changes over time based on errors. The gospel of Mark is believed to be the first book written of the new testament; there are outside sources that refer to it but I have to go to Mass so can’t try to find the citations now. And several books are letters written to Christians in other lands in response to questions, so were written while the Apostles still lived.

            Look also at who benefits; all that Mohammed claimed Allah said was in line with what Mo wanted, as was that which Joseph Smith wanted in line with what he claimed was on the gold tablets. Neither of them was killed for their statements; Jesus was.

          • fledermaus

            Forced to be “consistent” by the stitch-up at Nicea
            Where all the inconvenient stuff, like the “Gospel of Magdalene” were expunged, huh?
            Just like the re-writing of the communist gospels before & after Stalin, in fact.
            Oops.

          • Nan

            The difference is that there’s evidence in the Holy Land of the places and events that occurred; we don’t have evidence that Allah existed, nor do we have evidence of the manifestations that Joseph Smith claimed. Nobody disputes that Joseph Smith existed although I believe that people do dispute that Mohammed existed.

          • fledermaus

            What about those of us who HAVE read the book of Bronze-Age goatherders’ myths AND the book of Dark-Ages camelherders’ myths …
            And decide it is all blackmailing lies, then?

          • Gareth

            Fine, people inevitably make up their own mind. But it radically undermines your other post, as well as Panikos’s original point in which he claimed that that Christians must be irrational due to there being no evidence. By your own admission, you’ve read, evaluated and rejected something. I’ve read, evaluated and come to a different verdict than you and Panikos.

            People who argue that Christian views should be excluded entirely from public life deny others the chance to make this determination for themselves, and are therefore seeking to promote an acceptance of atheism in the absence of evidence. This serves neither viewpoint well. I’d rather people read the gospels and make their own mind up. Why don’t Panikos, Dawkins and others?

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=776968828 Roger Rabbitleg

            At best what you have is testimony, however from essentially the same time the testimony of muslims is very different. Two very different weak testimonial accounts of the same god. There are 3 sides to the story…the christian one, the islamic one and the truth…Atheists are only interested in the truth.

          • Gareth

            I would draw a distinction between “hearsay” and the writers’ claims which I quoted in an earlier post:

            – “we were eyewitnesses”
            – “We proclaim… what we have seen and heard…”
            – “Unless I see…”

            What we have is testimony, primarily the same form of evidence used in courts of law on a daily basis. This doesn’t make the testimonies automatically true or false, but it is a form of evidence which can be taken seriously and given detailed consideration. I’ll be going to a Bible Study this evening, where we’ll spend roughly an hour looking at a specific passage. If you’ve not done something similar, it’s worth doing so before you reject the message of the gospels. Particularly for anyone who claims that their atheism is based on reasoned evidence.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=776968828 Roger Rabbitleg

            contradictory testimony written 400+ years after jebus supposedly walked the earth …hearsay…actually my atheism is based purely on the ridiculous and contradictory nature of the scriptures…well that and the fact that your god is a prick!

          • Gareth

            I still maintain that you find the gospels contradictory after half an hour of flicking through, I find them remarkably consistent in their message and details after years of careful study.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=776968828 Roger Rabbitleg

            By the time I reached middle school (38 years ago), I had already spent 10+ years being intellectually abused by christian indoctrination. 3 years middle school science taught me creationisn was a ridiculous notion…it then took another 30+ years studying scientific evidence and mythologically based belief systems before I was able to overcome the resulting cognitive dissonance…It’s hardly been “an hour of flicking through”.
            There is as you say “consistency” in the message if and only if you accept the bible as the Bronze Age fiction/mythology it is. This is why I still have a bible on my bookshelf…I keep it right next to Aesop’s Fables.

          • Gareth

            Sorry, probably phrased that badly. I was not trying to imply that you haven’t really thought about the issues – 30+ years of scientific study would suggest otherwise!

            What I’m saying (and it may or may not apply to you) is for many people, their perception and their understanding of Christianity is gained predominately as a child, perhaps through a Sunday School, while their background of science, philosophy etc. and their general understanding of the world continue to be formed into adult life, maybe through many years of study and expertise. It’s easy to be contrasting a child-like Christianity with a mature view of the objections, and it’s not a balanced position from which to be making a decision.

            I leave it for you to decide whether, as an adult, you’ve looking into the Christian message in an open-minded, balanced way. If you have, then it’s your right to your decision in whichever way seems most intellectually honest to you. There are plenty of people who take this view. But for anyone who hasn’t looked at the gospels, as an adult, with a view to understanding what they say before making a decision, I’d say it is well worth doing. There are those who find the claims of Christ to be convincing and compelling.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=776968828 Roger Rabbitleg

            I find the message of Christ compelling…if he was a real guy I’m sure I’d break bread with him…thing is intellectually as historical fact and the “word of god” are ridiculous notions. Go ahead and use that stuff in your life, but give up on it as anything more than allegorical fiction designed for a society 2000 years less evolved than our current one.

          • fledermaus

            FAITH: Belief WITHOUT evidence.
            Why act on anything, with no evidence?
            As for acting on “convictions” ask the Inquisition …..

          • Fergus Pickering

            But we act on things without evidence every day. I trust my daughters to act rightly ubt I have no evidence that they will.

        • Baron

          Guest: “Religion ….. undermines the normal decision-making ability that humans need to function”.

          You what, completely bonkers? Most of the recent scientific discoveries have been made by men who believed, and that includes Einstein, they believed not in a God with a long beard and a sharp eye, but a force we cannot yet comprehend. Baron’d rather take a clue from them than you, my blogging friend.

        • Gnonannon

          “Faith IS learning …even a derogatory term ‘doubting Thomas’ based on a character from your own bible…Religion teaches” Not to be a reporter or any such disreputable, selective propagandist… However, one must consider the source. Think about what you have said. Small wonder those who are inoculated against Christianity are so poorly inoculated against the most virulent strains.

    • Simon Semere

      ‘We settled that it was fictional a while back’, no we didn’t.

      • Panikos

        Do you believe that the Hindu Hanuman is a god? or fiction?

    • Fergus Pickering

      Ah, Rational decisions! The rational decision to kill a load of jews that nobody liked. The rational decision to murder your opponents in the USSR, in China, in Cambodia. The rational decision to surrender in 1940. I just love rationality. Robespierre loved it too. Do you know about Robespierre?, One of his rational decisons was a ten day week to increase production.

      Tell me, friend. Why is it rational to do right rather than to do wrong. Wrong is often so much moe profitable.

    • Colonel Mustard

      It’s not about socialism being true. We settled that it was fictional a while back. The real problem is what socialism does to the politicians and how that in turn affects others. It’s not that some socialist people are evil or that some abuse. It’s that the very central strand of socialism, faith itself, reduces the believers ability to evaluate behavior and make rational decisions. This makes socialism a danger to society for much the same reason as alcohol. You can portray sipping a fine wine as cultured and civilized, but the judgment is impaired and the drinker no longer fully responsible for their actions.

      I have no interest in banning socialism. I do want it to carry a health warning and removed from public places – most especially schools. If you want to be intoxicated all day that’s your right, but don’t be a teacher.

    • DGStuart

      Utter cockmunch from start to finish – not a single sentence here displays any scintilla of sense and is simply a rant against faith.You are an embarrassment to atheists.

    • kevinlynch1005

      within the confines of what I understand as “logic”, I find the case for a super-being to be doubtful, to say the last. However, I hadn’t realised the matter was “settled”. I admire your sense of certainty in the matter! Hasn’t it occurred that what we understand as “reason” and “logic” may be only part of the picture. It may well be an implausibility, as we understand it, limited as we are, which is not quite the same as saying it is “settled”.

    • kevinlynch1005

      are you saying that people who keep certain beliefs and values should be banned from teaching full stop? How dangerously totalitarian, if you are!

    • DGStuart

      Something distinctly fishy going on here – no way have 50 (at this point) legit readers given this witless posting the thumbs up. You’ve been creating multiple identities and giving them to yourself. And you’ve changed your name. What a cock.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Canning/100000880337944 Robert Canning

    Should truth, like water, be carried in cracked vessels?

  • JoeDM

    Religion + Politics = Social Poison

  • Psy

    Without religion these people would have nothing to base their moral values on. There would be rampant bigotry against gays, they would have no reason not to practice pedophilia, ect. Oh wait….

    • http://www.facebook.com/flint.hef Flint Hef

      Psy read my post above re. ‘Sniper Missions – The Business of War and the War of Business or J’accuse… Encore une fois!’ by Sergeant Radar Erasmus (Amazon), the book deals extensively with morality in war, in business and in life. The book takes a non-religious view of both Ethics and Morality from a rational perpective, as opposed to mere religious conditioning. Clearly the author was a sniper who has no qualms about killing people, but he motivates his reasons for killing people, with no upper limit on the number of people who he is prepared to kill, in terms of a morality based on logic. And it makes sense. If only religious people would learn to think instead of rely on what Erasmus calls in his book ‘the twee insouciance of trite truisms.’

    • Adam__Baum

      Funny you mention “bigotry” against gays. Care to tell us how Hitler’s atheism affected his treatment of homosexuals?

      • Psy

        Hitler was CATHOLIC.

        • http://www.facebook.com/robert.goodwin.1614 Robert Goodwin

          You’d think people would have learned not to try that argument… but sadly some people just don’t know how to do research.

        • Adam__Baum

          No, he was raised Catholic. He abandoned it for atheism. Sorry to intrude your fantasy with facts.

        • Adam__Baum

          No, he was raised by Catholic parents. He had no religious practice, other than self-worship. His regime’s regarded the state as a god and there’s plenty of evidence that if he had any interest, it was the occult.

  • http://www.facebook.com/flint.hef Flint Hef

    Douglas Murray is wrong about atheism having nothing to say about death because he is not up to date with what atheist sociologists are saying. For example, the indie published ‘Sniper Missions – The Business of War and the War of Business or J’accuse… Encore une fois!’ by Sergeant Radar Erasmus (Amazon) is an atheist sociobiology of the human race from the perspective of war, and as such deals extensively with death. The author is clearly the product of an upper class, military background who uses this background to indict the West by exposing War Colonialism from an anarchist perspective. He points out that religion is at least as evil as Professor Dawkins argues, perhaps more so than we have so far realised. By using biology and primatology as his weapons, he attacks the big three religions far more aggressively than Dawkins ever will, because he deconstructs dogma from a philosophical sociological perpective, which is very different to that of a biologist. By literally going to the deathbed and into the dying man’s head, death is demystified and religion left in tatters.

    • Chris Morriss

      What have you been smoking?

  • Roy

    Dawkins is wrong in condemning religion. When religion is all people have to console themselves with, Richard Dawkins tries to take this small comfort away to pinpoint its inadequacies, and its historically hard to believe crescendo of Biblical facts. Just do your excellent scientific good work Richard and leave the people to believe what they wish without making fun of them.

    • Graham Lawrence

      Oh, this is just so innocent. “Leave the people to believe what they wish.” As if they’re all just going to church in a nice suit and drinking cups of tea. Leave them to believe that in another generation or two, there won’t be a religiously-based war. Leave them to believe that they can oppose homosexuality on the basis of a two-thousand year old document from an intolerant ignorant society. Leave them to believe that if they slaughter some innocents at a bus shelter, they will be given 72 virgins in paradise. Leave them to believe that a bundle of week-old cells with no brain or heart has “an immortal soul”. No, it’s just not right, is it? Imagine no religion, to invoke song lyrics. Imagine no 9/11, no 7/7, no Inquisition, no Crusades, no hypocritical TV millionaire evangelists, no forcing celibacy on priests for no good reason and then having suppressed natural instincts come out as child abuse or appalling guilt.

      • Roy

        It seems you would like to control peoples mind’s? What else have they got left after you have controlled so much in the material world? You would deprive them of their thought process? Couldn’t you have a little patience and wait until they have passed away? Then you will have all to yourself, without the interference of mind-flows different to your own.

  • http://www.genomicon.com Nick Taylor

    Well, no actually, when it comes to discussions of ideas, morality and meaning, religion (aka: obsessively believing in things that aren’t true) is best left at the door.

    Faith means you can’t admit you’re wrong… and religions, particularly monotheistic religions, are inherently judgmental and inherently persecutory. Always have been. The history of Christianity is a history of violence, and the harshest societies on earth are heavily religious. This is not a coincidence.

    Take a look around. If you want a society with compassion, tolerance, happiness, intelligence etc etc, the further from religion you are, the better you are off.

    So… when it comes to discussions of ideas, morality and meaning… if someone turns up and says “Hi, I have a fixed set of beliefs that will not change no matter what you say, and by the way, you’re going to hell for not believing the same stuff I do”…

    … then you should rightly say “ah, ok…”… and quietly back away.

    • http://twitter.com/AnPhilOnline Ancient Philosophy

      Nick,

      I think you have supped too deeply at the the well of pop/hack atheism. Faith has never meant that “you can’t admit your wrong”. For some people yes, of course they cannot let their worldview be challenged by opposing views and their minds will remain as flexible as a rock when challenged by other alternative worldviews. But I have witnessed atheists dogmatically hold on to vacuous arguments just because it aligns with their worldview, and prove to be as reticent to let the light of critical thinking impact them as the most fundamentalist Baptist can. Interestingly, much of this mutual hardening of the mind happens over the person of Jesus– for some atheists who followed Dawkis in believing that he perhaps didn’t exist (a stupendously silly argument) to the archetypal redneck Christian who thinks he can handle snakes because a (spurious) passage in the Bible says so. In any case the word faith in the New Testament (πίστις) never meant blind faith. Semantically it more matches with our word “truth”, as in I know that my chair will hold be up because I have experienced that this is true. This is why often the pronouncement in the New Testament to have faith is closely accompanied by exhortations to “reason” and “prove everything true” (e.g. Acts 17:11, James 1:5).

      Also polytheistic religions can be violent- viciously violent in fact. For an ancient your characterization of polytheism vis-a-vis monotheism would be completely incomprehensible. For three hundred years Christianity (and so some extent Judaism and some other religious groups) experienced punctuated spasms of persecution and killings. At the time Christianity was dogmatically pacifist and apoltical (read the letter to the Romans for instance) Atheists religions such as Buddhism can also kill, and can do so with some industry- the killing of thousands of Muslims and the burning of their villages in Northern Burma by the Buddhist government- and they can appeal to their religion for as much warrant for this as you can find any medieval crusader having done. The Soviets burned Churches, killed priests with relish, produced books and posters arguing against the existence of God as passionately as your secular campaigner in the shrines of Oxfordshire now does. And yes the argument that they werent motivated by atheism but by their totalitarian dogma is a legitimate one to mention, but allow us to also correctly parse the situation by pointing out that all not all “religious” wars or killings were genuinely expressions of piety but were also politically/economically motivated. You can also read a fascinating account of the vehement atheist philosophy of Sovietism from Paul Froese’ The Plot to Kill God: Findings from the Soviet Experiment in Secularization” Bizarrely many of their posters attacking God mirror (in tone and image) those produced by atheist campaigning groups such as FFR. But in any case I can leave this conversation and ask you to read what is probably the best discussion of the topic, William T. Cavanaugh’s “Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict” published by Oxford University Press. You will probably have a book of your own that argues to the opposite, but that is the point- it is not black and white.

      As for who is compassionate, we can get into sociological polemics. There are various studies that show religious people are more charitable, compassionate and a whole lot of other nice adjectives you which to poll people on (so http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/gods-truth-believers-are-nicer-20110908-1jzrl.html ). But you can, legitimately, point out that the most secular societies (Norway, Japan etc…) are rather places to live than the most religious (Somalia, Pakistan)- although I do wonder how much that is to do with the extent of their economic development. But, again, this is the point of Douglas Murray’s article- it is not black and white.

    • Fergus Pickering

      You mean a society like the old USSR, I take it.

      • http://www.genomicon.com Nick Taylor

        What the one which (like Mao, Hitler) was an irrational, authoritarian, faith-based personality-cult, that resembled religion in all respects except that instead of having a god at the top, there’s a man?

        The one where someone said: “Hi, I have a fixed set of beliefs that will not change no matter what you say, and by the way, you’re going to a gulag for not believing the same stuff I do”? – differing from the religious POV by a single word? With very very similar meaning?

        The only people who try to make that distinction between the 20th-C authoritarian personality cults, and their own, are religious people – who’s histories are so horrific, they have to compare themselves to mass-murderers “to look better”, and even then they don’t look too good. You’d still be better off in a Stalinist Gulag than in a dungeon of the Inquisition.

  • DrHaslam

    Douglas, I appreciate your concessions to religion, though they do come across as a little patronising. But your deal is dubious at best. So religion is to be banned from politics but has a role in “ideas, morality and meaning”. Since when has politics not been about ideas, morality and meaning? It is as though you think our secular politicians are entirely impartial, unbiased in their decision making. Every decision maker decides on the basis of their worldview. In our pluralistic society every worldview should have its place in the political process. It is my view that here in the UK our predominant cultural worldview historically, namely Christianity, best safeguards pluralistic debate as it intrinsically values people and their opinions. It is only with the rise of secularism that we now have an aggressive atheistic/naturalistic/materialistic worldview predominating to the exclusion of all others. It is to Christianity that we owe our tradition of tolerance, just ask any British Muslim whether they would rather live in a Christian country or a secular one, their children attend a Christian school or a secular one.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1553295243 Ron Williams

      The problem with religion is that each one of them if given power will attempt to make sure that it is the only religion with power and will use the force of the state do it. The separation of church and state is an acknowledgement of this.

      What I’m in favour of is essentially for religion to have moral force outside of politics as shown by the benign religions, essentially Christianity, in Europe. This is what we had for a while until one very, very intolerant religion/ideology started to rise, fueled by petrodollars.

      Separation of church and state must be maintained, to at least slightly guard against the eventuality that a less benign religion becomes dominant – see: Egypt.

    • Will N

      I’m afraid that as a gay British citizen, I find your assertion that our current cultural emphasis on tolerance is owed to Christianity rather hard to swallow, especially in light of recent events. Christian institutions have sytematically opposed any and all attempts to give people like me equal rights – if power and influence had not been wrested from the bony hands of the priests I would almost certainly be in prison right now, or worse.

  • W Wilcox

    And the stupid adherents of the evil Randian Objectivist fantasy are as benighted as the blinkered followers of any cult.

  • Ed Rex

    There is a lot I would question in this article. Most of all, this:

    “It is faint on human suffering and tragedy. And although it does not have nothing to say, it barely speaks about death. It has little if not nothing to say about human forgiveness, remorse, regret or reconciliation.”

    Atheism is the lack of belief in a god or gods. So any thoughts that humans have had throughout history about death, forgiveness, remorse, regret or reconciliation that have not involved recourse to a god or gods are, in essence, thoughts that fit with the atheistic worldview. To say this is ‘little if not nothing’ is to ignore vast swathes of human thought, and mistakes atheism for a concrete belief system that must inform the holder’s views on everything else. It is no such thing – it is, quite simply, the lack of belief in one particular assertion made without evidence.

    You will find that many atheist people have a huge amount to say on all of the topics in the above quote. There’s no reason to suggest that atheists should seek to replace religious thoughts on the matter with their own atheistic thoughts – there are myriad thoughts on these matters that are completely separate from religion already.

    And, as a side note, it would be good to qualify the statement that “dogma has emerged” in atheism. One who is dogmatic is one who would not change their views when presented with evidence contrary to those views; and atheism is based on an assessment of the evidence.

  • davybush

    Dawkins doesn’t have to win anything. The facts speak for themselves. The church bombard children from early childhood with these. Indefensible beliefs which they struggle to shake of in later life. Religious people talk so much in order to drown out reality. People attempt to denigrate. Dawkins by suggesting he is a leader of a scientific cult or mafia. He isn’t He merely passes on the facts that millions of people are aware of but don’t have the media reach, unlike the filthy rich religious groupswith friends in high places..

    • Chris Morriss

      The trouble with Dawkins is that he comes across as a ranting, fundamentalist bigot; almost a mirror-image of an Iranian or Saudi ayatollah. I’m sure that atheists can do better than have this swivel-eyed fruitcake as a role model

      • Panikos

        You’ve not seen him speak then?

        • Chris Morriss

          Yes I have. He comes across as quite impressive, in the same way that Stalin does in the old newsreels.

      • Powder

        How can an atheist be fundamentalist?

        How stupid.

        • Nan

          Unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs.

      • Jeremy Rodell

        I have seen Richard Dawkins speak on a couple of occasions, and have seen TV programmes in which he has conversations with religious people. The one thing that can’t be said of him is that he’s “ranting”. He’s always extremely measured. I don’t always agree with him, but I don’t think anyone should factually misrepresent him.

      • fledermaus

        I call LIAR on that statement!
        Dawkins appears, in person, on film & in writing as the most reasonable of men.

        • Fergus Pickering

          No he doesn’t. He comes over as a pompous windbag with a high opinion of himself.

        • Chris Morriss

          I’m not sure which part of my comment you consider a lie. It can’t be the first part, as he can be seen speaking at any time in any number of clips on YouTube, so I guess you take issue with my saying his speaking is ‘quite impressive’. My likening his delivery to Stalin is perhaps a bit OTT, but Dawkin’s well known left-wing views, which do in some areas approach totalitarianism, should not be forgotten.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Why does Dawkins go on and on about it then? Why is he obsessed with religion?

      • http://www.facebook.com/robert.goodwin.1614 Robert Goodwin

        Why are cops obsessed with crime? Why do they go on and on about it?

        • Fergus Pickering

          Because it’s their job. Is religion Dawkins’ job then? I thought he was some sort of scientist.

          • http://www.facebook.com/robert.goodwin.1614 Robert Goodwin

            He is a scientist, but seeing as science has countered every claim made by religion if he chooses to make fighting religion his job that’s up to him. If you don’t like the first example how about this one:

            Why are Christians obsessed with evolution? Why do they go on and on about it? Especially when they don’t even understand what it really is in most cases.

          • Fergus Pickering

            Chritians are not obsessed with evolution. Evolution is quite irrelevant to Christianity. Their are foolish people who espouse Christianity just as there are foolish people like Professor Dawkins, who are obsessed with Christianity. Some sort of a Christian bit him when he was very young and he never got over it. He says nothing that Shaw did not say a hundred years ago and Shaw said t with wit and panache, both of which the Dawkins person lacks..

  • http://www.facebook.com/annemullettamg Anne Mullett

    We all have a spiritual connection with nature, in all it’s beauty. That is enough for me. Religious persons, those who are not bogged down in doctrine, have much to offer as do atheists with the emphasis on reason. Can’t we all agree to bring what we can offer to the table?

  • Jeremy Rodell

    One rather important point that this article misses is that, by agreeing to participate, the “atheist” side was obliged to advocate the extreme (and therefore unhelpful) motion “This House believes religion should have no place in the 21st century.” How that came about isn’t explained. I’m an active humanist and would have found difficulty voting for it.

    If the motion had been something along the lines “The house believes that religion should not have a privileged place in the plural society of the UK in 21st century”, a lot of the issues you talk about would fall away, and a more interesting and nuanced debate could have taken place.

  • http://twitter.com/dumnezero DumneZERO

    These new atheists remain incapable of getting beyond the question, ‘Is it true?’ They assume that by ‘true’ we agree them to mean ‘literally true’. They also assume that if the answer is ‘no’, then that closes everything. But it does not. Just because something is not literally true does not mean that there is no truth, or worth, in it.

    Dealing with worth is not the same as dealing with truth. Worth is about value, which is used when measuring the utility of something. Truth or accurate information is not a measure of utility. Religion is indeed useful, too useful, and it always warms up to concentrated powers in society, which is why religion has to go, just like nuclear weapons. Both are very powerful tools which increase the possibility of humans destroying themselves on the largest scale.

    Schopenhauer said that truth may be like water: it needs a vessel to carry it. It is all very well to point out — as Dawkins did again the other night — that Adam did not exist. But to think that this discovery makes not just the story of Eden but the narrative of the crucifixion and resurrection meaningless is to rather startlingly miss a point. You can be in agreement with Professor Dawkins that Adam did not exist, yet know and feel that the story of Eden speaks profoundly about ourselves.

    Cultural hogwash. Not only are there many stories that speak profoundly to us, there are also better stories that do that and they don’t always come with the pretexts for sexism, racism, and various other forms of prejudice, like Genesis does.

    But it is while high on destruction that one ought most to consider whether what you are pulling down is as wholly valueless as you might temporarily have to pretend it is, and whether you have anything remotely as good to put in its place.

    There’s plenty of secular-humanist writing out there. It is entirely unnecessary to rely on content which is so detrimental to humanity.

    For example, my fellow atheist opponents the other night portrayed the future — if we could only shrug off religion — as a wonderful sunlit upland, where reasonable people would make reasonable decisions in a reasonable world. Is it not at least equally likely that if you keep telling people that they lead meaningless lives in a meaningless universe you might just find yourself with — at best — a vacuous life and a hollow culture? My first exhibit in submission involves turning on a television.

    People find meanings constantly, it is not something we can stop. This is one of great lies promoted by the apologists: without religion, there’s no meaning, like religions have some sort of monopoly on meaning.

    If millions of atheists can live life without religion and find meanings, so can the rest of humanity, unless the apologist is claiming that atheists are a different species or race or something.

    Religion, whether you believe it to be literally true or not, provided people, and provides people still, with a place to ask questions we must ask.

    Partially true. It is the philosophical side of religion that does that, not the social side. And it does it in a poor way. If you go to a church, only one book is being read, and it is not organized like a press conference.

    Philosophy is that which asks questions, not religion. Religion provides preset answers and tries to find fitting questions for them.

    Why are we here? How should we live? How can we be good? Atheists often argue that these questions can be equally answered by reading poetry or studying philosophy. Perhaps, but how many people who would once have gathered in a place of worship now meet on philosophy courses? Oughtn’t poetry books to be selling by the millions by now?

    There are other forms of media which do this: music, cinematography, photography and so on. It’s ironic that the author mentions reading, since so few believers actually sit down and read their entire sacred book.

    We do not have many vessels for truth-carrying in our age. While of course not being an organised body of thought, atheism might one day speak to all those things religion once answered. But at present its voice is faint.

    Perhaps that’s because atheism isn’t as well funded? Or funded at all?

    It is faint on human suffering and tragedy.

    Well, if you ignore the whole secular-humanist philosophy and the various movements which are concerned with it, including left-wing political parties, yes.

    And although it does not have nothing to say, it barely speaks about death.

    That’s because lying to people is not seen as a positive value. Apparently, honesty is controversial.

    It has little if not nothing to say about human forgiveness, remorse, regret or reconciliation.

    Sure it has. Entire justice systems are based on it. It’s called “secular”. As in – not based on biblical laws or sharia law.

    By the author’s description, societies in Northern Europe must be absolutely horrible to live in, with all that bursting hate and spite accumulated, continuously, with no relief from forgiveness, regret, reconciliation.

    These are not small ellipses. Until atheism can speak into these voids, desiring to ban religion entirely seems a push not only to deprive individuals of a consolation at which Professor Dawkins scoffs — though he would do better to address it — but also to strip many discussions of profound dimensions.

    Addressed previously.

    Do we have to resign ourselves to a continuous, circular fight between the believers and the non-believers? I do not think so. If I might suggest a deal, it would be this.

    First, religions must give up the aspiration to intervene in secular law in the democratic state. In particular they must give up any desire to hold legislative power over those who are not members of their faith. In much of the world the Christian churches have already done this. Of course there are other religions and places where this separation has not been so nearly achieved. But the concession is vital, not least because the ability to dictate politics or law is the ability that most rightly concerns the non-religious about religions.

    And you’d be very naive to think they would agree to such terms.

    But non-believers like me should make a concession as well. We should concede that, when it comes to discussions of ideas, morality and meaning, religion does have a place.

    There is absolutely no need to take the entire packaged deal. Any useful parts from religions, concerning morality, meaning and such, can be segregated and used independently; and if they fail, well, good! Bad ideas should fail, and not be propped up by being elevated to sacred truths.

    Rather than dismissing it as some mere relict of our past, we should acknowledge that religion has an important contribution to our present and future discussion.

    Yes. That is the problem.

    We may not agree with the foundational claims, but we might at least agree not always and only to deride, laugh at and dismiss as meaningless something which searches sincerely for meaning.

    I disagree with the idea that there is “sincere” searching for meaning. There’s nothing sincere about what apologists and theologians do in their art of trying to fit theological absurdities with reality and values which are actually useful and good. They always have a corrupting effect, and religious “points” always come with hidden fallacies, the most common of which is the argument from authority and the traditional fallacy, which are at the base. And if there was the option of giving government funds to churches or giving government funds to philosophers to go out in the streets and act like ancient philosophers – I would vote for that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/peter.mayhew.393 Peter Mayhew

    The motion debated at Cambridge was: “This house believes religion has no place in the 21st Century”, not as suggested in the article here. It’s a silly motion, and the proposer Andrew Copson initially refused to support it until he was advertized as a speaker for the proposition without having actually agreed to be a speaker. This article erects the typical Strawkins arguments that we have seen hundreds of times. “Dawkins and his supporters” happens on this occasion to include the chief executive of the BHA, and saying that he doesn’t realize that religion makes communities and provides a place is an extraordinary naivity. Atheism of course, the absence of a belief in a deity, is not itself an entity than can fill social and other voids because it is a single issue, but Humanism can and does. When did you last go to a Humanist funeral? 1 million people in the UK do every year, and very consoling they are too. We might hear a bit more from humanists if they were allowed platitude space on TFTD: say in proportion to the high frequency of Humanist beleif in the UK. However much the author of this article might claim to be an atheist, he seems to know very little about humanism, and very little of the current New Atheist movement.

  • http://twitter.com/vogelbeere + Yvonne Aburrow

    This polarisation of the debate also completely ignores liberal religion. Unitarians have been welcoming atheists (and not expecting them to change their views) since the 1920s. There are many non-theist Quakers, Pagans, and liberal Jews.

    It also completely ignores apophatic theology, which has been pointing out since the Middle Ages that God does not exist, and is neither a thing nor a person, but an experience.

    Some atheists have argued that extremist religion hides behind the moderates. This can hardly be true when the media is dominated by the voices of the religious right, and religious liberals can scarcely make ourselves heard over the clamour of right-wing nutters demanding the “right” to discriminate against LGBT people and people of other religions (such as Pagans).

    • http://www.facebook.com/peter.mayhew.393 Peter Mayhew

      When I divorced myself from Christianity I gave liberal religion a go: I attended a Unitarian church for a few months, and welcoming though it all was, I’m afraid it was far too liberal. What was present was a very wide range of totally unjustifiable beliefs, plus a few atheists/humanists. Almost anything you liked went: worshiping the wind for example, and faith was at the forefront of everything. Regardless of how nice everyone tried to be, I just couldn’t get over the feeling that it was just as deluded as mainline religions are. Sorry, but the problem remains the same: normalizing made-up beliefs, and treating traditions as somehow truthful. If you look at the CoE, you can see how harmful and unjust attitudes and practices are retained because the liberal wing needs to make concessions to the evangelical right. That’s what we mean by the harm of liberal religion. And you have no leverage in an argument against an evangelical, because you base your beliefs on faith just like they do.

    • fledermaus

      They still believe in invisible, undetectable BigSkyFairy, don’t they?

      • JCF

        The atheist (really, anti-theist) belief that theists believe in an “invisible, undetectable BigSkyFairy” is just as much as a PROJECTION as any theists!

  • margaret benjamin

    Their are no atheists in foxholes well so they say.Never have I heard such rubbish in all my life.Dawkins consoles himself with the fact saying G-d does not exist that in some way that lets him off the hook,but wait G-d does indeed exist! the existence of G-d in human nature is so amazing In human beings who could have thought of such a thing. G-d will be known by divine revelation only.It wont come through religion or a set of rules.G-d is and a rewards those that diligently seek him.Am I religious Certainly not! G-d was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself not counting mens sins against them but at the cross opening up a way to the farther through the sacrifice offered up once and for all. Christ himself for he who knew no sin became sin for us.also died and rose on the third day.These things we heard when we were children,as I did but never really knowing in your heart saying I hope this is true.Untill my brother turned into a radical Christian many years ago.he spoke of a Christ that was alive now today as if he knew him . few years later I became ill for quiet a long time my brother would say il pray for you. I was not interested untill one morning I arose feeling quiet ill in fear I called out to G-d in fear thought I might die to help me at that point knew the Lord was in my lounge were I was kneeling . the peace ofGod came upon me and in me In my mind I was saying I didn’t know G-D answered prayer . from then on I knew I was changed and I was G-d conscious . were did I get that love to read the word of G-d not from any man. I wanted a bible , So I studied the bible from cover to cover not driven by any man that was early 1990 I don’t see anything religious in the bible rather the word of the Lord. years later I met with like minded people realising I wasn’t the only one. G-d is there for anyone who calls on his name . Best news is he is coming again to rule and reign . xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx ccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccc

    • 90Lew90

      Well, that settles it then.

      • willom88

        They have been busy on planet DT eradicating your comments-the scum.
        And from the paper that screams freedom of speech too.
        Pathetic bunch of low lifes.
        I enjoy reading your comments and hope you continue to share your wisdom.
        btw: I used to be Obliqueboy.

        Regards, W.

    • Chris Morriss

      If you are going to write bilge, please do it in reasonably correct English. I’m sure your first language isn’t English, but that should be no excuse.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Dowdle/100002549070284 John Dowdle

    I remember being accused of being an atheist after listening to a debate on the role of religion in education at RSA House by a Fellow of a Cambridge College. I responded by saying I was not an atheist but an ignostic humanist, which rather shut my accuser up.
    I explained that as an ignostic I based my beliefs on knowledge and evidence. As there was no objective evidence to support the existence of supernatural beings, I had therefore concluded that there was no rational basis to religion, which – therefore – I considered irrelevant to may way of life. As a humanist, I tried to be a good person, to lead a good life and to create a good society. The late Professor Paul Kurt’s neo-humanist principles were certainly to be considered as a basis for moral and ethical values which could replace irrational and superstotious beliefs.
    It seems to me that religion is the ideology of former empires, which provided a cheap and cost-effective form of social control. Latterly, the choise of Christianity by Roman Emperor Constantine and the choice of Islam by the Arabian Empire have continued to exercise influence long after their sell-by dates. Judaism has also continued as a form of ideological support for modern day Zionism, which continues as a latter-day form of imperialist domination of the Middle East to the detriment of Palestinians and other people in the area.
    Ultimately, I hope religion will just fade away. We do not need it any longer as we all become better educated and more knowledgeable. With all the challenges the human species confronts, we need peoples’ minds to be freed from ignorance and superstition. Eventualy, our descendants will need to leave this tiny little planet floating in space in order to find a new home elsewhere in the cosmos. Leaving it to some form of eventual supernatural intervention is no answer. We need science and humanities to replace all forms of religion on our planet Earth if our descendatns are to have any kind of future to look forward to.

    • http://twitter.com/CA_Bailey Christopher Bailey

      WTF? You think that… “Judaism has also continued as a form of ideological support for modern day Zionism, which continues as a latter-day form of imperialist domination of the Middle East to the detriment of Palestinians and other people in the area. ‘

      Well, that’s a piece of claptrap with dangerous implications arrived at through no logical analysis.

      You talk of the desirability of replacing religions, but you yourself are far from a rational, rigorous, thinker.

      You think Judaism would have ceased to exist if it weren’t for Israel? That Judaism only exists in order to support the continued independence of a Jewish State? Where’s the evidence or logic for these sweeping statements? How does it square with the strong secular and even atheistical components of the pre-Israel Zionist movement? Judaism has lingered on for 3000 years or so, it’s a bit arrogant to assume that it would have suddenly, recently, disappeared if it wasn’t for the existence of israel.

      And as to the assertion that the state of Israel is a “latter-day form of imperialist domination of the Middle East”? On whose behalf, exactly? And how does it dominate the whole Middle East? It doesn’t even dominate its immediate neighbours!

  • Albin

    I agree the story of Eden and many religious myths are profound. If religion could be relegated to the level of literary profundity, armchair contemplation, and earnest discussion wine and cheese groups, I’d go with the writer’s argument. But it demonstrably cannot – instead we have millions following flawed dicta of mediocre men, passed off as Divine command.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1469013789 Ariel Lindosky

    “… how many people who would once have gathered in a place of worship now meet on philosophy courses?” Actually, about the same number: Look at the dwindling congregations at your local Anglican and Unitarian churches and Reform Jewish temples. The only places of worship that attract people (in growing numbers) belong to fundamentalist denominations — precisely the places where philosophical questions are not welcome, unless to be answered in the singular way their inerrant scriptures lay out. No discussions, no dissent. That’s the religion the 21st century can do without.

    • http://twitter.com/CA_Bailey Christopher Bailey

      Precisely: no one takes philosophy courses. Once, everyone went to church. And, paradoxically, the ridicule of religion and the liberalisation of mainstream religion, has led to the growth of the most harmful and problematic type of religious belief – of the uncompromising, unreasonable ‘fundamentalist’ types of communities.

  • Christian

    You settled religion as being false some time ago? I must have missed that meeting. That you fail to understand that the question of the existence (or not) of God cannot ever be proven or disproven) is very telling. Your meaningless 99% evidence assertion is almost childlike in its contradiction.

    The concept of God at least provides us with a prime mover for the existence of the universe. Without God then a void can only ever continue to be a void. Unless you think nothing can become something. Sounds almost like a fairy story. Or a miracle……….

    • http://www.facebook.com/tommy.woodward.94 Tommy Woodward

      And you obviously believe that nothing can become something, if I am wrong tell me who made god?

      • wiseacre1

        God would be a reality beyond time,the uncreated.

    • http://www.facebook.com/robert.goodwin.1614 Robert Goodwin

      You need to look up Lawrence Krauss’s lecture called “Something from Nothing”… quantum theory is fascinating.

  • http://www.facebook.com/juleslee.uk Jules Lee

    An atheist friend sent me a link to this article for consideration with the
    suggestion that it seems reasonable. Here’s my response to some of Mr Murray’s
    points:

    Yes, religion does ask why are we here? But why does it persist in asking when the
    question has been answered? We are here because we evolved thus far. We might
    not be here tomorrow, sad as that sounds. It’s like Bart Simpson continually
    asking “are we there yet?”

    Does atheism speak about human suffering and death? Absolutely, and loud and clear! It just may not be what the religious want to hear. Human suffering is the result of human greed and basic inefficiency. Death happens. Religion may provide a sort of comfort to its sheep who are afraid of simply fizzling out, but it is a false comfort. Is this in itself a problem? Not really: it is all the other associated rubbish that goes along with religion which is dangerous or at the very least inhibiting (see stem cell research and
    its opposition e.g.).

    Where does Mr Murray get this idea from: “It [atheism] has little if not nothing to say about human forgiveness, remorse, regret or reconciliation” – what exactly is he basing that on? He is talking about two emotions and two actions. As an atheist I am perfectly capable of feeling/doing all of them and so, I imagine, is the author. Religion has a twisted notion of forgiveness at best.

    Try to get religion to give up its aspirations of intervening in secular law and
    democracy? Sorry – if you believe this is even remotely possible you don’t understand the nature of religion.

    And atheists should concede that religion has anything to say about morality and
    meaning? Sure – if you want a world based on the morality of religion in which
    women and children are worthless and genocide encouraged, one in which the
    murderer can die and go to paradise so long as he asks the deity’s
    forgiveness – surely that makes a mockery of justice and even the very
    righteousness that religion preaches? Is this the sort of meaning we need? With this sort of world view there will be no future if some religious zealots have their way – how can that generate any sort of important contribution to our present and future discussion?

    As my friend said, the article does seem reasonable. It is fairly well written and
    appears well thought out and the author seems genuinely concerned for some kind
    of peace between two warring factions. He is, however, mistaken and has not
    thought the issues through.

    I firmly believe in the intrinsic evil of religion. Hitchens said it best, “Religion poisons everything”.

    • OldSlaughter

      “We are here because we evolved thus far. ”

      No, that is ‘how’. Not ‘why’.

      “Human suffering is the result of human greed”

      And has religion had no success at all in tempering that?

      “if you want a world based on the morality of religion in which women and children are worthless and genocide encouraged”

      This is the sort of strawman crap that makes Murray’s point for him.

      “I firmly believe”

      Oh well now, if you FIRMLY believe it you are probably right then? You sound a bit religious there.

    • DGStuart

      ‘if you want a world based on the morality of religion in whichwomen and children are worthless and genocide encouraged’

      As opposed to say explicitly anti-theist/anti-clerical systems like the 3rd Reich, Khmer Rouge, Maoist China, Stalinist USSR, Jacobin France, N Korean Communism you mean?

      • nosyechidna

        Sorry, mate, but the 3rd Reich was Christian. Atheists were among those who were listed as undesirables.

        • DGStuart

          Don’t think so, mate.

          This from Wikipedia:

          In a confidential message to the Gauleiter on June 9, 1941, Martin Bormann, had declared that “National Socialism and Christianity are irreconcilable.”[46] He also declared that the Churches’ influence in the leadership of the people “must absolutely and finally be broken.” Bormann believed Nazism was based on a “scientific” world-view, and was completely incompatible with Christianity.[46] Bormann stated:

          When we National Socialists speak of belief in God, we do not mean, like the naive Christians and their spiritual exploiters, a man-like being sitting around somewhere in the universe. The force governed by natural law by which all these countless planets move in the universe, we call omnipotence or God. The assertion that this universal force can trouble itself about the destiny of each individual being, every smallest earthly bacillus, can be influenced by so-called prayers or other surprising things, depends upon a requisite dose of naivety or else upon shameless professional self-interest.[47]

          During the war Alfred Rosenberg formulated a thirty-point program for the National Reich Church, which included:

          The National Reich Church claims exclusive right and control over all Churches.

          The National Church is determined to exterminate foreign Christian faiths imported into Germany in the ill-omened year 800.

          The National Church demands immediate cessation of the publishing and dissemination of the Bible.

          The National Church will clear away from its altars all Crucifixes, Bibles and pictures of Saints.

          • http://twitter.com/CA_Bailey Christopher Bailey

            I liked your comment. I have read, though, that Bormann was a lone atheist in Hitler’s circle, and was eager to project his views onto his hero, Hitler, and onto his new ideology.

            Also, of course, Allied propoganda was keen to stress that Hitlerism was an attack on the common values of every nation, on decency, and in doing so it somewhat exaggerated the degree of religious repression in Germany.

            Nevertheless, there’s something deeply distorting about this new trend for describing the Nazi’s as Christian. It certainly wasn’t born of a Christian ideology as such, and if anything was a product of disillusionment with Christianity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lucy.harris.967422 Lucy Harris

    you’re a stupid atheist is if you think a godless world = a meaningless world.

  • caycepollard

    I don’t see anything wrong with the idea of teaching children religion as simply another set of Grimm’s fairy tales, albeit ones deeply rooted in our particular culture, but you are wrong to see the religion as a basis for morality rather than as this collection of fables to illustrate and canonicalise our share morality. One of the reasons why Europe has no future is that as it becomes poorer and more Islamised, religion will re-assert itself as the unique truth rather than as a useful cultural creation myth.

  • fledermaus

    “I wondered again if this gulf between believers and non-believers can ever be addressed”
    NO
    Because the believers require NO evidence
    And the non-bleivers dor require evidence.
    No BigSkyFairy is even remotely detectable, at all.
    Why bother?
    Because religions KILL.

  • Jimmer

    Well said, Douglas.

  • Cobden Bastiat

    I don’t think we need be at all concerned about Dawkins single-handedly pulling down the edifice of religion where many deeper-thinking atheists (going back to the dawn of time) have failed before. What is mildly depressing (although admittedly also a little amusing) is that a clever man should waste so much of his time on such a pointless enterprise. I suppose he must find meaning in it.

  • Paul

    I watched the debate, greatly enjoyed your talk and found myself agreeing with the points you made. It did end leaving me with a feeling of a “Groundhog Day” like debate with the same old points being run round the track time and time again on both sides. I am really starting to miss Hitch who would at least make a debate interesting.

  • rupertstubbs

    The problem is that religion manifestly DOESN’T provide a place to ask questions such as “Why are we here?”, “How can we be good?”, etc. – because it provides the answers as Holy Writ. It is the lack of questioning that is the main focus of the ire of Dawkins (and others).

    I vividly remember asking an early girlfriend – who was very Christian – if she would still believe that Christianity was the true faith if she’d been born in Delhi rather than in Hounslow. Her answer, depressingly, was “I don’t want to think about that”.

  • Adam__Baum

    I find the comments of the atheist militants fascinating. Much of it is the result of confusion, such as the conflation of religion with faith and faith with theism. Some of it is just wrong. If you believe that theism requires empirical evidence of a particular sort and you see no such evidence, then the logical conclusion is agnosticism, since it’s impossible to prove a nullity.

    On the contrary, to be an atheist demands infinite faith, because you are asserting a belief that you cannot prove, which is why militant atheism is so strident.

    • nosyechidna

      So, a disbelief in leprechauns requires infinite faith? There is no evidence for any supernatural being, not even Chthulu. It doesn’t require any faith to not believe in things that don’t exist. There is not even a coherent, consistent description of God to believe in.

      • Adam__Baum

        You don’t seem to understand the difference between the absence of evidence and evidence of absence. There was no evidence of living ceolecanths, until one was caught. There was no evidence of black swans until people observed one.

        Believe as you wish, but it is belief.

  • http://biasedbbc.proboards.com/index.cgi Teddy Bear

    Excellent reasoned article Douglas. You display an open mind, and perhaps future debates of this kind should be comprised of similar minds, regardless of predilection, to reach a proper conclusion for the benefit of society.

  • John McEvoy

    You don’t consider the difference between ‘religion’, a man-made code of practice, and spirituality – the search for the truth about existence. The latter requires no belief at all. The story of Adam and Eve is about the problem of the awakening of consciousness in the human mind, not some bloke in a garden with a nude bird. Dawkins’ views are rather narrow and uninformed.

    • nosyechidna

      Others consider the story of Adam and Eve as being about the transition from nomadic existence to agricultural life. Dawkins views are informed by biology: genetic evidence shows that it is impossible that there we are descended from a single pair of people a few thousand years ago. Many people still believe exactly this despite the evidence, and it causes harm. Dawkins is not as uninformed as you might think.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.e.durant Paul E Durant

    Applauds.

  • arnaudsachsen

    Religion is a pernicious and divisive device providing a means by which in the interests of a ‘higher order’ wrong things can be done. Today this includes misogyny and the suppression of women, female and male circumcision, homophobia, opposition to secular government and a rational scientific education, op[position to female emancipation. And more, in christian, Islamic and Jewish communities sexual exploitation of young people by priests, Imam’s and Rabbi’s has been concealed, the authorities efforts to investigate frustrated and victims rights willfully suppressed.

  • http://twitter.com/eveningperson Richard B

    The Adam and Eve story does contain a profundity. It is one of profound misogyny – the woman as corrupter of the man – and both expresses and is used to ‘justify’ misogyny.

    All religious scriptures are essentially political documents. They are used to hold groups of people together and to proclaim the otherness of those not in the group. Their truth or otherwise is irrelevant to this purpose. Within the group they express the interests of the dominant faction and try to hold the others in their places. So it was with the Jews. These scriptures have been reinterpreted, edited, added to and translated in accordance with the political currents of the time, as with the King James bible. This process continues, as we see with churchmen, academics and Douglas Murray.

  • http://www.facebook.com/axel.biehl.9 Axel Biehl

    Atheists & fundamentalists are alike in that they both reduce religion to its most one-dimensional, literalist interpretation. Both are incapable of metaphoric thought. The arguments of Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens et al are true, and important, as far as they go in terms of criticizing the transgressions committed in the name of organized religion–indeed, most reasonable religious people would agree with them to that extent–but they are pedestrian on any level beyond the merely social.

  • Trevor Moore

    “[Atheism] barely speaks about death” – speaking as a humanist (and atheist) funeral celebrant who daily meets grieving families to help them through the difficult process of saying a final farewell to a loved one, I know this statement to be untrue. Because atheism inevitably focuses on this one life we have, it also shines a light on the legacy that almost all human beings leave behind. That’s not just in the memories of those who loved them, but in a lasting way. To say that others’ lives are different – more often than not, enriched – because another person lived is something valuable to treasure. And then of course many people leave the physical legacy of children and remote generations, as well as the fruits of any creative talents they may have had.

    If you have this perspective on life, fear of death lessens. Yes we will all die, but that’s just part of the cycle in which we are all engaged. As the late Ronald Dworkin (d 14 Feb 2013) said: “If we manage to lead a good life we make our lives tiny diamonds in the cosmic sands.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/wayne.conner.92 Wayne Conner

    The article is nothing more than the “religion is useful” argument, usually made by theists when they’ve run out of scripture to quote. So to hear this being spouted by an atheist, makes me wonder if Mr. Murray has actually read the holy bible. I agree that religion is very useful if you’re a misogynist or a human trafficker. Its useful if you want to make millions of dollars selling the masses a product that doesn’t exist, religion is definitely the way to go. But if you want healthy, happy societies, modern anthropological studies suggest otherwise.

  • http://twitter.com/SGHeathen SGHeathen

    Nobody in that panel was encouraging a ban religion. Nobody said that religious individuals don’t do good. Nobody said that there is no insight to be gained from stories. Everybody is saying lets educate, argue, debate and get rid of religion. There is no gun pointed to your head forcing you to give up your religion. The problems arise when people treat their holy texts as literally real. If we were to get meaning from the stories without believing that they are true, its called literature, anthropology and whatnot. Not religion. Religion is irrelevant as long as its foundational and historical claims are not true. Those are what makes religion religion. Faith and dogma about our past and current conditions. It’s meaningless to regard ancient myths and folklore as true. We may get a certain inspiration from them but that’s it. That’s what people do with stories anyway. The hypocrisy of this article is in such that it admits that religion is not true and yet says that it has something to say. Instead of pointing out what sort of valid and credible opinion religion might have on issues like life and death, much of it was about how some atheists dismiss the validity of religion. This only amplifies the notion that religion has nothing real to offer. It at best asserts, with the lack of evidence, certain claims about these issues. One can sincerely search for meaning without believing in fairy tales. Any thing true that religion asserts can be arrived at without it. Then the ‘truth’ about religion is not exclusive. It’s the invention of an unnecessary category to give support to religion. A Christian or a Muslim doing math should arrive at the same answer. No axiom in the area of mathematics involves any religious doctrine. It is the same with science, history and other secular subjects. The article only convinces me that there is no concrete material that only religion can provide. It would be better for Douglas to start mentioning what sort of ideas we can actually learn from religion, rather than just asserting it.

  • Barrett Fortner

    “We should concede that, when it comes to discussions of ideas, morality and meaning, religion does have a place. Rather than dismissing it as some mere relict of our past, we should acknowledge that religion has an important contribution to our present and future discussion. We may not agree with the foundational claims, but we might at least agree not always and only to deride, laugh at and dismiss as meaningless something which searches sincerely for meaning.”

    This one is a little off for me. Depending on which religion we are discussing their ideas on Morality and Meaning are going to be vastly different. This fact in itself doesn’t exclude their opinions from having merit. But the fact that most modern day religions portray gay people or women as somehow sub-human, in at least some of their texts, makes it very difficult for me to want to include them in discussion of morality. I’ve come across very few religious people who were against gay marriage because they had a well thought out position on the subject, but I have run into vast quantities of them who are against it ‘because the bible says so’. (I live in the bible belt [southern united states] where religion is extremely pervasive and dogmatic, so expect my opinion to be skewed thusly.)

    If we are to include the religious in discussions of morality it would almost certainly include ridding themselves of that dogma, which the religious texts state plainly they should adhere to. They inherit the dogma for various reasons, but once it is inherited it is very difficult to get rid of simply for the fact that included in it’s rules (speaking generally of most religions) are rules to not disown it. I know first hand of the trauma that can result in breaking from your religion. I de-converted from Southern Baptist Christianity to atheism roughly two years ago. But it has been an uphill battle that involved uprooting every facet of my life. Things I had built my identity on were suddenly gone (friends, social gatherings, specific dogmatic rules not based on logic, etc.) I don’t know if there are enough religious people willing to do that in the numbers required for real societal change. Therefore, I am inclined to believe that keeping religion out of discussion on morality is actually the most intelligent route to take.

    I do hope that I am proved wrong in the coming years. I had a sense of identity in the church that was wonderful. The thing that drove me away was the cognitive dissonance of convincing myself that I believed in something that I knew was incorrect, nothing more or less. But based on my experience it seems that disowning the biased and flawed rules that religion provides (and managing to understand what makes the good rules “good”) is the exception rather than the rule. I don’t have much hope that this will happen anytime soon.

  • http://twitter.com/xCat15x Cat Cutmore

    I think perhaps YOU miss Dawkins’ point….he doesn’t only propose that religion is untrue, but that the values it teaches are at best confused and at worst immoral. I speak of the murder of non Christians, the silencing and rape of women and teachings by Jesus that to truly follow him you much leave your family behind- all can absolutely be found in the bible along with racism and homophobia. So I put it to you that the liberal views of today would NOT have been advanced had people never gone against religion (enlightenment etc.), and that instead they result from centuries of moral and political philosophy. No “true” Christian following the word of the bible would support civil rights and tolerance, and I think this is the point Dawkins wanted to make.

  • http://www.flickr.com/phd9 Paul Dirks

    God exists only in the minds of believers. But then again so does the value of currency. Are we to claim that money isn’t real?

  • Former Theist

    This author is not an Atheist, Atheist general are well versed on history of most religions.. I am Atheist and I would like to sit down with this delusion so called “atheist” and discus Quran and how peaceful it is.. even Torah(OT) or NT if he likes.
    I bet this scrub self proclaimed “Atheist” has not even read the Quran and has no clue what kinda of evil it contains… matter of fact.. I bet 20$ that he spells ‘Quran’ as Koran(which is not the correct way, linguistically speaking).

  • http://twitter.com/jorjun jorjun

    Great article. I would only pick you up on one item, in case there is an assumption that the religious must suspend disbelief and believe in an external deity. The word “religion” has two main connotations: regularity & presence of mind – the opposite sense to the word “negligence”. For instance Buddhism has no god, or requirement of faith in a god, but nevertheless it is very much a religion – there is an ethical code, and a repository of morality. Buddhists are expected to work on bettering themselves through regular practice, the best philosophy after all is that of action.

  • Just Some Dude

    While this article is about 6 mos old, it does seem to miss what Dawkins is truly about. While on his official Facebook wall, it is quite clear that science and reason have little to nothing to do with their postings.

    Numerous times have critical thinking folks pointed it out and it just get ignored. If one stays there long enough, and keeps a critical mind, they will see that Dawkins is nothing more than a Progressive lure to trap Neo-Athiests.

    As far as the hogwash that Atheism is not a religion, one only needs to boil down what religion is. At it’s base it is a belief in what happens after one’s Earthly life. Religion says there something over the hill, Atheist say there is nothing over the hill.

  • Lo Gitech

    It’s also important to keep in mind that Obama’s advisors have actively blocked Middle East Christians from White House access.

  • Kenny

    Douglas,

    “It has little if not nothing to say about human forgiveness, remorse, regret or reconciliation”

    I don’t see why atheism should have anything to say about those topics : it’s just a lack of belief in gods.

    I think you what you are looking for is humanism, which does attempt to provide answer to these questions.

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