Showing posts with label theology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label theology. Show all posts

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Christina Odone Just Doesn't Understand

(source)
Back in February I posted my reaction to a piece Christina Odone wrote over at the Telegraph. It was  about how sad she was that students are not reading the Bible as much in school lately -- as if it's nothing more than religiously inspired literature. (She got no sympathy from me.) Well, she wrote something else that sort of bugs me.

Faith sent Dr Kent Brantly to fight Ebola – and it gave him the strength to accept God's will

Apparently, it was God's will to put him through hell by contracting Ebola, but then God had preordained that Brantly be a white American -- lucky him! So he was whisked away back in a state of the art jet to the most technologically advanced nation (so they say) to be treated with a new experimental serum. Thank God!

Listen, I'm happy he's alive, don't get me wrong.

However, I cannot help but wonder what the other hundreds of suffering patients back in Liberia could learn from this. Maybe they had even more strength to accept God's will. That's right, perhaps God's just testing them.

Brantly thanked God for his recovery. I know, I know, what would I expect from a Christian missionary? Still, I am allowed to cringe. Here's what Hemant Mehta had to say about it.
Some will say it’s impolite to bring any of this up, but giving a shout-out to God after surviving a tragedy may be the most natural, yet repugnant, thing to do. It wasn’t the grace of God that saved you. It was trained professionals, scientific breakthroughs, or just plain luck. There’s where the credit should go. There’s where all the credit should go. It’s just crazy that the things that actually saved Brantly’s life are treated as afterthoughts.
Perhaps God didn't hear all the prayers of the hundreds who died in Africa? Either they and their families were not praying hard enough or else we have a pretty ghastly and morbid experiment here with very clear results indeed. Either God is a monster, was out fishing or simply doesn't exist at all. I'll pick non-existence because I would rather not even entertain the existence of a being who behaves like this and this is completely justified with the utter lack of evidence for his existence. Thank goodness for that!

Anyway, back to Christina Odone's article.
But Dr Brantly's heartfelt gratitude has struck some commentators as inappropriate – even cruel. They argue that Uncle Sam, not God, saved the young Oregon physician. He was, one commentator sneered, “whizzed home” by the American authorities, to a hospital in Atlanta, where Zmapp, an antibody serum, was administered. Thousands of Africans were not so lucky; they were not evacuated, or given the newest medical treatment available. They died.
It was modern science that saved Brantly and this is where his gratitude should rightly go. This seems to be what Odone doesn't see.
Now Dr Brantly speaks of his gratitude to the same God that has overseen the Ebola outbreak.
Precisely. What's the deal with this God who apparently gives all the black and brown people horrendous diseases knowing full well they're going to suffer horrendous deaths? Especially since Liberia is 85.5% Christian and 12.2% Muslim. Must be all the indigenous and others, right?
The secularist finds this baffling and downright nasty: how can Brantly thank God for saving him, while knowing that men, women and children back in Liberia are dying all around him of the same virus? Surely only a Wasp’s arrogance explains Brantly’s reaction. He thinks he is one of the chosen few who deserves God’s help – in the form of an expensive drug – and damn the rest.
I think she means atheist here, not secularist.

Anyway, I don't think it necessarily has to do with Brantly being a white anglo-saxon Protestant. It seems to be a problem pretty common among all theists out there. I'm still waiting for an adequate solution to this problem of suffering as well. It's also so interesting that God apparently favours the highly atheistic and secular countries to the north while apparently utterly despises the highly religious ones in Africa.

Odone calls this sneering, but I call it a legitimate question. How could anyone seriously thank a God that not only saves a few -- for seemingly random or geographical reasons -- after He either created or stood by watching the disaster in the first place?

Well, Ms. Odone, please enlighten me!
Dr Brantly has faith. And he would answer that it does not help understand God’s ways, but accept them. Faith means total surrender to the divine will. The young missionary is giving thanks to God, because he believes He has saved his life; but he would have just as readily died with a “praise be to God” on his lips.
Oh come on! You realize that if these were the actions of anyone but God everyone would be calling to have them thrown to into the depths of Hades. With the God glasses, the almighty murderer can do no wrong whatsoever.

The rest of the article does nothing whatsoever to answer the problem brought up at the start. How does it make any sense at all to thank a being who allowed thousands to become sick from a virus he apparently created, then allow them to suffer horribly and die all the while holding the cure in his hand.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Michael Robbins & The Theist Cult of Nietzsche

(source)
By now I'm certain that many of you would have had the chance to encounter Michael Robbins review of this new book by Nick Spencer, Atheists: The Origin of the Species over at Slate. Robbins deserves a medal for the title of the article, Know Nothing: The true history of atheismIf you scroll down, a header appears at the top reading: 'Atheists used to take the idea of God seriously . That's why they mattered.'  If it's meant to be click bait, it worked with over 6,500 comments after a mere four days. Although I find these articles frustrating, something else is beginning to bother me even more. I just don't get where these articles are coming from.

The trouble starts as early as the first two paragraphs. This is where Robbins bemoans the popular idea that religion once touted the answers to life the universe and everything but then reason and science came along and gradually took it away from the clergymen one fact at a time. He points out that even the church fathers would have been confused by those who see Science and Faith in constant opposition.
... setting up an opposition between reason and faith that the church fathers would have found rather puzzling.
Yes, the church fathers would have likely found this rather puzzling. They thought having faith in that which there was not sufficient evidence was perfectly reasonable. Science has achieved an impressive body of knowledge that requires no Spanish Inquisition to buttress it.

As atheists, we have access to a bottomless ocean of Christian faith trying to pass itself off as proof for God. But it's evidence we require in our modern world where mere strongly held religious belief and mere faith is not adequate evidence for a proposition to be true. This is what the scientific method has brought us -- this is what gives it its power over battling feelings and emotions.

Now religion pretends to know more than simple natural phenomena. It pretentiously boasts knowledge of all time and space through its books of Genesis and Revelation. It claims to know both the natural and the supernatural in its entirety. It sets up a being who it claims knows the thoughts and hearts of all men and women for all times past and future. Surely, this bolder claim attempts to annex even the natural phenomena relegated to science. If this is not Robbins' Christian views, then I submit that it is the case for the ignorant multitude, the οἱ πολλοί, whether he likes it or not.
To be sure, several scriptures offer, for instance, their own accounts of creation. But Christians have recognized the allegorical nature of these accounts since the very beginnings of Christianity. 
Allegory is a natural escape for anyone who wishes to gloss over logical contradictions in their holy books. Though it comes with a price. Each time one of these escape hatches is cut into a wall, the more weakened its supporting function. How many escape hatches does Robbins have cut through the walls supporting his faith edifice? Are there any walls left? Is the structure still standing? Is his scripture merely a collection of feel good Aesop's fables?

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

MUSIC VIDEO: Everything You Need To Know About "The Holy Trinity"

Holy Trinity according to The Axis of Awesome
So Australian comedy group The Axis of Awesome came out with this easy to understand instructional video explaining something I've never been able to figure out - even when I was a Catholic: The Holy Trinity.

Watch and learn!


Sunday, 23 March 2014

How a Templeton Prize Winner Sees Atheism: Essay One

(source)
Last week, I read a short series of very small essays by the latest Templeton Prize winner, Tomáš Halík. I find it fascinating to read pieces like this, they give me an insight on how even very intelligent Christians misunderstand atheism.

Why Have You Forsaken Me? Five Theses on Faith and Atheism

Halík has been praised for his soft, gentle touch - much like Pope Francis. He's also rather wily.

Since time is a rare commodity for me these days, I'll start out here with a couple comments about his first essay. I'll follow up with more if the Muse moves me.

He begins the first essay by pointing out a curious commonality between Abrahamic religions and atheism - they are both not polytheisms. Isn't that sort of clever?

Although, I might raise my eyebrow at such a statement when considering the fervent Catholic devotion to Mary and the Saints, I do admit that monotheism in general has nicely consolidated the multiple gods of antiquity into a single godhead. It's just that atheists like me go one step further and abandon belief in this single god.

Yes, we both do not believe in the real existence of multiple gods but atheists do not believe in the Christian god for the very same reasons. There is no special pleading there.

Which brings me back to Halík who makes it clear that his god is, of course, nothing like some uber version of the gods of pantheist faiths - ancient of modern.
It is very important to recognize that our God is not merely one exemplar of a group of beings called "gods." ...
Sounds good! Whereas Minerva or Durga may be discrete expressions of some kind of numenus out there, this Christian god is much more. So what is it?
He is a great Mystery. Sometimes I find myself agreeing with atheists when they say there is no God, if by that they mean there is not a God who is "a thing among other things." In this they are correct.
Or, in other words, he is even less well-described then these gods of old. Halík's god is not a thing, which makes it pretty damn hard to defined, describe, investigate or prove. Upon reading this, I was pretty let down.
That is why I like to begin my dialogues with atheists with the question, "What does this God, in whom you do not believe, look like?" ...
Do you see what happened here? Halík just ducked any responsibility to define the God he believes in by waiving his hand about and calling it a Mystery - which is no description at all! It is not my job as an atheist to define God, it is up to the theist to describe his god so that he may prove it to me - or at least persuade me.
... and sometimes, after my partner in dialogue tells me about his image of God - as a heavenly policeman or a big daddy behind the scenes of our world - I say, "Thank God you do not believe in such a God! I don't believe in such a God either."
Hey, wait a minute! Isn't that my job as the atheist?

I find this so hilarious. Haliík's amazing schtick  - within the confines of this article at least- is to admit he has no idea about God and that he cannot describe him and so asks the atheist to define God for him; which he admits, more or less, is an impossible task.

Brilliant! No wonder he won the prize.

He then brings out the common religionist definition of materialism: a souless, vaccuous, empty world with no meaning. How could it have any meaning without God? Halík's imagined dialogue partner calls this the something beyond us.
People believe that there must be something, even though they will not call it "God." And this is a challenge for the theologian, to continue this dialogue and to interpret this "something."
Many atheists would tell you need not mean a god or anything supernatural at all. It can mean the humanity in humanism - the energy a group makes in song and dance at a Sunday Assembly or even working at a soup kitchen.

Then there is the thrill that runs down the spine when one contemplates their ultimate smallness compared to the Cosmos.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Commenter: Hey, New Cosmos! Stop Picking On The Catholic Church!


I haven't had a chance to watch episode one of the reboot of Cosmos yet. I must admit that, much like the reboot of Doctor Who, I'm a little nervous that this new version just won't match the original Carl Sagan masterpiece.

That said, I read an amusing review of episode one on Happy Nice Time People, a blog affiliated to own of my favourite blogs of all time, Wonkette.


I found the review to be funny and somewhat insightful, but as is common over at this blog, the comments are where it's at.

Here's the start of one comment that really lept out at me, the ex-Catholic atheist, by one Mike Pesarchick. 
A fine program overall, but I was disappointed with the obligatory Catholic Church bashing masquerading as the tale of Giordano Bruno, as if the Church was and still is anti-science. This is not so! Bruno was executed, after being given numerous opportunities to recant, NOT for his views on extra-solar planets but for denying the Trinity. I'm glad that Cosmos, in the interest of fairness, also at least pointed out that Bruno's "scientific" views also were mocked and rejected by Protestants in Germany, Switzerland and England.
OH WELL THEN, mea Culpa! The totally scientifically okay Church had no problem with the extra-solar planets. This impious mind just couldn't believe that three is the same as one.  He wouldn't recant; so stubborn! He didn't accept a bunch of unproven theology so he had to die. Well, that's infinitely more reasonable. Thanks for clearing that up.

At first, I thought that perhaps he was just joking. This is after all Wonkette, a satirical blog. I'm still not sure, but he did include several impassioned examples where the Catholic scientists have made contributions to science. If it's satire, then it so well done as to look real to me.

He concludes his comment like this:
I'll look forward to future episodes of the new "Cosmos," but hopefully without the Catholic Church bashing and ignorance of the Church's many contributions to science and education over the past 2,000 years, specifically the idea that morality should be a central component of any science, and that in reality, science and religion are not mutually exclusive.
How about a commitment to accuracy and truth being the central component of any science? It seems to me that this usage of the world morality could very well just be a stand in for all that complies with and does not cross Catholic theology. In other words, the Church keeps its hands on Science to try to keep Science in line.

For me, there is a way for one god to be the same as three - the Trinity. It only works if God doesn't exist at all.  Something without any kind of existence of discernable qualities can be made to equate to any other nebulous undefined cosmic vaguery: 0 times 1 = 0 times 3.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

My Reactions To Nicholas Frankovich's Comments



A long time ago, I wrote a post reacting to a piece by Nicholas Frankovich over at the National Review: Do Atheists Exist? I found the article about as irritating as anyone would if their own identity was being existentially challenged. Yes, it was pretty annoying.

Well, my post must have shown up in one of Nicholas' Google filters and he was kind enough to respond to my post in a comment. This is fantastic, by the way. I mean, I'm always really impressed when someone takes the time to leave a comment, especially someone who writes for the National Review.
Re religion and atheism: The definition of "religion" is disputed, even among scholars of religion. I don't attempt to define it in the article. I don't say that being morally or philosophically serious necessarily means one is "religious." I only note that it's a position that was argued by Dworkin, for example. It's also held by Ethical Culture Societies, which self-identify as a religion and are officially atheist (though emphatically not antitheist). 
If religion as you define it is bad, you'll reject the label, as many do (including some Christians). Dworkin and the Ethical Culture Societies define religion as good, and so they claim the label. That's all. 
It sounds like you're unfamiliar with Jurgen Habermas. Check him out. He's been prolific over the years, so no one except him (and not even him, given that he thinks a lot and so probably changes his mind about things now and then) will agree with all of it, but you might find in his writing some nuggets of insight that you value. 
Re atheism and sidestepping the mystery of Being itself: If you don't sidestep it, you're probably not an atheist, insofar as classical theism, commonly understood, is the response to that mystery. Are you sure that your experience of it is different from that of those who consider themselves theists? I'm not. 
The God of faith, the God of the philosophers: It's a longstanding distinction, and helpful. I gather that your identity as an atheist is based on your rejection of the God of faith. I'm not convinced that you reject the God of the philosophers, though it's clear that you reject the term "God" and the identification of the God of the philosophers with the God of faith.Re "nothing": The concept is problematic in mathematics, formal logic, and philosophy, for reasons that I touch on in the article. Heidegger's treatment of the question in "What Is Metaphysics?" is good, and I recommend it. 
A couple of corrections: 
Moses does not ask God why there is something rather than nothing. 
I say not that atheists are too quick to assume they've understood God but that they are too quick to assume they've understood someone who ventures to speak about the mystery of being. 
So, I'm by no means a theologian. And I'm sorry to say that although this response took a very long time, it's far from a masterpiece -- I spent much time avoiding it. In fact, it's really nothing more than a reaction to his comments. I guess it's no much more than one end of a conversation.

Anyway, I think his first point has to do with definitions and I think that, in a sense, Frankovich's original arguments rests primarily definitions of theism and atheism. More on this later.

Okay, I've never heard of Jürgen Habermas, but he sounds interesting enough. Still, I'd like to take this opportunity to vent a little about some of the Catholics with whom I converse. They all seem to be a well-read lot with rather ornate and complicated minds; with plenty of intricate folds which could be used to stash away difficult things. In other words, I mean this in a good way and a bad way too.

Several years ago, after my first wave of doubt, I settled into a sort of neo-pagan position and the very first Catholic I encountered then calmly told me I was dismissing a religion that I didn't properly understand. When I asked him to please clarify, he advised me to tolle lege my way through Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica. It was all there, I just had to read the whole thing, come up with arguments against them and demonstrate them. Well after I get through all that, wouldn't it be a shame if it were all a big waste of time.

An analogy. The Hindu, of course, could demand that I read all of the Vedas to discount Hinduism. Muslims could refer me to the Hadith.

More recently on the Catholic front, I have been prescribed Frank Sheed's Theology and Sanity by Catholic Blogger Stacy Transancos.  I went forth valiantly into the material and penetrated fairly deeply until mind recoiled in horror several times. Such warping and bending of the very fabric of reality in this work caused a sort of shock and awe to my intellect - which I was advised to put on pause when it came between me and believing.

Christianity is just not easy, apparently. Whenever I ask for straight answers I get sent off to many a long tome. After awhile, it sort of begins to feel like being led down a bunny trail.

In the end, it's really up to Christians to package the information in such a way that it is solid convincing evidence for the atheist. The burden of proof is on them and it seems like after 2,000 years of work, they still have a ways to go.

Editor's Note: Shortly after publishing (less than one day), I changed Catholic to Christian in the last two paragraphs.
Re atheism and sidestepping the mystery of Being itself: If you don't sidestep it, you're probably not an atheist, insofar as classical theism, commonly understood, is the response to that mystery. Are you sure that your experience of it is different from that of those who consider themselves theists? I'm not.
Again, a sort of definition game. because, apparently, theism is the response to the mystery of Being. No, I'm not sure that my experience, whatever that is supposed to mean, is different than those who consider themselves theists. I'm reasonably sure we experience being in similar ways but we have different ways of processing it.

Responding to mystery by feeling the wonder, awe and emotion but not slapping a God label on it is the intellectually honest response to that mystery.

When it comes to the god of the philosophers, I did consider myself a neoplatonist for some time. I read Plotinus and some of the others. Then I realized that the closer one went towards the monad, so to speak, the slimmer god got until it was hardly anything at all.

Too much ado about nothing. Nothing, for me, means nothing at all. In a sense, nothing can never exist because it doesn't exist. If I were to put my bets on the table, I would say that there is no nothing and as a God comes closer to this, he too disappears into oblivion.

Nicholas responded also to a reader, Fallulah, who asked what was meant by God of the Philosophers. To which Nicholas responded:
"What is the God of the philosophers"? Classical theism, based in ontology, the mystery of being. Forget labels ("atheism," "theism"), tribal loyalties (to atheism or theism), and semantics ("atheism" and "theism" again). 
The fact of being elicits wonder in you when you think about it slowly enough. It elicits wonder in me too. It elicits wonder in people who call themselves atheists and in those who call themselves theists. 
Over the centuries people have established linguistic conventions for naming the mystery of being, though no one can explain it. We can only point to it. 
If we're going to use the word "God," either to deny or to affirm it, let's define the term. If you're allergic to it, fine. We can call what it points to something else. It's not a proper name. It's only a label.
As I explain in my article. It's not that long. Tolle, lege. 
Why don't we stop trying to define God? Because it seems like this word has billions of subtly different definitions and we're no closer to knowing what it is. It seems like this word has so many meanings that it means nothing at all. Nothing can be pinned on it anymore.

Why not leave this wonder at the fabric of being as the awe that Carl Sagan spoke about? Isn't it amazing how both theists and atheists can agree on the compelling -- nay spiritual -- emotion of this mystery of why we're here and how we're here? The atheist may look to Science for explanations, spurred on by his feeling of wonder and excitement at the world, not unlike a child. While it seems like the theist must slap their God word on top;  a pointer which, as far as I can tell, means very little on its own... practically nothing.


Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Atheism is an Offshoot of Deism Says Guardian Writer

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (source)
In an sort of ominously entitled Guardian series, How to believe, Theo Hobson, makes an interesting analysis of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and paints an even more "interesting" picture of atheism.

Atheism is an offshoot of deism

Apparently, atheism is not distinct from the deism of Rousseau because it inherits the semi-Christian assumptions of this creed.

I'm sure you can see where this is going. Sit tight and prepare yourself for yet another interesting definition of atheism given to us for free from a theologian . I'll start out with my definition of atheism though, which seems so utterly unsatisfying to Hobson or writers like Damon Linker, that they feel the need to add to the definition.
Atheist: One who does not believe in gods.
That's really it. Any other so-called extra attributes are simply that - they simply describe other beliefs or opinions the person has which could very well flow from their atheism but not essential. Atheism is just lack of belief in a god and I wish folks like Theo would simply accept this.
Atheism derives from religion? Surely it just says that no gods exist, that rationalism, or 'scientific naturalism', is to be preferred to any form of supernaturalism.
Actually, no. Let me stop you there. In the proper sense of the word, atheism does not assert that no gods exist. Atheism is a lack of belief in gods not the claim there are no gods. Now some atheists may take things a step further and proclaim there are no gods, but this is not a requirement for atheism.

Likewise, this bias towards rationalism and scientific naturalism over any supernaturalism is also quite common, but not required by any stretch. Many atheistic Buddhists do not believe in a god but they still cling to belief in an elaborate mechanism of universal justice in the form of reincarnation -- completely supernatural. Then there are atheist UFO groups like the Raëlians.
Actually, no: in reality what we call atheism is a form of secular humanism; it presupposes a moral vision, of progressive humanitarianism, of trust that universal moral values will triumph. (Of course there is also the atheism of Nietzsche, which rejects humanism, but this is not what is normally meant by 'atheism').
What? I think what Hobson really ought to say is secular humanism is a form of (secular) humanism.

Personally, I see his proposition as being utterly upside down. Humanism may derive its inspiration from the very human sense of justice, empathy, compassion and morals -- often to be found (somewhere) within the practitioner's religion. Those who do not believe in a god would then be secular humanists. This is not a difficult concept.

This way of seeing it makes more sense and is what the majority of atheists and Humanists out there would agree with. However, such a point of view jettisons any requisite god and this seems to be disturbing for some theists who wish to see god where it is not to be found.

Put another way, atheism is a starting point that cuts off the path towards a god- or faith-based ethical and moral system for living. What might sit on top of it could be some manifestation of Secular Humanism or Atheism+ or some atheist religion or philosophy (Taoism) or an eclectic and likely self-contradicting system assembled organically over time.
So what we know as atheism should really be understood as an offshoot of deism. For it sees rationalism as a benign force that can liberate our natural goodness. It has a vision of rationalism saving us, uniting us. For example, AC Grayling, in his recent book The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism, argues that, with the withering of religion, 'an ethical outlook which can serve everyone everywhere, and can bring the world together into a single moral community, will at last be possible'. This is really Rousseau's idea, that if we all listened to our hearts, there would be 'one religion on earth'.
Well, not all atheists see the world this way.

And, oh, I don't know, maybe they both had the same idea?

In fact, from mere anecdotal experience myself and various discussions, I've noticed that many people start out with rigid theist beliefs and then drift across the spectrum towards atheism. I myself never drifted through Deism, but I did pass through a form of Pantheism and many of my acquaintances also seem to have. Could it be that atheism owes to pantheism because they both deny the existence of a god existing outside of time and space?
On one hand atheism is more coherent than deism – it neatly eliminates the supernatural. But on the other hand it has less self-knowledge: it does not understand that it remains fuelled by a religious-based vision of human flourishing.
Wow. Is this ever irritating. Why, exactly, is atheism -- a idea, a term not anything material -- fueled by a religious vision of human flourishing? I feel as if I missed the memo here. A whole point of humanism is to recognize and celebrate human flourishing with no need of paying lip service to some god.

But apparently, there is no escaping this God, according to Hobson. He seems to be saying that even disbelief in God is somehow based on a religious belief. Why does this seem utterly insane to me?

The assertions made by Hobson are so bold and general that I cannot take them seriously. It all reads like nothing more than wordplay.

Two comments do a much better job of expressing my exasperation with articles like this.
Certain (rather more arrogant) religious people insist on seeing atheism as a reflection of theism rather than a rejection of it. It makes them feel better I guess, but of course is absolutely misguided. (Topher)
And...
Yes what a bag of bollocks this is. Atheism is an 'offshoot' of deism the way that absence is an offshoot of presence. 
It seems that what theists can't stand about atheism is the sheer absence of belief. Get over it. (dogfondler)
 Okay, got that out of my system!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Guardian Writer Thinks Atheists Need More Theology To Attack The "Right" God

The Guardian writer Oliver Burkeman thinks that atheists really need to beef up their theological skills if they want to be taken seriously by serious theists.

The one theology book all atheists really should read

Where to begin with this one other than the beginning?

One reason that modern-day debates between atheists and religious believers are so bad-tempered, tedious and infuriating is that neither side invests much effort in figuring out what the other actually means when they use the word 'God'. This is an embarrassing oversight, especially for the atheist side (on which my sympathies generally lie). After all, scientific rationalists are supposed to care deeply about evidence. So you might imagine they'd want to be sure that the God they're denying is the one in which most believers really believe. No 'case against God', however watertight, means much if it's directed at the wrong target. 

What Burkeman should realize is that it's often not through a lack of trying that atheist end up attacking the wrong god. If theists could actually come up with some kind of coherent definition of what God is supposed to be, and agree on it, it's then up to them to provide evidence for the existence of their god. Actually, I'll even take several competing theories for God if we can try to narrow it down to less than one God per theist.

I mean, who would expect any other outcome if theists are unable to first agree and then define the meaning of this God thing they posit? We are left only able to question and attack what few scraps of reasonably articulated sense happen to fall out of any theistic belief after deep prodding. We can only test testable claims and point out those that are not testable. Any other items are the burden of the believer to properly formulate as their case.

As a scientific rationalist, I do care deeply about evidence. Theists are making a claim that their god exists. Please, show me the evidence!
So you might imagine they'd want to be sure that the God they're denying is the one in which most believers really believe. No 'case against God', however watertight, means much if it's directed at the wrong target. 
This is so backwards I suspect it must be some kind of joke. If someone claims to be in touch with his wonderful wampersneezle, is it my duty to fully understand it before disbelieving him? What if his explanations are no more than an emphatic feeling or emotional story? What if his beliefs are internally inconsistent? Do I need to make a watertight case against his wampersneezle? I mean, really now.

He goes on to throw a little scorn on Christian and Muslim "fundamentalists" by saying they support a kind of superhero god that can do anything he likes to the universe, including creating it to begin with. Well, Burkeman will have none of this simpleton pablum - that's for babies and shame on atheists like Dawkins for attacking this incorrect view of God!

Most theists may not believe in a superhero god. No, wait, I would say that many theists believe in this to some degree or why would they pray? Why would they take any of the Bible seriously? Why would they believe in a god-man resurrection?

And so, thank you, Oliver. By dismissing the most common view of God, you're essentially doing my job for me. I mean, aren't I the one who's supposed to mock these beliefs?

Now Burkeman posits a much better definition of God, which we should at least consider attacking instead. Finally, some clarity, because, God knows, we haven't seen anything but moving targets when it comes to God anywhere else. Let's get down to the brass tacks!
"'… according to the classical metaphysical traditions of both the East and West, God is the unconditioned cause of reality – of absolutely everything that is – from the beginning to the end of time. Understood in this way, one can’t even say that God "exists" in the sense that my car or Mount Everest or electrons exist. God is what grounds the existence of every contingent thing, making it possible, sustaining it through time, unifying it, giving it actuality. God is the condition of the possibility of anything existing at all.'" 
God, in short, isn't one very impressive thing among many things that might or might not exist; "not just some especially resplendent object among all the objects illuminated by the light of being," as Hart puts it. Rather, God is "the light of being itself", the answer to the question of why there's existence to begin with. In other words, that wisecrack about how atheists merely believe in one less god than atheists do, though it makes a funny line in a Tim Minchin song, is just a category error. Monotheism's God isn't like one of the Greek gods, except that he happens to have no god friends. It's an utterly different kind of concept.
Right. This doesn't seem clear to me. It reminds me of the sort of view of God I had shortly before I became an atheist. Ever dwindling, safely reduced to a few words tied to nothing really tangible. Vaporware.

So am I to understand that God has been reduced down to not an object at all - you know, nothing?

Has God been reduced down to a condition? What the fuck is "the light of being itself?" This is supposed to be philosophy, not a greeting card.

This is hard to attack because there's nothing there at all!

Burkeman correctly predicts my reaction and gives this interesting challenge.
If you think this God-as-the-condition-of-existence argument is rubbish, you need to say why. And unlike for the superhero version, scientific evidence won't clinch the deal. The question isn't a scientific one, about which things exist. It's a philosophical one, about what existence is and on what it depends.
Because God is no longer an object it is beyond the touch of science. This safety puts God aloof of all reality to the point of it being impossible for it to have any interaction with it at all. How do we even know anything about such a God if it's not a thing?

Well, some kind of logical or mathematical proof would be required, I guess. So what are the parameters? Apparently, existence must depend on something. I leave it to Burkeman to provide the proof for how existence is anything but a description of an object or concept and not really anything at all in itself. I also leave him to demonstrate to me why this mythical object-thing called existence must depend on some other (non) thing?

Or are we just throwing around words? Because I'm certain that my wampersneezle ate his God and is now the condition of existence because it has very large non-object-teeth.

I leave you with this nugget and my response.
... even if you could show that most believers believe in a superhero God, would that mean it's the only kind with which atheists need engage? If a committed creationist wrote a book called The Evolution Delusion, but only attacked the general public's understanding of evolution, we'd naturally dismiss them as disingenuous. We'd demand, instead, that they seek out what the best and most acclaimed minds in the field had concluded about evolution, then try dismantling that.
If some atheists want to spend their time attacking these acclaimed minds in theology, then they are welcome to. But in the big picture, it is most important to address what those mere spiritual hoi polloi believe. Otherwise, atheists like Dawkins would be no more relevant than those very few spiritually enlightened who seem to believe in hardly any god at all.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Darwin's Great Great Great Granddaughter Becomes Catholic Theologian: Checkmate, Atheists!

Charles Darwin
So back in June the Catholic news and blogosphere was rocked to its core again by a story about a highly educated smart person who was raised non-religious who became Catholic.

Yes, I know, it sounds improbable - and many Catholics apparently agree because they made quite a fuss about it! - but it did happen.

The last time I heard about this sort of thing happening was way back when the atheist blogger, Leah Libresco announced she was turning Catholic.

This was big news! She ended up getting interviews on major news networks for her conversion to Catholicism!

Now, if Catholicism makes so much sense, what with over 2,000 years of theology backing it up, then why is this such earth-shattering news? Okay, never mind that obvious question - look the other way! - isn't it amazing? Let's get back to this last story, the one in June.

Well, it turns out that Darwin's great-great-great granddaughter converted to Catholicism and is now an independent Catholic scholar and theologian. Earth shattering isn't it? I mean, she's related to Darwin!

I-n-c-o-n-c-e-i-v-a-b-l-e!

Descendant of Charles Darwin becomes a Catholic apologist

So says the Catholic Herald back in June 2013. The descendant shall be here afterwards referred to as Laura Keynes.

In the interview, she pointed out some of the motivating factors that led to her conversion to Catholicism. None of these make much sense to me. Anyway, when she was working on her doctorate at Oxford, she began to re-assess her values and was influenced by Dawkins and the New Atheists.
The debate sparked by Richard Dawkins’s book The God Delusion inspired her to read more about the subject, and she concluded that “New Atheism seemed to harbour a germ of intolerance and contempt for people that could only undermine secular Humanist claims to liberalism”. 
She writes: “If atheism’s claim to the intellectual high ground is bolstered by my ancestor’s characteristic ability to explore and analyse inconsistencies in the evidence, that same family characteristic led me towards a sceptical assessment of what can and can’t be known absolutely.”
I have about as much difficulty parsing the first paragraph above as I did trying to understand some of Libresco's reasons for converting to Catholicism. All I can interpret here is that some atheists came off as intolerant to her. And this very intolerance will inevitably lead to a total undermining to any claims to liberalism secular Humanism may have.

Come again?

A. I have no idea how some vocal atheists rub off on her could possibly lend credibility to Catholicism or reflect badly on atheism as a whole or how tenable it is philosophically.

B. I have no idea how what a few atheists say could ever undermine Secular Humanism as a positive movement.

C. I haven't the foggiest what claims to liberalism really means.

Look, I get it. She was put off by some atheists out there and decided she felt better as a Catholic. Why not just come out and say it?

As for Darwin's ability to explore an analyse. Nobody doubts that. And there are very smart people who are Catholic out there. I don't doubt that either. What makes Darwin different is he used the scientific method to actually demonstrate his ideas. He was so self critical and skeptical, that he worked for years gathering actual scientific evidence to back up his theory. Christian philosophers and theologians have been at it for hundreds of years. I can't say they've come up with anything that even compares to what Darwin achieved.

As for those things that are absolutely true, I would assume she can only be talking about logical or mathematical absolutes. Because when it comes to things in the physical world - how can we ever hope to know anything with absolute confidence?

Anyway, back in June, I sort of pushed this story aside and forgot about it. But it seems like evolution also occurs in the Catholic and Christian online media as well. You see, I kept seeing this story pop up again and again. It's like some kind of strange recessive gene that's being selected by the Catholic blogosphere.

The National Catholic Register re-ran the story on August 14th.

If Only Charles Darwin Could See His Descendant Now

Either they don't have windows in heaven or hell or else the Register agrees with me that there is no afterlife! Gotcha, Catholic Register! Yes, I know, it's a figure of speech. But I find it an amusing thought nonetheless.
But in mid-June, the Catholic Herald reported the startling news that this highly educated Darwinian descendant had evolved into a Catholic apologist, joining Britain’s Catholic Voices.
No, actually it's not very startling at all. Unless they believe that views on religion are genetically inherited and this is a shocking disproof of evolution?  No, they couldn't think that. They must be startled that a highly educated person would become Catholic? Yes, that seems to be what they're saying.
“Atheists prefer certainty and use Darwin’s theory of evolution to state categorically that God does not exist, overegging Darwin in their argument in a way that Darwin himself would be uncomfortable with. He thought agnosticism the more coherent position, saying, ‘I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect.’ Resting in doubt, he allowed others their conscience. He set out to follow the evidence where it led, not bring down Christianity. The evidence did not have to lead inevitably to materialism, but, for various cultural reasons, this is where it led: to materialism and the culture of death. This is the real battle: the culture of life, supported by Christianity, vs. the culture of death, supported by materialism.”
I'm sure some atheists will use evolution as some kind of proof that God doesn't exist. It could be used to argue against some definitions of gods. But, of course, all the theist must do is slide into some different register of God and the atheist is left once again at square one. It's like philosophical whac-a-mole. A more appealing means is forcing the theist to define their god and then point out the contradictions there. I'll wait for Keynes to do this to lay out the functional diagram of her god so we may all peer review it together. I suggest she comes up with something original, since the eons of work by the theologians of yore just didn't produce anything useful.

As for the culture of life being Christianity, I remain completely confused. I would say that all life is supported solely by materialism. By this I mean all matter, what is real, what is in this world and not in the fanciful myths and mountains of unprovable and nonsensical words written by armies of theologians.  Oh, if those books would only rot away in the basements of empty churches - useless corpses of once majestic forests reduced to material vessels containing nothing but stale immaterial ideas from dark and tragic times.

Like secularism, materialism is an overloaded word these days. This is a shame. Ever since the days of Plotinus, the Church has simply never been a big fan of matter - that is to say, reality.
"... I would then ask the claimant to consider whether it might not, paradoxically, be anti-intellectual, and therefore undermining reason as a value, to dismiss belief in God as irrational and beyond reason, because this claim represents a threat to the practice of philosophy and theology as academic disciplines. The question of whether the existence of God is demonstrable by rational argument has kept philosophers and theologians busy for centuries. I’d ask the claimant to explain how closing this discussion furthers the cause of reason. So I’d respond gently, but if I really lost my patience, I’d tell them: 'Just go and read Aquinas!'”
What? ...

Okay, I don't think Aquinas will make it any easier for me to understand.

Yes, we've been wrong for a very long time. Thank goodness for the scientific method.

But here's what really spurned me on to write this post.

Catholic Church 1, New Atheists 0

A woman with some of Charles Darwin's DNA converted to Catholicism and is having a go at being a theologian! Well then!

CHECKMATE, NEW ATHEISTS!

I think, like the whole Leah Libresco affair, the very zeal and rabid enthusiasm the Catholic online press has gobbled this all up with betrays some sort of underlying lack of confidence.

It seems like nothing warms the hearts of Catholic readers more than a story of atheist turned Catholic. It's like a rare and colourful bird who's scarcity brings about feelings of wonder. I suppose it helps to confirm their faith somehow.

You can find an article written by Laura herself at Strange Notions with the equally shocking title:

I’m a Direct Descendant of Darwin…and a Catholic


Children at Kasese Humanist School
I've started a fundraiser to help build classrooms on newly purchased land for the Kasese Humanist Primary School.

Please consider donating!


Monday, 4 March 2013

Apparently New Atheism Is Dead, Again.

A much younger looking Dawkins.  He sort of reminds me of Bowie.
Back in January I commented about an article by Canon Ritchie, who works with a Christian think-tank in the UK, Decline of The New Atheists - (According to Canon Angus Ritchie At Least).

He was basically saying that those Mean New Atheists, who refuse to sit back and admire how nice religion is, are actually on the decline now.

No really, we're on our way back into harmless obscurity, curiosities really.  Back to being atheists who roam obscure halls of academia and fringe political groups.  The bright future is to contain none of this public New Atheism business.  Oh no! Atheism is becoming lighter and fluffier again and religion is safe.

Well, if New Atheism means speaking your mind and calling out bullshit when you see it, then I'm not really sure where Ritchie got this from.  Perhaps he thought that if he repeated this mantra long enough it would become true.

Well, another very similar article has materialized over at the Catholic Herald by blogger Ed West.  Now you'd think they'd have more important things to think about, like how their bishops and cardinals keep getting caught molesting children or sheltering pedophiles or being implicated in bank fraud.


Apparently, it's no longer cool to have harsh words for religion and the newer hipper generations think religion is all cool and stuff and that the Catholic Church is just fine.  No problems there.

Here's Ed West.
Amid all the warm words expressed by public figures after Pope Benedict announced his retirement one comment rather stood out. “I feel sorry for the Pope and all old Catholic priests. Imagine having a wasted life to look back on and no sex,” wrote Richard Dawkins on Twitter.
Even with the generally low standards of decorum on the site, the 71-year-old biologist’s comment caused groans.
I think Dawkins brings up a very good point.  Sex is great and it's a real shame the Pope and the old Catholic priests never had it.  Of course we keep finding out about their sex lives years afterwards when their cover is blown.  For the majority of priests and bishops we can only hope that if they did get laid it was with consenting adults, female or male - doesn't matter to me - and not with little children. Just sayin'.  If only some of these Church pedophiles could have just been caught with (legally aged) hookers like immoral politicians the world would be a better place.  Yes, if only they could be as good as cheating politicians.

I personally think that Dawkins' words could have been much harsher indeed.  In fact, I think he may have been restraining himself there.  I've heard much worse about this pope and would have a few choice words myself as well.

Decorum, eh?  Right, I think he was probably using too much decorum with the Pope and his priests in this case.  They deserved much less decorum than is possible within the 140 character Twitter limit.  But then the article gets a little weird.
Despite Dawkins’s continual attacks on religion, the basic premise behind New Atheism has turned out to be weak. Dawkins’s grand idea, set out in a 1993 essay, “Viruses of the Mind”, is that religion is essentially a parasite that spread in human populations that had no other way of handling the daily toll of misery and grief that was our lot until recently.
Okay, Dawkins had the whole meme theory, sure.  But unless I've misunderstood New Atheism, memes are not the basic premise behind the New Atheism.  What the hell?  Did I miss a memo here?  For me, the basic premise has to do with speaking out and calling out stupid theology bullshit rather than keeping quiet and playing along.  In other words, we don't believe the shit you're spouting and we're going to tell you our opinion. This cartoon from the Atheist Camel sums it up, I think.

(source: Atheist Camel)
Anyway, that was weird. The article goes on to mention some more concrete points - that the New Atheism is made up of mostly white middle class guys.  But this has been known for ages within the movement and it's been the case for longer than New Atheism has even existed.

He then quotes the Ritchie article I commented on back in January saying religion is on a rebound in Britain.  But he quickly follows up by saying it could also be the declining importance of religion in British culture.
Likewise, Christian campaigners on tax avoidance, debt cancellation and the living wage argue in secular language, playing down their faith.
Essentially, we have a situation here like that in certain very secular Scandinavian countries where people care so little about religion that a kind of apathetic vacuum arises where New Atheists would sound rather strident.  Atheists in these regions have a kind of neutered vestige of religion to fight against.  Or at least that's how I understand this part of the article.  You know, sometimes I think this is the case here in Canada and especially in Quebec where the culture has become very secular.  You seldom run into many New Atheists because religion is so weakened and nobody goes as far as call religion bullshit because that would be too impolite, rude or insensitive.

Anyway, in this article the primary thrust seems to be against Dawkins, Dennett and Harris.  Okay fine.  It's a fact  that new voices will come in and they will be eclipsed some day.  Already, Dawkins and Harris have met with some disapproval in the community due to opinions taken over issues like feminism, racial profiling and gun control.  And so what?  So long as New New Atheism continues to speak its mind and call bullshit when it sees it, I don't see a problem.

He goes on to quote a few atheist scholars who think religion isn't so bad after all and ends his article with a reference to the Sunday Assembly, an atheist church I've been covering for some time now on my blog.
Even to non-believers, the argument that religion is a damaging parasite seems implausible. In their everyday lives people see that atheism does not explain the fundamental questions and a godless world doesn’t make us happier or even more questioning. The popularity of the Sunday Assembly, an “atheist church” in Islington, or Alain de Botton’s “10 commandments for atheists”, reflect the growing belief in secular Britain that religion is not just a beneficial thing but perhaps an essential one. Perhaps that is why New Atheism is as dead as Nietzsche.
My response to the deeper questions part of this paragraph is as following: Blah blah blah.

Now on to the second part. Sunday Assembly and Alain de Botton's 10 commandments has nothing to do with religion.  Holy crap does that last statement get my goat.  The difference between a service at the Sunday Assembly and a regular Christian church really boils down to the second having 100% more bullshit in it than the first.  Think of the church going experience, the community, the awe and emotion as the "baby."  Now think of ridiculous unproven theological gobblygook as the "dirty bath water."  Let's throw out the superstitious nonsense and keep the fun.  Why the hell not?

Friday, 25 January 2013

“New Atheists” tend to overemphasize “the underbelly of the Catholic Church”

Remember that course at Regis Catholic College in Toronto, Responding to 21st-Century Atheism?  Well, it began around the beginning of the month and it's starting to make news.

The Religion News Service has a story on this, Catholic college engages atheism head-on.  It pretty much says what you'd expect it to about the new course, which I don't actually find all that odd being offered at a Catholic college.

A couple of incidental interesting tidbits.
Canadian census data show that atheists, agnostics, humanists and those with no religious affiliation account for 16 percent of the population, up 4 percentage points over the previous decade. They now represent the second-largest religious group in the country. 
A Canadian Ipsos Reid poll released in 2011 found 30 percent of respondents did not believe in a deity.
Good news there.

What really caught me was the last paragraph, a statement by Michael Stoeber:
... an examination of suffering by Michael Stoeber, who told the introductory class that the “New Atheists” tend to overemphasize “the underbelly of the Catholic Church” ...
I'd love to know what Stoeber means by underbelly of the Catholic Church.

Maybe he's talking about the the fringy Society of St Pius X crowd or the whacky Fatima Network and their far out Catholic science fiction?  Or maybe those loons and Pope Michael? Mel Gibson? No, I don't see any Atheists out there attacking them. Okay, except for maybe Mel Gibson.

It seems to be Atheists are attacking Mother Teresa.

It seems to be Atheists are attacking Child Molesting Priests and a Vatican that protects them over the children in Canada, Ireland, the USA, most of Europe and Australia... oh hell, the entire planet.

It seems to be Atheists are attacking a Vatican that has serious problems handling money without breaking the law.

It seems to be Atheists are attacking a Vatican that is downright homophobic.

It seems to be Atheists are attacking a Vatican that would rather Africans get AIDS while producing babies (for the good of the Church) than allow them to use a condom.

It seems to be Atheists are attacking a Vatican for clearly opposing abortions even when the impregnated girl is eight years old!

I could go on for hours...

But hey, why are we wasting our time overemphasizing the underbelly?

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

God and the Left, Losing Our Religion and the God of "Post-Atheism"

I'm working on a real post on its way soon.  So I kinda need a break.

Meanwhile, I've run into a couple podcasts that I believe could be outside the radar of some of my readers.  So I thought I'd offer you guys some links.

As you all probably know, I'm a bleeding heart Liberal, a Progressive, a Left-Winger.  If I were in the States, I'd be a Democrat.  That said, I know I have a fair number of Republican and Libertarian readers - as well as others!  Please, right-of-center friends, trust me on this first link - I think you'll like it too!

Best of the Left: "Believing the unbelievable"  - A collection of political news and podcasts from the left that highlight insanity around religion. No, I'm not trying to convert you.

NPR: "Losing Our Religion" - Okay, I'm pretty sure many of you have heard of this series from last week.  But if you haven't, you should listen in.

CBC: "After Atheism: New Perspectives on God and Religion, Part 1" - (aka. "Atheism is a fad and so yesterday: Let's get back to religion again now!") .  

Want to hear a bunch of religious folks trying to convince themselves that Atheism and the Atheist movement is merely a passing phase that occurs between religious eras?  "Oh that it would be so! Wake us up from this nightmare!" Apparently the old kinds of rigid fundamentalism need to die by the sword of Atheism so that new, more moderate religions can spring: ana-theism.  Or something, it's confusing, really.

As usual, people within religion don't talk so much about Atheism, but rather talk sort of around it. Put on your crash helmets and take your antiemetics and see how long you can put up with the sheer ridiculous gobbly-gook.  I lasted 20 minutes before I had to turn it off.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Theology And Sanity: Splendor of Mystery

Hubble photograph of the Cat's Eye Nebula.
I've been reading this book, Theology and Sanity, by Frank Sheed.  The backstory about why the heck an Atheist like me would be reading this book can be found in my series of responses to a post Stacy Transancos made comparing the rationality of Christianity and Atheist world views.

You can read the first three parts of the review here, here and here.  Although they make little logical sense, they gave me an excellent view into the mind of a thinking believer.

Along the way, we've learned that the doctrines of the Church are to a mind as a transplanted organ to a body.  There is much that needs to be done to prevent the brain's natural defences from rejecting it.

What has surprised me is how conscious Sheed is of this.  He systematically lays out how each level of an intellectual firewall can be undermined in order to allow the religious meme to be take root against all logic - often through an act of sheer will - into the mind of one who desperately wishes to believe.  Or at least that's how I see it.

Circumventing The Brain's Natural Defences 

I. Trust the Catholic Church

First, in order to properly understand the Church's teachings, we must see the world as the Church sees it (eg. use the church-tinted glasses).   This amounts to believing that the Catholic Church has right answers before we even bother investigating them.  God is everywhere and in everything and only the Church sees the totality of everything - so we better listen to them.

II. Don't Worry If It's Unimaginable - Just Trust the Catholic Church

Second, don't let a lack of imagination shut down the intellectual evaluation of the truth of religious propositions.  Namely, imagination can hinder the intellectual process.

Simply because something can not be pictured (imagined) doesn't mean it may not be true.  I believe one could charge many Christians for having a lack of imagination when they make the bold statement that when Science doesn't account for something IT MUST BE GOD.  But hey, that's just me.

Many things defy our imaginations but have been demonstrated as true.  The Theory of Relativity and Quantum Physics are two examples.  But we need testable claims!


III. Don't Worry If It's Logically Contradictory - Disregard the Inconsistency - Just Trust the Catholic Church

Third, and most damning, of all are the techniques provided to circumvent your own intellect into believing doctrines that appear to contradict.

This involves:

  • ignoring the doctrines involved in the contradiction the best you can; 
  • or ignoring one side of the contradiction the best you can; 
  • or distorting both sides somewhat to lessen the severity of the overall contradiction; 
  • or believing both sides ardently while trying to play the mystery card best you can by explaining the contradiction away as a couple of opposites that live in the whole.

The Splendor of Mystery

This brings us now to the Splendor of Mystery, the last part of chapter two.  Here's what Sheed has to say about that.
That there should be Mystery in our knowledge of God, and that this should show itself to us as truths about God, each of which we know to be true while yet we cannot see how to reconcile them, is plain common sense. And indeed most people would admit as much if they happen to believe in God at all. 
Is Catholic doctrine wildly implausible and logically contradictory? Of course it is! One would expect something that is beyond our understanding to grasp to make no logical sense - oh thee of puny minds! (Just trust the Church!)

One would also expect things that simply to not exist to simultaneously exhibit logically inconsistent traits.  That's the whole mechanism of reductio ad adsurdum arguments and the scientific method!

Look, physicists have had a hell of a time reconciling the Theory of Relativity for macro objects with Quantum Theory for micro objects.  Each theory breaks down in the domain of the other.  But both are testable scientifically within their own - unlike even the components of this god.  An over arching theory is being searched for and until it is provable, they just don't know.  It's possible one or both will require modification when an overarching theory is found - like what Relativity did to Newton's equations.

Sheed points out the pesky habit people have of questioning and even ceasing to believe a statement if it is shown to contain assertions that are logically contradictory.
But here we come upon a curious phenomenon. Many Christians who are theoretically aware of all this are yet completely shattered in their faith the first time their attention is drawn to one of these apparent contradictions.  ... ... He knows that there are truths about God that he cannot reconcile; he knows that if he could totally comprehend God, then God would have to be no larger than his own mind, and so not large at all. 
Many times, I've found that Carl Sagan expresses my sentiments about our intellectual place in this big old Cosmos better than I ever could.  So I bring him in now.
(source)

Maybe these doubter Christians are tuning into their own intellects and realizing there is something fishy going on.  Like the Relativity/Quantum Theory problem, something is not adding up.  Quick! It's an opportunity to do some science!  Oh, nevermind...

Anyway, given such a realization of a contradiction, it is quite logical and advisable to suspect that one or both of the apparently contradictory statements must be either completely wrong or require some modification.  What's the problem with this?  In fact, at times when the whole picture is shattered by contradictory data, it would be prudent to fall back on what is at least demonstrable, scientifically.

This is where, in the above example about the theories of the micro and macro, one can at least fall back on the demonstrability of each theory.  We don't know how they fit together, (String Theory maybe?), but at least in their domains they are more or less proven to be true.  This is not the case with God.  There is nothing provable in any of the parts, as the whole structure is ultimately as vaporous as a cloud.  The whole house of cards shatters into a pile of doubt as soon as any weakness is shown.  There is nothing to break the fall.
He knows that the very fact that there is a God requires that there should be elements we cannot reconcile; yet the moment he meets two such elements he is driven to wonder whether there can be a God after all. 
And where is this very fact there is a God? There's the rub.  It is no fact at all.  There is nothing proving it at all.
But, this logical monstrosity apart, there is something marvelously inviting to the mind in an infinite being of whom we can know something, but whom we cannot wholly know; in the knowledge of whom we can grow, yet the truth of whose being we can never exhaust; we shall never have to throw God away like a solved crossword puzzle. And all this is contained in the concept of Mystery.
Cue Carl.
(source)
Carl Sagan does such a wonderful job of summing up a non-religious scientific view of mystery in his Cosmos series (quoted above).  But really, if there is one thing that unites the atheist and people like Sheed is our wonderment at the great mysteries of the universe.  Except the theist starts out with the answer and then crams it into his own head using all means of self delusion.  They have the true piece to the puzzle and go after all the rest with a pair of scissors.

(source)

Thus a Mystery is not to be thought of as simply darkness: it is a tiny circle of light surrounded by darkness. It is for us so to use our own powers and God’s grace that the light will grow. It means using the mind upon what reality may be made to tell us about God, and upon what God, through His Church, has told us about Himself; it means praying for more knowledge, and using the knowledge one gains to enrich one’s prayer. 
This is poetic and upon this point even I would agree.  If only Sheed would see that it is us alone as a species made of matter floating on a speck of dust in space who can discover the cosmos and all the wonder within. Oh, and he also mentions... just trust the Catholic church.

Sheed goes on to say that the more we learn as finite humans of God (the infinite) the more we come to be in awe at this immensity.  If we substitute Cosmos for God, we more or less have agreement.  Lest I be accused of being a pantheist, I am not saying the universe is God - the universe is all there is - material, matter and energy.

To Sheed it is much better to wonder at the light of Mystery and search out truth than to obsess over the darkness of mystery - what is unknown.  I think many scientists, including Sagan, would agree with this and feel this deeply.  This is what draws them to science and perhaps this is what draws Sheed to theology.  It's a shame that a mind as inquisitive as his could work so hard to make the delusions of Church doctrine more palatable to healthy minds rather than searching out the truths of reality in reality through Science.

Sheed ends the chapter with some encouraging words about how this task of building up the muscles of an atrophied mind - one that has been weakened by the crutch of imagination.  Truly images are a form of idolatry and the Bible compares idolatry with fornication.  So it's with fornication we leave chapter two and shall enter the second part of this book in the next segment.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Decline of The New Atheists - (According to Canon Angus Ritchie At Least)

Angus Ritchie (source)
So we've got an article in Salon.com asserting that Religion may not survive the Internet.  And then there's the rise of the Religious Nones in North America.  It sort of seems like the world is becoming less religious - at least in an organized way.

We've got massive opinion shift away from the Church towards supporting gay-marriage.  A sickly Irish Church having to import their priests from abroad and an anaemic Anglican Church going through ridiculous contortions of their own rules to boost clergy numbers and heading for a potential schism.

All the churches are going empty in places like Quebec and we find the Church boosting campaigns to try to bring people back.

I like to read articles from religious websites as well - to get the other perspective.  If it mentions atheism or secularism you can bet it'll be caught by my Google filters.  Enter Canon Angus Ritchie, who works at a Christian think tank in the UK.  You'd think things would look dismal for him, what with his own Church potentially facing extinction.  Well, not so!

The world's leading Anglican newspaper, Church Times proclaims: New Atheists in decline!
Religious arguments are gaining ground among secular philosophers, as theology achieves more intellectual credibility, says Angus Ritchie
Richie is the Director of the Contextual Theology Centre in the UK.  It's a think tank that does thinkytanky stuff that is likely designed to confuse the good sense out of people - but that's just my own unsubstantiated theory.

And if you wish hard enough, it shall be so!  I guess there is no bound to which reality-contradicting information can be believed, but it gets better.
From the start, the tone of these anti-religious polemics suggested weakness rather than strength. New Atheism is best understood as a response to the persistence of faith, not its decline. This explains its tone of increasingly angry bafflement at the fact that people continue to believe and practise.
Yes, speaking out and demonstrating that there is no proof for a god suggests weakness rather than strength.  So the fact these new Atheists aren't happy to live their lives silently without criticizing religion or demanding sufficient evidence for religious claims really proves that this whole atheism thing is really on the decline.
It is worth noting just how much Professor Dawkins and his kind need to prove. To justify the exclusion of religion from the public stage, they need to show not simply that religious belief is open to question, but that it is intellectually indefensible.
Holy shifting of the burdan of proof, Batman!  "These New Atheists really have a lot to prove saying religious belief is intellectually indefensible.  How dare they challenge us by stating their opinions!" Sheesh.

And nobody is suggesting the wrenching of religion from the public square.  They are simply requesting a place on that square and that religion be kicked off its pedestal of privilege to a level where it must defend its reality claims like everyone else.  What is being suggested is that religion lose its privileged position of power in politics and in the state as well.

Quite the contrary to what's being charged, the New Atheists desire to expose religion in the public square as being what it is - unsubstantiated, misguided and often a harmful hindrance from real social progress.
THERE are signs that this changed reality is beginning to filter through to the New Atheists - but it is a slow process. Earlier this year, Dr Williams and Professor Dawkins discussed the origins of the universe at a packed debate in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford. If Professor Dawkins's claims were correct, he should have been able to show theism to be risible. Not surprisingly, most of the intellectual pressure was flowing in the opposite direction.
And this is what makes this article hilarious to me.  They are talking about how the New Atheists are in position of weakness, but the entire gist of the article is about how Religious arguments are gaining ground among secular philosophers, as theology achieves more intellectual credibility.  Like a creationist trying to boost his position by pointing to real science, Mr Ritchie seems to be pointing out how philosophers and schools outside of the Church are suddenly beginning to take theology seriously. And there are signs that this changed reality is beginning to filter through to the New Atheists.  Oh would it be so!  Because what the Church needs now to save it is a little more love from the atheists.

Theology hasn't changed but atheists have become more organized and more vocal.  The only reality that may have changed is the one Mr Ritchie sees through his Church-tinted glasses.