Atheism and cyber-abuse

Former philosophy tutor Barney Zwartz, the Age's Religious Affairs writer, is an open-minded, softly-spoken and intelligent Christian.

So it is quite astonishing to read the level of extreme abuse heaped on Barney because he dared to question the positive contribution to society offered by the Atheist Convention in Melbourne held this weekend. (read the 600+ comments)

Any believer who has bothered trying to dialogue with atheists on most chats sites knows that the response will be this kind of abuse, bullying and harassment. Rarely a sensible word of rational argument is spoken. 

(The exception, in my experience, has been ironically on this website.)

The growth of atheistic cyber-abuse has become so bad that when the Godfather of the neo-atheists Richard Dawkins tried to clean up his own site he suffered the same fate: one user reportedly expressed “a sudden urge to ram a fistful of nails” down his throat.

Perhaps this is the inevitable consequence of unleashing a hoard of self-absorbed Gen Y anarchistic individualists whose only sense of the civic good is that society must be purged of religious belief/believers? Young people (men?) need a cause to fight for.

Or perhaps it says something about the internet as a medium? Atheists are certainly now able to network in a way they never were before. But perhaps more generally the de-humanising impact of cyber-anonymity reinforces a tribal mentality amongst the dominant group on any given chat room. In the end this group-think rewards bullying behaviour towards outsiders. Indeed I have seen the same phenomena develop on Christian sites in debates between liberal and conservative Christians. 

(I would be interested to hear if any of the half dozen atheists who post here feel bullied on this site because of the weight of power imbalance against them.)

Nevertheless, Richard Dawkins is kidding himself he can't see that his own rhetoric and behaviour is part of the problem. He raised the temperature by linking all religious belief with the word "delusion" (ie insanity) and "evil".

Dawkins likes to think of himself as a 'Bright', which I assume means the rest us are Dulls. Apparently this means he has a more highly evolved ability to label his opponents with puerile abuse.

I'm no fan of Senator Steve Fielding and his brand of Pentecostalism, but to say he is 'less intelligent than an earthworm' is just juvenile.

[UPDATE: You can read Dawkins’ explanation of his comment on his blog.]

Likewise, Dawkins makes a good point about the Catholic saint process but then simply dismisses the theology of Joseph Ratzinger, mocking him as 'Pope Nazi'.

[CORRECTION: The secular journalists who reported this now acknowledge they misheard and that Dawkins was referring to Pope Pius XII who was the pope during WW2)

National survey data (such as the Fairfax Neilsen poll) suggests the impact of the neo-atheist verbal assault has been merely to polarise already entrenched camps. There is a hardening of anti-Christian feeling on the already disbelieving secular-left. In turn anti-secular feeling is growing on the Christian right.

Tim Roberts made similar point yesterday in Eureka Street.

". it’s unclear whether the convention’s overall aim is to reduce the intensity of religious belief or to crush religion altogether. Though Richard Dawkins and others may earnestly hope for the latter, attempting this will only pick off religious doubters while steeling firmer believers against compromise."

And goes onto make the interesting point about the inclusion of so much comedy on the atheist conference program.

"Comedians, while good for boosting ticket sales, are as inappropriate at an atheist conference as they would be at a science conference. The organisers’ failure to recognise this basic point suggests that many take comfort from sneering at those who disagree with them. Comedians, who are paid to outrage rather than inform, are unhelpful when pragmatism is sorely needed."

Beyond that, the impact of neo-atheism is minimal. The commercial media in Sydney, including the Herald, gave the Melbourne conference scant coverage. (Sydney is too parochial after all!)

But my gut feel is that mainstream Australia is not really listening to Dawkins and his ilk. The language is just too aggressive and intolerant. Nor does it gel with a very deep cultural attachment to the good works of the Christian charities - Anglicare, World Vision, Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul to name a few.

Dr Greg Clarke from the Centre for Public Christianity has always argued that Christians who debate atheists must hold themselves to Jesus’ ethical standard of being beyond reproach and showing "love for your enemies". I was once concerned that this might lead to an intellectual wussi-ness. Fight fire with fire was my view.

I now think Clarke is right. Rational debate is almost beside the point.

 

Jeremy Halcrow is a veteran Christian journalist, a former media relations consultant and former editor of Southern Cross Newspaper. He is now Director, Communications and Strategic Partnerships for Anglicare Canberra and Goulburn

Comments (125)

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  • Michael Canaris
    March 15, 10 - 12:53pm
    For a few years about a decade ago, I was greatly impressed with this Atheist forum on About.com (by the by, a former poster therein was quite instrumental in my return to Christianity back in 2003.) From what I recall, while many of the problems you discuss were extant there to some extent, an expertly-selected administrative team helped preserve that forum from the viler elements of the internet.
  • Gordon Cheng
    March 15, 10 - 6:19pm
    I read Psalm 14 yesterday. Verse 1 says

    "The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
    there is none who does good."

    Verse 4 says:

    "Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
    who eat up my people as they eat bread
    and do not call upon the Lord?"

    Now, I have no problem believing that the Psalmist loved his atheist-like enemies, but it didn't stop him calling a spade a spade, or (in this case) a fool a fool.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 15, 10 - 10:28pm
    I'm sure you are right Michael about that particular chat room, but I think my observation of the general tone of [most?] atheist's public comments is valid.

    Take Catherine Deveny on ABC Q&A last night who took every opportunity to insult Christians but whose abuse in the end amounted to nothing but nonsensical gibberish.

    "I can't believe in [the Bible] a book produced 2,000 years ago from a rock".


    What the? I assume she is referring to the ten commandments which were written on a rock/stone.

    Indeed, it appears my observation is echoed by today's SMH letters page. It will be interesting if the atheists backlash tomorrow rises above insulting Christians (the crusades, spanish inquisition, religious wars yada yada yawn!)

    Another implication of neo-atheism is to undermine the rationale of liberal Christianity. Such extreme attacks (ie "sophisticasted theologians = fundamentalist wing-nuts") binds all who wear the label Christian to orthodoxy.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 15, 10 - 10:45pm
    Gordo, in our current climate it's wiser to call someone's ideas foolish then to call them a fool.
  • Steve Kryger
    March 15, 10 - 10:53pm
    Insightful article Jeremy.

    I was in the audience at Q&A;last night. Last week Richard Dawkins was a guest on the show, this week Catherine Deveny - both out-spoken atheists, both with an axe to grind about religion in general and Christianity in particular. I'm not sure why the ABC chose to have two atheists on two weeks in a row.

    Watching these atheists certainly doesn't endear me to them, or make me in any way want to be one (other than the fact that I know the true and living God!) Their behaviour is just so appalling. I do wonder how their behaviour is perceived by the undecided. Do they find this arrogance and rudeness appealing?
  • Russell Powell
    March 15, 10 - 10:58pm
    @Steve,

    Our research for Connect09 showed that in general, people are intolerant of atheists. The view is broadly that they are extremists - like the religious ones at the other end of the spectrum - and people are just as turned off by them as they are by those they perceive as fundamentalists. I think our danger is not from those who take us head on like this, but from apathy and liberalism.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 15, 10 - 11:05pm
    Hi Steve

    Somebody at Q&A;is clearly an atheist fellow-traveller. They are giving atheist proselytism a platform they wouldn't to say Sheik Hilaly (or countless Christian preachers). I noted that Tony Jones gave Dawkins a series of dorothy dixers last week. (where was the was the probing on the extreme public policy implications of his pronouncements)

    Dawkins gets special credit points because he is a scientist, but I think his roadshow is wearing thin.

    Deveny did her cause no credit.
  • Grant Hayes
    March 15, 10 - 11:14pm
    Jeremy,

    I would be interested to hear if any of the half dozen atheists who post here feel bullied on this site because of the weight of power imbalance against them.

    As a contributing contra and minor irritant, I can say that my reception at SydAngs is, at worst, understandably frosty. That's to be expected; after all, this is a Christian site. I do not feel bullied at all; my murk gets fair airing. Commenters with whom I've engaged are often surprisingly tolerant, if, betimes, easily miffable. The site's careful moderation means that everything stays pretty civil, like a comfortably upholstered gentlemen's club. By comparison, some of the overseas threads of which I'm an habitué are more like Wild West saloons, or even a UFC bout ;^)

    For the record, I am no fan of Richard Dawkins. His polemic is often clumsy and dull, his tone peevish, his superior airs irritating, his relative ignorance of religion culpable. His modernist science vs religion shtick is old, old, old ...

    But my gut feel is that mainstream Australia is not really listening to Dawkins and his ilk.

    I think your gut could be right, Jeremy. Hardboiled demotic Aussie atheism needs no twittering don to fuel its fires. And those whose disbelief is more educated often - in my experience - find Dawkins simply obtuse.
  • Grant Hayes
    March 15, 10 - 11:30pm
    Steve, Jeremy,

    Regarding last night's Q&A;, I'm with you on Ms Deveny. Her demagogic mockery was just daft, and did her cause no credit. To paraphrase Jesus: You cannot serve both humour and ideology.

    I thought the most sensible contributor to last night's debate was Waleed Aly. I particularly liked his take on distinguishing true conservatism from neo-liberal radicalism.
  • Grant Hayes
    March 15, 10 - 11:47pm
    Gordon,

    "The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
    there is none who does good."


    History shows that having God in one's heart does not make one particularly immune to corruption or abominable deeds, cf. David himself.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 15, 10 - 11:55pm
    You cannot serve both humour and ideology.


    Nice line Grant :)

    And I'm with you on Aly. He is a very clear thinker. At risk of sounding sycophantic, our Archbishop made a similar point on conservatism v liberalism in his Boyer lecture and in comments on WorkChoices.

    Hardboiled demotic Aussie atheism needs no twittering don to fuel its fires.


    Yes. Aussie Folk-Agnosticism is at essence anti-wowserish and hedonistic. Neo-atheists run the risk of sounding like the fun police. (ie no more Christmas carols or, indeed, even magazine horoscopes)
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 16, 10 - 12:08am
    It is interesting to read the 'mob' bullying behaviour at the conference itself in Barney's blog today.

    I also wonder if neo-atheism has 'jumped the shark' when the main cartoon in this city's secular-liberal mouthpiece pays them out for this behaviour.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 16, 10 - 12:26am
    Barney Zwartz contention is that neo-atheists are resorting to abuse because they don't really have a positive vision for society.

    Their one major public policy idea - remove Govt funding for religious (ie private) schools - is going to be hard sell given that 40% of parents send their kids to them.

    Does this idea have legs in the Australian body politic?

    Latham's attack on private schooling helped crush his tilt at the top job.
  • Kevin Goddard
    March 16, 10 - 1:35am
    Dawkins explained why he "bravely" goes hard at Christians but softly against Muslims :

    The final speaker was, of course, Dawkins. The biologist gave a nuanced lecture on the wonder of evolution and the sense of gratitude even atheists feel for the glories of the material world. He also lived up to his reputation for bluntness, with remarks equally sharp towards Catholics and Muslims. Asked about the sanctification of Mary MacKillop and the uncritical way it had been reported, he paused as if lost for words.

    "The idea of creating saints today is pure Monty Python," he eventually said. "It completely gives the lie to the claim that sophisticated theologians can look down on the fundamentalist wingnuts. They're all the same."

    As for dialogue with Islamists, he said it was "a remarkably effective tactic to say `If you try to argue against me, I'll cut your head off' ", but that the argument came from a position of intellectual weakness.

    "I don't think we should go out of our way to insult Islam because it doesn't do any good to get your head cut off," he continued. "But we should always say that I may refrain from publishing a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed, but it's because I fear you. Don't for one moment think it's because I respect you."


    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/celebrating-life-beyond-belief/story-e6frg6z6-1225840634149
  • Rob Callander
    March 16, 10 - 2:26am
    Jeremy

    Whether criticism and ridicule amount to abuse is a matter of judgement; and the Telegraph misrepresented the kerfuffle on Dawkins’ site, but aside from that…

    Atheism is primarily a response, so it is unremarkable that as it transforms into a movement it will spend some time ‘finding it’s feet’.

    Whatever the limitations of the conference, its organization and execution, involving thousands of people, demonstrated a high degree of professionalism.
    (No, I didn’t attend – after originally planning to I changed my mind upon seeing the program – I have no interest in polemics against religion)

    The simultaneous establishment of the Freethought University Alliance demonstrates the spectacular growth of organized atheism in recent years. This is largely as a response to the comments of such as Senator Fielding, the rise of Creationism, 9/11 and events such as the sustained attacks by SA on the proposed trial ethics classes in Sydney schools.

    There is already a movement afoot to shift the focus into strengthening and encouraging the secular aspects of our society.

    Oh, and Jeremy,

    I wouldn’t worry too much about Gordon’s contribution. Those of us who know (and love) the inimitable Mr. Cheng are unconcerned by such comments.

    Rob

    (just another fool)
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 16, 10 - 2:43am
    Thanks Rob. I'd agree with you about creationism (in school science) and 9/11 driving the rise of neo-atheism.

    but..


    the sustained attacks by SA on the proposed trial ethics classes in Sydney schools.


    Surely you give SAs too much agency ;)

    The Schools SRE debate is a consequence of the rise of neo-atheism rather than the cause (after all SRE has existed since the 1870s).

    IMHO if atheists want to teach "atheist SRE" there wouldn't be so much complaint. Its the moral superiority implied by the co-option of the term "ethics" that drives what you describe as a "sustained attack".

    and the Telegraph misrepresented the kerfuffle on Dawkins’ site


    You obviously know more than me.. please tell...
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 16, 10 - 3:17am
    Hi Marc,

    Thanks for you comments. I take on board you comments about moderation. (its why I asked)

    RE: fool. Mr Cheng was having a go at me with his provocative Bible quoting. I don't think Christians are immune from bad behaviour, as I said in my original blog.

    Calling your opponents "self-absorbed Gen Y anarchistic individualists" might work like throwing petrol in the fire.


    Yes you might be right.

    But in my defence that was a mere question offered as one potential explanation for the bad behaviour. I offered an alternative explanation which I think is more likely (the internet as an anonymous medium allows one to dehumanise opponents and for abusers to hide behind a mask beyond social censor.)


    Atheists also see that Christians don't bother checking their facts when resorting atheists bashing. Making inaccurate comments like "Richard Dawkins... link[s] all religious belief with… “evil”. Or where did Dawkins label his opponents "Dulls"?


    Dawkins linked religion to 'evil' in his BBC doco "the root of all evil?". So I don't think its a mis-characterisation to say that Dawkins sees his opposition to religion in moral categories. I am happy to be proved wrong.

    He uses the terms 'bright' and 'dull' in his book "The God Delusion"
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 16, 10 - 3:28am
    Regarding Dr Greg Clarke; in C.S. Lewis lecture "Mature Religion: necessity or oxymoron?" he incorrectly indicated that atheists did not help during Hurricane Katrina and he never issued a correction when he became aware of this mistake. Atheists don't see this as ethical behaviour or showing “love for your enemies”.


    I don't think I am in a position to answer this point. It really can only be addressed to Dr Clarke.

    I'd be very surprised if he said atheists never helped relief efforts in New Orleans. That would seem like a silly claim.
  • Kevin Goddard
    March 16, 10 - 3:29am
    RE: fool. Mr Cheng was having a go at me with his provocative Bible quoting. I don't think Christians are immune from bad behaviour, as I said in my original blog.


    Hi Jeremy,

    I'm sure that quoting from Scripture may be "provocative" at times - especially when the recipient is being squarely 'aimed at' - but surely you weren't implying that Christians quoting from the Bible was "bad behaviour" ?
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 16, 10 - 3:32am
    no, Kevin I was not :)

    Place an imaginary paragraph break between those two sentences. They are separate thoughts.
  • Kevin Goddard
    March 16, 10 - 3:44am
    Jeremy Halcrow :
    Regarding Dr Greg Clarke; in C.S. Lewis lecture "Mature Religion: necessity or oxymoron?" he incorrectly indicated that atheists did not help during Hurricane Katrina and he never issued a correction when he became aware of this mistake. Atheists don't see this as ethical behaviour or showing “love for your enemies”.


    I don't think I am in a position to answer this point. It really can only be addressed to Dr Clarke.

    I'd be very surprised if he said atheists never helped relief efforts in New Orleans. That would seem like a silly claim.


    Dr Clarke's speech is at :
    http://www.publicchristianity.com/lewislecture1.html

    He was actually QUOTING an atheist author's words :
    Can we go further to say that the “love your neighbour” command is still making a distinct difference in people’s behaviour today? Writing in The Guardian in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, British socialist and atheist Roy Hattersley made an AWFUL observation: almost all of the aid work was being done by people with Christian beliefs. “Notable for their absence,” he wrote, “are teams from rationalist societies, free thinkers’ clubs and atheist associations”.

    Now, I want to be very careful here to make clear what I am not claiming. I am not claiming that Christians are better people than atheists (although Hattersley does in fact make that claim!);.......
  • Ian Welch
    March 16, 10 - 7:00am
    I've met a few atheists in my life but never found much to cause anxiety. Most actually seemed more agnostic than atheist. They seemed even more confused than me and goodness knows I don't have answers to many of life's conundrums.

    I have never found it very helpful to quote Scripture in their direction, a bit like pouring petrol on a smouldering fire.

    The most troubling to my feelings were were former Christians, who for a variety of reasons found their Christian faith uncertain or irrelevant. Two who come to mind were the man in the old ISCF who led me to Christ and became a minister before departing the church altogether, and another who was chairman of a university EU of my time.

    I have also met quite a few Christians, including some clergy sadly enough, down the years whose behaviour suggested that they might as well have been non-believers. We need to be careful about chucking stones.

    That is the real rub, I think, of discussing people like Dawkins who are products, essentially, of the internet age. Forty years ago Christians debated, pointlessly, with Bertrand Russell whose intellect was also pretty good and whose arguments, grounded in life experience, deserved consideration.

    No doubt much of our modern problem is that the nineteenth idea of God as a kind of super tradesman, able to turn his hand to any task, solve all problems, etc., doesn't really match the darkness of modern human behaviour much in our own culture.
  • Craig Schwarze
    March 16, 10 - 7:14am
    he incorrectly indicated that atheists did not help during Hurricane Katrina and he never issued a correction when he became aware of this mistake.

    Hi Marc, from reading the actual quote above, it appears that you have made the mistake. No-one will mind if you want to make a correction...
  • Michael Canaris
    March 16, 10 - 7:39am
    That is the real rub, I think, of discussing people like Dawkins who are products, essentially, of the internet age.
    Is he, though? If anything, he strikes me more as a fairly typical product of 1940s Kenyan Civil Service vintage.
  • Kevin Goddard
    March 16, 10 - 8:14am
    Hi Marc,
    Thanks for adding the next point of the quote. I had included it, but the word limit for posts forced me to edit it out - hence those meaningful "......"s - which I take to mean "please look up the link which I have supplied and read the rest for yourself".

    Quoting a false claim as a strawman and making a incorrect point about it does not make it right. Or are you advocating that Christians can propagate false information if it is quoted by an atheist?


    I don't quite get your point. Dr Clarke used the expression "AWFUL observation" - so I don't think that he was promoting or propogating Hattersley's view as a legitimate one at all - so I will leave it there - cheers.
  • James Ramsay
    March 16, 10 - 8:48am
    The point about atheists and abusive and foul language isn't that Christians are better (well mature Christians maybe) but that Atheists claim that vilification of ones enemies and other unrational behaviour is entirely the purview of religion.

    If Atheists feel the need to engage in such aggressive and violent language than it shots holes in their argument that religion is the cause and not just part of the context of negative human behaviour.

    Theists justify such behaviour because "THEY aren't the same religion as me or have wrong doctrine and therefore not only CAN be vilified but need to be". Atheists justify it because "THEY have irrational* beliefs and therefore are not only not deserving of respect but need to be harshly scorned".

    If only more Atheists studied psychology they would realise that such behaviour isn't because of a particular ideology or world view but is just primitive human behaviours. For all their claimed love of evolution few Atheists seem to have an understanding of its effects on our behaviour.

    * Which is nonsense as many experiments have proven how irrational human behaviour is most of the time. Cognitive biases and prejudgements are normative and based in our evolutionary history.
  • Craig Schwarze
    March 16, 10 - 11:14am
    Marc,

    You said, "he incorrectly indicated that atheists did not help during Hurricane Katrina and he never issued a correction when he became aware of this mistake."

    Dr Clarke did no such thing, as the quotes above clearly show. Instead of owning up to your mistake, you are trying to weasel out by positing some fine distinction between "said" and "indicate".

    The enormous irony is that you were complaining about people not checking their facts, and failing to own up to errors! As you yourself said, "Rational online debate is pointless if there is a double standard."
  • Gordon Cheng
    March 16, 10 - 11:26am
    Gordo, in our current climate it's wiser to call someone's ideas foolish then to call them a fool.


    Or more cunning.

    But I think that if you are correct, you have just successfully proven why Psalm 14 must never be spoken in public!
  • Roger Gallagher
    March 16, 10 - 12:23pm
    Hi Jeremy,

    I think that the abuse that you describe is a general side effect of the internet, sin in action. Often you can hide behind anonymity or a pseudonym, and you're discussing things with people you have no other contact with. This seems to strip away the veneer of civility, and people feel free to say things in a way that they'd never do in person. The people we attack become less real to us - they become "them" and how we treat them becomes less important than winning at all costs.

    For this reason, I lean towards Greg Clarke's argument that we should always treat our opponents with respect. (I'm aware of my own hypocrisy here and apologise to those I haven't treated with respect on these forums.) As 1 Peter 3:15-17 says:
    15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
    For those of us who are Christians, our opponents aren't "them" but others created in God's image. If we are not fools, as Gordon so helpfully pointed out, it is solely due to God's grace, not our own wisdom.
  • Chris Pettett
    March 16, 10 - 1:08pm
    Thank you for the article Jeremy. My exposure to atheists is mainly through then media - via their spoke persons such as Dawkins or Hitchens. It is also through the comments published in letters to the editor sections that always manage to have an anti-theist - curiously anti-Christian in my observations - letter that reads far from diplomatic. Many letters and posts, if its online, read as obtrusive and arrogant statements that never debate the issue but always the person.

    My point is this: my only exposure to athiests have been the above examples. I have seen little positive or constructive arguments for why I should even doubt for a second the existence of a loving, gracious and all powerful, awe inspiring, creator of all things, Lord of all things, God three in one. The exceptions are the athiest/agnostic contributors to sydneyanglicans.net who seem to like engaging in rational discourse and the banter that comes with it.

    Also, I think that there is normally a crop of athiests that come around once every generation or two who seem to have a knack for saying the same things in differnt ways. Someone pointed out Bertram Russell during the 1940s/50s. In the 1920s they were H G Wells and G B Shaw. But the positive from the debates of the 1920s were that it saw the rise of Christian apologists like the titanic G K Chesterton, the great C S Lewis and even T S Elliot - through his poetry.

    PS: Peter Dutton was a very close second behind Waleed Aly.
  • Les Grant
    March 16, 10 - 4:47pm
    Hi all. I am one of 'THEM' :-)

    I suspect the causes of the vitriol are that we don't understand your 'irrational' belief in the supernatural and your apparent inability to understand our logic (maybe we don't explain it very well!). The anonymity provided by an Internet forum almost certainly doesn't help. (Is this unique to religious forums?) At least the Internet stops us coming to physical blows! ;-)

    Another reason for a lack of respect of religious argument is that respect has to be earned and arguments that involve unverifiable supernatural events recounted by primitive, ignorant, Bronze Age tribes in the Middle East (or anywhere else for that matter) are really not convincing...

    We also find annoying the Christian idea that you have to go forth and convert. We would prefer that you allowed people to form their own ideas - especially children! (the childhood indoctrination concept)

    I prefer a more gentlemanly discussion though my experience even here is that it seems pointless - we both argue from our entrenched positions - especially Young-Earth Creationists who's position is especially incomprehensible to me...

    I don't know of any verifiable evidence that supports the supernatural so that about ends it for God. And then there is the question of evil in the world and 'bad stuff happening to good people'. For me, the simple answer is that is the way I would expect it to be if there was no God.

    [cont]
  • Les Grant
    March 16, 10 - 5:21pm
    [cont]

    Most of us have little respect for the Bible except as a piece of literature. It starts with a bunch of myths - when does the 'truth' start? It is unsupported by independent contemporary sources. And some of the moral examples are not so inspiring! So, please don't quote slabs of scripture at us - it is mostly wasted effort on your part and an annoyance to us (Psalm 14 example noted above!).

    The agnostic vs atheist point is interesting. Technically, I am agnostic but so far up the atheist end of the scale that it doesn't matter.

    I don't feel bullied here though I detect a degree of certainty of position that I find hard to accept.

    I suspect many Atheists have some background in Science or Engineering where evidence is so important. This is probably due to the evidence-based training and worldview in which the supernatural has no place. In the end, I guess we are all seeking 'truth' but maybe we accept different levels or types of evidence...

    More comments when I have time - and sleep!
    Cheers.
  • Gordon Cheng
    March 16, 10 - 7:36pm
    We also find annoying the Christian idea that you have to go forth and convert. We would prefer that you allowed people to form their own ideas - especially children! (the childhood indoctrination concept)


    Hi Les and welcome.

    I'm not sure Dawkins is on your side here. In yesterday's Australian there was a (not very complimentary) article by Melanie Phillips where she pointed out:

    An illuminating example was provided by an atheists summer camp for children last year in Britain that Dawkins backed. The children who took part were to be taught to be critical thinkers, yet all discussion of religion was ruthlessly excluded.

    Far from opening young minds, this was shutting them in the ostensible cause of reason.

    Such indoctrination is a hallmark of the fundamentalist who knows he is not just right but righteous. So all who oppose him are by definition not just wrong but evil. Which is why alternative views must be howled down or suppressed.


    I've never had much time for Dawkins' brand of atheism but I think he is helping the Christian cause tremendously by making sure people think about it. Say it quietly, but he seems to be exactly the sort of man Psalm 14 has in mind.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 16, 10 - 10:20pm
    Hi Les,

    I think you are right about science and engineering.

    But I do wonder if the commitment to scientific methodology can sometimes slip into an element of deifying science above other disciplines?

    Personally, I find it much easier to converse with atheists who share my background in philosophy and history training.

    We also find annoying the Christian idea that you have to go forth and convert. We would prefer that you allowed people to form their own ideas - especially children! (the childhood indoctrination concept)


    This is the claim I have the most difficulty with.

    In biological terms - how is it possible for parents not to parent ("indoctrinate") their children? How would you suggest to get around that?

    I think you and I would agree that it is the role of the education system in the modern nation-state to teach critical thinking.

    To my ears this suggestion about "freeing children from indoctrination" suggests a fairly heavy-handed intervention by the State into the private sphere of the family.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 16, 10 - 10:27pm
    Chris said:

    Also, I think that there is normally a crop of athiests that come around once every generation or two who seem to have a knack for saying the same things in differnt ways...


    Indeed we had the French revolutionary atheists in the 18th century.

    This is why I struggle with the idea atheism is on the rise. The last time this mode of unbelief was this strong was in the 1930s.

    What has happened is the collapse of post-modern, relativistic agnosticism in the West in the wake of September 11.

    The problem for the neo-atheism is that unless it can find a more humble & tolerant mode it's incompatible with a multi-faith society. (ie sociologically it was multiculturalism that drove post-modern relativism).
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 16, 10 - 10:29pm
    Gordo said:


    Or more cunning.


    serpents or doves
  • Roland Cartwright
    March 16, 10 - 10:55pm
    Richard Dawkins is a brilliant scientist who has a gift in communicating the wonder of the natural world. He also has a gift for rhetoric and doubtless this helped draw the crowds to the recent conference. However, when he moves from science to more philosophical and religious issues his rhetoric totally dominates, to the exclusion of a fair and reasonable presentation.

    A number of people have responded to Dawkins’ challenges. The best, to my mind, is the short book published by Keith Ward, “Why There Almost Certainly Is a God” (Lion, 2008). Keith Ward was the Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford from 1991 to 2004 and in his book he makes the following observations underscore the disjoint between Richard Dawkins’ personal interactions with believers and how he characterises them in his writings and public statements:

    “Even though Dawkins lived and worked in a university with one of the largest and ablest theology faculties in Britain, he went on refusing to admit that there was any such subject as theology. Despite the fact that he and I had entirely friendly and rational personal contacts – as he did with Richard Harries, former Bishop of Oxford, and the vicar of the University Church in Oxford, and the chaplain of his college – he went on proclaiming that all religious believers were stupid, deluded and dangerous. ….(cont) ….
  • Roland Cartwright
    March 16, 10 - 10:56pm
    ….(cont) ….
    “Despite the fact that many Oxford scientists are Christians, and that there is even a Chair in Science and Religion in the university, he went on saying that science and religion were intellectually incompatible. And despite the fact that a number of us have criticized his views publicly many times, he goes on saying that theologians have never answered his arguments.”

    This makes for an unpromising start to dialogue but even so Keith Ward provides in his book an engaging response to Dawkins’ central arguments in the “God Delusion” that is the more effective for being as courteous as it is probing. If you want a succinct presentation of why personal agency and theism is at least or arguably more satisfying than radical materialism, then it is hard to find a better book. Not that courtesy in such exchanges is only found on the theist side. J.L. Mackie’s “The Miracle of Theism” (Oxford, 1982) is now a relatively dated but it remains one of the strongest and challenging presentations of atheism, not only because of his clarity and argument but also due to the fairness of his discussion and his charity in engaging with those with whom he disagreed. It is a pity that the mode of public discourse has changed so significantly.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 17, 10 - 2:09am
    Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt agrees with me.

    No sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing ;)
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 17, 10 - 2:12am
    Melanie Phillips in today's Australian.

    Books taking his arguments apart on his own purported ground of scientific reason have been published by a growing number of eminent scientists and philosophers... These have itemised his many howlers, sloppy assertions, internal contradictions, unscientific reasoning and illogicality. His responses to these stellar intellects are fascinating. He claims they cannot possibly have meant what they wrote, or they are senile, or their scientific credentials are somehow obviated by the fact they are practising Christians.

    Indeed, he seems almost to believe that, since everyone who believes in God is stupid or evil and Christians are stupid and evil because they believe in God, those who oppose him must be Christian and can be treated with contempt.

    I had first-hand experience of this when, addressing an audience of US atheists, he accused me of "lying for Jesus" by misquoting him. This came as something of a surprise since I am a Jew. Moreover, far from me misquoting him, which was not the case, he had in fact ascribed to me words that had been written by someone else.

    This anecdote raises in turn the most intriguing question of all about Dawkins. Just why is he so angry and why does he hate religion so much?
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 17, 10 - 2:14am
    Phillips answers her question thus:

    A clue lies in his insistence that a principal reason for believing that there could be no intelligence behind the origin of life is that the alternative - God - is unthinkable. This terror of such an alternative was summed up by a similarly minded geneticist as the fear that pursuing such thinking to its logical ends might allow "the divine foot in the door"...

    ... To stamp out the terrifying possibility of even a divine toe peeping over the threshold, all opposition has to be shut down. And so the great paradox is that the arch-hater of religious intolerance himself behaves with the zeal of a religious fundamentalist and, despite excoriating religion for stifling debate, does this in spades.
  • Derek Hazell
    March 17, 10 - 2:22am
    [Mockery and abuse appears to be atheists weapon of choice. Why is this so? How should Christians respond?]

    A few thoughts come to mind:
    (i) Not all atheists are the same - some do and some don't want to have a genuine dialogue.
    (ii) The choice of weapons by some atheists makes me think that these atheists are not trying to have a reasoned debate - rather curious when they claim to have reason on their side.
    (iii) Rather these weapons indicate that some atheists are intolerant of views different to their own - rather similar to the ones they claim to oppose.
    (iv) We need to engage with the core arguments of atheists.
    (v) We need to be careful to respect the persons regardless of whether we agree or disagree with the views. Answering disrespect with disrespect serves no one.

    regards
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 17, 10 - 2:24am
    Just read the Herald letters. Not much better than I expected.

    I liked this one:

    As an atheist I agree that name-calling does not cast other atheists in a good light. More importantly, it detracts from the serious and substantive issue, which is: how do we, as a modern society, allow people into positions of power who are captive to anti-rational views and delusional thinking?


    ummm.. wouldn't that exclude all politicians from office?

    More seriously though such a 'rule' is anti-liberal and would undermine our democracy.
  • Steve Kryger
    March 17, 10 - 4:08am
    The letters today in the Herald communicate a lot.

    I've been reading a lot of the online debate this week. I've concluded that debate with atheists online is fruitless.

    Here's the rationale - 'Why debating atheists online is fruitless'.
  • Nathan Campbell
    March 17, 10 - 5:22am
    Here's <a href="http://st-eutychus.com/2009/five-things-that-would-make-atheists-seem-nicer/#comments">my favourite experience with atheists online</a>... this is what happens when PZ Myers (who makes Dawkins look positively gentlemanly) links to an obscure blog of someone he's never met.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 17, 10 - 6:04am
    Hi Marc - yes I did notice that. There were a few other comments by Phillips that were sloppy or over the top in that piece as well.

    I was only interested in her answer to the rhetorical question I highlighted which was pertinent to the discussion here. ie why are some atheists so abusive to others.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 17, 10 - 6:15am
    Hi Nathan this is your link

    Feeling battered by Myer's disciples taking down your blog?
  • Les Grant
    March 17, 10 - 8:12am
    Hi Gordon. Thanks for the welcome. :-)

    There is so much factually incorrect material in that article by Melanie Phillips that I urge you to disregard it. And she was certainly fanning the flames with the title! Based on her language, dare I suggest that she must rank highly on the fundamentalist scale? ;-)

    Concerning the atheist summer camp, I believe the intention was to provide the children with the critical thinking skills to allow them to evaluate religions later in life. So, maybe discussion of religion was not appropriate at that time. I doubt that discussion of religion was ruthlessly excluded - especially if you consider the inflamitory tone of the rest of the article.

    If you exclude the type of article by Melanie Phillips, you may find Richard Dawkins to be not as extreme as you think. He is passionate about seeking the truth and will respect anyone with an argument based on reason and evidence. This is probably why he has little time for creationists - especially young earth creationists.

    Till about 18 months ago, I ignored religion as long as it left me alone. But then I had reason to look and also read The God Delusion + other books + Internet sources. Atheism made more sense than supernatural belief.

    Cheers.
  • Les Grant
    March 17, 10 - 8:35am
    Hi Jeremy,

    But I do wonder if the commitment to scientific methodology can sometimes
    slip into an element of deifying science above other disciplines?

    I don't think so. To most practitioners, scientific methodology is a tool, not a dogma. There will, of course, be exceptions to the general rule...

    Children will believe pretty much everything their parents tell them - a very good survival strategy! As parents, we have to be very careful what we tell them. A certain amount of fantasy seems to be ok as long as it is later explained to be fantasy or fiction (such as the tooth fairy and Santa Clause). The problems arise when we start telling them about religious beliefs that have little basis in fact but don't 'de-program' the children later - they tend to continue to believe it is fact. And the nature of religions is that they tend to encourage continued belief with threats of violence (eg, Hell).

    Maybe it is the role of the education system to teach critical thinking and ethics but do you think it is fair on the children to expose them to religion before the critical thinking and ethical skills are established? Maybe teaching about religions (plural) could commence at, say, age 12 and the children could then decide for themselves. Would you consider this to be "heavy-handed intervention" ?

    Cheers.
  • Les Grant
    March 17, 10 - 11:20am
    Hi Roland,

    If you want a succinct presentation of why personal agency and theism is at least or arguably more satisfying than radical materialism, then it is hard to find a better book.


    By "more satisfying", do you mean that it feels good, is better argued or is true? Or something else?

    Cheers.
  • David McKay
    March 17, 10 - 12:11pm
    Les, I was interested in your comments about children and parents talking about religious beliefs.

    I don't think it is true that all children simply swallow what their parents say. I was brought up as a Christian, but so were the rest of my family, but I am the only one following Christ today. You might say that I am the gullible one, but I venture to say that I have thought deeply about what I heard at home and at church. I think I've kept the good bits and have ditched the bits that I haven't found to be true.

    I meet some Christians who are following the faith of their families, but I also meet many adults who were brought up in the church, but have decided against living a Christian life as adults.

    And I meet many people [could be at least half in our church] who were brought up by non-Christian parents and then converted in their teens or twenties, or at a later time.
  • Les Grant
    March 17, 10 - 1:00pm
    Hi David,

    I agree that not all children swallow everything told by their parents (there are good reasons why they should!) but a child is more likely to follow the same faith as his/her parents than a different faith. For every rule there are exceptions? ;-)

    My point was that we should allow the children to make up their own minds when they have the skills to evaluate the various faiths and the supporting evidence.

    Cheers.
  • Chris Pettett
    March 17, 10 - 1:04pm
    Nietzsche is also another philosopher with strident athiestic tendancies. Another point I wished to add was that two of the Christian apologists I mentioned previously had an agnostic or athiestic background before becoming a Christian. This is an important point to note and is a literal road to Damascus moment. God is most suprising and gracious.
  • Les Grant
    March 17, 10 - 1:10pm
    Hi Chris,

    There are a number of notable atheists who started life as Christians - some of them ordained - who have renounced their faith. It works both ways!

    Cheers.
  • Chris Pettett
    March 17, 10 - 1:29pm
    Fair call, Les. But my point was more subtle than simply changing horses. G K Chesterton and C S Lewis are two of the greatest Christian apologists of the 20th century. I cannot recall any former-Christians who became so passionately apologetic about their new found wisdom and convictions. Maybe I don't get out much but could you help me out with some examples?
  • Les Grant
    March 17, 10 - 2:36pm
    Hi Chris,

    The first one that comes to mind is Dan Barker - author of "Godless" ("How an evangelical preacher became one of America's leading Atheists"). I haven't read the book yet but I have seen him debating. He is quite convincing - he knows his Bible better than most Christians!

    Another (less well known) is Jeffrey Mark - "Christian No More" ("a personal journey of Leaving Christianity and how you can leave too"). Another book on my to-be-read shelf though the intro and the first few pages were interesting enough to buy.

    There is a very good series of videos on YouTube that describe one person's 'de-conversion'. Quite thought provoking and respectful...

    I have not read G K Chesterton or C S Lewis. Do their arguments still stack up given our increasing knowledge?

    Cheers.
  • Michael Canaris
    March 17, 10 - 4:52pm
    I have not read G K Chesterton or C S Lewis. Do their arguments still stack up given our increasing knowledge?
    Never mind our increasing knowledge; from what I gather, at the time in question their arguments tended more to buttress existing rhetorical stocks of fans than to persuade. All the same, I reckon you'd enjoy their works (esp. those of an autobiographical character) as belles-lettres.
  • David McKay
    March 17, 10 - 10:06pm
    G'day Les.
    One thing I have often pondered is how many people seem to either follow their parents, or do the opposite [and not follow a middle path].

    Fro example, some assiduously bring their children up differently, and some seem to pretty much mimic what their parents did.

    Teaching your children the Christian way could be a way of leading them to go the other way.

    But I can't see how a parent could leave their own children in the lurch until they are supposedly old enough to make up their own minds. I can't see atheists doing this either.

    I can't see how you could avoid showing your children what is important to you, even if you tried not to.
  • David McKay
    March 17, 10 - 10:09pm
    Lydia Smith has an excellent letter in today's Herald on faith and reason, which I think is pertinent to this discussion.
    Laurie McGinness (Letters, March 17) may find it convenient to place faith and reason in mutually exclusive categories, but the traditional definitions of the two words imply no such thing. For me, becoming a Christian was never a blind, unreasoning ''leap in the dark'', but a step based on weighing up the evidence.

    I came to the conclusion that Jesus was who he claimed to be. Laurie may disagree with the conclusions I drew, but to declare that faith disregards evidence is faulty logic.

    As for the supposed conflict between science and religion, I'm afraid I am ill-equipped to comment. I know only three professional scientists personally, and they are all Christians.

    Lydia Smith Mudgee
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 17, 10 - 11:24pm
    Thanks Marc. I'll check it out. Doesn't say much for the secular media's reporting if they got it wrong.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 17, 10 - 11:34pm
    Hi Les.

    To answer your second question first, I think compulsory teaching of comparative religion and ethics in high school would be fantastic.

    however you also said..

    Maybe it is the role of the education system to teach critical thinking and ethics but do you think it is fair on the children to expose them to religion before the critical thinking and ethical skills are established?


    In a way you've answered my question with another question.

    It would be helpful if you could sketch what you have in mind in practical terms, given that it sounds to me like a quite radical diminishing of the role of the parent at the expense of the State.

    I'm still not clear how you expect parents not to expose their children to their spiritual beliefs. Sounds impossible to me.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 17, 10 - 11:43pm
    If you watch the video you'll understand that "Richard Dawkins uses “Pope Nazi” as a shorthand descriptive phrase for “that Pope whose name I’ve forgotten (Pope Pius XII) who’s also up for canonisation and was aiding and abetting the Nazis during the war”.
    An Anglican minister Chris Mulherin has already pointed this out (see the comment section)


    Hi Marc. Just a small correction it is Chris Latta who makes the Pope Pius comment in that blog not the Rev Chris Mulherin.
  • Derek Hazell
    March 17, 10 - 11:48pm
    I disagree with you that "we need to be careful to respect the persons regardless of whether we agree or disagree with the views". The respect need to be earned. If your endorsed holy writing states that you get rewarded in afterlife if you kill non-believers, that view does not deserve respect.


    Hi Marc
    I think you may have misunderstood what I was saying. As you can see in the text I wrote that you quoted, I was not arguing that we respect views that we disagree with. Rather I was arguing that we respect the people that hold views that we may or may not disagree with - that's all.

    regards
  • Chris Pettett
    March 18, 10 - 12:05am
    Thanks for the answer, Les. I would recommend reading G K Chesterton's "Orthodoxy" and "The Everlasting Man." The former is his journey to becoming a Christian. The latter shows why Christ is literally pivotal to history.

    I have a view that is sceptical of orginiality because there will often be a precedent for it occurring before. All fiction boils down to something like seven basic plots, for example. That's not to say that all there are are seven stories in the world. The difference is there's always a unique way of telling it.

    My point here is that I don't buy the line "given our increasing knowledge". With respect, it is very vague especially the word 'knowledge' used without contextual support. Increasing knowledge of what? I don't think in the period of 90 years - from when Chesterton wrote to now - any knowledge has been able to discount the good news of Jesus considering people have been accepting the story for the past 2000 years. It implies that people were ignorant or unintelligent before the Industrial Revolution because they wrote by candle-light. It's like generations from now saying laptops are very clumsy, why didn't they use something better?

    My point in my first post on this thread was immediately noted by Jeremy - that is: many of the ideas we hear now from athiests are rehashed from something another anti-theist said before. That's my point.
  • Andrew White
    March 18, 10 - 12:13am
    Les,
    The problems arise when we start telling them about religious beliefs that have little basis in fact but don't 'de-program' the children later - they tend to continue to believe it is fact.
    That looks like a nice sentiment on the surface, but think it a little further and it becomes self-contradictory.

    I take about 70% (pulls number out of the air) of my "religious" beliefs as fact, and the rest I'm reasonably confident in. You probably disagree with many of them. So far so good. But who gets to decide what "facts" I teach my children? Do we poll the world's population and anything agreed to by at least 97.5% is considered "fact"? Do we appoint you, or Dawkins, or Pell, or Jensen, as the ultimate arbiter? Do we appoint a parliamentary committee (look how well that's worked for Sydney's public transport infrastructure)?

    Taken a step further, it means we can't say anything meaningful to kids about history or ethics or morality, since all of those are caught up with belief systems, interpretation, opinion and judgement. And yet (for example) my entire moral system is based on a particular historical view of the Christian scriptures. Some might say "you can have morality without a meta-view", but I find Nietzsche's take more convincing.

    About all we can reasonably do is let people (and parents) make their own choices, and as society try to curb the most destructive excesses. Though even there it's hard to agree.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 18, 10 - 12:14am
    Hi Marc (and everyone)

    I have spoken to one of the mainstream secular journalists who was at the conference and reported the "Pope Nazi" comment and have received the following correction.

    I acknowledged that I misheard, he was talking about the canonisation of Mary MacKillop and Pope Nazi. I agree it was probably because he forgot the pope's name, and that he meant Pius XII, not Benedict. But... why call him Pope Nazi if he's not calling him a Nazi? It was a nasty jibe.


    I'll correct the main text of my own blog to reflect this new information.

    I trust everyone understands that I was not at the conference and am therefore reliant on other sources.

    I am more than happy to correct facts if they prove to be wrong.

    If I am provided with more information regarding the Daily Telegraph report into the complaints on Dawkins website (raised by Rob Callander) I am more than happy to correct that as well)

    Marc, I'm not sure what the third 'error' I made was
  • Roland Cartwright
    March 18, 10 - 12:15am
    Hi Les,

    By “more satisfying” I mean provides a more complete response and therefore is more reasonable to regard it as true and to prefer it to the alternative. I also think that it is better argued but this is perhaps the other side to the same coin. To borrow (and possibly mis-use) a term from statistics, in my estimation, it has a higher R squared.

    Regards, Roland
  • Nathan Campbell
    March 18, 10 - 2:37am
    Marc,

    Can I point out that secular, in the strictest sense, does not mean what you think it means.

    Jeremy is no doubt suggesting that her employment is not with a church media outlet.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 18, 10 - 3:01am
    Jeremy is no doubt suggesting that her employment is not with a church media outlet.


    That's what I meant.

    Just FYI of the reporters I cited at the atheist conference: The Age's Barney Zwartz is a Presbyterian. The Sydney Morning Herald's Jacqueline Maley is not a Christian (or any sort of believer. Not sure if she would describe herself as agnostic or atheist.)
  • Derek Hazell
    March 18, 10 - 3:05am
    Hi Marc
    Are you really saying that should respect a person who thinks that all Christians should be killed and anyone killing Christians will go straight to heaven and receives a reward for killing Christians? Or should we really respect a person who thinks pedophilia is ok?


    Well, if we don't respect those who we disagree with, what hope is there for a rational discussion. Is it better to not respect people that we disagree with and withhold respect until they can see the "wisdom" of our way of thinking? I don't think so ... such an approach will usually strengthen the disagreement.

    As for respecting persons who do the wrong thing where do you draw the line about whom you respect and whom you don't? I believe people are made in the image of God regardless of how flawed they may be. Again this doesn't necessarily imply respect for actions.

    But this is a challenging topic Marc - sometimes it is not easy to love (respect?) our enemy as Jesus commanded his disciples ...

    regards
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 18, 10 - 3:09am
    Re: "the third 'error'": see my comment #30 above regarding "evil" and "dull".


    Thanks for holding me to account, Marc. I missed that comment.

    Because:

    1. I don't have my copy to hand and am flat out editing a newspaper to chase this down.
    2. out of good will and fairness

    I will rephrase my original statement in the blog above to the following which I think is consistent with the facts we agree on.


    Dawkins likes to think of himself as a ‘Bright’, which I assume means the rest us are Dulls.
  • Rob Callander
    March 18, 10 - 4:52am
    Jeremy,

    the sustained attacks by SA on the proposed trial ethics classes in Sydney schools.
    Surely you give SAs too much agency ;)


    Yes, I was a little tongue in cheek, although I’m disappointed that the site has had half a dozen articles, critical of the proposal, with none allowing the opportunity for comment (Is Russell wary of engagement?).

    Undoubtedly his Friday wrap will feature articles highlighting how nasty we (atheists) all are

    Rob

    With regard to the Dawkins’ site; As I understand it, the remarks were directed at a moderator, not Dawkins and were in relation to a dispute over the site’s direction and who should decide – the board (management) or the participants (members).

    Who knows – perhaps they’ll revert to a series of blogs by approved contributors in order to garner greater control!
    (one must always be wary of schadenfreude ;-) )
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 18, 10 - 5:02am
    Thanks Rob. Is there anything online that clarifies that the comments were directed to the moderators not Dawkins himself?

    RE: No policy about censoring discussion on SRE, Rob.

    Our practice (which is largely about workload) is not to have comments on news articles (which includes Russell's news story summary - although I appreciate he is doing more editorialising than he used to)

    There has been spirited debate about SRE in the letters page of Southern Cross, ... which I appreciate you don't get to see since you dont attend one of our churches :)

    Maybe you'll tempt me into blogging about SRE.
  • Les Grant
    March 18, 10 - 8:43am
    Hi David, #64

    Children can be so unpredictable... ;-)

    I can't see how you could avoid showing your children what is important to you, even if you tried not to.

    It would be more important to show our children how to be ethical, what is right and wrong, to tell them what is true and how to judge truth. I think Atheists would have less trouble with this than religious people as this can be done without reference to a holy book. With respect, I don't consider the Bible to be the truth - too much obvious myth. I have pondered why the term 'biblical truth' exists...

    Still, no-one said bringing up children was easy!
    Cheers.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 18, 10 - 10:30pm
    Hi Marc,

    I don't think they assume that the other people are “Dulls” as you assumed.


    Your opinion. I don't share it.

    RE: Fielding is 'less intelligent than an earthworm'

    Ok. I've read Dawkins explanation on his blog that you have linked. The full quote says:

    My remark about Senator Fielding was not public, but I made it in a private conversation to Robyn Williams, one of Australia's Living National Treasures. Robyn subsequently made it public in his speech at the conference, which I don't mind, but I wouldn't like it to be thought that I had publicly insulted any earthworm. I made the comparison, not because Fielding is religious (as Melanie Phillips implies) but because he thinks the question of whether the Earth is billions of years old, or only thousands, is a matter of personal opinion rather than objective evidence.


    I'll change it, if it makes you happier, although it doesn't change the substance of my point.
  • James Ramsay
    March 18, 10 - 10:59pm
    It would be more important to show our children how to be ethical, what is right and wrong, to tell them what is true and how to judge truth. I think Atheists would have less trouble with this than religious people as this can be done without reference to a holy book.


    No it can't. The only objective ethic is that continued survival and reproduction justifys the means. Or maybe that playing along with the rules of society to gain benefit from it is okay but don't let it impede reproduction. I have yet to see an Atheist ethic that isn't that (and the number of Social Darwinists isn't massive) or just a straight rip off from Christian ethics with the serial numbers filed off.

    If the Bible were to disappear tomorrow Christian-based ethics would not be far behind it.
  • Andrew White
    March 19, 10 - 12:54am
    While I sympathise with your argument, James, I'm not sure I entirely agree with it. From a Christian perspective, people are broken, or perhaps corrupted, vessels, not amoral ones. Which means that there's some innate resonance to our God-given design (cf Rom 2:15).

    Thus, I find the meta-moral question more interesting. A Christian belief system provides a moral analysis of morality itself, as do most sophisticated religious systems. In contrast, the meta-moral analyses of atheists tend to end up in some pretty appalling places (Nietzsche, Singer).

    I think it perfectly possible that society could maintain some form of morality/ethics in a post-Christian world; whether this morality is coherent within their belief framework is a different question, and one that seems to me to be asserted more often than proven.
  • Les Grant
    March 19, 10 - 8:09am
    Hi James, #86

    No it can't. The only objective ethic is that continued survival and reproduction justifys the means.


    I am curious about your level of certainty. What evidence do you have to support this certainty?
    I base my morals on 'the golden rule' and 'minimum harm to others' and that seems to work for me.

    We have been impeding reproduction for ages so reproduction is no longer the prime purpose of our existence. In fact, Man is probably the first creature on this planet to 'break free' from Darwinian Natural Selection.

    I am not asking for the Bible to disappear - it is an important part of our literary heritage. It is probably more 'important' than it deserves to be though. We do not depend on the Bible for our morality - we pick and choose what we want to use from the Bible. Example, we no longer condone slavery.

    Cheers.
  • Les Grant
    March 19, 10 - 8:22am
    Hi Roland, #74

    Are you perhaps falling into the trap of 'any explanation is better than none'? I am quite happy with "I don't know" - but lets try to find out! To suggest a supernatural explanation when there is no credible evidence for the supernatural is no explanation at all.
    What do you see as the alternative?

    Cheers.
  • Les Grant
    March 19, 10 - 12:02pm
    Hi Andrew, #72

    But who gets to decide what "facts" I teach my children?

    You do but, for their sake, I hope you will teach them the facts that are real and backed up by verifiable evidence which, as you suggested, I do not believe includes the Bible. Is the existence of Dragons or Unicorns among your "facts"? ;-)

    it means we can't say anything meaningful to kids about history or ethics or morality

    You are going too far here. Ethics and morality (preferably without being skewed by religion) are social constructs that continue to evolve as our society matures. There is much verifiable evidence to support our view of history so there is much to teach our children about history though I would teach the Bible as mythology rather than fact. ;-)

    I agree - we should let people (and parents) make their own decisions but lets all be well informed before we do. To that end, I find the information provided by science to be more reliable than that provided by religion.

    Cheers.
  • Les Grant
    March 19, 10 - 1:02pm
    Hi Chris, #71

    The latter shows why Christ is literally pivotal to history.

    I don't dispute that one! ;-) I will look for the books.

    I don't buy the line "given our increasing knowledge".

    But our increasing knowledge is facts - not fiction. I don't follow the reference to fiction unless perhaps you were suggesting the Bible is fiction. Some of it almost certainly is...

    Increasing knowledge of what?

    Life, the Universe and Everything! ;-) More specifically, the Dead Sea Scrolls and scientific analysis of biblical texts have cast doubts on the inerrancy and authority of the Bible.

    people have been accepting the story for the past 2000 years

    This doesn't make it true... By the way, I am willing to believe there may have been a charismatic teacher called Jesus who taught some 'good stuff' but I can't accept the miracles or resurrection (supernatural - hallmarks of mythology).

    many of the ideas we hear now from athiests are rehashed from
    something another anti-theist said before. That's my point.

    Maybe they are correct...
    Along a similar line, I could suggest that the only new ideas we hear from Christians are when they have to re-interpret the Bible in the light of new scientific knowledge (the Earth not at the centre of the universe, initially Darwin's Theory of Evolution was denied by the church but it is now generally accepted therefore Adam and Eve are now 'metaphor'). ;-)

    Cheers.
  • Roland Cartwright
    March 20, 10 - 5:10am
    Hi Les, # 89

    Are you perhaps falling into the trap of 'any explanation is better than none'?


    No, I don’t think so at all. If theism was simply a deus ex machina then perhaps, but I don’t believe in a God of the gaps. Strange as this may seem to you, but I believe that theism is a superior explanation, especially when we want to understand aspects of our being and world such as consciousness, personal agency, desire, altruism, and our capacity for both good and for harm.

    To suggest a supernatural explanation when there is no credible evidence for the supernatural is no explanation at all.


    I don’t concede this premise at all. It may look this way if you assume that materialism is true but I don’t believe that it is. To quote from Keith Ward again:

    “If conscious knowledge, desire, intention and enjoyment exist, then personal explanation is a sort of explanation that we need, one that is truly explanatory, that is quite different from scientific (purely physical) explanation, and that is not reducible to or translatable into scientific explanation.”

    So I believe in God because I think that this belief, and all that follows from it, is a better explanation of the world, when the questions that seek to answer are not simply that of physical processes but also extend to the existential questions of our existence and our relationships with others.

    Regards, Roland
  • Rob Callander
    March 21, 10 - 5:49am
    This is why I struggle with the idea atheism is on the rise. The last time this mode of unbelief was this strong was in the 1930s.


    Except that in the 30's it was ancilliary to the 'religion' of Marxism - an adjunct, not a considered position.

    This is different.

    In the 70s, religion was in decline, becoming ever less a part of mainstream society. Then with the advent of Evangelical/Charismatic/Conservative/Creationism (and yes, among the non-religious they're all linked) epitomized by the election of Reagan in America, religion suddenly loomed as a threat. (Russell is wrong - Liberal Christianity is only an issue to those obsessed with the strange machinations within the Anglican Heirarchy - to the rest of us it is irrelevant.

    And it is not simply September 11 (although that is certainly a factor)


    (continued)
  • Rob Callander
    March 21, 10 - 5:51am
    self-absorbed Gen Y


    I don't believe that Gen Y are any more self-absorbed than any previous generations of young people. But they differ significantly in certain respects...

    To the majority of them, homosexuality is as natural as left-handedness, and they find discrimination against Gays simply bizarre.

    Gen Y women are not feminists - Why do they need to be? That they have the same opportunity as males in every area is simply a given: The few remaining bastions of discrimination are regarded as medieval - unless they endeavour to impose their antiquated views upon everyone else, when it must be regarded as ... dangerous?

    That abortion is available - is simply assumed.

    It's fine if you do not support voluntary euthanasia - but you don't have the right to prevent my accessing it.

    Israel

    That millions of people have been displaced because of superstition – particularly in the case of the centuries of persecution endured by the Jews, culminating in the Holocaust – is unfathomable – and that we are hostage to it… Why?

    Creationism was unheard of at Uni in the 70s. - when I returned in the 90s it was all too common.

    Dawkins’ contention that religion is a virus has resonated with many – because it confirms their experience.

    Rob
  • Les Grant
    March 21, 10 - 6:22am
    Hi Roland,

    Why is your God not a "deus ex machina"? Man has been inventing gods to explain the 'inexplicable' since before recorded history. As better (usually scientific) explanations are derived, these gods have been discarded. It appears that I have discarded one god more than you... ;-)

    Science may not yet be able to explain "consciousness, personal agency, desire, altruism, and our capacity for both good and for harm" but I am willing to let it try before I guess that a supernatural god is involved. There have been some evolutionary explanations for altruism and neuro-science is making progress identifying which areas of the brain are responsible for various emotions - a physical explanation looks possible...

    You appear to concentrate on the 'emotions'. Do you believe that God influences our world in more physical ways? Why do you say materialism is not true?

    Why must the explanation for "conscious knowledge, desire, intention and enjoyment" be "quite different from scientific (purely physical) explanation, and that is not reducible to or translatable into scientific explanation"? Why do you believe that God is "truly explanatory"?

    With respect, the "sort of explanation that we need" is one that verifiably explains the observations (evidence). And science is getting closer to that explanation. How does God provide this explanation?

    What evidence do you have that might convince me that the supernatural exists or can explain anything?

    Cheers.
  • Roland Cartwright
    March 21, 10 - 10:45pm
    Hi Les,

    I wouldn't say that I concentrate on "emotions", actually usually the opposite. The way that I would phrase it is that I'm interested in issues of the mind, personal agency and human society as well as the physical world.

    Unfortunately I don't have the time to respond to your many requests. All I can suggest is that you read Ward's book. He puts the case far more articulately than I can in any case.

    Cheers, Roland
  • David McKay
    March 22, 10 - 1:54am
    I'm interested to know if any of our forum members have read Naked God?

    In this new Matthias book, promoted as the 21st century's A Fresh Start, Martin Ayers argues that most people live as if there were a God, because they live as if their lives have a purpose and as if there were such a thing as right and wrong.

    He says that if we are random products of evolution [without a loving, wise creator in control of that process], life must be meaningless and there is no right or wrong.

    What do our Christian and non-Christian correspondents think of this argument?
  • Sheldon Ryan
    March 22, 10 - 7:39am
    If I were an Athesit I would say family work, sex, hedonism anything except God.
  • Grant Hayes
    March 22, 10 - 11:16am
    Hi David,
    You @ #98:
    He says that if we are random products of evolution [without a loving, wise creator in control of that process], life must be meaningless and there is no right or wrong.
    What do our Christian and non-Christian correspondents think of this argument?

    One's response to one's permanent individual extinction is the source of meaning. What to do with this fleeting interval of breath and light, pain and delight, knowing and perplexity? From nature we know that death is not an aberration, but necessary and inevitable for individuated life. That this frightens us is also natural. All that has life, from worms to gods, rages "against the dying of the light". The hope of post-mortem eternal bliss may be a consolation for suffering souls, but I think everyone knows, deep down, that death is the end. We have ways of dulling the sting; some crude, some poignant, some sublime. All of them are the workings of our mysterious minds. We imagine God our maker, though he is our hatchling. Perhaps it is in making God that we are made.

    Purpose and right-and-wrong have always been a work in progress for all human cultures. Though Christians and others make much of unchanging absolute standards, in practice we often recalibrate such absolutes: covenants are superseded; testaments are innovated; witches are suffered to live. There is right-and-wrong, but its standards are contingent and of our making. Like God.
  • Kevin Goddard
    March 22, 10 - 7:43pm
    Hi David,

    After reading a sample chapter online at http://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/naked-god
    I just had to get a copy of "Naked God".

    John Chapman, author and evangelist, describes Naked God :

    I have just finished reading Martin Ayers' book. It is a great evangelistic 'give-away'.

    It is divided into three parts. In the first part, Martin shows the implications and paucity of atheism and relativism. He interacts with Dawkins and others in a helpful way.

    In the second half, he asks us to consider Christ. There are excellent apologetics for the historicity of the New Testament documents and miracles in this section. Martin asks us to consider Christ's teaching, death and resurrection.

    The final section is about responding to Jesus. Repentance and faith are clearly and helpfully spelt out.

    When I was being urged to write A Fresh Start, I said to my friends, "There are plenty of evangelistic books available", to which they replied, "I have given those to my friends—I need a new one". This book offers us yet another chance to help our friends understand Jesus. Get a copy and see if this is what your friends need. I think it's a winner.


    Marc said :
    It appears to me that this book might not have been written by a deep thinker, but I have not read it so I'm not qualified to judge it yet.


    Well I think we could all agree to that Clayton's statement ;)
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 22, 10 - 11:09pm
    Marc you said:

    Survival also drives the values as survival is more valuable than non-survival. When there are values there are meaning(s), so live is not meaningless.


    What "values" would you say are driven by survival, apart from the will to survive?
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 23, 10 - 6:36am
    Just trying to understand your logic here, Marc. So it would be argued that humans - as part of a social group - need 'religion' (in the sense of a set of shared beliefs) to bind this social group to a common "code of conduct" and ensure the survival of the individuals therein. Is that how you would see it?

    By the way the link to Maslow doesn't work. But others can find it here.

    I also note the criticisms of Maslow's theory at the end of the wikipedia article.

    For example, in their extensive review of research based on Maslow's theory, Wahba and Bridgewell found little evidence for the ranking of needs Maslow described, or even for the existence of a definite hierarchy at all.
  • Les Grant
    March 23, 10 - 2:12pm
    Hi David, #98

    I have not read "Naked God". I live my life as if there is no God. I expect the world to continue according to the laws of physics without any supernatural intervention. As to my 'purpose' in life, I like to learn about our world (via science), I love my family and friends, I respect others, I enjoy passing on my skills to others, I have passed on my genes.... I do not rely on an ancient holy text or the threat of eternal punishment to determine what is right or wrong.

    Evolution is not random (a common error made by many). The mutations are random but evolution is 'steered' by Natural Selection so the best adapted organisms survive and reproduce.

    Life is not meaningless without God. I see meaning in relationships with family and friends, works of art and architecture, the desire to acquire knowledge and skills etc.

    Our society has determined what is right and wrong and enshrined them in law.

    The argument as you describe it is false and I doubt I will be reading the book... :-)

    Cheers.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 23, 10 - 10:26pm
    Marc said:

    Humans have tried various versions of codes of conducts to ensure survival (some more successful than others), natural selection has enabled some [of] those to survive while others have disappeared.


    Les said:

    Our society has determined what is right and wrong and enshrined them in law.


    The explanations offered for morality here are twofold.

    1. Social Darwinism. A moral code dominates in a particular society because it best fits the conditions/environment of that society. The a society that has a dominant culture (including moral code) will eliminate others.

    2. Relativistic - not in the sense of being arbitrary but in the sense of not necessarily being universal. (ie determined by a social group)

    Would either of you claim that there are some behaviours that are 'wrong' for all time/place?
  • Les Grant
    March 24, 10 - 8:06am
    Hi Jeremy,

    Murder and theft have probably be considered 'wrong' for most of our recorded history...
    I suspect that most of our 'right vs wrong' rules are based on 'the golden rule' and 'minimise harm to others'. We then derive specific rules to cover specific circumstances as society and technology advance. Can you think of any examples where this may not be the case?

    Cheers.
  • Les Grant
    March 24, 10 - 8:13am
    Hi Jeremy,

    The a society that has a dominant culture (including moral code) will eliminate others.

    This is probably only true within some defined 'region of influence' although modern Western societies can be more tolerant of minorities than they have been in the past. Minority cultures are probably no longer 'eliminated' but they may be assimilated (the methods are different).

    Cheers.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 25, 10 - 1:20am
    Marc said:

    Social Darwinism usually implies to some kind of exploitation but cultural ideas can propagate without exploitation (for example UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights or agreed international laws).


    Sure. I was trying to use the term accurately rather than pejoratively.


    Also aggressive war oriented societies don't tend to last long.


    That's highly debatable. The Roman Empire lasted a millennia which makes the past 50 years of liberal post-enlightenment Western dominance a mere blip.

    and you asked:

    I think some things are wrong, but what do you mean "all time/place"?


    Universal - across all human cultures.

    Do you claim that there are some behaviours that are 'wrong' for all time/place?


    Yes. You don't
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 25, 10 - 1:22am
    Sorry Marc, I meant the last bit as a question...

    I'd be surprised if we couldn't at least agree that some behaviours are universally immoral.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 25, 10 - 1:25am
    Hi Les - you said:

    I suspect that most of our 'right vs wrong' rules are based on 'the golden rule' and 'minimise harm to others'. We then derive specific rules to cover specific circumstances as society and technology advance. Can you think of any examples where this may not be the case?


    In order to answer, I just need to clarify whether you are only talking about Westerners: ie liberal-humanist societies.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 25, 10 - 1:59am
    Going back to the question of the Naked God raised by David.

    Given that I haven't read it either I don't want to comment on the arguments in the book itself (I certainly don't think the argument that life without God is meaningless will be persuasive to atheists!) -

    However I do think some of my atheist friends here have been too quick to dismiss the issues touched on here, failing to appreciate there is a genuine debate amongst atheist philosophers about whether there can be a non-religious justification for our culture's liberal values - eg Juergen Habermas in his recent works - most notably Between Naturalism and Religion.

    You can read a review by John Haldane, professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, here

    Haldane concludes:
    This represents a significant step back from the ambitions of liberal humanism while remaining exposed to the counter that only a religious account of our origins and status can make sense of the core idea of human equality.


    A more technical scholarly review can be found at Notre Dame Philosophical review
  • Michael Canaris
    March 25, 10 - 3:17am
    I suspect that most of our 'right vs wrong' rules are based on 'the golden rule' and 'minimise harm to others'.
    I consider those as particular crystallisations respectively of consequentialist and deontological ethical frameworks.
    Can you think of any examples where this may not be the case?
    That whole class of matters which gets assessed by Aretaic/Virtue criteria ("While granted he occasionally writes for Modern Phrenology, I wouldn't say he's eccentric.")
  • Rob Callander
    March 25, 10 - 5:44am
    Sure. I was trying to use the term accurately rather than pejoratively.


    Accurate according to what? As far as I’m aware, Social Darwinism is always a pejorative, and is invariably (at least in people’s minds) bracketed with eugenics. Somehow, I don’t think your efforts (though obviously well intentioned) are going to change that.
    ‘Evolutionary Ethics’, Evolutionary Psychology’ and even ‘Sociobiology’ are all acceptable terms within the field.

    Moral codes across cultures are remarkably similar – recognitions of ‘owned’ property (either personal or communal), with various sanctions for infractions, injunctions against killing, restrictions on female sexual activity etc. and the ’Golden Rule’, long predates Christianity.

    An act that would be wrong in all times and all places? Even Christianity concedes that there are circumstances where killing, or what some may consider theft are justified.

    Slavery? I cannot think of any circumstances where this could be justified – and of course the Bible is replete with passages condemning this practice, isn’t it.

    …


    Isn’t it?



    Rob
  • David McKay
    March 25, 10 - 8:45am
    Rob, Tim Keller argues that when we think of slavery we think of the racist, cruel slavery of relatively recent times.

    He points out that Murray Harris' research reveals that "slaves" in the Bible times were not in the same category.
  • Les Grant
    March 25, 10 - 2:02pm
    Hi Jeremy,

    Yes, I am thinking mainly of 'Western' (liberal-humanist) societies.
    And, you are 'spot on' when you say you "certainly don't think the argument that life without God is meaningless will be persuasive to atheists!" ;-)

    I think that recent history shows that there is a "non-religious justification for our culture's liberal values" and that it is religious belief that tends to maintain conservative values. I haven't seen any of the "genuine debate" you mention...

    Cheers.
  • Les Grant
    March 25, 10 - 2:16pm
    Hi David, #118

    Slavery (deprived of freedom, forced to work) is not morally acceptable whether it is "in the same category" or not. The fact that the Bible does not condemn slavery outright is one reason why I don't believe claims that the Bible is a good moral reference...

    Cheers.
  • Sheldon Ryan
    March 25, 10 - 10:30pm
    here's an artilce that's interesting.
    http://www.thepunch.com.au/articles/probably-isnt-enough-in-the-argument-against-God/
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 25, 10 - 11:50pm
    Hi Marc,

    Re "wrong": Not sure (~ definitions), can you give an example of universal "wrong".


    As I previously mentioned, Habermas (as a German of his generation) is particularly concerned to find an antidote to the Holocaust. So lets start there - genocide.

    On what grounds would you claim that genocide is wrong?
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 26, 10 - 12:16am
    Les said:

    I think that recent history shows that there is a "non-religious justification for our culture's liberal values" and that it is religious belief that tends to maintain conservative values.


    You mean like opposing Maoism? ;)

    Its a bit myopic to focus exclusively on the last 20 years of Australian social history to make such a sweeping claim. And even so, your claim could still be disputed at many points.

    To take one example: the notion of "Aboriginal reconciliation" was flogged from the churches.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 26, 10 - 12:20am
    Les said:

    the Bible does not condemn slavery outright


    However, the Bible does condemn slaver traders and therefore the slave system outright. (see 1 Timothy)

    We also know that law[a] is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
  • Rob Callander
    March 26, 10 - 1:17am
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 26, 10 - 1:33am
    Sure Rob. Given that the early Christians were a marginalised minority that had no hope of overturning the entire Roman social-economic system... advice to enslaved Christians was a necessity. Granted: maybe not the manifesto of liberation that Les seems to think necessary for it to be of 'moral worth'.

    Indeed, while I acknowledge US slave-owners used the Bible to justify their position, I think to write-off the role the Bible's moral teaching played in motivating many other Christians to work to eliminate slavery in the British Empire and then in the US is both a-historical and churlish.
  • David McKay
    March 26, 10 - 1:36am
    Harris points out that to be a bondservant, or willing slave, was in some contexts a position of status and lies behind Paul calling himself a bondslave of Christ
  • Rob Callander
    March 26, 10 - 4:24am
    Jeremy,

    Has anyone here suggested writing off the contribution of the Bible in moral teaching? And I for one readily acknowledge the leading role of Christians in the elimination of the slave trade in the West.

    I was merely answering your question. In my view, one human owning another, is, always will be, and always has been abhorrent.

    I think this discussion has demonstrated why a General Ethics class would be invaluable in NSW schools - I look forward to your blog on the subject!

    regards

    Rob
  • Steve Kryger
    March 26, 10 - 5:36am
    Following on from Dawkin's visit to Aus...

    Great article on 'The Punch' today:

    "'Probably' isn't enough in the argument against God'"
  • Matt Busby Andrews
    March 26, 10 - 6:41am
    @Steve, I think the very best argument against Dawkins is in the following video.

    It proves in just a few minutes the full horror that can develop when a whole society is built around atheism.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNxygsLGHSQ&feature=related
  • Steve Kryger
    March 26, 10 - 6:45am
    @Matt, you need to provide a proper warning before posting links to content like that!
  • Les Grant
    March 26, 10 - 2:14pm
    Hi Jeremy, #124

    I don't understand why you refer to Maoism (aka communism). I doubt many atheists would support communism (I don't). Perhaps a less sweeping statement would make your point clearer... ;-)

    I don't know where you got the "last 20 years of Australian social history" reference from either....

    Re "Aboriginal reconciliation", I didn't say the churches don't have good ideas. I happen to agree with "Aboriginal reconciliation" on 'golden rule' and human rights grounds. You could have chosen a less evocative term than "flogged". "Adopted" would have been more appropriate...

    Cheers.
  • Les Grant
    March 26, 10 - 2:22pm
    Hi Jeremy, #125

    However, the Bible does condemn slaver traders and therefore the slave system outright. (see 1 Timothy)

    This quote is unconvincing. If we are to believe that the Bible is a great source of wisdom and morals, why only a vague reference to laws for slave traders rather than a condemnation of slavery?

    And it says the "law is made not for the righteous". Are the righteous above the law? Nowadays, we believe that the law is for everyone (though sometimes you have to wonder if you can afford a good lawyer!!!)...

    Cheers.
  • Les Grant
    March 26, 10 - 2:33pm
    Hi Jeremy,

    I wasn't suggesting that the Bible has no "moral worth" - it clearly inspires many people to do great good. I was thinking about the claim that the Bible is an absolute basis for our morals. The biblical treatment of slavery is an example that disproves this claim and diminishes the Bible's value as a moral reference. We pick what we want from the Bible based on our current moral standards.

    Cheers.
  • Les Grant
    March 26, 10 - 2:53pm
    Hi Sheldon (#122) and Steve (#132),

    Calling for religious people to produce evidence of their belief is by very nature a logically absurd proposition. Religion doesn’t require evidence, it has faith. By definition, faith negates the need to produce tangible evidence, never claims to possess tangible evidence, and therefore stands up to reason.

    My understanding of Christian belief is that prayer is supposed to have real and positive effects on our lives. Surely, this is "tangible evidence" if true. The writer's argument fails...

    Then finally we come to the atheist position: “God does not exist”. The atheist will say it is not up to them to prove the non-existence of God, but for those who do believe to substantiate such claims. However reason dictates once you claim a statement as fact, you are then required to provide evidence to support your statement, evidence of which so far does not seem to exist. This does not hold up to the atheist’s own standards of reason.

    Most Atheists, if questioned closely, will admit that the existence of God is possible (we can't prove the negative) but that the evidence for God's existence is so much less than the evidence for his existence that it is reasonable to say that God more than likely does not exist. That is a mouth-full, it is easier to say that God does not exist.

    Cheers.
  • Les Grant
    March 28, 10 - 3:59pm
    Before comments are no longer allowed, 'thanks' to all the participants for an interesting discussion. :-)
    BTW, when do comments close?
    Thanks.

    Cheers.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 28, 10 - 10:34pm
    Hi everyone, the discussion automatically closes tonight at midnight. (ie 2 weeks from original posting).

    I concur with Les. Thanks for the stimulating discussion (and for keeping it civil!)
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 28, 10 - 11:00pm
    Marc said:

    BTW the "Aboriginal reconciliation" was flogged from the churches but it was Christians who caused the problem in the first place. Now they claim credit for the reconciliation, nice…


    This is a fairly simplistic and contentious statement, Marc. I assume you are referring to church involvement in the stolen generations? (which deserves complete condemnation). However I trust you are not excusing the atheists whose Social Darwinist theories under-pinned the whole theory of 'breeding out the race'.
  • David McKay
    March 29, 10 - 12:28am
    I think we should be cautious about the term "stolen generations" which I think was invented by academics only recently.

    It was a good thing that the prime minister apologised to Aboriginal folk for past mistreatment, but I'm sorry the term "stolen generations" was used in this apology because it is misleading and I don't think it is an accurate description of what actually occurred.

    I also think it is worth reading John Harris' book One Blood, which gives a detailed account of interaction between Europeans and Aboriginal people, and especially between Christians and Aborigines.

    There were many Christians who paved the way for fair treatment of Aboriginal people. Where many Europeans did not see Aborigines as being fellow human beings, it was Christians who cited the King James Version of Acts 17 which refers to all humankind as "one blood."
  • Kevin Goddard
    March 29, 10 - 12:32am
    Thanks David, I was thinking along the same lines - but you said it so well.