Voicing our disbelief

Russell Blackford stands up for the new atheism

In recent years, we have witnessed a flood of books, aimed at the popular market, issuing robust challenges to theistic religious belief. A rather puzzling expression, “the New Atheism”, has been applied to this body of work, particularly the contributions of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. They, in turn, are sometimes referred to, apparently with affection, as “The Four Horsemen”.

The most prominent books in this New Atheist flood are, perhaps, Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Hitchens’ God is Not Great. But then there are The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, both by Harris; The Atheist Manifesto, by Michel Onfray; Breaking the Spell by Dennett; Against All Gods, by AC Grayling; Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali; and God: The Failed Hypothesis, by Victor J. Stenger. The list continues, and the titles show that the authors mean business.

Why, however, do we need this “New Atheism”, and what’s so new about it? There’s a sense in which nothing is very new here, and a great deal of journalistic hype is involved. But there’s something to the idea, all the same. Here’s the deal.

Religious teachings promise us much. They offer a deeper understanding of reality, more meaningful lives and morally superior conduct, and such extraordinary (if illusory) benefits as rightness with a Supreme Being, liberation from earthly attachments, or a blissful form of personal immortality. It all sounds good, and if some of these teachings are rationally warranted it would be well to discover which. At the same time, however, religious teachings can be onerous in their demands; if they can’t deliver on what they promise, it would be well to know that. I take it, then, that there is an overwhelming case for rational examination of religious teachings. Even if reason can take us only so far, we ought to explore just how far.

But it might appear that scrutiny of religion’s claims is not an urgent task, at least not if the scrutiny is conducted in public, and especially not in modern, apparently secular, Western democracies. Hasn’t religiosity become rather unobtrusive since the bad old days when heretics were burned? So why is there any need to engage in strong, publicly prominent criticism of religious teachings, the organisations that promote them, or the leaders of those organisations? Perhaps rational critiques of religion should be available somewhere – maybe in peer-reviewed philosophy journals – but no great effort should be made to debunk religion in popular books, magazine or newspaper articles, media appearances, and so on. Or so it might be argued. In that case, it might be said, the New Atheism is unnecessary, and perhaps even undesirable. Why offend people, why stir up distrust and division, as the Four Horsemen seem to do?

I disagree. In the 1970s, or even the 1990s, it was possible to think religion had been declawed, and that further challenges to religious philosophies, institutions, and leaders were unnecessary. On this view, all the hard work had been done, and religion was withering away after the scientific revolution, the Enlightenment, Darwin, and the social iconoclasm of the 1960s. Against that background, it became taboo to criticise religion in the public sphere; it was widely assumed that religion was retreating, in any event, and didn’t need to be fought anymore. Attacks on people’s “deeply-held beliefs” even smacked a little of cultural imperialism.

In the academy, bright minds in philosophy turned to other topics. Bright young atheists and sceptics were certainly not steered into philosophy of religion, which looked like an intellectual dead end.

But the situation now looks very different, even in the supposedly enlightened nations of the West. For a start, a revived Christian philosophy is well entrenched within Anglo-American philosophy of religion. More importantly, perhaps, religious organisations and leaders continue to exert social power. All too often, they seek to control how we plan and run our lives, including choices about how we die. At various times, religious lobbies have opposed a vast range of beneficial, or at least essentially harmless, activities and innovations. Even now, one religion or another opposes abortion rights; most contraceptive technologies; stem-cell and therapeutic cloning research; physician-assisted suicide; and a wide range of sexual conduct involving consenting adults. We still see intense activism from the religious lobbies of all Western democracies, and even in relatively secular countries, such as the UK and Australia, governments pander blatantly to Christian moral concerns.

The situation is far worse in the US, where religious conservatives regrouped with dramatic success during the 1970s and 1980s, establishing well-financed networks, think tanks, and even their own so-called universities. Slick attempts are made to undermine public trust in science where it contradicts the literal Genesis narrative; a rampant dominionist movement wants to establish an American theocracy; the recent Bush administration took the country some considerable way down that path; and the election of a relatively liberal president has produced hysteria on the religious right (polling shows that many American conservatives now believe that Barack Obama is the Antichrist). American religiosity is real, and there is nothing subtle or liberal-minded about its most popular forms.

Meanwhile, we are confronted every day by the horrors of political Islam, with its ambitions to extend sharia law universally and its ugly violations of human rights wherever it actually has power. Many critics of religion were radicalised by the traumatic events of 9/11 when thousands of people were murdered by terrorists. Islam doubtless has moderate and even liberal manifestations, but prominent, politicised forms of Islam take a hard line against secularism, modernity, and all forms of liberal thought.

In a different world, we might be content to argue that the church (and the mosque, and all the other religious architecture that sprouts across the landscape) should be separate from the state, and that discussions about public policy should rely on secular principles such as the Millian harm principle. More radical attacks on religion’s truth-claims and moral authority would be less urgent if the various sects agreed, without equivocation, to a wall of separation between themselves and the state. Unfortunately, however, they often have good reasons (by their own lights) to oppose such strict secularism. Many religious sects, including many mainstream Christian denominations, do not distinguish sharply between guidance on individual salvation and the exercise of political power. They may be sceptical about the independence of secular goals from religious ones, or about the distinction between personal goals and those of the state. Some groups do not accept the reality of continuing social pluralism. Instead, they look to a time when their (allegedly) righteous views will prevail.

When religion claims authority in the political sphere, it is unsurprising – and totally justifiable – that atheists and sceptics question the source of this authority. If religious organisations or their leaders claim to speak on behalf of a god, it is fair to ask whether the god concerned really makes the claims that are communicated on its behalf. Does this god even exist? Where is the evidence? And even if this being does exist, why, exactly, should its wishes be translated into socially-accepted moral norms, let alone into laws enforced by the state’s coercive power? When these questions are asked publicly, even with a degree of aggression, that’s an entirely healthy thing.

Atheists and sceptics should, no doubt, defend secularism. But if we are realistic, we will understand that the idea of secularism has little traction in societies where the authority of religion is considered legitimate and taken for granted. For many religious groups, moreover, secularism is not an attractive ideal. Advocating secularism and directly challenging the authority of religion should not be viewed as two alternative strategies for atheists and sceptics who wish to resist the political influence of religion. Rather, these strategies are mutually supportive and ought to be pursued in tandem. That is the lesson that we need to learn.

In short, there is plenty of reason to challenge religions and contest their doctrinal claims, not just as an academic exercise, but as a matter of real urgency. Atheists and sceptics should deny the authority of religious organisations and leaders to pronounce on matters of ultimate truth and correct morality. This will require persistent, cool argument, but also moments of outright denunciation or even unashamed mockery of religion’s most absurd actions and truth-claims.

We should never flinch from expressing the view that no religion has any rational warrant – that these Emperors really have no clothes – and that many churches and sects promote cruelty, misery, ignorance, and human rights abuses. Yes, there are liberal forms of religion, but whatever good will we might feel towards them should not make us hesitate to speak uncomfortable truths. In particular, we ought to insist that religious leaders are not our moral leaders, despite their affectations.

To a large extent, the New Atheism is merely the restoration of normal transmission. Earlier this decade, some philosophers, public intellectuals, and high-profile scientists, decided, for a mix of reasons, that enough was enough and it was time to break the taboo against explicit and popular criticism of religion. They were, in fact, not the only ones who felt that way: even before most of the New Atheist books appeared, I was starting to hear rumblings. People around me were beginning to say that it was necessary to re-engage in the public sphere with religion’s truth-claims. Nonetheless, Dawkins and the other Horsemen opened up a publishing market and sparked an important debate. Thereby, they performed a public service.

The current debate about the truth-claims, moral authority, and social value of religion is very timely. It reflects the cold fact that the struggle of ideas is far from over, and that this is, after all, a good time to subject religions and all their claims to sceptical scrutiny. Those of us who do not believe have more than enough reason to dispute the unwarranted prestige enjoyed by the many variations of orthodox Abrahamic theism (and, indeed, all other religious systems). The time has come, once again, when critiques of theistic religion must be put strongly, clearly, openly, and unremittingly. What’s new about the New Atheism is its restoration of some balance – that, and the sheer number of people who have come to the same realisation.

Of course, there has been a backlash, and not just from the pious. Terry Eagleton, for example, has sharpened his literary talons to attack the New Atheists – particularly Dawkins and Hitchens – in Reason, Faith, and Revolution. Throughout 2009, much of the blogosphere has been dominated by an acrimonious row about something that evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne calls “accommodationism”. This involves two ideas: first, that supposedly “moderate” kinds of religion (including Roman Catholicism) are compatible with science; and, second, that it is unseemly and ill-advised for science-minded people to criticise “moderate” religion even in a thoughtful and civil way.

Although I am not hostile to all religious people, no matter how theologically and politically liberal, I stand alongside Coyne in rejecting accommodationism. It is, I think, clear, that only the most non-literalist kinds of theology – together with rarefied views such as eighteenth-century-style deism – are philosophically compatible with the picture of the universe and ourselves that we see emerging from science. As it appears to me, the scientific picture is incompatible not only with fundamentalisms of various kinds but also with many supposedly “moderate” views that continue to postulate a loving, providential creator. When we challenge those views, we do not attack a straw man. We are challenging mainstream Abrahamic understandings whose adherents continue to seek power and influence.

It doesn’t help when opponents of the New Atheism attempt a silly and unfair tu quoque! riposte – or perhaps just try to wound feelings, express spite, or incite anger – by branding forthright critics of religion as “fundamentalist atheists”. This expression should be contested vigorously whenever it appears. A fundamentalist atheist would be one who believes in the inerrancy of an atheist text – perhaps one of the New Atheist books, such as The God Delusion – even in the face of results from rational inquiry. However, I have yet to encounter such a person, and in any event such a label has nothing to do with the writings of Dawkins, Hitchens and the other Horsemen. Let’s be clear that the word “fundamentalist” does not mean “forthright” or “outspoken”. To use the word so loosely involves overlooking what is wrong with fundamentalism in the first place, namely its dogmatic resistance to all the findings of science and reason (as when Young Earth Creationists insist, against all the evidence, that the Earth is only six to ten thousand years old).

None of this is to deny that some atheists show apocalyptic or authoritarian tendencies. They may wish to eradicate religion in a dramatic way within their own lifetimes, rather than merely contesting religious truth-claims (with more realistic goals in mind). Some may even be tempted to advocate state action in an attempt to impose non-belief. Unfortunately, all social movements attract people with these tendencies, and even very liberal-minded individuals should beware the siren calls to apocalyptic and authoritarian thinking. Exasperation can make such thinking seem attractive. For that reason, atheists should engage in a degree of mutual scrutiny (and, indeed, self-scrutiny!), as well as in scrutiny of religious claims.

Still, much of the adverse reaction to the New Atheism – much of the distaste, bemusement, and discomfort expressed even by many atheists – is ill-founded. It displays a foolish sentimentalisation of religious faith, and often a failure to appreciate the real-world problem of religion’s persistence. Critics of forthright atheism display a naivety about religion’s ongoing power and influence in the public sphere, all too obvious even in Western democracies.

There are now many people who do not believe in any God or gods, or in the truth of any religious dogmas involving supernatural entities and forces, and are prepared to say so in public. Many of them have interesting reasons for their views, and it’s valuable for all of them – for all of us – to speak up. It doesn’t even matter if we don’t all entirely agree in our thinking; in fact, the last thing we should want is the hardening of contemporary forthright atheism into a kind of quasi-religious sect with its own body of orthodox dogma. We should go on scrutinising religion from all angles, while discussing our own differences thoughtfully, carefully, and often.

In all, this is a good time for atheists and sceptics to stand up and start debating. There’s no time like now to voice our disbelief.

Russell Blackford is co-editor, with Udo Schüklenk, of the recently-published 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists (Wiley-Blackwell).

Leave a comment ?


  1. Brilliant article, Russell. Atheists of the world unite… :)

    It would also be useful if the voices raised on our behalf were to sponsor and make reference to scientific analyses of why and how people succumb to religion: from the socialogical, psychological and neuroscientific points of view. I have little white pills that help counter my depression: it would be nice if someone could come up with cures or ameliorants for the mental illness that is religiosity.

  2. elsewhere « Tony Linde - pingback on January 4, 2010 at 12:15 pm
  3. I read the _God Delusion_ and found it to be a philosophical embarrassment.

    It does not do to simpy assert that theism is irrational. One needs to evaluate the arguments. There is good lit on this, from both atheists and theists. But Dawkins and Hitchens are hardly among their number.

  4. Very nice declaration. It really is annoying to be told by Roger Scruton and others that good naturalists keep their mouths shut.

    Still, I hope that the label “accommodationist” is not used too liberally as a term of derision. In the US, science and science education are under coordinated attack. The efforts of the National Center for Science Education, undeniably an accommodationist organization, have been critical to defending our children from these attacks.

  5. @GK: “It does not do to simpy assert that theism is irrational. One needs to evaluate the arguments.”

    No, not really. Belief in the supernatural is not rational: it really is that simple.

  6. The Divine Conspiracy Blog » Blog Archive » Russell Blackford - pingback on January 4, 2010 at 5:53 pm
  7. @GK: “It does not do to simply assert that theism is irrational. One needs to evaluate the arguments.”

    What arguments did Dawkins fail to cover?

  8. Very interesting.From personal experience it seems very difficult to persuade religious people that atheists have no beliefs to be “fundamentalist” about.

  9. @ Tony L

    “No, not really. Belief in the supernatural is not rational: it really is that simple.”

    This is precisely why the new-atheist movement has a hard time getting itself taken seriously. Are you genuinely saying that you know theistic arguments to be irrational because they are theistic, without considering the arguments themselves? Maybe I have misread you, but that seems to be what you are suggesting. Who knows, maybe you were joking, I certainly hope so. Otherwise it would seem to be a case of the pot calling the kettle black, if you get my drift.

  10. Excellent article, book-marked for those times when the god-botherers bring out the “New Atheist” canard.

  11. Adam : “Are you genuinely saying that you know theistic arguments to be irrational because they are theistic, without considering the arguments themselves?”

    Or he could simply mean that there seem to be no rational theistic arguments…

    Please present one if you’ve got one!

  12. @ 5keptical

    that would make sense if his comment wasn’t a direct response to a someone asking people to evaluate arguments before declaring them irrational (with a quote).

    There are plenty of rational arguments for the existance of God. It is the lack of empirical content that is a problem.

  13. Dudley M. Jones

    I know you are all busy people, but could you spare some words to discuss Emptiness? This is certainly not exactly the same thing as the concept of God, but should at least get some of your valuable attention.

    best wishes from New Jersey

  14. Blackford Wrote:

    “None of this is to deny that some atheists show apocalyptic or authoritarian tendencies. They may wish to eradicate religion in a dramatic way within their own lifetimes, rather than merely contesting religious truth-claims (with more realistic goals in mind). Some may even be tempted to advocate state action in an attempt to impose non-belief….” etc. to end of paragraph.

    I keep seeing this by those that forward what I call, Atheistic Apologia, but who are these people, no names by people like Blackford are ever mention or pointed out in public (including on blogs, forums in print etc.).

    Yes, The God Delusion is a philosophical embarrassment in many respects, that’s not a secret, just is denied by the new crop of atheistic apologist.

    As an atheist I can say I agree with a great deal in this post, but again it fails miserably at being intellectual honest and thorough, while pretending to be both.

    BTW, linked to this from Why Evolution Is True, someone else who borders on fundamentalism and atheistic apologetic’s (and is a philosophical idiot on certain issues).

    Now, in defense of this post and the misreading that I’m making blanket statements, bring on the moronic apologetics and irrational defensiveness that has become the trade mark of some atheist.

  15. Adam:
    Yes indeed! You could argue that the arguments themselves are rational but if based upon an unsupported premise or assumption won’t result in a “true” conclusion.

    Does an irrational premise to a rational disputation make the whole line of reasoning irrational?

    Tony L’s statement could be merely a short-hand for that – but he can clarify for himself.

  16. Bob: People keep saying TGD is a philosophical embarrassment, but I have not come across a specific example that hasn’t itself been of dubious quality.

    Can you point me to an article that makes a good case for Dawkins’ “embarassment” that had formal rebuttals and counter rebuttals?

  17. Thought of the day « For the Sake of Science - pingback on January 4, 2010 at 11:42 pm
  18. @5keptical

    That would indeed make the whole argument irrational, but I don’t think an empirical basis to an argument is the only way to make it rational. That sounds kinda positivistic to me. I prefer a much more holistic approach. So, I am perfectly happy to view individual arguments as rational, but I would like some kind of empirical support somewhere in the system. This has the dual benefits of allowing me to think my beliefs are true without feeling the need to lambast everybody else as irrational morons.

  19. Skeptical Wrote:

    “but I have not come across a specific example that hasn’t itself been of dubious quality.”

    What does this even mean, and what examples are you talking about. Show me your examples of whatever it is your talking about.

  20. And who are these “people”?

  21. you’re* and put in two question marks.

  22. The reason I’m asking before going forward is because what you appear to be doing looks like B.S. But, lets see.

  23. I will say this, not only will I point out philosophical bullshit, but outright misquotes by founders of the U.S. One of which I taught in a critical thinking course, it’s classic and he freaking published it.

  24. Bob:
    You’re one of these people so far…

    Rather than asking you to expound your position (and railroading the discussion of Blackford’s article), I asked you to point to an article where I could see Dawkins’ philosophical shortcomings properly discussed.

    You’re being rather defensive about a simple honest inquiry.

    BTW, you should read the sentence as:
    “… not come across a specific example (of a criticism of TGD’s philosophical arguments) that hasn’t itself been of dubious quality.” That’s simply my experience – one that I asked you to rectify.

    (And a misquote is not a philosophical embarrassment)

  25. Why bother attacking religious beliefs? « Questionable Motives - pingback on January 5, 2010 at 1:02 am
  26. I would also like to see a specific example of why The God Delusion is a philosophical embarrassment. Apparently it qualifies as an embarrassment in several respects so providing one example here, or linking to one, should be easy.

  27. Skeptical Wrote:

    “railroading the discussion of Blackford’s article”

    Oh brother…

    Then answer the question I posed from the quote I took directly from the post. I can tell you why he said it, but so far no names, organizations etc. etc., right?

    “simple honest inquiry”

    I sincerely doubt it (see above). You asked me a question related to what I said, remember? How can you even suggest now I’m “railroading”, how incredibly dishonest of you.

    “And a misquote is not a philosophical embarrassment”

    Just keeps getting better. Besides the ridiculous parenthesis, did I even hint at that? Show me.

    I at least expected you to throw out some Christian apologist.

  28. Andrew

    Even the basic premise in TGD that the “god question” is simply scientific and not philosophical is philosophically embarrassing. I would even agree with Blackford that the 747 argument is probably overstated, but he only offers that in an apologetic way.

    Andrew, Skeptical – find those quotes out of context yet?

    Simple mistakes right, even if they were well known before publication.

  29. For all the people asking for it:


    A review of the ‘god delusion’ by Plantinga.

  30. Bob (me) Wrote:

    “I at least expected you to throw out some Christian apologist.”

    Adam Wrote:

    “For *all* the people asking for it:”

    [emphasis added] The timing is almost poetic. I was waiting for not so skeptical to put something like that up. Absolutely beautiful… and so it goes…

  31. @Bob
    You seem confused, overly hostile, defensive and projecting motives that simply aren’t justified by what I’ve actually written. Are you getting post and question threads mixed up?

    Can you answer the simple question (which was actually tangential to your original post):

    “Would you (please) point to an article where I could examine a discussion where Dawkins’ philosophical shortcomings are properly discussed”

    Simple question requiring a simple answer. (I would prefer a non-theist treatment)

    If you cannot then just say so. One may not exist and I promise not to infer that the lack of such a discussion implies general approval of Dawkins’ philosophy.

  32. Just read the Plantiga. Ugh. Is that what’s considered a philosophically sophisticated rebuttal to Dawkins? It may be that Dawkins isn’t much of a philosopher, but Plantiga’s understanding of evolution by natural selection is worse by far. He furthermore misstates (either maliciously or through poor comprehension, I can’t tell) Dawkins’ core argument and then churlishly demolishes the straw man he’s created.

    I, like others in this thread, and no doubt like any number of perfectly competent philosophers, am still waiting for a meaningful rebuttal of Dawkins to support this claim, apparently so obvious to some, that the book is a philosophical embarrassment. And so, like 5keptical, my reply to that assertion will continue to be, “How so?” But by now I’ve gotten used to dodgy and derisive replies to that honest question.

  33. Skeptical Wrote:

    “You seem confused, overly hostile, defensive and projecting motives that simply aren’t justified by what I’ve actually written.”

    Let me put this in plain english, I doubt highly you’re being sincere or honest in your questioning. I shouldn’t even respond after a remark like that. I have extremely good reason to assume your motives to a certain degree, which I’ll bet dollars to donuts would fall right around being an Atheistic Apologist.

    If you think it’s “railroading” (nice and cheap way to poison any discussion) then answer the question, or pose it to Blackford that I asked regarding a quote I took directly from the post.

    “Simple question requiring a simple answer. (I would prefer a non-theist treatment)”

    Read my reply to Andrew for a start.

    Now when you wrote: “People keep saying TGD is a philosophical embarrassment, but I have not come across a specific example that hasn’t itself been of dubious quality.”

    What “people”, what are you talking about, which I think I asked already.

  34. Skeptical, or 5keptical (clever!)

    is now posting on Richard Dawkins.net about our back and forth. Here is his comment:

    “Check out the comments. I asked for pointer to a good discussion of the philosophical flaws in TGD and “Bob” – who purports to be an atheist – goes ballistic.

    I must have said something wrong… :-)”

    Jebus, and one wonders why I would be skeptical of “motives”.

  35. @Bob

    You still not answering the question.

    Folk will start questioning your motives.

  36. 5keptical

    Let me get this straight, after registering into RD.net what do I find.

    Have you read The God Delusion?: No

    You want to discuss philosophical problems in a book you haven’t read, or have your forgotten to update profile?

    Cross posting like you have is pretty nasty business.

  37. “Cross posting” is probably the wrong expression. What you’re doing is just nasty business and more than likely giving me more reason to be skeptical.

  38. @Bob

    So you can’t point to a balanced discussion on the web about the problems with TGD?

    Other’s can comment on the level of your discourse and draw their own conclusions about the weight of your arguments.

  39. Did you not see where I said to look at my reply to Andrew for a start. What’s the matter you can’t think beyond that? I have no reason to respond directly to you, because as I have stated, I doubt your sincerity, now more so.

    I guess since you haven’t corrected your profile here, that you haven’t read TGD. So, is this more evidence that all you’re doing is a lame attempt to think you’re baiting on something you know little?

    Why not answer any of my questions?

  40. @Bob

    Is it your position that ‘the god question’ is both a scientific question and a philosophical one or purely philosophical? Just for clarity, does the following statement accurately describe the god question in your opinion?

    ‘Does a being capable of creating the universe and everything in it exist?’


    I had a look at Plantiga’s review as well and I don’t think much of it either. The justifications for believing God is simple are hilarious. God is simple because the Belgic Confession says he is. Well, how does the Belgic Confession know? Did they ask him? That’s just an argument from authority, not evidence. And then claiming God is spirit and not material, so God can’t have separate parts, so God must be simple. But how do you go describing the properties of something, spirit in this case, when you have no information to base your description on? Who says a spirit can’t have parts just because it’s immaterial. And why should I concede the existence of spirit in the first place? Plantiga hasn’t proven the existence of spirit. Why should I let him use one unsupported concept to argue for the existence of another?

  41. Patrick McArdle

    Great article! I was referred here by Dawkins’ site, and was not disappointed. Here’s my money quote:

    “In short, there is plenty of reason to challenge religions and contest their doctrinal claims, not just as an academic exercise, but as a matter of real urgency. Atheists and sceptics should deny the authority of religious organisations and leaders to pronounce on matters of ultimate truth and correct morality. This will require persistent, cool argument, but also moments of outright denunciation or even unashamed mockery of religion’s most absurd actions and truth-claims.”

    Well-played, sir As Thomas Paine noted, questioning the veracity of ‘Scripture’ puts the axe at once to the root: if the sacred text has fatal flaws, the religion falls; unlike science, where new evidence invalidates earlier conclusions, thus driving new conclusions, a ‘scripture’ must remain frozen forever (barring copyists’ errors and spurious ‘reinterpretations’).

    One of the best lies Roman Catholicism (to pick just one organized religion) tells is that their church does not change values. Ask then why their priests could marry for the first thousand years after Jesus.

    I would add that “divide and conquer” works as well. The three Abramic faiths are utterly incompatible, and their adherents have fought with blood lust for centuries. Directing such energies at each other could provide immense benefits to our rational cause. (We will, of course, condemn their actual violence, whenever it might threaten.)

    Here in the States, Protestant fundies provide us with an endless supply of ‘Elmer Gantry’ charlatans, each ever ready to swindle the gullible. Every such fraud deserves not merely the scorn he has earned; we need to ask why his followers always believe the next obvious fraud. (This becomes writ large with the “end of days” fraud, enabled by the truly hateful Book of Revelations; both this Book, and the eager hope for violence it puts into Christianity, deserve more of our attention.)

    In short, organized religion is a target-rich environment, ripe for many fruitful attacks. Each of us can pick our own line of assault.

    Again thinking of Paine putting his axe to the root of organized religion, confront any botherer of a creator-god with the demand he show our universe was created, not everlasting. I have had the exquisite privilege of listening firsthand to a lecture by Dr. Roger Penrose, where he brilliantly described a neverending cycle of “big bangs” and contractions. (He also claimed, if I understood him correctly, that information can pass through each Big Bang to the next incarnation. Heady stuff.)

    Thank you again for the wonderful article. To this American, it reads almost like a Declaration of Independence for thought.

  42. Just read some more of Plantiga’s review. It just gets better and better.

    Plantiga states that because Dawkins proposes that the existance of God is improbable, he owes his readers an argument for the conclusion that there is no necessary being with the attributes of God. Why? Because classical theism says God is necessary. I say, ‘So what?’ Why did those classical theists say God is necessary? How did they know? It’s just more argument from authority without the evidence to back up that authority.

  43. @Bob

    Engage you brain a little here Bob – if I haven’t read TGD wouldn’t I benefit even more from an even-handed discussion of its bad points and go well-armed into my first reading?

    If I am baiting you, aren’t you just falling for the bait by failing to answer the question?

    If I am not sincere, then providing a link puts the onus on me to reply in good faith. If I spring some sort of “trap”, then you can point this out for all to see and you will be seen (correctly) as the wronged party.

    If you continue to insult, evade and attempt to side-track the question you exhibit the behaviour of someone without support for their position.

    Choose your path.

  44. @bob.

    I am impressed by your posts, but perhaps not in the way you intended. In your first, you start by disputing something utterly unimportant to the main thrust of the article, move on with a fine non sequitur to make an unsupported assertion about the god delusion, and finish up with an acknowledgement that your post is indefensible, having first made a detour to insult a perfectly respectable scientist on the way. I’d like to know: What’s your point? Did you actually have anything to say?

    An impressive start, but it gets better.

    Your next sally is wonderful: a professed failure to understand a perfectly simple and straightforward english sentence, coupled with a neat bit of tap-dancing to avoid having to support the assertion you yourself made. I begin to suspect your integrity. I must also admit I ungenerously wrote you off as a nitwit after your comment about misquotes by a founder of the US; they were politicians, you know!

    So far so amusing, but your next response is not so forgivable. You assert that 5keptical accuses you of railroading the discussion of Blackford’s article when in fact it is obvious to the meanest intelligence that he was generously attempting to avoid his own railroading of that discussion by challenging you too directly. It is mean spirited of you to take advantage of him in that way.

    I must admit I was very puzzled by your denial that the comment about the “founders of the US” was related to your earlier statements; if not, then why did you bring it up? Are you suffering from some sort of blogger’s tourette’s syndrome?

    By the way, who are these “founders of the US”? I keep seeing this by those that forward what I call, Internet Idiocy, but who are these people, no names by people like Bob are ever mention or pointed out in public (including on blogs, forums in print etc.).qv

    Now it gets worse; your posts positively drip with passive aggression, and you unjustifiably impugn the motives and sincerity of your interlocutor. The air of indignant injury is nicely judged; you must have practiced that many times in order to carry it off so well.

    By now, you have probably noticed I am not particularly interested in debating Blackford’s article with you, or even your dispute with 5keptical, I just think you are a class one, grade A wanker, the kind of person who should be tied up in a sack and beaten with cricket bats until you realise that the world actually exists.

    But then, who are these bats? I keep seeing this by people who hate supercilious twats but who are these bats? No names are ever mentioned…. blah blah blah. Get the point?


  45. Perhaps I’m being optimistic/naive, but I still hold some hope that Bob, or someone else, will come up with a good critique of TGD (I wasn’t much of a fan of the book when I read it a couple of years ago, despite generally agreeing with it. I felt that there was a preponderance of underdeveloped/insufficiently supported assertions).

    Alvin Plantinga’s article was, quite frankly, a joke, (John A. O’Brien would be ashamed) and a clear example of why philosophers should be required to have some basic science knowledge. As a cognitive science student (with an amateur background in philosophy) the triumphant logical flourish at the end was painful to read. I felt like I was watching a scene in horror flick where you know that the hapless victim’s next move will be their last, and you can’t help but to yell an impotent warning at the screen. If it wasn’t so late, I’m sure I would have yelled, “No! Don’t make your argument contingent on human rationality! Wason Selection Task! The last 40 years of psychology! You!!!”

  46. Excellent essay! Enjoyed every word of it :)

    I also recommend to everyone on here to check out the latest book co-edited by Mr Blackford here. It’s called 50 Voices of Disbelief and it’s an awesome collection of essays written by atheists :)

    I love that book, and I loved this essay as well! Keep up the good work!

  47. @Adam @Skeptical: “Does an irrational premise to a rational disputation make the whole line of reasoning irrational? Tony L’s statement could be merely a short-hand for that – but he can clarify for himself.”

    That is pretty much it. Believing in something that does not exist (or for which there is no empirical evidence) is, IMO, irrational. I know there is a lot of theistic philosophy which contains, probably, rational arguments. But what is the point of it all if the core belief is wholly irrational. If theists want to come up with conceptions of the god-thing (see the Andy Walsh blog post discussion on this site) which avoid the need for empirical evidence then that’s fine, but as soon as there is any relation between the god-thing and the physical world, I will expect to see empirical evidence for those relations. All else is, as I said, wholly irrational.

  48. @TONY L

    But you must admit that the existence of God is not really a scientific question and so asking for empirical proofs is a bit unfair. Of course we would expect the existence of God to have some bearing on the natural world but it is pointless looking to science for answers to the “god question.”

    It is much more sensible to look towards metaphysics when trying to decide whether or not god exists. Although metaphysics must integrate with science it does not have to appeal to direct (or nearly so) empirical support in the way that scientific theories do.

    Some of the philosophical/theological arguments appear to me to be rational; a bayesian design argument could be rational, the fine-tuning argument is rational, pragmatic arguments might be rational. They all depend on the system of beliefs they are fitting in to and your own personal history for their rationality. It is possible for rational disagreement, if you disagree with me on this I am not going to assume you are being irrational (I would still think you are wrong), but I guess you would not be so kind to me.

  49. andrew (a different one)

    nice manifesto. i would however like to note that descrying fundamentalist/moderate religion for its political goals and fundamentalist religion for its brutality, then claiming a rebuttal of secularism/atheism cannot make the same case is to be frank stupid and hypocritical. you have no more right to cite the evil’s of political islam than the christian or muslim has to cite the evils of athistic/secular political models such as communism.

    in addition; your point on the so called “fundamentalist atheism” is a little wierd in part;
    “…fundamentalism in the first place, namely its dogmatic resistance to all the findings of science and reason…”

    is a rediculously loaded definition, and as such is particularly poor argumentation on your part…it is indeed an assertion based in atheist dogma that science and reason are the sole province of the atheist, and such a definition of fundamentalism as you use here is fundamentally dogmatic; it is a claim to ultimate truth no more worthy of a philosopher than the ontological argument for the existence of god is to a argument on the existence of god.

  50. I’d just like to say that this is a fantastic piece. It encompasses all sides of this issue, both the arguments amongst non-believers and the arguments amongst believers. Thanks, Mr. Blackford, for a thoroughly enjoyable read!

  51. andrew (a different one)

    anyone know how to view old comments? the page seems to cut off at 50; i can only see the most recent two -.-

  52. Same here, Andrew.

    There’s nothing to click on to let me see older comments than the most recent few.

  53. Like Andrew (a different one) I would like to know how to access the comment thread in its entirety. Sob.

  54. 5 January 2010 « blueollie - pingback on January 5, 2010 at 2:35 pm
  55. A great read. Thanks very much!

  56. The criticism of Plantinga as “appealing to authority” because he suggests that philosophical theology might be a good place to look for a definition of God (Instead of just making it up as you go along as Dawkins does)is beyond a joke. And then it is Plantinga that is accused of attacking a straw man! I’m considering converting to Christianity just to dissociate myself from this kind of irrationality!

  57. @Adam: “you must admit that the existence of God is not really a scientific question”

    I was going to say that god-things either exist in the real world or they don’t, but you could say that ideas exist without being empirically determinable. So, if you want to say that god-things are like ideas in that they exist and have effect on the physical world only through human agency and only within the realms of scientific feasibility, then fine. That rules out virgin birth, walking on water and the rest. But if you want to posit a god-thing which has direct influence upon the physical world then, yes, I expect its existence to be a scientific question.

  58. I’ve not read Dawkins’ _The God Delusion_, though I’ve heard from philosophers who have read it that it’s not very philosophically sophisticated (i.e., the arguments are a bit fast and loose). Bradley Bowen at the Secular Outpost has pointed out some imprecisions in Dawkins’ arguments:


    I read the Plantinga review referred to above, and was also less-than-impressed–Plantinga has been making a similar “naturalism is self-undermining” argument for years, often accompanied by bad arguments against evolution.

  59. here is a review by Nagel of the same book.http://www.tnr.com/article/the-fear-religion

    Briefly, if you take up two or three pages each on ontological, cosmological, argument, you are not doing them justice. I don’ think he even talked about religious experience.

    There seem to be postivists in our midst here!

    What is “supernatural? ” is consciousness supernatural if it is not reducible to physiological states? how about objective moral properties if there are such (G.E. Moore was no theist, but he defended the claim that Good is a non-natural property.


    Where did Bob go, man? I was starting to have some fun on his “pseudo-arguments” lol

  61. Voicing our disbelief « Coffee and Sci(ence) - pingback on January 5, 2010 at 5:53 pm
  62. It has been said that there is a rational argument for the existence of gods/supernatural forces.. and i dare say ectoplasm, elves and sprites.

    This has been used to ‘confound’ the atheist point of view that the basis of the supernatural is not, au fond, rational – the arguments are rational only in so far as you accept the foundations, the premise. I think it’s mischievous and a bit cheeky (along with a large tongue in it).

    I’m sure one can make the argument that a belief in Sherlock Holmes could be defended in a rational way. There is considerably more ‘scripture’ to support such a Faith – and it’s even more consistent than Biblical sources.

    We know, for a fact, that the author existed and wrote under the nom de plume of Dr Watson. We know that Baker Street existed contemporaneously – and still does, and the actual address can be found; no need for archeological musings.

    The stories can be found all over the world, in many different languages, intact and faithful.

    There are a countless films and spin offs.

    There are those who DO beleive that Sherlock Holmes was a real person (thankyou for that, State Education). Pilgrimages and package tours are taken.

    But such a belief, even with all the evidence i have mentioned, remains rational only in so far as the faithful accept the premise without question. THAT is what makes it irrational.

    I have yet to hear any ‘reason’ that convinces me that i should beleive in God rather than Holmes.

    Why should i not believe in Holmes, and why is such a beleif considered irrational compared to the nonsenses that are the theist’s property? Custom, perhaps? Status Quo? The desire to feel superior, without the need to explain? Power? Control?

    Whose interests are best served by a population which fails to question instructions, who mindlessly accepts the arguments that the less evidence and thought for their beleif the better – and that knowledge is corrosive to Faith – it’s certainly corrosive to stupidity.

    In my work with mental health issues, i find the toughest obstacle to making any progress whatever is that the erroneous beleifs of the clients actually ARE entirely rational – their beleifs have to be believable to them, as their unverse would collapse in on itself at nay failure. All challenges to the consistency of their reality are effectively explained away (at least to their satisfaction). If their arguements are unassailably rational, it doesnt follow that their basic assumptions about reality are rational…. unless, of course, reality is nothing more than a question of ‘operational consensus’.

  63. @ TONY L

    I have no idea how the virgin birth could ever be a matter for science. I guess your thinking is that a miracle such as this would be contrary to natural law. How problematic this is probably depends upon the rest of your worldview; somebody who thinks God is is the creator and sustainer of natural law could rationaly believe in miracles.

  64. @ JABBER

    Could you please elaborate on these assumptions held only by theists that are somehow less rational than assumptions held by atheists. I kinda tend to think that most assumptions tend to be unrational. Thats why they are called assumptions, right? Because we don’t have “reason” to believe them?

  65. Thank you Jim Lippard! I’ll have a look.

  66. @Adam:

    Of course we start from assumptions, then look at the rational consequences arising from those assumptions and go out into the world and see if there are any contradictions.

    If contradictions exist, and the derivations from the assumptions are correct, then one or more of the assumptions are wrong.

    Again it’s a short leap to ascribing irrationality to someone who clings to assumptions who consequences have not been shown to hold true in the real world. (Hence the every shrinking god of the gaps)

    However, I do agree with you that that short leap shouldn’t be taken as a general description of theists and theistic thought. Individual arguments are, of course, fair game.

  67. @Adam: “I have no idea how the virgin birth could ever be a matter for science”

    Because it was supposed to be part of the real world. Science is the study of the real world and so the feasibility of human virgin birth is a matter for science. Otherwise it is just a matter of you saying something impossible really did happen, which is nonsense and which is what Dawkins says is nonsense. It simply did not happen.

    “somebody who thinks God is is the creator and sustainer of natural law could rationaly believe in miracles”

    No, it is belief in nonsense and so is irrational.

  68. @GK

    I think Dawkin’s point was that you can argue till you’re blue in the face, it still doesn’t prove there’s anything actually there. And what good is religious experience? Does the LSD experience prove there are unicorns?

    Even if you grant those arguments as valid, that doesn’t take you anywhere. It doesn’t tell you what God thinks about taxes, capital punishment, homosexuality, etc, etc.

    If you think god doesn’t like something, then you shouldn’t do it. But unless you can show it’s hurting someone, you can’t expect the rest of us to accept that as justification in a democratic society.

    I think the athiest arguments are only valid philosophically to this point: by arguing against the theistic arguments, the burden of proof lies with the theist for what they are claiming. Once you get into “God definitely doesn’t exist”, you’ve departed strict argument and entered into personal belief.

    @ Adam
    Just because all the scientific evidence is lost to history doesn’t mean the idea of a virgin birth isn’t scientific in nature. There are a lot of measurable consequences of a virgin birth, especially DNA, which would be evidence for or against a human virgin birth, were there anyone able to measure them at the time.

    The idea of God coming down to earth in the person of a human being? Not accessible by science. But then how would you know if he was or was not God? Whether Jesus was concieved without a human male’s involvement is a different question, though.

  69. http://weheartit.com/entry/1267142
    (OK, so maybe walking on water is possible)

  70. @Tony L
    I think Adam is speaking past the rest of us, using rational to mean: given premise (God sustains natural law) then the conclusion (miracle happened) is consistent. You seem to be using rational to include the premises on which it is based, that to be rational means to be justified, not only to be consistent.

  71. @GK @Jim Lippard

    Ah, much better.

    The secularoutpost article:

    “Interpretation 3 [multiverse] avoids the problem of a false or dubious assumption, but it leaves open the possibility that our universe is the product of an intelligent designer who evolved in another universe that existed prior to our universe.”(emphasis added)

    “Thus, on Interpretation 3, Dawkins’ argument fails to rule out the possibility that our universe is the product of a creative intelligence.”

    “The existence of such a being does not appear to amount to proof or verification of the God Hypothesis, because it would be a natural being, not a supernatural being, which is one of the criteria Dawkins uses to define the God Hypothesis (TGD, p.52).”

    A solid interpretation, and one that I believe Dawkins holds, because I heard a talk in which he took a similar position (tentatively, of course, given the fact that the multiverse is still an open scientific question). I fail to see the critique…


    “All explanations come to an end somewhere. The real opposition between Dawkins’s physicalist naturalism and the God hypothesis is a disagreement over whether this end point is physical, extensional, and purposeless, or mental, intentional, and purposive.”

    The more I look into the “God” literature, the more I come to think that God/the supernatural is a result of a weak understanding of psychology (I use the term to include all scientific understanding of mental phenomena and the associated biological substrate), and, by extension epistemology, especially when epistemology intersects ontology. This can be seen, I would argue, in extending Plato’s Forms into the ontological sphere. A similar move can be seen in “objective values” and the God concept itself.

    This tendency to “objectify” psychological constructs has its counterpart in the tendency to imbue objects with a mind/soul/agency analogous to our own. In short, much of the supernatural appears to me to be a result of extending mental phenomena into realms in which it doesn’t belong, and this includes ultimate explanations.

    I’m not suggesting that the “mental, intentional, and purposive” cannot possibly serve as a metaphysical foundation. What I am suggesting is that every indication points towards the fact that mental phenomena, including agency, is an emergent phenomena: the result of complex interactions.

    Due to this observation, I would parallel Dawkins’ call for basic evolution education in elementary schools with a similar call for basic psychology.

  72. @Mike: Yep. Otherwise any and every belief could be said to be rational. No?

    Or am I using the wrong term? What is the term for believing something which is clearly false?

  73. @Mike: “given premise (God sustains natural law) then the conclusion (miracle happened) is consistent”

    Actually, if the god-thing is omnipotent and also sustains physical law then the miracle cannot happen since it is against the physical law which is sustained by the omnipotent being.

    Aaarrggghhhh! No. I am NOT going to get sucked into theological argument.

  74. To play devil’s advocate for the Dawkins snobs , I agree that his “God would have to be too complex” argument is a bad one, where he tries to get around the impossibility of arguing a negative. It smells like the creationist misunderstanding: “how does complex life come from simple life without design”.

    If we consider a being existing outside of our physical universe, then it seems very possible such a being called God could create our universe and any laws of nature it wanted to. The mechanism by which God created the universe wouldn’t have to be constrained by anything we know about physics, by the definition we just gave, God is not bound by the universe or the laws in it.

    But what can we now say about this God? Just because he’s possible within the confines of this argument doesn’t make him real. Does he act in the physical world? Then he or his consequences must in some way be part of this universe, and you should be able to learn something about him by looking at the physical world. Is God so subtle that we would never be able to tell? Then why bother if we’ll never be able to tell.

    The biggest problem I see with the idea of God is that you have no good way of telling anything about him. (Picking one out of many scriptures, or trusting in personal religious experience are not good ways).

    It often seems like theists call God the explanation, when really they mean “the arbitrary point at which I stop looking for explanation”. The God of the cosmological argument, etc. has no explanatory power. You can’t say why he did anything, because you don’t know anything about him that applies to the physical world.

    The difference to me is that the theistic God is just an abstract construct without explanatory power. Yeah, at some point beyond quarks there is no further explanation, but naturalism isn’t trying to say there is – it just says it’s a moot point until we find the next level of exlpanation. The theist is the one trying to shoehorn in the idea of God as an explanation.

  75. @Adam
    “But you must admit that the existence of God is not really a scientific question and so asking for empirical proofs is a bit unfair.”
    I’m not sure about this.
    It seems to me that a universe with at least one god in it would be different in some material or at least observable way from a universe without one.

    The secretive nature of the cristian god is one reason for so many of us not perceiving it. We are happy to say that effing the ineffable is just what naturalism and in particular science does so well.

  76. Woops, apologies for the typos. I never could spellll.

  77. @Tony L
    Ahh, the wonderful, paradoxical, useless definition of miracle as that which breaks physical laws.


    This is probably going to be a bit of a hodgepodge of a response to all three of you at once, so I hope you can make sense of the relevant parts.

    I see absolutely no reason to believe that theists do not go through the same process of justifying their beliefs as everybody else, just that different people are convinced by different arguments and have different experiences. Some theists (like some atheists) are irrational and believe all kinds of nutty stuff. But I am unwilling to accept that they are irrational on the basis that they believe in god without knowing why they have those beliefs. I am perfectly willing to accept that some people are rationally accepting arguments for God that I do not find convincing. After all it is possible that neither you nor I have access to the information required to judge whether a given individual’s acceptance of the bayesian argument from design is rational or not. When I hear a physicist say they believe because of the fine-tuning argument I don’t assume irrationality; perhaps they have beliefs that make that particular argument more convincing for them than it does for me.

    If that same physicist believes in the virgin birth despite their thorough knowledge of the laws of nature I would still assume they were rational! Isn’t the principle of charity a marvellous thing?! If I thought their belief in God could be a rational one then why would I not think their belief in miracles could be rational? Surely the two are connected? Violations of natural law are a matter for science, I agree! It is one of the ways in which science can progress after all, by discovering problems with laws. However, a single non-repeatable violation of natural law is not empirically testable. Whether or not it is rational to believe these events happen depends on whether you believe in God or not. If you have a rational belief in God it could be rational to believe in miracles.

    p.s. Rational does not just mean justified; things can be justified by testimony, sense experience, memory etc. When I say rational I mean justified by reason.

    p.p.s. I don’t honestly know what you are getting when you say I must mean consistent rather than justified. If a belief is consistent with the overarching system of other rational beliefs, that is justification! Well almost, it is certainly a very large part of it. I am assuming theists have some reason for believing in miracles before they find them to be consistent with their other beliefs. A reason like “That’s the kind of thing that the all loving god that I RATIONALLY believe in would get up to… That crazy guy!!”

    p.p.p.s. There is nothing paradoxical about the breaking of a natural law. I think you are making reference to Hume’s brilliant self-refutation?

  79. “Rational does not just mean justified; things can be justified by testimony, sense experience, memory etc. When I say rational I mean justified by reason”

    No I didn’t mean that at all. I meant justified. I have no idea why I wrote that.

  80. I have yet to read a book on religion by an atheist with any first, or even second, hand knowledge of what it is they hate. For the most part what they preach amounts to fanatical religious intolerable with no allowance made for any form of thinking but for the ‘correct’ one. Their books are filled with Straw Doll arguments rooted in pure hate and an iron-clad personal interpretation of the world that holds themselves incorruptible and curses all others as stupid or mad.

    Sam Harris has stated that “some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them,”, so I seriously doubt that a world run by atheists would be any better than this one.

  81. I read most of t arcticals on t Dawkins site and this is one of t best I have ever read. I have read about half of t books on his list and this makes me want to read t book compiled by Blackmore as well I readily admit to being predudice in favor of any naturalistic arguments over any supernaturalistic ones, but I enjoyed those that I read by most of y’all fellow posters as well.

    T argument by plantagia I thought was lame. And if t secularoutpost arctical is as Michele says it is, then I donot think this qualifies as a disputing of Dawkins position as this “designer” from another universe w/in t multiverse still had predesesors that evolved to get to that state and this “designer” is subject to whatever natural laws that govern its universe. This entity wouldnot be a supernatural entity, but simply an entity governed by diferent rules from a different universe.

    So as it stands I still donot see any serios disputing of Dawkins main argument, that a gods existence is quite unlikely.

    Also as part of a deal w my mom I once read “The Dawkins Delusion”, and I can verify that that was a complete waste of ink and paper.

  82. @ion zone

    Small point here but generaly us atheists donot at all want to run t world. T blackmore arctical, as I recall, specificly advises us not to try and use government coersion to achieve an aim. If theists could be trusted to do t same there wouldnot be such a need for our militency but so many of them are doctrinialy compelled to perform just those actions that Mr. Blackmore listed.

    And an even smaller point, curently I am (slowly and intermitently) re-reading “End of Faith” so I have that very quote still in my mind pretty clearly. And it is compleatly clear to me that Mr. Harris was not advocating anything at all radical or unreasonable when he said that. It was instead asking “What are we to do?” with a situation where someone holds to a propasition, say for example, that they believe that they are required by god to kill people.

    Mr. Harris asks this in a hypothetical manner. T problem is that because of peoples faith in god, plenty of people do hold to this proposition and they act on it.

    I am quit sure that Mr. Harris would much rather imprison or rehabilitate people who hold these propositions. But we know this is not always feasable and he was just pointing out what a fix we are presently in because of peoples faith and t respect that we give it.

  83. I cant’ believe how many people will argue about something they claim not to have read. I’ve read TGD so I guess I can join the discussion. Dawkins is one of the most brilliant minds on the planet. All of his books are great. If you would just read them you would quickly change your tune. Case closed, guaranteed. Too many people judge books by their cover. Dawkins dives into all of the big questions using the scientific method to flush out the inconsistency’s with religion and belief in god, or gods. You would have to be absolutely blinded and deluded by religious indoctrination or a complete idiot to not see the rational logic laid out by Dawkins.

  84. andrew (a different one)

    on the other hand juju; dawkins himself is guilty of indoctrinating thousands of young people with his brand of atheism; i have met dozens myself, they are incapable of actually discussing religion or religious philosophy as they merely spout what they where told in a book. surely this is a case of irreligious indoctrination? stupid is as stupid does; the religious dont have the monopoly on it, there are far too many stupid atheists out there to argue otherwise.

  85. i think people are forgetting that TGD was not an acedmeic paper, but rather designed to be an accessible account of interesting arguments written in language that non-acedemics could digest.

    Richard consistently says he was fulfilling the breif of his job to promote understanding. Part of that is to get people to question their own previously unchallenged assumptions and encourage them to think about things for themselves.

    To me, TGD was in no sense a Bible, where i have to unquestioningly accept every word and proposition he makes. It was the eloquent expression of vague and incomplete conclusions i had already reached, but not really given much serious attention to: It was, in a way, a ‘primer’ for me – certainly not ‘the last word’.

    The problem i have with any argument about ‘the existence of God’ is that when evidence suggestive of his non-existence is provided, the faithful resort to fallacious arguments such as “Atheists are responsible for atrocities, too”.

    The proof of religion’s view of people and the world is in the actions they perform in the name of their respective faith. To preach peace and Love, and say that such virtues are central to that Faith, whilst at the same time bombing civilians, protecting paedophiles, attaching ‘shame’ to condom use, assisting the Nazis by providing lists of potential ‘targets for detention’, telling children that they will burn forever in Hell if they dont obey, causing the suicide of hundreds of thousands of gay teenagers, preaching thrift to the poorest from the comfort of gilt drenched marble palaces…..well, you get the point i hope.

    These things are done with the instruction and approval of these peaceful and loving faiths. Indeed, the church’s position is more consistent with the worst of scriptural excesses. They even compromise the perfection of their own ‘divinely dictated’ principles – when their power feels sufficiently challenged. They change their standards and beleifs, not out of moral duty, but when the rational sciences illustrate their position to be indefensible – morally, intellectually and factually.

    It would be nice occasionally for the churches to make an pronouncement that was more in the interests of their flocks, than in their own. Religions seem unwilling to make any sacrifice at all, whilst blackmailing others to do so for its own benefit. Why were there no high ranking authorities on either of the planes, setting an exmaple to the ‘faithful footsoldiers’? Becasue its was the power of those individuals in authority that was being protected. Why doesnt the Church follow Chsrits exmaple by divesting itself of its wealth and actually doing something that nenfits the vulnerbale? Becaue without its over-awing wealth and imperial magnificence to distract the gullible, it would be considerbly less impressive. Conspicuous wealth created from the taxes and thithes of the poor is always used as an expression of authority – from the mamon mongers of banking to the pomp of royal ceremonies, to the White House.

    Religion is a mental health issue and it si also a political issue. It is about controlling groups of people by keeping them ignorant and instilling guilt and shame for asking questions. If a secular political party behaved as the churches do they would probably be prosecuted.

    The quote mining of Sam Harris to suggests that it is a soely atheist position that some ideas are so dangerous, killing might be justified was part of a wider argument about the ‘spiritual certainty’ of suicide bombers suicide bombers.

    Atheists are not trying to prove that God doesn’t exist – they are merely replying to the assertion that he does, and asking the proposers to support their argument. As i said in my earlier post, there is no more reason to believe in a deity than there is to believe in Sherlock Holmes – considerbaly less, in fact.

    I use the Sherlock Holmes model, because it is simple and thiests consistently (not occasionally) refuse to address it. Perhaps they think the suggestion is as facile and preposterous as i think theism is – but then, that’s supposed to be the point of the analogy.

    The proposition is that: God exists and his will is expressed in scriptures. The burden of proof is not with those who are not convinced. Scriptural inconsistencies and contradcitions must, therefore, be explained.

    As a gay person, why should i allow you to project your shame and guilt on to me? Why should I accept that, for beleiving in a series of ancient manuscripts of dubious authorship, you have the right to expect me to be subordinate to (or even die for) your tastes and prejudices?

    “Because I say so” is not sufficient reason for anyone to change anything – and that’s what it seems to boil down to, really. Non believers, via legislation and coercion, are expected to distort their humanity and suffer on the say so of a few preists for no other reason than they dont like it. Religion only ever succeeds on its own terms – and like an abusive ‘father’, resorts to violence when challenged.

    Quite a rant – but then when your very ‘being’, your ‘essence’ is under continual and ancient attack, i think the victim is enititled to object in as forceful a way as necessary to end the abuse.

    It is wrong to abuse people for your own dilectation – that one point alone, for me, discounts religion from serious ‘philosophical’ consideration as an exmaple to be followed. The actions carried out in religion’s name convinces me that it is, in itself, a weapon of mass destruction nad should be discouraged as much as apartheid (which it supported); Racism (which it supported); homophobia (which it still supports); slavery (Scripturally supported, too); child abuse (which it supports by inaction); genocide (need one say more on that?) and lying (upon which its foundation rests).

    Peace, love and reconciliation? Bah! Humbug.

  86. P.S :

    The right to your own Faith does NOT take precendence over the rights of non beleivers to live free from oppression, assault and discrimination.

    Only Narcisstic Psychopaths would take the view that it would.

  87. All you atheists are fools pure and simple. If the Holy One
    does not exists then why bother talking about it? How dare you assume to know it all because you don’t. You all are nothing but specks of dust. We all are when you consider what is out there. Richard Dawkins is nothing but a little “dwarf”. I am tired of having to listen to his view of everything as if atheism is the end all and be all of life Everything on earth that is manmade has had a designer and a creator so tell me you hyporcrites-why can’t nature have a creator? All of us on this planet better get out of our smug
    existence and rescue the homeless and comfort the dying and condemn the genocide of peoples. You atheists have no excuse. All Dawkins does is complain about believers and yet he sits in his ivory tower and pretends to be wise.I am not a scientist but I do know this that man has not discovered anything but only uncovered that which was established at the beginning. Study the works of science and then study the ways of righteousness and you will see that you are absolutely nothing. Stop claiming to know things when you don’t. It is reality that you can’t understand. And it is not religion because religion kills but love of the eternal is life.

  88. My point proven, i think

  89. lynne – the reason we bother talking about it is because of the effect it has on everyone else – the death, the violence (as barely contained in your post – words are deeds, after all), the hypocracy, the poverty, and the oppression.

    It would appear that you haven’t actually read nay of the posts – otherwise you would have referred to them (?).

    I never said i knew it all – you’re doing that.

    Perhaps nature does have a creator – no ones saying for definite that it doesn’t … but as you are the one promoting the idea, you need to provide some argument to support it – other than a foot stamping tantrum which tells us nothing about the existance of god/s but reveals a great deal about you. Perhaps you just needed to vent.

    “All of us on this planet better get out of our smug
    existence and rescue the homeless and comfort the dying and condemn the genocide of peoples”

    I agree – when ARE the faithful going to start tidying up the mess they’ve made and make reparation to all these people? Most of these atrocities, after all, are the property of Faith, and it tends to be the sciences that produce the wherwithal to heal the sick, develop the medicines, comfort the poor et al.

    “Stop claiming to know things when you don’t.” Erm – sorry we dont do that. We leave that to religion.

    I’m sorry you find questions so challenging and offensive, but dont you think the likes of Dawkins are entitled to ‘complain’ about aircraft being flown into buildings on nothing more than a faith, equally as strong as yours (if not stronger), with so little foundation?

    You say, quite rightly, that religion kills and then say that to love ‘the eternal’ is life – but you dont say where or how you gained this extraordinary ‘knowledge’ of the universe that noone else seems to posess: is it just ‘a feeling’, an ‘idea’ or wishful thinking? Perhaps it was privately revealed to you? What ‘creator’ do you beleive in, and where does your beleif come from? Is it a new Faith you have discovered? Is it Abrahamic, Pagan? What is your Creators name?

    I think there’s a troll in the house.

  90. Gatogreensleeves

    “There is nothing paradoxical about the breaking of a natural law.”-Adam

    If a physical “law” was “broken,” then it was never a “law” to begin with, just ill-defined. Worse, I find the argument made by some apologists even more difficult to swallow when they point to “an extremely unlikely event” as the kind of impetus a diety would choose to impress humans. GotG sux all the fun out of unique events. Perhaps I’m too prude…

  91. @ Gatogreensleeves

    If we define a mirace as a single non-repeatable violation of a law caused by god (or some other outside agent), which will not occur again in the same circumstances, there is no contradiction in the idea that a law can been broken. The law would continue to exist after the event as it did before, it would just have a single counterexample.

    Any theologian or apologist who describes miracles as instances of God attempting to pusuade people that he exists is a really bad one. Some argue from the occurance of miracles to the likelehood of God, but not in this way.

    p.s. I’m not quite sure how, as an atheist, I have got in to the position of arguing for the possibility of miracles. My earlier comments were an attempt to get a few people to accept that religious faith can be “rational” (or at least we should assume that it is and in some cases it is impossible to discover whether somebody else’s beliefs are rational or not) not that it is “true!”

  92. I’d really like to participate in dialog with the few people here who are making reasonable, even eloquent conversation, but there is just too much noise. kudos to those who have the fortitude to try and make a dent in the nonsense, sloppiness and downright malicious vitriol here.

  93. To see the value of the work Dawkins, Hitchens et al are doing, have a look at some of those mentioned at http://www.theage.com.au/national/beyond-belief-20100109-m00z.html who only realised they were atheists and that they were not alone as a result of such work.

  94. For those of you wishing to read an eminent philosopher’s even-handed treatment of The God Delusion, Stephen Law provides a fair analysis.


  95. Richard Dawkins is great.
    Doctrinaire delusions suck out loud.
    Sam Harris is right on the money.

  96. A very well written essay and obviously the fruit from an excellent brain.
    For my money, you fight proactive snake-oil salesmen by being proactive yourself!
    Indoctinating children with BS is child abuse. This will only leave us with another generation of brainwashed people, and this in a time when we need thinkers, not believers.

  97. andrew (a different one)

    a pity then gerry, that modern education, but more importantly to this topic, modern secular/athiest writings such as those of dawkins et al. do neither.

    forcing malleable minds to disbelieve is every bit the abuse forcing malleable minds to believe is. dawkins and his ilk may not have meant to do so, but they have.

    it would be better that people did not hear of the concepts at all untill they were mature enough mentally to understand them and make their own minds up. the kind of polemic created by both sides of the theism-fence prevents this and it is not better imo that we “level the playing field”

    ofcourse here in england religious schools still have to teach a standard curriculum, so i guess it isnt as bad as elsewhere in the world…

  98. Andrew, I,m not sure that I get your drift.
    I do not know of an instance where atheism is taught. Dawkins et al have not, to my knowlege, aimed their writings at children of a vulnerable age.
    Thinking does not take place in a vacuum nor the encouragement of same. Comparing, evaluating and proving of data and theories is what usually happens. The more available the better.
    I agree with you that the youth should only be exposed to thoughts that their maturity can handle. However, try and apply this in their access to porn and the like.
    So, let the data be there!
    Lastly, Atheism is exactly that – NOT religious, not another fairy tale.

  99. Andrew, hello, are you there?

  100. For thousand years, most of the people (of whole world) are religious. Assuming that rational = right, good, irrational = wrong, evil, Mr. Dawkins and his followers are ostentatiously frightened that – in 21st century – someone can behave so irrationally. Can anybody of those “defenders of reason” admit that – e. g. – Die Endloesung was realised in quite rational way?

    It seems that it became taboo to criticise atheism in the public sphere.

  101. Russell Blackford defends “New Atheism” in TPM | HumanistLife - pingback on January 26, 2010 at 3:50 pm
  102. andrew (a different one)

    gerry. sorry for the very late reply.

    your making the erraneaous (sp?) assertion that only children are, as i call it “malleable”, or as you call it “vulnerable”.

    the first year of my philosophy degree (nearly 4 years ago) i found that i was in a minority amongst the students in that at the time i had not even heard of dawkins, and nor was i interested in him. philosophical discussion on, for example, platonic concepts, which i did at the time know failry well, proved exceptionally frustrating, because these people simply spouted what i later learned to be dawkinsian idea’s. the vulnerable, in this case ranging in age from 18 to their mid 50’s, remain vulnerable no matter the age at which they are indoctrinated.

    in any case you also seem to misunderstand what atheism is and what religion is. they are not in actual fact mutually exclusive…one can have atheistic budhists for example…or, new atheism, given that the new atheism (or more properly, i suppose, popular new atheism, since im betting there is a “hard core” who consider themselves above the standard, as there always is…) is defined by meme-groups that have been latched onto by thousands of people needing something else to define themselves by without going to the effort of thinking it through themselves.

    new atheism has its own devloping canon and core tenets, it has its saints and its devils, it has a following that are willing to suspend their own capacity for reason to believe in it. hell, it even has its holy books, which are growing in number. in a terms of the basic predicates of the religious motivation it is a religion. just because it does not have 1800 years of dogma and precedence does not mean it is not so.

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