Browsing articles in "atheism"
Apr 22, 2011
neil

What Ricky Gervais knows about Easter

What is it about being famous that means you get given a platform to speak your mind on issues you don’t even understand. Journalism might reasonably be regarded as 80 per cent entertainment and 20 per cent information but if Ricky Gervais’s blog on Easter is any thing to go by I’d suggest it’s more like 95 per cent entertainment and 5 per cent information.

The blog is called  An (Atheist) Easter Message from Ricky Gervais.  But I struggled to find any reference to Easter in it at all. There’s no attempt to explain or interpret the Easter story, no mention of the cross or the resurrection just a rant about religion.

The most striking thing about the article is Gervais’s claim to have kept the law of God. Seriously. Here is a man who seems to genuinely believe he has kept the 10 commandments.  He claims to like the teachings of Jesus and yet one wonders how anyone who has ever read the sermon on the mount could think that they have kept the law. If ‘do not commit adultery’ includes as Jesus insists never even to have looked at a woman lustfully then it’s remarkable that Gervais would claim to have kept it.

The 10 commandments are really a call to perfection as Jesus insists, Matthew 5:48, ‘Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.’

No wonder Paul argues that the very purpose of the law for those who will see it is to make us conscious of sin and to prepare us to receive Christ.

If you think you’re able to keep God’s standards, if you can make it on your own, well there can never be anything good about a good friday.

Apr 11, 2011
neil

Russell Brand on why Dawkins is the best advert for God

A remarkable article in this week’s New Stateman magazine (thanks for the link, Lucy).

In which Brand attacks evangelical atheism, discusses his own faith and considers the design inherent in the universe. Well worth a look at the article in full but here’s a great quote.

There was a time when the universe did not exist, this we know. We also know that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed. This means that something, not nothing, existed before the universe. We do not know what but there is wonder and intelligence enough to suggest that design may have been a component.

Mar 31, 2011
neil

Why Atheists are believers too

In his book A short history of nearly everything Bill Bryson writes ‘It seems impossible that you could get something from nothing, but the fact that once there was nothing and now there is a universe is evident proof that you can.

Bryson, like a lot of atheists I’ve met, accepts that the universe had a beginning but can’t accept that God was the cause.

Yet we must all answer the question first asked by Leibniz ‘why is there something rather than nothing?’ or to put it in more scientific language ‘why is the universe here?’. There are only three options open to us;

1) The universe has always existed

2) Someone or something caused the universe – that which some people call ‘god’

3) The universe came to be literally from nothing (without a cause)

Now what I find striking and very revealing is that most atheists opt, like Bryson, for option 3.

It’s striking because in doing so it’s hard not to accuse them of thinking irrationally. After all there is nothing in science and nothing in our known experience to suggest that something comes from nothing. It’s striking because atheists enjoy nothing more than mocking Christians for believing in something without evidence or proof, namely god and yet do exactly the same when it comes to the origins of the universe.

After all what could be more improbable than believing that the universe simply came out of nowhere. Is it not in fact the most counter-intuitive and illogical option of the three available to us. It is to go against everything that we know and everything that science teaches. When something happens we ALWAYS look for a cause. We seek a reasonable explanation. We ask where does it come from. We never shrug our shoulders and say things just happen. If we did we’d give up scientific endeavour.

Atheism’s article of faith

Belief in the god of the Bible is dismissed as being as fanciful as belief in pink unicorns or the flying spaghetti monster. But Atheists don’t enjoy being reminded that their whole worldview rests on believing an extremely unlikely idea – a self-creating universe – and believing it as an article of faith.

It’s why I not only ask atheists ‘why does this universe exist?’ but most importantly ‘what reason do you have for holding the answer that you do?’

So when an atheist such as Quentin Smith concludes ‘the most reasonable belief is that we came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing’ he is not speaking from reason but against reason for there is no reason at all to believe that things come into being from absolutely nothing. An atheist who believes in an uncaused universe is not being reasonable at all. In reality they are doing what the theist is accused of doing all the time – playing the faith card! They are saying ‘I believe because I believe and I may not have a reason to believe it but it’s what I want to believe and that is enough for me.’  Maybe they think that one day we will find reason to believe it but we all know that at present there is none and by any other name that is religion. Belief not based on what you know to be true but what you want to be true.

What is the conclusion?

Atheists are as much people of faith, belief, maybe even superstition, as the rest of humanity. We believe things because we choose to believe them and we believe things not because they are scientifically based, logical or likely but we believe because the one thing we know is that we don’t want to believe the alternative.

We are all of us believers and believers in something that we cannot prove. Welcome to the club my atheist friend.

Mar 24, 2011
neil

I set fire to my Bible

Peter Hitchens is a journalist and author. He is also the brother of new atheist Christopher Hitchens. But whilst Christopher continues to attack God at any and every opportunity, Peter has experienced a remarkable conversion to Christianity.

He describes how atheism led him to faith and to the discovery that what as a boy he had rejected, marked by the burning of his bible, was in fact right all along. He joins a number of prominent atheists who have abandoned their atheism in recent years in favour of belief in God, including AN Wilson, Julie Birchill and Fay Weldon.

What was it about new atheism that particularly grated? Not least, he says, that it is ‘self-satisfied, arrogant, intolerant, completely resistant to any kind of outside argument and contemptuous of it.’

Hitchens has now written on the subject in a book entitled The rage against God.

Mar 22, 2011
neil

Spare a thought for the atheist, it can’t be easy.

How frustrating must it be to the atheist to see yet another atheist state fail in its attempt to secularise society. No matter how many generations of children are raised to believe the materialist mantra that there is nothing worth believing in except that which can be seen and measured and understood by science God doesn’t seem to play fair. He just won’t go away.

According to a recent article in The Economist there are now more Christians in China than there are members of the Communist Party. 73 million atheists makes up the ruling party there are somewhere between 70 and 130 million Christians!

Even an official Chinese study suggests that 1 in 3 Chinese people are religious.

Maybe it’s the personal struggle to accept that your life is of no significance or maybe the sociological darkness of deliberate oppression and outright hostility to faith of atheism or could it be the philosophical barrenness of embracing a hostile universe as home that creates the perfect environment for God to work? I’m not sure. But spare a thought for atheism. It just doesn’t seem to work.

The Apostle Paul writes:

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

Mar 15, 2011
neil

Misquoting Atheism

Does Dawkins understand atheism?

Having read and re-read the God delusion I now think the biggest surprise in the book is not that Richard Dawkins has problems understanding Christianity (you might expect me to say that) but that he doesn’t seem to understand atheism either!

In a chapter entitled ‘The God Hypothesis’ Dawkins sets out what he calls a ‘spectrum of probabilities’ on the question of God’s existence. Each individual holds a position somewhere on the scale of 1 to 7.

1) Represents the Strong Theist whom he describes as ‘100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung, ‘I do not believe, I know.’

2) Very high probability but short of 100 percent. De facto theist. ‘I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.’

There are a range of middle-ground positions and then at the other end of the spectrum are

6) Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist. ‘I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.

7) Strong atheist. ‘I know there is no God. With the same conviction as Jung “knows” there is one.’

But here is Dawkins controversial and crucial conclusion;

I’d be surprised to meet many people in category 7, but I include it for symmetry with category 1, which is well populated.’

Why would he say that? Because Dawkins wants to represent atheism as a moderate view based on evidence. Theists may be crazy and arrogant enough to believe with certainty but  ‘Atheists do not have faith; and reason alone could not propel one to total conviction that anything definitely does not exist.’

Dawkins wants to limit the definition of atheism to all intents and purposes to position 6 an altogether more reasonable position.  We might call it a kind of moderate or liberal atheism.

How Dawkins misrepresents atheism

It’s as you look a little bit more into atheism that you begin realise that Dawkin’s is not exactly being far to atheism.  For in reducing atheism to 6) Dawkins is skewing the definition(s) of atheism and he manages to obscure (even dare I say cover up) the debate between atheists over centuries.

Better books on atheism, to which I shall come in due course, set out the range of views and positions held by atheists that Dawkins prefers to ignore. The simple fact of the matter is that many atheists would and do argue for position 7 on his scale.

Michael Martins and Atheism properly understood

The best introduction to atheism written by an atheist philosopher in print today, is Michael Martins’ Atheism: A Philosophical Justification.  Martins is a philosopher of the first order and emeritus professor at Boston University.  He is a distinguished author and edited The Cambridge Companion to Atheism published by Cambridge University Press. He gained his PhD from Harvard University.

Martins points out that the central debate amongst atheists is between those who hold position 6 on Dawkins scale and those who Continue reading »

Mar 11, 2011
neil

God does not play Pictionary

A few years ago two scientific experiments were launched.  The first is aimed at discovering how and when life began the other is concerned with discovering how and when life ends.

The Hadron Collider costs billions and has been built to recreate the first few fractions of a second after the big bang and the universe began.  The second has a much more limited budget but I think could yield more extraordinary results it’s called the AWARE study and it explores what happens after life ends.  What happens to us after we die?

How then does it work? The idea is to speak to those who have had near death experiences and test their claims.  Studies show that somewhere between 10 and 20% of those who reach the point of death through a cardiac arrest but are then revived back to life actually have memories beyond their moment of death.

In particular the study will investigate the claims of people who during cardiac arrest and resuscitation attempts have described how they actually were mentally conscious and in fact actually witnessed their own resuscitation attempts as they floated in an out of body experience from a vantage point outside of their own bodies, as if they were looking down on themselves from a bird’s eye view.

People describe sometimes in great detail, everything that was happening around them whilst they were technically dead.  They could describe things they should not have been able to know and couldn’t really have made up.  They might be able to say which doctor was attempting to resuscitate them male, female, young, old, black or white, or recall a unique detail such as how a doctor tripped over the edge of the bed and knocked something to the ground.  The sort of details that require an explanation and seemingly defy rational scientific answers.

So in the AWARE study scientists will place pictures on the ceilings in Hospital A&E bays that are only visible by looking down from the ceiling and no other way.  Patients of course won’t know any of this and the images will be regularly changed.

Those patients successfully revived will then be interviewed and asked to describe what they saw.  If any of them are able to describe the images accurately then scientists will have to tear up the rule books. The shame is that it will be another two years before studies are completed.

What do these two different studies tell us about ourselves?

I guess quite simply that as human beings we are curious about much more than our day to day lives.  We are keen to discover and investigate.  At one level we want a cure for cancer, we want cheaper petrol, we want our team to win the league but we have bigger questions about our origins and our destiny; who we are? Where we come from? Where we are going?

Inevitably in the midst of such philosophical discussions sooner or later God is drawn in to the conversations.  Is he real, can we know anything about him, does scientific discovery make his existence more or less likely?

I like reading stories of people’s lives and recently I have been reading a book by Anthony Flew – you may not have heard of him he was a British Philosopher who died last year and early in his career he wrote a paper entitled ‘Theology and falsification’.  It might sound a bit technical (perhaps even a bit dull) but it is actually ‘the most frequently-quoted philosophical publication of the second half of the 20th century’.

It was a paper that debunked God.  You could say he was ‘doing a Dawkins’. Flew wrote a sophisticated ‘God delusion’ and it remains a contemporary classic.  But just seven years ago he announced that he as wrong and has publically retracted his atheism and declared himself a believer in God.

This is what he writes in his book:  There is a God – how the world’s most notorious atheist changed his mind.

I now believe that the universe was brought into existence by an infinite Intelligence….why do I believe this, given that I expounded and defended atheism for more than a half century? The short answer is this: this is the world picture, as I see it, that has emerged from modern science.

Flew died last year a believer in God and it was looking to modern science that he found overwhelming reason to believe in a god. As a philosopher it was simply no longer credible to believe that this universe of law and order, of complexity and apparent design could have originated from nothing.

And to his fellow sceptics Flew puts the following question:

What should have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for us a reason to at least consider the existence of a superior Mind?

It is a good question and it is essentially our question this evening if evidence of God would you need to at least consider the existence of God.

Albert Einstein contrary to popular opinion was not an atheist and in fact he expressly denied that fact on more than one occasion.

But he did believe that as human beings science could only ever give us a very limited understanding of God. This is how he illustrated the point:

We [human beings] are in a position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is.  That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being towards God.

Einstein is far from the dogmatic atheist that people like Richard Dawkins claim him to be…but he is what you might call a dogmatic agnostic….what that means is that Einstein says we don’t know much about God and we can’t.  Agnosticism is actually simply another word for ignorance. The one thing that we know is that we don’t know.

We might suspect a creator, yet we don’t know and we can’t know who he is.

The stats for our country reveal that too.  60 % of the UK population believe in a personal god but most of us would not be willing to put a name to that god.

I think that’s true of most of my friends – they believe in some kind of God but they also are fairly sure that they have no good reason to believe in anything more than a distant deity.

Here’s the point – reason alone can only get you so far -perhaps the vague notion of a god.

And here then is the conclusion that many of us reach;  if God is there,  a God who wants to know us, why doesn’t he make himself more  obvious?

Well the Christian claim is that he has made it more obvious than by what we can work out through reason. We are not limited to reason but God has given us revelation.

And the staggering claim of Christianity is that God has spoken to us not in visions or dreams not in messages in the stars but in human form, personally, in his son Jesus and what a difference that makes.

A lot of people if they believe in God at all think he communicates in some deliberately vague way almost designed to confuse us. We think the way God communicates is a bit like the way we play Pictionary. Take away words and see just how difficult and confusing communication is!

Well it might be funny on Christmas day to live without words but it’s not so funny communicating through Pictionary in an operating theatre.

The great claim of the Christian faith is that God has spoken to us face to face and mouth to mouth through his Son. Jesus said to his disciples; anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. The apostle John wrote in John 1:18,  ‘No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.’

Jesus perfectly reveals God. To have seen Jesus is to have seen God!

We don’t need Hadron colliders or even near-death experiences to know if anyone is out there.  God has not left us in the dark and God does not play Pictionary. We are no longer looking up and guessing because, in Christ, God has broken into our world.

Mar 9, 2011
neil

What has Christianity ever done for us? The answer from a Chinese academic

Former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, Dominic Lawson, recently reviewed Niall Ferguson’s new book, Civilisation: The West and the Rest.  In his review he includes a remarkable quote from a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (which on it’s own website describes itself as ‘the highest academic research organization in the fields of philosophy and social sciences as well as a national center for comprehensive studies in the People’s Republic of China‘) in which he describes the remarkable impact of Christianity in shaping Western civilization.

He said: “One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world.

“We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had.

“Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system.

“But in the past twenty years, we have realised that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful.

“The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.”

It does seem remarkable to me that it takes an Atheist state (you are required by law to be an Atheist to be a member of the ruling Communist Party) to remind us of our Christian heritage. Maybe we just take for granted everything that we have and we simply don’t realize where it has all come from. We don’t ever stop to think (dare I say to thank God) for how much the Bible and Christianity has done to bless the West.  Perhaps we might be willing to wake-up to all of this before it is too late.

Mar 6, 2011
neil

‘Atheist Hitchens given cancer hope by Christian’

So runs the headline in a surprising article in today’s Sunday Times.

An evangelical Christian who is one of the world’s top scientists is trying to save the life of Christopher Hitchens, the cancer-stricken writer who told him at their first meeting that God does not exist.

Francis Collins, who led the projec to map human genes, contacted the atheist when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year.

Hitchens was sent to Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where scientists sequenced the 6 billion letters of his DNA. Using computers in a process that takes several weeks, they also sequenced the 6 billion letters in his his tumours, Then they looked at the two sets for differences.

‘Over these last few months, we have not talked directly about faith,’ Collins said, ‘But I would like to think that Christopher’s sharp intellect has challenged my own defence of the rationality of faith to be more consistent and compelling.’

Mar 1, 2011
neil

No one kills in the name of atheism

An atheist told me recently ‘No one kills in the name of Atheism.’  In fact he was so sure he told me  twice.  Of course he’s not unique in making such a claim.  Richard Dawkins writes in the God Delusion Individual atheists may do evil things but they don’t do evil things, in the name of atheism.

Dawkins won’t even allow us to think that atheism had any influence on Stalin’s murderous regime. He writes:

the mature Stalin was scathing about the Russian Orthodox Church, and about religion  in general. But there is no evidence that his atheism motivated his brutality.

Such a conclusion is a luxury on offer only to those with absolutely no grasp of history.  The reality is that it is a plain and simple, indeed brutal, fact of history that over the past 100 years atheism, as an ideology, has been a driving force used directly to plan, plot, organise and carry out the mass murder of millions of people.

For the purpose of this post we will limit ourselves to a consideration of the way in which state-sponsored atheism has been used to justify the intimidation, torture and killing of those whose only crime was belief in God and who posed no other political or ideological threat.  I am indebted to John Blanchard’s ‘Does God Believe in Atheists?‘ for some of the quotes but the ideas remain my own.

The ideology that lay behind state-sanctioned killing of Christians in the USSR

Karl Marx famously wrote:

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of the soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion, as the illusory happiness of men, is a demand for their real happiness.

And for Marx that meant the abolition of religion.

Of course, in periods when the political state as such is born violently out of civil society, when political liberation is the form in which men strive to achieve their liberation, the state can and must go as far as the abolition of religion, the destruction of religion. But it can do so only in the same way that it proceeds to the abolition of private property, to the maximum, to confiscation, to progressive taxation, just as it goes as far as the abolition of life, the guillotine.

Interestingly so indebted to Darwin was Marx that he said of his book The Origin of Species serves me well as a basis in natural science for the struggle in history. He actually wrote to Darwin asking if he might dedicate his next book to him. Darwin put his decision to decline down to the sensibilities of his wider family.

The result of dogmatic Atheism in the Soviet Union

From the very beginnings of the communist revolution in Russia the state set out to apply the atheism of Marx. Religion was systematically targeted as an enemy of the state, an oppressor of the people. It was something therefore not merely to be discouraged but destroyed.

Lenin said: There can be nothing more abominable than religion

And he went on to write

Every religious idea, every idea of god, every flirtation with the idea of God is unutterable vileness…Any person who engages in building a god, or who even tolerations the idea of god-building  disparages himself in the worst possible fashion.

Marx’s dogmatic atheism was being used as the philosophical justification for the attack on religion beginning with Lenin, continuing under Stalin and maintained right through to the collapse of the Berlin wall. The fact that the attack on religion continued over generations demonstrates that this state-sponsered attack could hardly be blamed on the actions of one individual.

As the Wikipedia entry on the Soviet Union records;

The state was committed to the destruction of religion, and to this effect it destroyed churches, mosques and temples, ridiculed, harassed and executed religious leaders, flooded the schools and media with atheistic propaganda, and generally promoted ‘scientific atheism’ as the truth that society should accept.

Time Magazine summarised the legacy of dogmatic atheism in an article in the following way; Continue reading »

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