Dawkins’ Atheist Bus Service

Richard Dawkins has been in the news a bit recently. Firstly, about a fortnight ago the buses in various cities in Britain started running his adverts for atheism. The slogan adopted by Dawkins and his fellows for attacking religious belief is ‘God probably doesn’t exist, so be happy.’ This has prompted its share of comment and controversy. According to the British papers, one Christian bus driver in Southampton, Ron Flowers, refused to drive one of the buses with the slogan. Apparently he turned up for work one Friday, saw that he was supposed to drive that bus, and went home instead. According to the bus company, when he turned up for work on Monday the company decided instead to reach some kind of arrangement with him so that he could drive another vehicle instead. A spokesman for the Humanist Society declared that they couldn’t understand why someone would be offended by someone else’s statement of belief, while a spokesman for the Methodist Society stated that they had no problems with atheists sticking the slogan on buses, as this encouraged people to think about these important issues.

Now my own point of view is that atheists like Dawkins and the Humanist Society have every right to have their adverts carried on buses and other places. It’s a free society, and so they should have the right to express and try to promote their views, just like people of faith. However, I also consider that Dawkins’ atheist bus campaign presents far more problems for atheism, and indeed itself constitutes a rebuttal of some of their arguments, than it does for people of faith.

Firstly, it bears out Aleister McGrath’s view in The Twilight of Atheism that much of the New Atheist attack on religion is due to religion not declining as was expected by atheists in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Also, the content of the slogan itself has managed to offend many people regardless of their own personal stance on religion or political affiliation. The advert was briefly discussed this past week on the BBC magazine programme, The One Show, broadcast on BBC 1. One of the presenters, Christine Blakeley, felt it was arrogant for Dawkins to state that religious believers were miserable. They had as one of their guests on their show the fertility expert, Dr. Robert Winston, who has himself presented a number of science programmes on the Beeb. Winston’s very definitely a supporter of Charles Darwin, and was talking about a children’s book he’s written about evolution. He also made it clear that he was a friend of Dawkins, but objected to the buses’ slogan and stated that he also found Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, also to be arrogant in its choice of title. In fact, Winston gave a speech at the Edinburgh branch of the British Association for the Advancement of Science a few years ago where he stated that, as much as he liked Dawkins’ personally, Dawkins’ attempts to promote atheism in the name of science was itself unscientific and indeed damaging to science.

There are also a number of non-scientists who were similarly unimpressed with the adverts. They were discussed a few weeks on BBC Radio 4’s The News Quiz, which, like Have I Got News For You on TV, takes a satirical look at the week’s news. One of the regular guests on the programme is Jeremy Hardy, a man of strong left-wing opinions, who isn’t afraid to criticise organise religion. However, he described Dawkins as ‘one of those irritating professional atheists’. This seems to indicate that Dawkins’ campaign has managed to annoy a lot of people regardless of their personal views on the existence of God or religion. This might be because people generally don’t like to be told what to believe or how to vote by others. Now one of the most frequent objections to organised religion is that it tells people what to believe. But this is exactly what Dawkins and his fellows have done with their bus slogan: they are telling people not to believe in God. The slogan is not ‘We believe that there is probably no God, and recommend that you be happy’, but ‘There is probably no God, so be happy’. Now I’ve no objection to people being told to be happy, but there is clearly a problem in that the posters are telling people ‘there is probably no God’.

In fact there are further, more profound objections to Dawkins’ slogan. There’s the question of how Dawkins can say authoritatively that ‘there is probably no God.’ One can question not just the validity of the statement, but the logic and arguments that support it. However, the slogan doesn’t present any: it’s just an assertion, a statement of belief purporting to be fact.

There is also the problem that the non-existence of God does not necessarily lead to happiness. For atheist existentialists such as Camus and Sartre, the non-existence of God meant that man was free, but also condemned to a meaningless existence, and much atheist, existentialist literature is occupied by the anxiety and despair that created by this lack of transcendental meaning. So, rather than atheism leading necessarily to happiness, it may also lead to misery and despair. Indeed, Hume, the great founder of modern Scepticism, himself declared that at times his rational investigation of the cosmos filled him with such despair that he had to take a break from his philosophical activities and amuse himself for a few hours. Nevertheless, when he returned to his philosophical analyses once again, they appeared so cold, strained and ridiculous, that he didn’t want to go any further with them.

Many religions, by contrast, offer the joy of a truly meaningful universe in which humanity can find fulfilment both as a creature in the cosmos, and through contact with the gods and deeper realities that give that cosmos meaning. In Christianity, humanity was created by the Lord for fellowship with Him, and so has a profound meaning and dignity. People of faith are not necessarily miserable, and indeed there is considerable evidence that they are happier and enjoy better mental health than other, secular individuals. Religion, and Christianity, can therefore be seen as far more optimistic than the atheism that Dawkins seeks to promote.

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31 Responses to “Dawkins’ Atheist Bus Service”

  1. futiledemocracy Says:

    An attack on Religion, is no where near as offensive as Religious attacks on what is sexually immoral, that a homosexual is unnatural, that anyone who has an abortion is evil. The Religious expect people to sit back and allow their bigoted views to flow freely because it’s their ‘right’.

    I’m agnostic. I think it’s just as ridiculous to be an Atheist as it is to be Religious. But when the Religious demand a level of respect that they do not give out to anyone else, they’re just exercising their right to be pathetic.

  2. Maria Says:

    Your piece would be better if it were more accurate.

    (1) You get the slogan wrong. It actually says, “There is probably no God, so stop worrying and enjoy life.”
    (2) That a high-profile atheist like Dawkins should lend his support to the campaign does not make *his* campaign as you repeatedly claim throughout your post. It is not Dawkin’s campaign. It was the brainchild of Ariane Sherine and thousands of us raised the funds, mostly by giving small donations of a few pounds each. The target was £11,000 – so far £151,000 has been raised. The fund was administered by the British Humanist Association, not any ‘Humanist Society’.
    (3) You are suggesting that the campaign was an unprovoked attack on religion. In fact it was provoked by a Christian bus advert, directing people to a website where we learned that if we didn’t believe what Christians believe we would go to hell. It was as a direct response to this unpleasant message, that Ariane came up with the wording about not worrying and enjoying life. Neither Dawkins nor anybody else has ‘stated religious believers are miserable’, regardless of what some idiotic TV presenter claims.

    Your piece would also be better if your arguments were stronger.

    (1) You don’t seem to understand what the word ‘probably’ means. As there is a lack of demonstrable evidence for God it is perfectly reasonable to say there probably isn’t one. Far more reasonable than saying that there definitely is one and that if we don’t believe it we’ll go to hell. In any event, it’s a lighthearted advertising slogan, not a treatise carved in a tablet of stone.
    (2) Nobody has suggested that non-belief in God “necessarily” leads to happiness, or that believers are “necessarily” miserable. As I said earlier, the slogan is a riposte to a dogmatic Christian idea. Nothing more, nothing less.
    (3) While religion may make some people happy, there are, of course, countless others who have been hurt and damaged by it. Doubtless they are among those who were – and continue to be – happy to donate to the fundraising campaign.

  3. beastrabban Says:

    Hi Maria, thanks for your post and the information about the atheist bus advertising campaign. Thanks indeed for informing me that the idea for the bus campaign was not Richard Dawkins. However, Dawkins is the person most closely associated with it in the public eye, as the public face of the New Atheism. As for the issue of the money raised for it coming mainly from private donations, I was aware that it was raised through a fundraising campaign, and not solely from Dawkins’. Now I’ll deal with your main points.

    1) You don’t seem to understand what the word ‘probably’ means. As there is a lack of demonstrable evidence for God it is perfectly reasonable to say there probably isn’t one. Far more reasonable than saying that there definitely is one and that if we don’t believe it we’ll go to hell. In any event, it’s a lighthearted advertising slogan, not a treatise carved in a tablet of stone.

    No, I know perfectly well what ‘probably’ means. And there isn’t a lack of demonstrable evidence for God, as the many books of religious apologetics indicates. Yes, it is perfectly reasonable to say there isn’t a God. I wasn’t challenging that. I was challenging the statement that ‘there is probably no God’ in the advertising slogan as it does not supply any proof or evidence. It is simply asserted that ‘there is probably no God’ as self-evident truth, whereas it is merely a statement of atheist opinion. As for treating it as ‘light-hearted advertising slogan, not a treatise carved on a tablet of stone’, I didn’t say that it was. However, it is making a truth-claim that deserves to be critiqued, just as you consider that similar truth-claims made by theists need to be critiqued.

    (2) Nobody has suggested that non-belief in God “necessarily” leads to happiness, or that believers are “necessarily” miserable. As I said earlier, the slogan is a riposte to a dogmatic Christian idea. Nothing more, nothing less.

    This is not obvious from the slogan. It does not cite or reference the earlier statement of Christian dogma that you claim it is a reaction against, nor contain any reference to Hell or notions of God’s judgement. It simply states that as God doesn’t exist, then we stop worrying and be happy. This clearly implies that religious believers are worried and are unhappy.

    3) While religion may make some people happy, there are, of course, countless others who have been hurt and damaged by it. Doubtless they are among those who were – and continue to be – happy to donate to the fundraising campaign.

    One can, of course, say exactly the same about atheism.

  4. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    I would add only here that as far as any kind of organized program, if the idea (such as atheism) does not offer a credible alternative that is rooted in some kind of historical insight that offers real hope, it is just a dry philosophy. Some atheists might argue that this is largely irrelevent in any case, and that they are no more being negative than positive than if they are positing the notion of being “a-Zeus”, but the analogy is shallow.

    However, in my experience, most athiests of one striple or another DO have in mind various political theories and notions of “change” and “hope” (for more on this, see the USA’s side of the Pond on political and economic matters) supposedly not only rooted in advanced science, but something superior to market and other traditional forces like family and faith. If atheists or agnostics as a group did not have something along the lines of morals in mind, then why bring up the topic?

    Why posit that your way is the better route if the mere elimination of God does not have with it an accompanying set of conclusions about ourselves and our future that you feel religion stifles somehow?

    The notion given by many atheists to the effect that they are merely the bearers of the sour news about there being no god, and that this is merely “the facts of the matter” and nothing more, is belied by the very slogan on the buses that suggests that if there is no God, you’be REMOVED an impediment to happiness. Thus live your life!

    It is not explained how this would come to be, but there you have it.

    Now, as to happiness, while religion certainly has a trail of trials to her credit, so does atheism by leaps and bounds, even accounting for actions from either side that allow for more political and other philosophical input than some pure ideology. And while its true that the niceness or comfort of something is not in itself a completely sound argument about religion or any other idea, it should be a factor.

    We often accept temporal pain as a sacrifice to some higher end, as say in excercise to improve one’s health, or endurance of pain or cold or hunger for some other reason. But rarely do people mortify the flesh on purpose just for kicks, or endure suffering for suffering sake, or go about with a negative or lugubrious nature about them from their ideas just because the world can be a nasty place. We strive for more, not just the “cold hard realities” of life.

  5. feyd Says:

    WT , yes youre right there is an insinuation that folk would be better off without God, the atheists were wise not to try and explain, the best available evidence strongly suggests the opposite!

  6. feyd Says:

    Beast, did you hear Dawkins conceded a serious case could be made for a deistic God? It was during a debate at Oxford’s Natural History Museum. Under pressure from his opponent the Christian John Lennox , Dawkins was also forced to retract his previous claim that Jesus had probably ‘never existed’.
    http://www.spectator.co.uk/melaniephillips/2543431/is-richard-dawkins-still-evolving.thtml

    I guess Dawkins would say a strong case can still amount to a less than 50% chance.

    One silver lining around the current recession is that according to an article recently published in the Telegraph church attendance has gone up by 5%. Not everyone agrees but I’d guess the increase has been larger at my family church in Stoke Poges. When Dawkins published his God Delusion bible sales on Amazon soared by 120%. Im glad about the timing for his bus service – an aggravator to boost the zeal of evangelists was just what we needed at the time when the real no 1 contemporary enemy of religion, consumerism , is at its weakest 🙂

    Atheists are so tactically inept!

  7. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Hi Beast and Feyd. Interesting follow-ups to some interesting detractors.

    Bouncing off of all this, I am making every effort (though Atlanta is about 250 miles from where I live, I know the area well!) to drive back to my old stomping ground and hear Ravi Zacharias take on Dawkins’ various delusions.

    Take a peek at http://www.rzim.org/USA/Events/CivicCenter2009.aspx

    I mention more than one, as I feel strongly that Dawkins has erred on more than one issue.

    But Ravi can say it like no other.

    Though to be sure, the Beast was my first real exposure to a real take down on Dawkins’ cartoonish ideas about faith.

    Ravi has a background in not only comparitive studies in religion and philosophy (I highly recommend his excellent but easy to read and digest book called Can Man Live Without God, where he answers many of the more common objections like Argument of Outrage and morals of Crusades, etc), but also is from an Eastern culture.

    His input on Dawkins will be interesting, to say the least. Even for those given to disagrement with Ravi and Christianity.

  8. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    When Dawkins published his God Delusion bible sales on Amazon soared by 120%.

    (laughing in my hands!) 🙂

    Ya know, I’ve heard that Amazon is actually a better data miner than most high level government operations, so that figure is probably accurate!

    Surely, however, Dawkins must have known that in all probability even among the non-faithful Christ was an historical figure. Even liberal secularists quote him in making some kind of point. Sort of a hippy dippy version of Ghandi, though probably slightly more covered–but real nontheless.

    Using Dawkins language, and bouncing off your assurance about what Dawkins must now realize with chances, perhaps Dawkins would say now that, to his astonishment and disappointment, Bible purchases occur in proportion to how often he opens his mouth about God?

  9. beastrabban Says:

    Hi Wakefield and Feyd – thanks for the above additional comments.

    Regarding your observation, Wakefield, that the atheist claim that they’re merely stating that God doesn’t exist, and not making any recommendations about morality, is contradicted by their other claim that theism is responsible for various atrocities, and that the world would become more moral if it was rejected, that’s also occurred to me. As for the way certain political philosophies attempt to base their morality on materialism, rather than Judaeo-Christian values, that certainly began in the 18th century with the Enlightenment philosophes , and became an explicit part of the radical Socialist movements in the 19th century, such as Marxism, which claimed to be ‘scientific Socialism’. So you’re absolutely right in that atheism has been used as the basis for some political philosophies, and for political attacks on religious belief and morality.

  10. beastrabban Says:

    I’d heard that Dawkins had admitted that there was a case for a Deistic God, Feyd. Thanks for providing the link to the Spectator on it. I think you’re probably right, and that he would still argue that the probability of God existing was still minute. As for Dawkins’ claim that Christ may not have existed, I wonder whether he really believed that, or whether he was just trying to appeal to those atheists who do. On the other hand, it really wouldn’t surprise me if he did believe that Christ may not have existed, as despite the fact that the vast majority of historians reject the Christ-myth, it does seem to be a very popular belief amongst many atheists. Dawkins isn’t a historian, and has very 19th century Positivist views on religion, and so it does seem possible to me that he genuinely believes that Christ didn’t exist, simply because of the popular atheist assumption that Christ didn’t, based on 19th century atheist arguments.

  11. beastrabban Says:

    I was also interested in your comment, Feyd, that church attendance in your area has gone up by 5% since the recession. Obviously it’s easy for people to believe that humanity is master of its fate and has no need of God when things are going well, but events like the recession demonstrate that this is not the case and that people still need the Almighty. I also didn’t realise that sales of the Bible on Amazon went up by 120% after Dawkins’ God Delusion came out. Clearly, by attacking religion Dawkins is making more people interested in it generally, and many of these are going to return to it and reject the attack on it by Dawkins and the other New Atheists.

    Thanks for the comment, Wakefield, that I was the first one to make you aware how cartoonish Dawkins’ views on religion were. I’m glad I was able to provide you with that information on Dawkins’ attitude to religious faith. I found the material on Dawkins and the New Atheists by the awesome Bede over at his site, Bede’s Library also really helpful in critiquing Dawkins’ ideas. About a year or so ago I went to a religious studies conference at the local University. One of the talks there was on the way many of Dawkins’ criticisms of religion had been effectively attacked by Cardinal Newman in his The Idea of a University in the 19th century. Regarding atheist objections to religious parents bringing up their children in their faith as a form of indoctrination, Newman developed quite an intricate notion of how people develop their religious belief. It’s quite a complex theory, and I’ll have to look at it rather more deeply. However, part of it was that children were led to faith through their love for, and trust in, their loving parents, and it was through the operation of this parental love that they began to love and trust the Almighty. Thus, rather than indoctrination, this process was a rational first stage on the development of their own belief in the God.

    Thanks for letting us know you were going to see Ravi Zacharias, Wakefield, and for recommending his book. I’m sorry that I’ve been so late responding to these posts. It sounds like a great talk. I haven’t read an awful lot by Zacharias, but the pieces by him that I have read were certainly great and insightful comments and criticisms of atheism and atheist criticisms of Christianity, and from the interviews with him I’ve seen on the net he does seem to be a very, very good speaker. I hope you had a great time there, and please let us know what it was like, as I’m sure it was well worth going.

  12. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Hi Beast.

    I will make every effort, but as I was ill this week and have fallen behind in regular work, it seems I’ll probably miss out on Ravi’s speech. But in any case, I’ll see what I can find out!

  13. feyd Says:

    Beast, after posting that link to the Spectator I’ve discovered Dawkins considers the Spectator was misrepresenting his position by claiming he said a serious case for God can be made. 😦 Id guess Dawkins really did believe there might not be a historical Jesus, i think he trys to be honest and we know from the God Delusion that his research skills aren’t the best when he strays from his specialist area.

    Here’s the link for the church attendance rise, it looks likes the 5% rise is a national increase, it seems to be even larger in my parish.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/4389361/Number-of-churchgoers-rises-by-5-in-a-year-according-to-charity.html

    WT , sorry to hear you’ve been ill. I’ve said some prayers for your good health. I downloaded some of Ravi’s audio broadcasts, he’s a very powerful speaker!

  14. beastrabban Says:

    Hi Wakefield and Feyd – I’m sorry I’ve been rather late getting back to you two. I’m sorry you had to miss seeing Ravi Zacharias – he’s definitely a great, intelligent speaker who can very effectly attack atheist arguments. I hope you’re better now, and that you’ll have another opportunity to see him later.

    Thanks for putting the link up showing the rise in church attendance, Feyd. As for Dawkin’s claiming that the Spectator misrepresented him by claiming that he considered that a reasonable case could be made for the existence of God, I’m not surprised that he’s done this. Given the way Dawkin’s criticised the comedian Peter Kaye a year or so ago when Kaye said he found the existence of God comforting, and then claimed that he hadn’t really said it, I’d be very surprised indeed if Dawkins said anything positive about God’s existence. And you’re quite right about the arguments in The God Delusion . A lot of people have said that Dawkin’s really doesn’t seem to have understood the arguments for God’s existence, let alone attacked them.

  15. David Says:

    Hiya Beast!
    Not much I can add to all of the above really, except to say that when I first saw this bus advert I thought ”That’s shooting themselves in the foot!” It only makes people think more about these issues, which is surely a good thing.

    DCG

  16. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Hi BR.

    I’ve been very busy lately.

    I have much more to ask but those are far more involved, and as I’ve not had time to forumalte just what I wanted to ask or how, those will wait some time.

    I noticed that you were a contributor to a site called Rational Perspectives. Enjoyed your take on fantasy numbers, btw.

    One query someone had (you might have seen this, as it was on the same site) is:

    Christopher Hitchens has issued what he thinks is a serious challenge to theists: name a single moral action that theists can perform but that atheists can’t.

    Now strictly speaking, this is NOT any kind of real DISproof of God, but a disproof of God as the author of universal or transcenent morals that go beyond what we as humans supposedly evolved over the eons to accommodate the trials and tribulations of life and struggle and progress and compassion, etc.

    SEE the author, Heraplem, at:

    http://rationalperspective.wordpress.com/2007/09/15/christopher-hitchens-tries-to-come-up-with-something-challenging/

    the Hitchens Challenge. Supposedly answered though the other link did not work, and while there was some interesting discussion below the article, it was retorted that theists cannot repond with an appeal to serving God as an answer, as this assumes what one is struggling to prove (God exists) whereas for Hitchens it assumes a starting point Hitchens denies (that He does not exist).

    (e.g.–totally honoring Zeus or the new fangled secularist mock, the Flying Spagetti Monster, proves nothing.)

    For the narrow point I’d have to agree–this proves little. Total devotion can be totally wrong. A nurse can honestly think she dispensed the correct medication and still hurt the patient.

    Examples offered by others:

    “Name an ethical statement or action, made or performed by a person of faith, that could not have been made or performed by a nonbeliever.”

    Putative answer 1)

    “A moral action that a believer can perform than an unbeliever cannot is to “Give faithful testimony of God while their credibility is established through their obedience to His commands.”

    Well–is this universally acceptable, though?

    Putative Answer 2)

    “Doing anything good for God’s glory and not one’s own”.

    OK. Now we ARE getting into the issue of doing something moral BEYOND the self, the selfish genes (Dawkins’ phrase), and all sociobiological assumptions, but this still leaves the issue of God being there in the first place.

    Heraplem’s precis and self discussion is fine as far as it goes, but not satisfying, unless there is something I’m missing here. Not the first time. 🙂

    The reason I ask is this relates to other issues I’m working on but don’t have time to fiddle with just yet.

    Many thanks and hope all is well over there.

    –W

    PS–what area of the UK are you in, BR?

    My adopted brother has relatives in Birmingham (I think)

  17. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    PPS–

    I updated one of my (few) book reviews and used you as a reference aid (:).

    Let me know if the description is accurate.

    (of YOU, not necessarily D’nesh D’Souza’s book, though if you have commentary on that also feel free to post there.)

  18. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    TEST

  19. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Ooops.

    Meant to add that link, which is at http://wakepedia.blogspot.com/2008/07/whats-so-great-about-christianity.html

    Also, in another conversation with Doctor Logic, whom I note is also contributing now to Rational Perspectives (see http://rationalperspective.wordpress.com/2007/10/12/doctor-logic-on-the-argument-from-reason/) , he asked me later on and I did not have an answer at the time for the following:

    And why do we need to assume a God, assume that God is orderly, and assume that he would make an orderly universe we can comprehend, instead of simply assuming the universe is intelligible?

    This comment was apparently in answer to my suggestion (as you have posted also) that genetically (by which I mean linkage, not genes per se physically) the history of science indicates that along with Western society, culture and morals, it is the inheriter of values and methods bequeathed to it from Christianity. Rodney Stark and some others like yourself have commented on this, as you did in your article at RP on the myth of the war of science and faith, in addition to you articles on the development of democracy in Europe in no small part due to the influence of Christianity. That was the context.

    Of course DL did not take kindly to this. Thus the query. My attempt was NOT to demonstrate that a linkage of Christianity and modern science (also argued well in a book called The Soul Of Science, N. Pearcy) meant that God exists, but that the feeling among scientists and theologians at the time indicated they thought God was orderly and would have made an orderly Cosmos, and this more than much else was the main impetus for thinking the rest of the universe was comprehensible. This stood in stark contrast to the “animistic”, “magic” realm of what so much had passed for explanation in centuries earlier.

    Nevertheless, it is a good question he poses. To say that the universe is orderly and to say that this order had to come only from God is what the early scientists you’ve referenced too, along with many theologians, believed and worked from. And perhaps it meant the development of what we call modern science. But to say this does not count out other forms or sources of order. Right? DL points out that mere comprehensibility is NOT the same as saying it had to have a source that is supernatural, or beyond human knowledge, or that a god was behind it all. That is another issue. But how to proceed?

    My thinking is that the very fact that order is present and that apparent “rules” (though in the strict materialist sense rules imply oversight and intelligence, not mere patterns that just happen to happen) indicates an Author behind the “rules” of the game.

    Your article at RP http://rationalperspective.wordpress.com/2007/09/19/cosmic-fantasies-by-numbers/ touches on some of this with the “fine tuning” issue that some, like Hugh Ross, have touched on. But the secular scientist answer has been to date that with Big Numbers, we have in our universe virtually infiniate chances for the coming together of the most unlikely of life-giving or life-allowing parameters on things like planetary size, rotation, periodicity, photosynthesis, life evolution, etc, etc, etc. The idea being that with the trillions of systems likely to exist similar to ours we have a higher chance of evolving by random shuffling the parameters you wrote might be fantasy. After all, lucky people win the lottery here in the USA every year and get to retire with millions in chance rangers of one in billions in some cases? Right?

    In any case, many continue, as DL does, to say for example that reason and faith are eternal enemies, and that the Christians are the ones who suppressed science and created the Dark Ages, etc.

  20. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    See for example:

    Christianity responsible for Dark Ages and lack of reason?

    http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=350

    In another article not linked this same author details how while its true science cannot answer everything, unlike faith, it IS self-correcting AND also uses real experts, not people prone to “talk” with God, etc. Thus his mockery, but still……

    http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=166

    Christianity as responsible for Fascism and horrific crimes against humanity?

    http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=298

    I know this is quite a bit. But fight it we must.

  21. Murray66 Says:

    The atheist premise is extremely flawed. I would be much more worried and find life less enjoyable if I did not believe in God. The slogan is ill-timed. Considering the current state of the world, believing that this is all there is would not be comforting at all.

  22. Murray66 Says:

    I would like to submit that anyone who thinks God “probably” does not exist is the one who does not understand what “probably” means. Consider these facts:

    1) Humans are the ones wondering if God exists and humans definitely exist.

    2) The two most probable explanations for the existence of humans are Creation and Evolution.

    3) The probability of Creation would lead to the probability of God.

    I am an Insurance Agent. Calculating probability is key in our industry. The best way to calculate probability is to review past history. For instance, to know the probability of you having an accident we look at your own driving history and the history for the area you are in.

    If we apply that logic to the question of Creation v. Evolution what data to we have to review? Many things can be witnessed to be created including two from the biblical creation story. Animals have now been created through cloning and humans can be created through alternative fertilization methods.

    The evidence for evolution is far more anecdotal. Several separate species have similar construction but they have not been observed to actually evolve one from the other. Even the infamous “Whales have hipbones” theory could easily be the result of paredolia as much as evolution.

    Empirical evidence suggests creation is “probable” therefore, God is probable.

  23. beastrabban Says:

    Hi Dave, Murray and Wakefield – thanks for the comments and insights. They’re really interesting.

    You’re absolutely right, Dave, about the Atheist bus campaign leading people to become more interested in questions about the existence of God. In the BBC News article about it, they noted that the Methodist Church actually felt this was actually a good thing, as it caused these issues and questions to be discussed. And some Christian groups have turned the slogan to their advantage by putting up their own versions of it. For example, one of the local Baptist churches in my part of the world put up on its noticeboard the slogan ‘Be happy – There is a God’.

    Thanks also for your comment about calculating the probability of God’s existence from your experience in insurance, Murray. That’s really interesting. Regarding the whale’s hip-bone, I’ve got a feeling that this is another vestigial organ that actually performs a function, contrary to previous assumption made by Darwinian theory. In that instance, one could view it as evidence for design, rather than random evolution.

  24. beastrabban Says:

    Thanks for citing me in your fascinating review of Dinesh D’Souza’s What’s So Great About Christianity – it’s greatly appreciated. There have been a number of really great apologetics books published recently in response to the New Atheism. One book I picked up, and which I probably should review here, is Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Scepticism , published last year by Penguin books in the US and Hodder and Stoughton in the UK. It tackles many of the major objections to Christianity, including the argument from evil and suffering and the social injustices caused by the Church. It’s definitely worth reading.

    You might also like to take a look at Roderick Nash’s The Nervous Generation: American Thought, 1917-1930 (Chicago, Elephant Paperbacks/ Ivan R. Dee Publisher 1990). Nash takes the view that rather than becoming more radical and insecure in the 1920s, Americans generally became more conservative and religious. Amongst the various issues it discusses is the way Freudianism seemed to challenge the very foundations of American democracy by attacking the Enlightenment view held by Jefferson and the Founding Fathers that humanity was essentially rational, and by giving immensely powerful tools of persuasion and media propaganda to the government. He also discusses the view of some American philosophers that scientific scepticism actually attacked all certainty, leaving everything uncertain. Again, it’s another book that’s worth looking at.

    As for which part of the UK I live in, it’s Bristol, a town in the southwest. I have, however, got relatives in the Midlands near Birmingham, which is England’s second city. 🙂

  25. beastrabban Says:

    Thanks for taking a lot at the material on the Rational Perspectives site. I was invited to join it by the great guys there, who have a very thorough background in philosophy and religion. I’m afraid I haven’t spent as much time posting there as I should, and having followed their arguments as much as they deserve.

    Now let’s tackle Hitchen’s question about whether there is a moral action that the theist can perform, which the atheist can’t. Now the late Greg Bahnsen gave a lecture on whether people could be good without God. It’s on the web somewhere – I’ve got a feeling that it might be up at the awesome Christian Cadre site. Bahnsen stated right at the start of the lecture that the question wasn’t whether people could behave morally without the Almighty, as he recognised that there were indeed many atheists who were far more moral than many Christians. The question was, rather, whether atheism could account for morality and provide a justification for morals. He concluded that it couldn’t, and there are a number of atheist intellectuals who agree with him. Way back in the 1970s the head of the British Humanist Association in a speech stated that atheism could not supply any basis for morality. So while atheists can be extremely moral indeed, atheism itself provides no basis for it. John Locke, in his The Reasonableness of Christianity argued that the ancient philosophers had also strongly argued for morality. However, although their views were frequently very good, they contradicted each other, to the point where there was no commonly agreed system of morals. Thus, reason alone was not an adequate guide to morality, and only divine revelation, such as that of Our Lord, could provide a secure basis for morality.

  26. beastrabban Says:

    Now let’s deal with the question of the intelligibility of the cosmos. Firstly, a number of scientists have remarked that possibly the most amazing thing about the universe is that it is intelligible. Now it certainly is possible to argue that given enough time in the immensity of the universe eventually beings would arise that would be able to understand the Cosmos and its laws. However, there are a number of problems with this assumption.

    Firstly, the only species we know that has developed science and been able to explore and understand the deep structures of the cosmos is humanity. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any other sentient beings out there. However, despite the various predictions made by astronomers such as Carl Sagan, we haven’t encountered them and it may be that they don’t exist. Now Darwin’s Dilemma, which has been developed by Alvin Plantinga, is relevant here. Darwin wondered if he could be sure of his views on evolution, as if evolution was purely driven by the need to survive, and the human brain was still fundamentally that of a primate, then humanity’s views of the universe could not be trusted as fundamentally true ‘for who would trust a monkey’s brain?’ Thus there is an argument that Naturalism alone is not sufficient for accounting for human intelligence and the ability to understand the cosmos.

    Now it could be argued further that even if humanity is purely the result of the immense age and size of the cosmos, this still indicates that the emergence of humanity, or beings possessed of an intelligence like ours, was intentional. After all, the universe could have been constructed slightly differently so that intelligent beings did not emerge, or those that did appear did not have our type of intelligence and found the universe unintelligible. The basic fact is that the universe appears intelligible, and this intelligibility does not seem to be coincidental.

    Now let’s analyse the question whether it needs to be assumed that God exists and is orderly to understand the cosmos. Now there are clearly a number of different religions and philosophies that don’t assume the existence of a rational, orderly God. Nevertheless, the idea that the universe has been created and ordered through a rational, orderly intelligence, who has created humanity for communion with Him, has allowed humanity to make sense of its place in the cosmos, and develop the various scientific and other methods of improving its position. This would suggest that the Judaeo-Christian view of God’s nature was correct. The fact that this view is based very much on Biblical revelation may also support the traditional Christian view that, while the book of nature also points to God, humanity also requires revelation to give them a true understanding of God’s existence and nature.

  27. Biscuitnapper Says:

    Perhaps I am misunderstanding the whole thing, but I thought the morality and god argument is actually two separate ones, oft confused as is the way of things. The first is that we need religion in order to be moral, and the second is closer to the ontological argument, ie, there must be some transcendency otherwise there would be no concept of morality. To me (as a somewhat unwilling theist, I feel I ought to add), the first argument is hokum, so perhaps that is what Hitchens is getting at.

    As for the second, it seems to me that personal belief has nothing to do with reality – whether one believes in a transcendant being or not, if that being does exist, you will be quite capable of performing moral actions, whether you are an atheist or a theist.

  28. Beastrabban Says:

    Hi Biscuitnapper, let’s deal with some of the points you’ve made.

    Regarding your comment

    As for the second, it seems to me that personal belief has nothing to do with reality – whether one believes in a transcendant being or not, if that being does exist, you will be quite capable of performing moral actions, whether you are an atheist or a theist.

    Greg Bahnsen and a number of other Christian philosophers have both discussed this point. They point out that the issue isn’t whether people can perform moral actions without a belief in the existence of God, as clearly many people can and do, and there are many atheists who are far more moral than many theists. However, there is a problem in whether such moral actions can be considered moral in themselves. For example, if morality is simply the product of society, than they are not in themselves good – they’re merely a set of rules that people have developed and chosen to follow. In this case, murder, for example, isn’t wrong in itself, but merely considered to be wrong because of its effect on society or the social order. This is the major problem with the Utilitarian theory of ethics – actions in themselves are only judged good or evil in accordance with the rule whether they promote the ‘greatest happiness for the greatest number’. The problem is, this theory of morality can permit immoral actions if they are held to provide for human happiness. For example, under the Utilitarian theory of morality, it is perfectly moral to exectute an innocent person for murder, if this would satisfy a mob demanding that person’s execution. Christians and theist generally believe that certain actions, such as murder, theft and so on, are intrinsically wrong according to a set of transcendent, objective morals. Thus, without a belief in God or transcendent morality, although people can certainly perform morally, their actions are not in themselves moral, but merely conform to a set of social rules that may change over time and which may not be inherently valid.

  29. Beastrabban Says:

    You are right, however, in that traditionally theists have argued that people need religion to be moral. Now Hitchens has indeed attacked this view, and his views have in turn been criticised by Vox Day in his book, The Irrational Atheist . And you’re right in that theists have also argued that without religion there would be no concept of morality, as in some of the arguments that have been traditionally advanced about the nature of primitive society without religion. However, as I said, for many contemporary philosophers it isn’t that atheists can’t act morally, and that Humanists and other atheists haven’t attempted to produce moral codes, it’s whether actions can be considered intrinsically good or evil if a transcendent morality does not exist. If transcendent moral values don’t exist – and the case for them is strengthened with the existence of God – then actions are not good or evil in themselves, but merely a set of social codes that are not necessarily moral in themselves, no matter how just and worthy of respect the principles they articulate may be.

  30. Biscuitnapper Says:

    Thanks for clarifying – that makes the issue of morality far more interesting but also makes the question posed by Christopher Hitchens a bit… pointless. Perhaps that explains Prof Dawkins’ dislike of post-modernist thought: once again, it suggests he isn’t quite willing (or able) to accept or at least discuss the consequences of his main argument.

    Or perhaps he is actually willing to accept morality as merely a ‘set of social’ codes and just doesn’t like the extremes of post-modernist thought (which is understandable as a scientist).

  31. beastrabban Says:

    Dawkins has certainly strongly criticised Post-Modernism for its attack on science and the extreme view of some Post-Modern philosophers that scientific theories are merely social constructs and do not express or describe the true nature of reality. Now Dawkins has indeed discussed the role of the ‘zeitgeist’ in forming morality in The God Delusion , which suggests that he considers that it’s partly a matter of social convention. However, I got the impression that Dawkins isn’t actually particular well-informed in philosophy, and I suspect that he genuinely believes that there are transcendent moral values that exist separately from and are not affected by the existence of the Almighty.

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