Archive for the ‘Greece’ Category

Sargon of Gasbag Blames Plato for SJWs

January 13, 2020

Okay, I know, I shouldn’t have done it, but I did. I watched another of Sargon of Akkad’s wretched videos. In my defence I can only say that it is important to understand the ideas of the right and extreme right, and what they’re telling people about the left. And some of Sargon’s ideas are so bizarre that there’s a kind of weird fascination about them. Sargon is, of course, the nom de internet of Carl Benjamin, the Sage of Swindon, who broke UKIP by joining it. The scourge of Communists, feminists and anti-racist activists put up a video in which he claimed that the ancient Greek philosopher Plato was responsible for Social Justice Warriors. That’s the term the right sneeringly uses to refer to all the above, or even simply anyone who believes that the poor, unemployed, disabled and the working class are getting an increasingly raw deal and that the government should do something about it.

Sargon’s Libertarianism

For Sargon, anyone who believes in government intervention and in greater equality for women, ethnic minorities are working people is a Communist. But it’s the definition of Communism as used by the American right, which means anyone with vaguely left-wing views. Barack Obama was actually very moderate in his policies. He’s since come out and said that he considers himself a moderate Republican. But that didn’t stop his right-wing opponents attacking him as an evil Maoist Communist, as well as an atheist Muslim Nazi. Sargon himself is a ‘classical liberal’, which means that he’s a Libertarian who looks back to the early 19th century when governments followed the economic doctrine of laisser faire, so that people could work 18 hours per day in factories or the mines before dying of disease or starvation in a cellar or garret in an overcrowded slum. But Sargon, like all Libertarians and Conservatives, believes that if private industry is released from the chains of government bureaucracy, it will somehow magically produce economic expansion and wealth for all. Even though we’ve Tory privatisation and neoliberalism for forty years, the Conservatives have been in power for the past ten, the economy is collapsing and people are being forced in homelessness, debt and starvation. Most weirdly, Sargon somehow continues to believe he’s on the left. He’s a moderate, you see, unlike the far-right SJWs.

Plato and Aristotle

And he blames Plato for the far left on account of the ancient Greek philosopher’s highly authoritarian political views and his theory of forms. Plato believed that beyond this material world there was another, perfect world of ideal forms, of which the entities in this world were only imperfect shadows. For example, these ideal forms included animals, so that there was an ideal cat, of which real, material cats were imperfect copies. But there were also abstract concepts like justice and beauty, in which the beings in this world also participated and reflected. A beautiful woman, for example, was a woman who corresponded to the perfect ideal of beauty in the intelligible world. SJWs were intolerant, because they were idealists. They had impossibly high ideals of justice, and this made them intolerant. Just as Plato himself was intolerant in his idea of the perfect state, which he wrote down in his Republic and Laws. Plato himself believed that government should be left to enlightened absolute monarchs, and his idea of a perfect state is definitely totalitarian. Sargon’s right about that.

Sargon, however, champions Aristotle, because he believed in ‘the republic of virtue’ and democracy. And it was at this point that I stopped watching, because there’s only so much right-wing idiocy you can take. It can sound plausible, but a moment’s reflection is all it needs to show that it’s all nonsense, and Sargon knows less about SJWs, Marxism and Aristotle than he thinks he does.

Aristotlean Democracy Different from Today’s

Let’s deal firstly with the idea that Aristotle is a democrat. He isn’t, or rather, not in the modern sense. He’s not a totalitarian like Plato, but he believed that the only people, who should have a vote and a share of government in his ideal democracy were leisured gentlemen, who didn’t need to work and therefore had the time, education and money to devote themselves to politics. He makes this very clear in his Politics, where he states categorically that artisans and other working people should very definitely be kept away from politics and from mixing with the gentlemen of political class. So firmly did he believe this the he argued the two classes should have two separate forums. And Aristotle, like Plato, also believed in the world of intelligible forms. Which means that if idealism makes someone intolerant, then, by Sargon’s argument, he should also attack Aristotle as intolerant.

Marxism, Communism, Postmodernism and the New Left

Sargon is also, of course, spectacularly wrong about Communism. He uses it to mean anyone, who has what he considers to be extreme left-wing views. But Communism also has a very distinct meaning in that it referred to those versions of Marxism practiced in the former Communist bloc and the parties outside it that followed these forms of Marxist dogma. In the USSR and the European Communist countries, this meant Lenin’s formulation of Marxism; in China, Mao’s. But at the time there were other forms of Marxism that were far more democratic. Karl Kautsky, the leader of the Austrian Marxists, believed that industries should be socialised and taken over by the state when they became monopolies, and that socialism could only be achieved through democracy. He was bitterly hostile to the Soviet dictatorship.

Marxism certainly is an element in some forms of contemporary radicalism, such as postmodernism and Cultural Studies. But this is the Marxism of the New Left, which emerged in the 1960s. The New Left attempted to revitalise Marxism through a return to Hegelianism. As far as I can tell, it was Trotskyite, rather than Communist, although both refer to radical Marxism. But Postmodernism was also strongly influenced by structural linguistics, Freudian psychology and Nietzsche. And, at least in the 1990s, it rejected class politics, which are an essential part of orthodox Marxism.

Modern Feminists and Anti-Racists Not Necessarily Marxists

It’s also problematic how much contemporary anti-racism and feminism owes to Marxism. Some of the Black rights and anti-colonialist movements of the 20th century were influenced by Marx to a greater or lesser extent. But I doubt that the mass of anti-racist or feminist activists in this country have read Marx. For them, it almost certainly has more immediate causes in their experience of being treated as less than and denied opportunities open to White males. One of the landmark cases in British feminism was the strike by women workers at Dagenham in the early ’70s. But I doubt they were interested in creating a Communist utopia. They simply wanted to be paid the same as the men. And as for utopianism, while that does exist among the real extreme left, such as anarchists, communists and Trotskyites, for most people left-wing activism simply means realising that things are badly wrong now, and wishing to change it for the better. But as the books on left-wing organisation and activism I’ve read have argued, that means simply trying to make things a little better, and realising an absolutely perfect society is unachievable. That’s also the point of view Marxists like the economist Bernard Wolf.

The Utopianism of Libertarians and Conservatives

If anyone does believe in a perfect system, however, it’s Sargon and the Conservatives/Libertarians. They really do seem to believe that capitalism is a perfect system, and if people are poor, then it’s their own fault. It reminds me of the 19th century Tories, who talked endlessly about the perfection of the British constitution without thinking that anything could or should be done about the mass poverty around them. Sargon and his allies are thus rather like Dr. Pangloss, the character in Voltaire’s Candide, who believed that all was for the best, in this, the best of all possible worlds. Except in their formulation, all is for the best in capitalism, the best of all possible economic systems.

But capitalism is not perfect. Unregulated, it creates mass poverty, and this has always spurred left-wing activists and reformers to try to tackle it. This includes liberals as well as Marxists. But Sargon doesn’t understand that, and so he thinks that those dissatisfied with capitalism can only be radical Marxists.

He’s wrong, but this view is very influential, and used by the right to discredit everyone on the left. And so, daft as it is, it needs to be fought.

 

 

Campaign Against Anti-Semitism orders Video Pulled from Greenstein’s YouTube Channel

January 11, 2020

Long-time anti-racist, anti-Zionist and anti-Fascist – and Rory McGrath lookalike – Tony Greenstein has a very interesting piece up on his blog. One of the inmates of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, Philip Glasman, has apparently issued to copyright notice to YouTube ordering them to remove one of his videos from Greenstein’s channel on the platform. Why? Tony comments that the video has no commercial value, asking who would willingly pay to see this nutcase. It must be because Glasman finds it embarrassing.

Oh dear. How sad. Never mind, as Sergeant Major Shut-Up used to say on It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum. The video simply consists of Glasman droning on for a minute, giving very effusive praise to his ‘Maccabees’ for bringing down Jeremy Corbyn. This gives sharp insight into Glasman’s weird mindset and that of the other lunatics in the CAA. They really do seem to believe that protecting Israel from criticism and possible international censure for its slow-motion ethnic cleansing of the indigenous people, the Palestinians, is some kind of righteous holy war such as Judas Maccabaeus’ heroic resistance movement against the occupation of Israel by the Greek armies under Antiochus II Epiphanes.

It’s embarrassing for Glasman and his fellow nutters because the CAA is supposedly a charity and in that regard has to be apolitical. There have been several complaints about the CAA for its breach of this regulation already. And as this video shows, Glasman is not politically neutral. He doesn’t talk about protecting Jews from real anti-Semitism, although he probably believes that he is. He just raves and boasts about bringing down Corbyn.

And as Tony says, the embarrassment this video is causing Glasman is clearly cause for viewing and reblogging it. I’m afraid I haven’t been able to reblog it, but you can see it on Tony’s blog at

http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2020/01/the-campaign-against-antisemitism.html

If you are able to reblog the video, please feel free to do so. I’m sure Tony won’t mind, so long as you credit him, and it’ll give more people a laugh.

Jews Complain about Tory Anti-Semitism, but Hypocrite John Mann Isn’t Listening

December 27, 2019

John Mann is the former Blairite MP John Mann, who has spent most of the past few years of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership spreading the smears that his party was awash with anti-Semites and that it was all the fault of its leaders. This, he claimed, was the reason he finally left the party. He was then given the post of ‘Anti-Semitism Czar’ by the Tories, presumably in return for services rendered. It’s not exactly the best of titles, considering that the czars were notorious for anti-Semitism and the last years of the Russian Empire were marked by horrific pogroms. And how seriously the Tories and Mann take accusations of anti-Semitism in their ranks is shown by their massive lack of response to the concerns of the writer, lecturer, former children’s poet laureate and Holocaust educator Michael Rosen.

On Monday Mike published an article reporting that a very distinguished group of Jewish academics, journos, politicos, lawyers and other activists, including the actor Miriam Margolyes, had published an article in the Groaniad accusing Boris Johnson of anti-Semitism. This was partly based on a Jewish character, or perhaps caricature, in his wretched 2004 novel, 72 Virgins. This is a wish-fulfillment fantasy in which a bicycling Prime Minister, who bears an uncannily resemblance to Johnson himself, foils an Islamist plot to bomb parliament. The book talks about ‘Jewish oligarchs’ running the media and fiddling elections. There is a Jewish character, Sammy Katz, who is described as having a ‘proud nose and curly hair’. Katz is malevolent, stingy, and snake-like, exploiting immigrant workers for profit. The letter-writers comment, ‘There is nothing subtle about this. We know what antisemitism looks like.’

Further evidence of Johnson’s vile attitude to Jews comes from his editorship of the Spectator. He used to publish articles by Taki Theodorocopoulos, who really is an anti-Semite, claimed that Blacks have lower IQs than Whites and hailed Enoch Powell as ‘a great man’. They could also have added that he has also described the Greek neo-Nazi group, Golden Dawn, as just a group of patriotic Greek boys. The writers also note that even now Johnson is cosying up to Trump, despite the Orange Buffoon’s own support for neo-Nazis and comments about Greek disloyalty.

The writer’s state that they aren’t surprised by Johnson’s hatred of Jews, considering his general hatred for the poor and marginalised – minorities, women and LGBTQ+. But they reject Johnson’s cynical attempts to exploit the Jewish community’s fears about anti-Semitism in the Labour party to distract attention from his own bigotry.

The writers concluded their letter

A vote for the Conservatives is a vote for a far-right government that poses an existential threat to all minorities. As Jews, we understand that our fate is bound up with that of other minorities. We will only find safety through solidarity. We call on allies of the Jewish community to reject hate and vote the Tories out.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/12/23/jews-call-johnson-to-account-over-anti-semitism/

Now Mike and Zelo Street have reported that Mann and his fellow Blairite, the odious Ian Austin, have blocked Michael Rosen and called him a ‘troll’ after Rosen tried to pass on a few more instance of Tory anti-Semitism. Rosen had complained about anti-Semitism in the Tory party and provided examples. He got a reply from Mann simply stating that he wasn’t responding to incidents as they came up. Which Rosen flatly contradicted, saying he did. Rosen then annoyed the gruesome twosome of Mann and Austin by investigating the claim that Paul Golding, the fuhrer of the islamophobic Fascist group, Britain First, had joined the Tories. Rosen found that he hadn’t, and said so. But this refutation of what is a damaging rumour to the Tories infuriated them. Austin tweeted

Looking forward to [Michael Rosen] a) apologising for trying to belittle and undermine [John Mann]’s work on Antisemitism, and b) resolving not to stupidly give horrible racists like Paul Golding and Britain First the publicity they crave”.

Rosen corrected him,

I don’t undermine [John Mann]’s work on antisemitism: I provide him with examples he hasn’t retweeted so that he can slot them alongside the ones that he does”.

At which point Mann himself waded in, tweeting

All trolls are blocked. Another trolled added. Thank you”.

Tim Fenton, telling this tale, is astonished that Mann, supposedly an anti-Semitism campaigner, called Michael Rosen a ‘troll’ and blocked him. And so were other people. He quotes a couple of observers who also weren’t impressed. ‘Funny Tinge; Twitter Dinosaur’ commented

Lord John just blocked [Michael Rosen] for raising concerns about Anti Semitism. How do you think this looks John, that you, the AS tsar has just blocked a prominent Jewish figure from highlighting areas of concern he has? Cause to me it looks really really bad. Be better”.

Malcolm Finch also tweeted

Just take this in for a minute! The AntiSemitism Tsar John Mann has blocked Jewish Holocaust author & educator Michael Rosen for asking for feedback on alleged AntiSemitism in the Conservative Party”.

The Zelo Street article concludes

‘John Mann gives every indication of not being impartial. I’ll just leave that one there.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/12/the-idiocy-of-john-mann.html

In fact, as the article also points out, Mann has form in overlooking anti-Semitism in the Tory party. He ignored Suella Braverman’s comments about ‘cultural Marxism’, Priti Patel on the ‘north London metropolitan elite’, Gove conflating Jews with Israel, and Rees-Mogg calling two leading Jewish MPs, one of which, I believe, was John Bercow, ‘Illuminati’ and claiming the Remain campaign was funded by George Soros.

Rosen commented on his treatment by Mann thus:

‘Interesting: a public figure, so used to having the right to talk at us, comes on to twitter expecting to do the same. Then, when he finds that people offer him a view of the universe different from his, he does a bit of name-calling and stomps off.’

and concluded

‘I’ll have to report the Antisemitism Tsar to the Antisemitism Tsar.’

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/12/26/government-advisor-on-anti-semitism-wont-listen-to-jews/

The anti-Semitism smears were never about protecting Jews. They were all about stopping Corbyn getting into government. The Israel lobby were afraid that he would do something to help the Palestinians and the Blairites and Tories afraid that he would return Britain to the social democratic consensus that had actually empowered working people.

The cynicism with which these accusations are wielded by the Israel lobby was demonstrated a few days ago in a Counterpunch article about Labour’s election defeat. They attributed this among other causes to the massive disinformation campaign by the British press, including flagrant breach of electoral law by Laura Kuenssberg, and the anti-Semitism accusations. The article quoted Jacob Baime, the leader of the anti-BDS campaign, the Israel on Campus Coalition, about how these accusations are psychological warfare intended to throw those accused into confusion. And the article makes the point that this is what happened with the Labour party:

Labour’s pathetic acquiescence to Zionist bullies inside (e.g., Tom Watson, John Mann) and outside the party (e.g., the Board of Deputies of British Jews) allowed “anti-Semitism” (of which few claims were genuine, as Justin Schlosberg and others have documented) to act as a blanket to hide Labour’s actual policies. Labour internalized the problem and apologized for things its staff never did. This opened the floodgates to more Zionist abuse and the lowering of party morale, as was the Zionists’ intentions. For example, Jacob Baime, the Executive Director of the anti-boycott organization, the Israel on Campus Coalition, explained how “anti-Semitism” accusations work: “It’s psychological warfare. It drives them crazy. They either shut down, or they spend time investigating [the accusations against them] instead of attacking Israel.”

See: https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/12/24/the-dream-is-over-how-boris-johnson-won-the-uk-election/

Mann is not going to pay any attention to anti-Semitism in the Tory party, no matter how many supporters of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg are outed by people like Jacobsmates claiming that the Jews are behind non-White immigration because they want to destroy the White race.

Mann simply isn’t interested in anti-Semitism per se.

He’s only interested in anti-Semitism as a weapon against the socialist in his former party.

 

 

 

Review of Book on New Atheist Myths Now Up on Magonia Review Blog

November 1, 2019

The Magonia Review of Books blog is one of the online successors to the small press UFO journal, Magonia, published from the 1980s to the early part of this century. The Magonians took the psycho-social view of encounters with alien entities. This holds that they are essentially internal, psychological events which draw on folklore and the imagery of space and Science Fiction. Following the ideas of the French astronomer and computer scientist, Jacques Vallee, and the American journalist, John Keel, they also believed that UFO and other entity encounters were also part of the same phenomenon that had created fairies and other supernatural beings and events in the past. The magazine thus examined other, contemporary forms of vision and belief, such as the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare in the 1990s. It also reviewed books dealing with wide range of religious and paranormal topics. These included not just UFOs, but also the rise of apocalyptic religious faith in America, conspiracy theories, ghosts and vampires, cryptozoology and the Near Death Experience, for example. Although the magazine is no longer in print, the Magonia Review of Books continues reviewing books, and sometimes films, on the paranormal and is part of a group of other blogs, which archive articles from the magazine and its predecessor, the Merseyside UFO Bulletin (MUFOB), as well as news of other books on the subject.

I’ve had a number of articles published in Magonia and reviews on the Review of Books. The blog has just put my review of Nathan Johnstone’s The New Atheism, Myth and History: The Black Legends of Contemporary Anti-Religion (Palgrave MacMillan 2018).  The book is a critical attack on the abuse of history by New Atheist polemicists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and so on to attack religion. He shows that the retail extremely inaccurate accounts of historical atrocities like the witch hunts and persecution of heretics by the Christian church and the savage anti-religious campaign in the Soviet Union in order to condemn religion on the one hand, and try to show that atheism was not responsible for the atrocities committed in its name on the other. At the same time he is alarmed by the extremely vitriolic language used by Dawkins and co. about the religious. He draws comparisons between it and the language used to justify persecution in the past to warn that it too could have brutal consequences despite its authors’ commitment to humanity and free speech.

The article is at: http://pelicanist.blogspot.com/2019/10/believing-in-not-believing-new-atheists.html if you wish to read it at the Magonia Review site. I’ve also been asked to reblog it below. Here it is.

Nathan Johnstone. The New Atheism, Myth and History: The Black Legends of Contemporary Anti-Religion. Palgrave Macmillan 2018.

The New Atheists is a term coined to described the group of militant atheists that emerged after the shock of 9/11. Comprising the biologist Richard Dawkins, the journalist Christopher Hitchens, the philosophers Daniel C. Dennett and A.C. Grayling, the neuroscientist Sam Harris, the astronomer Victor Stenger, and others, they are known for their particularly bitter invective against all forms of religion. The above claim to stand for reason and science against irrationality and unreason. But while they are especially protective of science, and who gets to speak for it or use its findings, they are cavalier regarding theology and the humanities, including history.
Johnstone is appalled by this attitude. Instead of respecting history and its scholarship, he compares Dawkins, Harris et al to hunter-gatherers. They are not interested in exploring history, but rather using it as a grab-bag of examples of atrocities committed by the religious. In so doing they ignore what historians really say about the events and periods they cite, and retail myth as history. These he regards as a kind of ‘Black Legend’ of theism, using the term invented in the early twentieth century by the Spanish historian Julian Juderas to describe a type of anti-Spanish, anti-Roman Catholic polemic. He states his book is intended to be just a defence of history, and takes no stance on the issue of the existence of God. From his use of ‘we’ in certain points to describe atheists and Humanists, it could be concluded that Johnstone is one of the many of the latter, who are appalled by the New Atheists’ venom.
One such religious doubter was the broadcaster John Humphries,  the author of the defence of agnosticism, In God We Doubt. Humphries stated in the blurb for the book that he considered himself an agnostic before moving to atheism. Then he read one of the New Atheist texts and was so shocked by it he went back to being an agnostic. The group first made its debut several years ago now, and although New Atheism has lost some of its initial interest and support, they’re still around.
Hence Johnstone’s decision to publish this book. While Dawkins’ The God Delusion was published almost a decade ago, the New Atheists are still very much around. They and their followers are still on the internet, and their books on the shelves at Waterstones. Dawkins published his recent work of atheist polemics, Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide a few weeks ago at the beginning of October 2019. He accompanied its publication with an appearance at Cheltenham Literary Festival, where he was speaking about why everyone should turn atheist.
The events and the atrocities cited by the New Atheists as demonstrations of the intrinsic evil of religion are many, including the Inquisitions, the witch-hunts, anti-Semitism, the Crusades, the subjugation of women, colonialism, the slave trade and the genocide of the Indians, to which they also add human sacrifice, child abuse, censorship, sexual repression and resistance to science. These are too many to tackle in one book, and it confines itself instead to attacking and refuting New Atheist claims about the witch-hunts, the medieval persecution of heretics, and the question of whether Hitler was ever really Christian and the supposed Christian origins of Nazi anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.
The book also tackles historical movements and figures, that the New Atheists have claimed as atheist heroes and forerunners – the ancient Greek Atomists and two opponents of the witch-hunts, Dietrich Flade and Friedrich Spee. It then moves on to examine Sam Harris’ endorsement of torture in the case of Islamist terrorists and atheist persecution in the former Soviet Union before considering the similarity of some New Atheist attitudes to that of religious believers. It concludes with an attack on the dangerous rhetoric of the New Atheists which vilifies and demonises religious believers, rhetoric which could easily provoke persecution, even if its authors themselves are humane men who don’t advocate it.
Johnstone traces these atheist myths back to their nineteenth and pre-nineteenth century origins, and some of the books cited by the New Atheists as the sources for their own writings. One of the most influential of these is Charles MacKay’s 1843 Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. In many instances he shows them to be using very dated, and now refuted texts. With some of the modern works they also draw on, examination shows that often they ignore the authors’ own conclusions, which may differ considerably, or even be the complete opposite of their own.
In the case of the witch-hunts, Johnstone traces the oft-quoted figure of over nine million victims to an early nineteenth century German author, Gottfried Christian Voigt, who extrapolated it from the murder of the thirty witches executed in his home town of Quedlinburg from 1569 to 1683. He assumed this was typical of all areas throughout the period of the witch-hunts. The figure was picked up by the radical neo-Pagan and feminist movements of the 1970s. But it’s false. The real figure, he claims, was 50,000. And its intensity varied considerably from place to place and over time. The Portuguese Inquisition, for example, only killed one witch c. 1627. In other places, the inquisitors were conscientious in giving the accused a fair trial. Convictions for witchcraft were overturned and evidence was taken to prove the accused’s innocence as well as guilt. The Roman Inquisition also demanded the accused to provide a list of their enemies, as their testimony would obviously be suspect.
In regions where the discussion of witchcraft had resulted in the mass trial and execution of the innocent, the religious authorities imposed silence about the subject. Johnstone rebuts the statement of some Christian apologists that the Church was only complicit in these atrocities, not responsible for them. But he shows that they were an anomaly. Nearly all societies have believed in the existence of witches throughout history, but the period of witch-hunting was very limited. The problem therefore is not that religion and belief in the supernatural leads inexorably to persecution, but how to explain that it doesn’t.
He shows that the Church moved from a position of initial scepticism towards full scale belief over a period of centuries. The witch-hunts arose when maleficium – black magic – became linked to heresy, and so became a kind of treason. As an example of how secular and political motives were also involved in the denunciations and trials, rather than just pure religious hatred, he cites the case of the priest Urbain Grandier. Grandier’s case was the basis for Aldous Huxley’s novel, The Devils of Loudoun, which was filmed by Ken Russell as The Devils. Here it appears the motives for the trial were political, as Grandier had been an opponent of the French minister, Cardinal Richelieu. Johnstone also considers that as secular societies have also persecuted those they consider to be politically or morally deviant there exists in humanity a need to persecute. This means finding and identifying an anti-group, directly opposed to conventional society, whose existence and opposition demonstrates the value of that society.
KEN RUSSELL’S ‘THE DEVILS’ (1971)
The medieval persecution of heretics may also have been due to a number of causes and not simply due to the malign attitudes of religious believers. There was a period of nearly 700 years between the execution of the Roman heretic, Priscillian, in the fourth century and the revival of persecution the early eleventh. This arose in the context of the emergence and development of states and the expansion of papal and royal power, which involved church and crown extending their power over local communities. At the same time, the papacy attempted reforming the church, at first in response to popular demand. However, it was then faced with the problem of clamping down on some of the popular reform movements when they threatened to run out of its control.
As the case of the Waldensians shows, the line between orthodoxy and heresy could be an extremely fine one. Johnstone also raises the question here of whether one of the most notorious medieval heretical groups, the Cathars, ever existed at all. It is possible that their existence is an illusion created by the categories of heresies the inquisitors had inherited from the Church Fathers. These were forced onto a group of local communities in the Languedoc, where popular piety centred around the Good Men and Women. These were highly respected members of the community, who were believed to live exemplary Christian lives. They were therefore due proper respect, which to the inquisitors looked like heretical veneration.
Hitler’s Christianity is also highly debatable. The little reliable testimony states that he was indeed Roman Catholic, but doesn’t provide any evidence of a deep faith. He certainly at times claimed he was a Christian and was acting in accordance with his religious beliefs. But an examination of some of these quotes shows that they were uttered as a rebuttal to others, who stated that their Christian beliefs meant that they could not support Nazism. This raises the question of whether they were anything more than a rhetorical gesture. There is evidence that Hitler was an atheist with a particular hatred of Christianity. This is mostly drawn from his Table Talk, and specifically the English edition produced by Hugh Trevor-Roper. The atheist polemicist, Richard Carrier, has shown that it is derived from a French language version, whose author significantly altered some of the quotes to insert an atheist meaning where none was present in the original. However, Carrier only identified a handful of such quotes, leaving forty requiring further investigation. Thus the question remains undecided.
Johnstone also examine the Nazi persecution of the Jews from the point of view of the theorists of political religion. These consider that humans are innately religious, but that once secularisation has broken the hold of supernatural religion, the objects of veneration changes to institutions like the state, free market capitalism, the New Man, Communism and so on. Those who follow this line differ in the extent to which they believe that the Nazis were influenced by religion. Some view it as a hydra, whose many heads stood for Christianity, but also Paganism in the case of Himmler and the SS. But underneath, the source of the real religious cult was the race, the nation and Hitler himself. If these theorists are correct, then Nazism may have been the result, not of a continued persecuting Christianity, but of secularisation.
He also considers the controversial view of the German historian, Richard Steigmann-Gall, whose The Holy Reich considered that the Nazis really were sincere in their Christianity. This has been criticised because some of the Nazis it examines as examples of Nazi Christian piety, like Rudolf Hess, were minor figures in the regime, against vehement anti-Christians like Alfred Rosenberg. He also shows how the peculiar views of the German Christians, the Nazi Christian sect demanding a new, Aryan Christianity, where Christ was blond and blue-eyed, and the Old Testament was to be expunged from the canon, were similar to certain trends within early twentieth century liberal Protestantism. But the German historian’s point in writing the book was not simply to put culpability for the Nazis’ horrors on Christianity. He wanted to attack the comfortable distance conventional society places between itself and the Nazis, in order to reassure people that they couldn’t have committed such crimes because the Nazis were different. His point was that they weren’t. They were instead uncomfortably normal.
DEMOCRITUS
The New Atheists celebrate the ancient Greek Atomists because their theories that matter is made up of tiny irreducible particles, first put forward by the philosophers Epicurus and Democritus, seem so similar to modern atomic theory. These ancient philosophers believed that these alone were responsible for the creation of a number of different worlds and the creatures that inhabited them by chance.
Some of these were forms that were incapable of surviving alone, and so died out. Thus, they appear to foreshadow Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection. New Atheist writers bitterly attack Aristotle, whose own rival theories of matter and physics gained ascendancy until Atomism was revived in the seventeenth century. The natural philosophers behind its revival are credited with being atheists, even though many of them were Christians and one, Pierre Gassendi, a Roman Catholic priest. Their Christianity is thus seen as nominal. One also takes the extreme view that Galileo’s prosecution was due to his embrace of the atomic theory, rather than his argument that the Earth moved around the Sun.
But scholars have shown that the ancient atomic theory grew out of particular debates in ancient Greece about the fundamental nature of matter, and cannot be removed from that context. They were very different to modern atomic theory. At the same time, they also held beliefs that are to us nonsense as science. For example, they believed that the early creatures produced by atoms were fed by the Earth with a milk-like substance. They also believed in the fixity of species. Even where they did believe in evolution, in the case of humanity, this was more Lamarckian than Darwinian. Aristotle’s views won out over theirs not because of religious narrow-mindedness or ignorance, but because Aristotle’s had great explanatory power.
The scientists, who revived it in the seventeenth century, including Boyle and Newton, were sincere Christians. They believed that atoms created objects through divine agency because the ancient Greek explanation – it was all chance without a theory of momentum – genuinely couldn’t explain how this could occur without God. As for Galileo, the historian who first suggested this extreme and largely discredited view, believed that he was a victim of papal politics, and that there had also been a party within the Vatican and the Church, which supported his theories.
Discussing the two witch-hunters celebrated by the New Atheists as atheist, or at least, Sceptical heroes, the book shows that this was not the case. Dietrich Flade seems to have been accused because he had fallen out with an ecclesiastical rival, Zandt, for being too lenient on the accused witches. But he also appears to have been protected by the church authorities until the accusations of witchcraft by accused witches became too many to ignore.
The other Sceptical hero, Friedrich Spee, was a Jesuit priest, who became convinced of the innocence of those accused of witchcraft through attending so many to the stake. He then wrote a book condemning the trials, the Cautio Crimenalis. But he was no sceptic. He believed wholeheartedly in witchcraft, but considered it rare. The use of torture was wrong, as it was leading to false confessions and false denunciations of others, which could not be retracted for fear of further torture. Thus the souls of the innocent were damned for this sin. But while good Christians were being burned as witches, many of the witch-hunters themselves were in league with Satan. They used the hunts and baseless accusations to destroy decent Christian society and charity.
But if the New Atheists are keen to ascribe a wide number of historical atrocities to religion without recognising the presence of other, social and political factors, they deny any such crimes can be attributed to atheism. Atheism is defined as a lack of belief in God, and so cannot be responsible for inspiring horrific acts. Johnstone states that in one sense, this is true, but it is also a question about the nature of the good life and the good society that must be constructed in the absence of a belief in God. And these become positive ideologies that are responsible for horrific crimes.
Johnstone goes on from this to attack Hector Avelos’ statement that the Soviet persecution of the Church was only a form of anti-clericalism, which all societies must go through. Johnstone rebuts this by describing the process and extent of Soviet persecution, from the separation of church and state in 1917 to the imposition of atheism by force. Churches and monasteries were closed and religious objects seized and desecrated, religious believers arrested, sent to the gulags or massacred. These persecutions occurred in cycles, and there were times, such as during the War, when a rapprochement was made with the Orthodox Church. But these periods of toleration were always temporary and established for entirely pragmatic and utilitarian purposes.
The goal was always the creation of an atheist state, and they were always followed, until the fall of Communism, by renewed persecution. The wartime rapprochement with the Church was purely to gain the support of believers for the campaign against the invading Nazis. It was also to establish state control through the church on Orthodox communities that had survived, or reappeared in border areas under Nazi occupation. Finally, the attack on the clergy, church buildings and religious objects and even collectivisation itself were done with the deliberate intention of undermining religious ritual and practice, which was considered the core of Orthodox life and worship.
Sam Harris has become particularly notorious for his suggestion that atheists should be trusted to torture terrorist suspects because of their superior rationality and morality compared to theists. Harris believed it was justified in the case of al-Qaeda suspects in order to prevent further attacks. But here Johnstone shows his logic was profoundly flawed. Torture was not introduced into medieval judicial practice in the twelfth century through bloodthirsty and sadistic ignorance. Rather it was intended as a reasonable alternative to the ordeal. Human reason, and the acquisition of evidence, was going to be sufficient to prove guilt or innocence without relying on supposed divine intervention. But the standards of evidence required were very high, and in the case of a crime like witchcraft, almost impossible without a confession.
The use of torture was initially strictly limited and highly regulated, but the sense of crisis produced by witchcraft resulted in the inquisitors abandoning these restraints. Similarly, Harris’ fear of terror attacks leads him to move from reasonable suspects, who may well be guilty, to those who are simply members of terrorist organisations. They are fitting subjects for torture because although they may be innocent of a particular offence, through their membership of a terrorist organisation or adherence to Islamist beliefs, they must be guilty of something. Finally, Harris also seems to see Islamism as synonymous with Islam, so that all Muslims everywhere are seen as enemies of the secular Western order. This is exactly the same logic as that which motivated the witch-hunts, in which witches were seen as the implacable enemies of Christian society, and so exempt from the mercy and humane treatment extended to other types of criminal.
From this Johnstone then goes on to consider how the New Atheists’ image of atheism and the process of abandoning belief in God resembles religious attitudes. Their belief that atheism must be guarded against the dangers of falling back into religious belief mirrors Christian fears of the temptation to false belief, such as those of the Protestant reformers towards the persistence of Roman Catholicism. At the same time, their ideas of abandoning God and so attaining the truth resembles the Christian process of conversion and membership of the elect. And the vitriol directed at the religious for continuing to believe in God despite repeated demonstrations of His nonexistence resembles the inquisitors’ attitude to heretics. Heresy differs from error in that the heretic refuses to be corrected, and so must be compelled to recant by force.
The book also shows the dangers inherent in some New Atheist rhetoric about religious believers. This runs in contrast to much New Atheist writing, which is genuinely progressive and expresses real sympathy with the marginalised and oppressed, and which advocates trying to see the world through their eyes. But no such sympathy is granted religious believers. They are described as children, who may not sit at the same table as adults. Or else, following the logic of religion as a virus, proposed by Dawkins, they are described as diseased, who do not realise that they have been infected and even love their condition.
Bringing children up religious is condemned as child abuse. A.C. Grayling is shown to have a utilitarian attitude in his own advocacy of secularisation. He first states that he supports it for creating multiculturalism, but then contradicts himself by stating that he looks forward to it undermining religion. This was the same attitude the Soviets initially adopted towards religion. When it didn’t disappear as they expected, they resorted to force. Peter Boghossian wants atheist ‘street epistemologists’ – the atheist version of religious street preachers – to attack believers’ religious beliefs in public. They are to take every opportunity, including following them into church, in order to initiate ‘Socratic’ discussions that will lead them to questioning their faith.
Johnstone states that this is an implicit denial of theists’ right to conduct their private business in public without atheist interference. It’s in line with the New Atheist demands that religion be driven from the public sphere, into the churches, or better yet, the home. The metaphor of disease and infection suggests that what is needed is for religious believers to be rounded up against their will and forcibly cured. It’s the same metaphor the Nazis used in their persecution of their victims.
He quotes the atheist philosopher Julian Baggini, who is dismayed when he hears atheists describing religion as a mental disease from which believers should be forcibly treated. As for the statement that religious upbringing equals child abuse, the seriousness of this charge raises the question of how seriously the New Atheists actually see it. If Dawkins and co. really believe that it is, then their lack of demand for state intervention to protect children from indoctrination, as they see it, from the parents shows that they don’t treat child abuse seriously.
The New Atheist rhetoric actually breaks with their concrete recommendations for what should be done to disavow believers of their religious views, which are actually quite mild. This is what Johnstone calls the ‘cavalierism of the unfinished thought’. They may not recommend coercion and persecution, but their rhetoric implies it. Johnstone states that he has discussed only one of several competing strands in New Atheist thinking and that there are others available. He concludes with the consideration that there isn’t a single atheism but a multiplicity of atheisms, all with differing responses to religious belief. Some of them will be comparably mild, but most will involve some kind of frustration at religion’s persistence. He recommends that atheists should identify which type of atheist they are, in order to avoid the violent intolerance inherent in New Atheist rhetoric. This agrees with his statement at the beginning of the book, where he hopes it will lead to an atheist response to religion which is properly informed by history and which genuinely respects religious believers.
The book is likely to be widely attacked by the New Atheists and their followers. Some of its conclusions Johnstone admits are controversial, such as the view that the Cathars never existed, or that the persecution of heretics was an integral part of the forging of the medieval state. But historians and sociologists of religion repeatedly show that in the persecutions and atrocities in which religion has been involved, religion is largely not the only, or in some cases even the most important reason. Johnstone’s views on witchcraft is supported by much contemporary popular and academic treatments. His statement that the figure of over nine million victims of the witch-hunt is grossly exaggerated is shared by Lois Martin in her The History of Witchcraft (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials 2002). The Harvard professor, Jeffrey Burton Russell in his Witchcraft in the Middle Ages (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 1972) also shows how Christian attitudes towards witchcraft passed from the scepticism of the Canon Episcopi to belief as the responsibility for its persecution passed from the bishops to the Holy Office.
Early law codes treated maleficium – black or harmful magic – purely as a civil offence against persons or property. It became a religious crime with the development of the belief that witches attended sabbats where they parodied the Christian Eucharist and worshiped Satan. A paper describing the scrupulous legality and legal provisions for the accused’s defence in the Roman Inquisition can be found in the Athlone History of Witchcraft and Magic In Europe IV: The Period of the Witch Trials, Bengt Ankerloo and Stuart Clarke eds., (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press 2002). Other writers on religion have noted the similarity between the late medieval and early modern witch-hunts and paranoid fears about Freemasons, Jews and Communists in later centuries, including the Holocaust, Stalin’s purges and McCarthyism. They thus see it as one manifestation of the wider ‘myth of the organised conspiracy’. See Richard Cavendish, ‘Christianity’, in Richard Cavendish, ed., Mythology: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (London: Orbis 1980) 156-69 (168-9).
The Soviet persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church is described by Rev. Timothy Ware in his The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin 1963). Ludmilla Alexeyeva also describes the Soviet persecution of the Orthodox Church, along with other religions and national and political groups and movements in her Soviet Dissent: Contemporary Movements for National, Religious and Human Rights (Middletown, Connecticutt: Wesleyan University Press 1985). R.N. Carew Hunt’s The Theory and Practice of Communism (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1950) shows how leading Communists like Lenin believed atheism was an integral part of Communism and the Soviet state with a series of quotations from them. An example of Lenin’s demand for an aggressive atheism is his speech, ‘On the Significance of Militant Materialism’ in Lenin: Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers 1968). 653-60.
It is also entirely reasonable to talk about religious elements and attitudes within certain forms of atheism and secular ideologies. Peter Rogerson in many of his well-reasoned articles in Magonia pointed out how similar some of the sceptics’ attacks on superstition and the supernatural were to narratives of religious conversion. His attitude is shared with some academic sociologists, historians and political theorists. Peter Yinger’s section on ‘Secular Alternatives to Religion’ in The Religious Quest: A Reader, edited by Whitfield Foy (London: Open University Press 1978) 537-554, has articles on the ‘Religious Aspects of Postivism’, p. 544, ‘Faith in Science’, 546, ‘Religious Aspects of Marxism’, p. 547, ‘Totalitarian Messianism’ 549, and ‘Psychoanalysis as a Modern Faith’, 551. For some scholars, the similarities of some secular ideologies to religion is so strong, that they have termed them quasi-religions.
While some atheists resent atheism being described as religion, this term is meant to avoid such objections. It is not intended to describe them literally as religions, but only as ideologies that have some of the qualities of religion. See John E. Smith’s Quasi-Religions: Humanism, Marxism and Nationalism (Macmillan 1994). New Atheism also mimics religion in that several of the New Atheists have written statements of the atheist position and edited anthologies of atheist writings. These are A.C. Grayling’s The Good Book and Christopher Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist. The title of Grayling’s book is clearly a reference to the Bible. As I recall, it caused some controversy amongst atheists when it was published, as many of them complained that atheism was too individual and sceptical to have a definitive, foundational text. In their view, Grayling’s book showed the type of mindset they wanted to escape when they left religion.
The fears of the terrible potential consequences of New Atheist rhetoric despite the avowed intentions of its authors is well founded and timely. There have been sharp complaints about some of the vitriolic rhetoric used to attack particular politicians in debates about Brexit which has resulted in assault and harassment. At the same it was reported that anti-Muslim hate crimes spiked after the publication of Boris Johnson’s column in which he described women wearing the burqa as looking like letterboxes. Neither religion, nor secularism and atheism should be immune from criticism. But Johnstone is right in that it should be correctly historically informed and careful in the language used. Otherwise the consequences could be terrible, regardless of the authors’ own humane feelings and sympathies.

Richard Dawkins Promoting Atheism at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature

October 7, 2019

This week is the Cheltenham festival of literature. It’s an annual event when novelists, poets, illustrators and increasingly TV and radio personalities descend on the town to talk about and try to sell the books they’ve had published. There can be, and often are, some great speakers discussing their work. I used to go to it regularly in the past, but went off it after a few years. Some of the people turn up, year in, year out, and there are only so many times you can see them without getting tired of it.

Dawkins, Atheism and Philosophical Positivism

One of the regular speakers at the Festival is the zoologist, science writer and atheist polemicist, Richard Dawkins. The author of Climbing Mount Improbable, The River Out Of Eden, The Blind Watchmaker and so on is appearing in Cheltenham to promote his latest book, Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide. It sounds like a kind of successor to his earlier anti-religious work, The God Delusion. According to the accompanying pamphlet for the festival, he’s going to be talking to an interviewer about why we should all stop believing in God. There’s no doubt Dawkins deserves his platform at the Festival as much as any other writer. He’s a popular media personality, and writes well. However, his knowledge of philosophy, theology and the history of science, which forms the basis for his attacks on Christianity, is extremely low, and defenders of religion, and even other scientists and historians, who are just interested in defending their particular disciplines from factual mistakes and misinterpretations, have shot great holes in them.

Dawkins is, simply put, a kind of naive Positivist. Positivism was the 19th century philosophy, founded by Auguste Comte, that society moved through a series of three stages in its development. The first stage was the theological, when the dominant ideology was religion. Then came the philosophical stage, before the process ended with science. Religion was a thing of the past, and science would take over its role of explaining the universe and guiding human thought and society. Comte dreamed of the emergence of a ‘religion of humanity’, with its own priesthood and rituals, which would use sociology to lead humanity. Dawkins doesn’t quite go that far, but he does believe that religion and science – and specifically Darwinism – are in conflict, and that the former should give way to the latter. And he’s not alone. I heard that a few years ago, Alice Robert, the forensic archaeologist and science presenter, gave a speech on the same subject at the Cheltenham Festival of Science when she was its guest director, or curator, or whatever they term it. A friend of mine was less than impressed with her talk and the lack of understanding she had of religion. He tweeted ‘This is a girl who thinks she is intelligent.’

War of Science and Religion a Myth

No, or very few historians of science, actually believe that there’s a war between the two. There have been periods of tension, but the idea of a war comes from three 19th century writers. And it’s based on and cites a number of myths. One of these is the idea that the Church was uniformly hostile to science, and prevented any kind of scientific research and development until the Renaissance and the rediscovery of ancient Roman and Greek texts. It’s a myth I learnt at school, and it’s still told as fact in many popular textbooks. But other historians have pointed out that the Middle Ages was also a period of scientific investigation and development, particularly following the influence of medieval Islamic science and the ancient Greek and Roman texts they had preserved, translated, commented on and improved. Whole books have been written about medieval science, such as Jean Gimpel’s The Medieval Machine, and James Hannam’s God’s Philosophers. Hannam is a physicist, who did a doctorate in examining the development of medieval science, showing that, far from retarding or suppressing it, medieval churchmen were intensely interested in it and were active in its research. Medieval science was based very much on Aristotle, but they were well aware of some of the flaws in his natural philosophy, and attempted to modify it in order to make it conform to observed reality. The Humanists of the Renaissance, rather than bringing in freedom of thought and scientific innovation, were actually a threat. They wanted to strip philosophy and literature of its medieval modifications to make it correspond exactly with the ancients’ original views. Which would have meant actually destroying the considerable advances which had been made. Rather than believe that renaissance science was a complete replacement of medieval science, scholars like Hannam show that it was solidly based on the work of their medieval predecessors.

Christian Theology and the Scientific Revolution

The scientific revolution of the 17th century in England also has roots in Christian philosophy and theology. Historians now argue that the Royal Society was the work of Anglican Broadchurchmen, who believed that God had created a rational universe amenable to human reason, and who sought to end the conflict between the different Christian sects through uniting them in the common investigation of God’s creation. See, for example, R. Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press 1972).

Christian Monotheism and the Unity of Physical Law

It is also Christian monotheist theology that provides one of the fundamental assumptions behind science. Modern science is founded on the belief that the laws of nature amount to a single, non-contradictory whole. That’s the idea behind the ‘theory of everything’, or Grand Unified Theory everyone was talking about back in the 1990s. But this idea goes back to St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. Aquinas said that we must believe that the laws of nature are one, because God is one.  It’s the assumption, founded on Christian theology, the makes science possible.

Atheist Reductionism also a Danger

When The God Delusion Came Out, it was met by a series of books attacking its errors, some of them with titles like The Dawkins Delusion. The philosopher Mary Midgley has also attacked the idea that science can act as a replacement for religion in her books Evolution as a Religion and The Myths We Live By. On page 58 of the latter she attacks the immense damage to humanity atheist reductionism also poses. She writes

Both reductive materialism and reductive idealism have converged to suggest that reductivism is primarily a moral campaign against Christianity. This is a dangerous mistake. Obsession with the churches has distracted attention from reduction employed against notions of human individuality, which is now a much more serious threat. It has also made moral problems look far simplar than they actually are. Indeed, some hopeful humanist reducers still tend to imply that, once Christian structures are cleared away, life in general will be quite all right and philosophy will present no further problems.

In their own times, these anti-clerical reductive campaigns have often been useful. But circumstances change. New menaces, worse than the one that obsesses us, are always appearing, so that what looked like a universal cure for vice and folly becomes simply irrelevant. In politics, twentieth-century atheistical states are not an encouraging omen for the simple secularistic approach to reform. it turns out that the evils that have infested religion are not confined to it, but are ones that can accompany any successful human institution. Nor is it even clear that religion itself is something that the human race either can or should be cured of.

Darwin Uninterested in Atheist Campaigning

Later in the book she describes how the Marxist Edward Aveling was disappointed when he tried to get Darwin to join him in a campaign to get the atheist, Bradlaugh, to take his seat as a duly elected MP. At the time, atheists were barred from public office by law. Aveling was impressed by Darwin’s work on evolution, which he believed supported atheism. Darwin was an agnostic, and later in life lost belief in God completely due to the trauma of losing a daughter and the problem of suffering in nature. But Darwin simply wasn’t interested in joining Aveling’s campaign. When Aveling asked him what he was now studying, hoping to hear about another earth-shaking discovery that would disprove religion, Darwin simply replied ‘Earthworms’. The great biologist was fascinated by them. It surprised and shocked Aveling, who hadn’t grasped that Darwin was simply interested in studying creatures for their own sake.

Evolutionists on Evolution Not Necessarily Supporting Atheism

Other evolutionary biologists also concluded that evolution has nothing to say about God, one way or another. Stephen Jay Gould stated that he believed that Darwinism only hinted at atheism, not that it proved it. Charles Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, who published his own theory of evolution in Zoonomia in 1801, believed on the other hand that the development of creatures from more primitive forebears made the existence of God ‘mathematically certain’.

Frank H.T. Rhodes of the University of Michigan wrote in his book Evolution (New York: Golden Press 1974) on its implications the following, denying that it had any for religion, politics or economics.

Evolution, like any other natural process or scientific theory, is theologically neutral. it describes mechanisms, but not meaning. it is based upon the recognition of order but incorporates no conclusion concerning the origin of that order as either purposeful or purposeless.

Although evolution involves the interpretation of natural events by natural processes, it neither assumes nor provides particular conclusions concerning the ultimate sources or the significance of materials, events or processes.

Evolution provides no obvious conclusions concerning political or economic systems. Evolution no more supports evolutionary politics (whatever they might be) than does the Second Law of Thermodynamics support political disorder or economic chaos. 

(Page 152).

Conclusion

I realise that the book’s nearly 50 years old, and that since that time some scientists have worked extremely hard to show the opposite – that evolution support atheism. But I’ve no doubt other scientists, people most of us have never heard of, believe the opposite. Way back in 1909 or so there was a poll of scientists to show their religious beliefs. The numbers of atheists and people of faith was roughly equal, and 11 per cent of the scientists polled said that they were extremely religious. When the poll was repeated in the 1990s, the pollsters were surprised to find that the proportion of scientists who were still extremely religious had not changed.

Despite what Dawkins tells you, atheism is not necessarily supported by science, and does not disprove it. Other views of the universe, its origin and meaning are available and still valid.

Dominic Cumming’s Social Darwinist Views

September 4, 2019

On Sunday the Skwawkbox put up a piece about an article in the Groaniad revealing Dominic Cumming’s views on the value of education and social mobility: he doesn’t believe in them. In 2013 the Polecat produced a 250 page essay covering a number of subjects. One of these was in the importance of heredity in determining social advancement. He declared

differences in educational achievement are not mainly because of ‘richer parents buying greater opportunity’ and the successful pursuit of educational opportunity and ‘social mobility’ will increase heritability of educational achievement.

He also criticised a leading sociologist because

in a paper about class and wealth across generations, he ignores genetics entirely. However, using parent-offspring correlations as an index of ‘social mobility’ is fundamentally flawed because the correlations are significantly genetic – not environmental.

He concluded

However, the spread of knowledge and education is itself a danger and cannot eliminate gaps in wealth and power created partly by unequally distributed heritable characteristics.

This is bog-standard, textbook Social Darwinism – the survival of the economic fittest, as devised by Herbert Spencer. It’s the philosophy that passing legislation to improve conditions for the working class is useless, because their poverty and failure to ascend the social hierarchy is due to their lack of genetic fitness. Indeed, it may even be actually dangerous in the case of the disabled. If the ‘dysgenic’ – the genetically inferior – are allowed to breed, they will outbreed their genetic superiors in the upper classes. This will lead to racial degeneration. This was the reasoning behind the notorious eugenics legislation passed by 25 states in the US providing for the sterilisation of the mentally handicapped. It was also the reason the US also preferred not to take immigrants from southern or eastern Europe, let alone elsewhere in the world, because these peoples were deemed racially inferior to those of northern and western Europeans.

These eugenicist attitudes were a fundamental part of Nazi ideology. Hitler in his speeches declared that the business class deserved their position at the top of German society, because they were genetically superior to the proles. They also studied the American eugenics legislation, which influenced their own vicious policies towards the disabled, culminating in Aktion T4, the wholesale murder of ‘life undeserving of life’, as they called their victims. About their own eugenics legislation, they stated that they hadn’t done anything that the Americans hadn’t done already.

The Skwawkbox passed on Cumming’s views to a senior, unnamed, Labour politico. Who reacted with horror.

These views are appalling. They are chillingly eugenicist and the thought that they might influence public policy is frightening. Boris Johnson must act if the public is to have any confidence at all that their children are not going to be victims of even more deeply entrenched privilege and discrimination.

Unsurprisingly, Cummings is also a fan of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the preacher of the Superman. The Polecat declares that Nietzsche is probably the last of the line of recognisable great philosophers. He was particularly impressed by Nietzsche’s disgust at the animalisation of man to the pygmy animal of equal rights and equal pretensions. Skwawkbox states that Cumming’s seems to conclude that humanity can only achieve its best progress by casting aside the ‘equality of rights’ and ‘sympathy for all that suffers’ that Nietzsche despised.

Nietzsche was a militant atheist, and is credited as the founder of atheist existentialism. He admired the aristocracy, and the heroic, aristocratic values of ancient Greece. At the same time, he despised Christianity and its ‘slave morality’ of compassion. One of his books, The Antichrist, is a splenetic attack on the religion. He is undoubtedly a great philosopher, though one of the lecturers in the Religious Studies department of my old college considered his ideas so evil he refused to teach him. And not everybody is impressed with him by any means.

The theologian and Christian apologist, Hans Kung, quotes the German Roman Catholic philosopher Johannes Hirschberger, who was very scathing about the philosopher of the Superman. Hirschberger wrote

There is far too much fuss about Nietzsche. The literature on Nietzsche is to a large extent not much more than hot air, music hall entertainment and attempts to create interest. It is time to stop playing about with the deeper sense, the non-sense and the manic sense of Nietzsche’s thought. Nietzsche has caused enough mischief. He thought wherever Germany reached, it ruined culture. It would be more correct to say that wherever Nietzsche reached, he ruined philosophy. A young man who tries to make his first contact with philosophy by studying Nietzsche will never learn to think clearly, soberly, critically and above all objectively, but will soon begin to lose balance and increase his subjectivity, to talk pompously and issue orders. This is the very opposite of philosophy.

In Hans Kung, Does God Exist? (London: William Collins & Sons 1980) 399-400.

Quite so. Hirschberger’s observation on what happens to young men, who read Nietzsche does seem to apply to the Polecat, if not Boris himself. They’re both masters of talking pompously and issuing orders.

What is more serious is that No. 10 refused to comment when the Skwawkbox contacted them about Cumming’s odious views. They replied

‘Thank you for contacting us but we won’t be offering any comment.’

They refused to reply when the Skwawkbox asked them if Cumming’s views would be influencing policy. But the Skwawkbox itself isn’t afraid to comment, stating

The Labour source’s assessment will be echoed by many and rightly so.

Even more concerning – while depressingly unsurprising – is the refusal of Boris Johnson and his office to even engage with the issues raised by Cummings’ Darwinian-Nietzschian views on inequality and the desirability of reducing it, let alone to offer any assurances that they will not be at the heart of government policy.

It should deeply worry everyone – and especially the vulnerable, the disadvantaged and their families, who have already endured the horrors of more than nine years of Tory government.

See: https://skwawkbox.org/2019/09/01/number-10-refuses-to-engage-with-questions-about-cummings-chillingly-eugenicist-comments/

I’m not surprised by their refusal to comment. The entire Tory party is riddled with such sentiments. Back in the 1970s Thatcher’s mentor, Sir Keith Joseph, caused outrage when he declared that unmarried mothers were a threat to the British racial stock. When Blair was debating reforming the House of Lords, the Tory papers defended it, declaring that the Lords deserved their right to sit in parliament through heredity and upbringing. And a few years ago Spectator loudmouth Toby Young attended a eugenics conference at University College, London, attended by real Nazis. And their determination to remove welfare support from the poor and disabled shows they share the Nazis’ hatred of such ‘useless eaters’ and see them die, even though it is through starvation on the streets and in their own homes, rather than by cyanide in death camps and clinics.

Cummings is a disgrace, as is Boris, and they and the whole Tory party are a threat to working people, and particularly the poor, the disabled. Get them out now! 

 

Geoffrey Alderman Accuses Tom Watson of Anti-Semitism for Talking about Christ’s Arrest

July 29, 2019

Geoffrey Alderman, a professor of Jewish history and columnist for the Times and the Jewish Telegraph, has made an official complaint to Jennie Formby accusing the deputy leader of the Labour Party of anti-Semitism. Why? In his Easter message, Watson referred to Christ’s arrest by a squad of Roman soldiers under the direction of the servant of the High Priest. Alderman states that

‘the allegation that Jews were Christ-killers, implicated in if not actually responsible for the death of Jesus, is widely regarded as an anti-Semitic trope’.

He then correctly states that it was condemned by the Pope at Vatican II in the 1970s.

While it’s amusingly ironic to find Watson, who has given so much aid and support to those fabricating false claims of anti-Semitism against decent, anti-racist people, both Jewish and non-Jewish, of anti-Semitism himself, the accusation is wrong and should be denied and rebutted.

Firstly, Alderman is absolutely correct that the accusation that Jews are Christ-killers has been responsible for much prejudice and often horrific persecution of Jews down the centuries. However, this does not mean that the description of Christ’s arrest and trial by the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea at the time, are fictional and anti-Semitic themselves. Alderman’s accusation is therefore wrong and should be strenuously denied and refuted.

As Mike has said in his piece about the accusation, all the Gospels state that Christ was arrested by the Romans under the direction of the High Priest, tried before the Sanhedrin, before being passed in turn to Pontius Pilate for judgment. I realise that many people do regard the Bible as completely fictitious, and that there have been books written against the inclusion of the Jewish authorities in Christ’s arrest and execution in order to counter what many believe to be a source of anti-Semitism. These attempts are based on descriptions of the power of the Sanhedrin in the Talmud, which claim that the Temple authorities could not hold such trials and had no power to issue the death penalty for blasphemy unless the name of God was explicitly pronounced. However, while some of the Oral Law is ancient, dating back to the time Ezra according to scholars of Judaism, the Talmud itself was compiled over a period of centuries from the Second Century AD onwards. Jewish scholars have said that there is difficulty in assessing the truth of the passages about the Sanhedrin, as it is not clear which are historically accurate, and which an idealised picture of how the Jewish sages at the time of Talmud’s composition felt it should have operated.

Christ’s execution is mentioned by the Syrian Stoic philosopher, Mara bar Serapion, in a letter that may date from 73 AD. The letter discusses the disasters that befell the Athenians after they executed Socrates, and the Samian after they killed Pythagoras. He asks rhetorically

or what did it avail the Jews to kill their wise king, since their kingdom was taken away from them from this time on?

The ‘wise king’ is believed to be a reference to Christ. See Kevin O’Donnell, Introduction to the New Testament (Hodder and Stoughton 1999) 78.

There is also a garbled reference to Christ’s crucifixion on a charge of sorcery and leading Israel astray in the Talmud, see O’Donnell, above, 78.

Similar events are also recorded by Roman historians. There’s a passage in the Jewish historian, Josephus, I believe, which records how the Sanhedrin brought before the Roman governor a man, who had been prophesying the destruction of the Temple. They demanded the man be executed. Instead, the governor simply had the man flogged and then sent away.

This was an extremely dangerous and politically volatile time. The Temple hierarchy was bitterly resented by many Jews both for the corruption of some of its priests and officials, and their collaboration with Israel’s Greek and then Roman overlords. The books of Maccabees in the Apocrypha records the heroic resistance to Greek rule by Judas Maccabaeus. He and the Jewish people were provoked into rebellion by the attempts of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Greek general, who ruled the province under Alexander the Great, to stamp out their faith. Mothers were forbidden to circumcise their sons, the teaching of the Law was forbidden and copies burnt and the Temple was turned into a temple to Zeus. Although the Temple was restored and the Jews allowed to practise their faith freely once again, the situation remained tense. There were tensions between the Pharisees, the Jewish sect that stressed absolute obedience to the Law, and which believed in spirits and the resurrection of the dead, and the Sadducees, who did not, and who seem to have been largely aristocratic. Josephus records another Jewish uprising just before the time of Christ, which was crushed with the execution of 19,000 Pharisees.

The Talmud also contains passages, which are believed to date from this time, which rail against the corruption of the Temple clergy and High Priest. One is a heartfelt account by the author of how he was beaten by Boethus, a member of the Temple hierarchy, while other priests and leading officials used their office to extort money from ordinary Jews.

Moreover, it needs to be remembered that Christ and His disciples were almost all Jews. St. Matthew’s is the most Jewish of all the Gospels, and its writer frequently assimilates Christ’s teaching with those of the great Jewish sages. He was therefore part of a Jewish Christian community, which continued to observe the Mosaic Law.

It therefore seems very clear to me that the accounts of Christ’s arrest and trial are historically accurate and reflect the very bloody tensions within 1st century Judaism. And while they have been used to foment anti-Semitism, they are not themselves anti-Semitic. It’s clear reading them that the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate were responsible for Christ’s death, not the Jewish people as a whole.

I went to the same Anglican church school as Mike, and as he says, we were very definitely not taught to hate anyone because they were of a different religion. Indeed, the clergy and Christian laypeople, who taught at the school had a horror of religious violence and bigotry. Mike and his year were taken on visits to a synagogue and mosque. This didn’t happen to my year, but we were taught about Judaism in RE lessons. I also remember going down the stairs just as one of the RE teachers was going up them with a bearded gentleman carrying a menorah and other Jewish sacred objects, presumably to show them to one of the other classes. And some of the older pupils I know were taught about the Holocaust and its horrors.

I also believe that the myth that the Jews were responsible for the death of Christ has largely been laid to rest. Many of the Christians I know have very positive attitudes towards Jews and Judaism because of their religion. Where anti-Semitism does exist, I believe it largely comes from other reasons, like all the stupid, murderous conspiracy theories that try to tell you the Jews hate Whites and are importing Blacks to destroy the White race and enslave gentiles. And so, like Mike, I’m left wondering why Professor Alderman has chosen to accuse Tom Watson of anti-Semitism because of this. And so I agree completely with Mike’s conclusion:

Tom Watson is a wrong ‘un, no doubt. But to demonise him by trying to stir up animosity between Jews and Christians is completely unacceptable and I hope everyone of both religions condemns his words.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/07/29/this-anti-semitism-complaint-against-tom-watson-should-not-stand-up/

 

Franky Zapata, French Hoverboard Pilot and His Marvel Comics’ Predecessor

July 23, 2019

Yesterday’s I, for Monday, 22nd July 2019, carried a profile on page 3 of the ‘inventor and daredevil’, Franky Zapata by reporter David Woods. Zapata’s a former jet ski champion and French military reservist, who intends to attempt to cross the Channel this Thursday on a jet-powered hoverboard he’s invented. He’s doing it to mark the 110th anniversary of French aviator Louis Bleriot’s historic flight from France to England. Apparently, Zapata will fly from Sangatte near Calais to St. Margaret’s Bay near Dover.

He could only afford to make his vehicle after receiving a grant for £1.1 million from the French defence and procurement agency last December. The board has five mini turbo engines and can run independently for ten minutes, reaching a speed of 118 mph. Zapata has said, however, that he intends to cruise at 86.9 mp.

Zapata demonstrated the craft’s abilities at the Bastille day celebration last week, where he flew around the Champs Elysees waving a gun around in front of Macron and other European leaders. But he’s rather more pessimistic about his chances with this flight. He told the paper Le Parisien that he’s only got a thirty per cent chance of succeeding in this flight, saying that he only used 3 per cent of the board’s capabilities when he last used, but will need to use 99 per cent of them for this flight.

The French maritime officials have said that the Channel is extremely dangerous because of the sheer volume of shipping. They have insisted that Zapata informs search and rescue teams before he takes off. This means that he will only be able to refuel once instead of twice, as he originally planned. This makes the flight, according to him, 10 times more difficult.

I hope he’s able to make the flight and complete it successfully without killing himself. Louis Bleriot’s flight across the Channel is one of the great landmarks in the history of aviation, and hopefully, this will be too. People have been fascinated by flight and inventing flying machines since Daedalus and his son, Icarus, in ancient Greek myth. There are any number of people now building their own, often rickety and highly unwieldy flying machines, many of which use propellers driven by electric motors. I hope Zapata succeeds, and inspires even more hobbyists to create their own machines. Just as I hope his flight isn’t as disastrous as Icarus’. He flew too close to the sun, so that the wax holding his wings together melted and fell out of the air and crashed.

But looking at Zapata and his hoverboard also reminds me of another figure, this time from Marvel Comics. It doesn’t look that much different from the device Spiderman’s old enemy, the Green Goblin, used to fly around on. All it needs is a pair of bat wings. Here it is with the Goblin himself from the cover of Stan Lee’s Bring on the Bad Guys: Origins of the Marvel Comics Villains (New York: Simon & Schuster 1976), as drawn by the great Marvel artist, John Romita. So it seems that this is once again a case of life imitating art, and Stan ‘the Man’ Lee, Jolly Jack Kirby and the rest of the Marvel madhouse got their first.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boris Johnson – A Racist Candidate for a Racist Party

June 21, 2019

A few days ago, Ian Blackford, an SNP MP caused an uproar in parliament by having the temerity to call Johnson what he is, and say what a very large number of the British public are thinking and saying: that Johnson is a racist. He cited a poem Johnson had published in the Spectator when he was its editor, about how a giant wall should be built around Scotland and the gates closed to turn it into a giant ghetto, who inhabitants should be exterminated. He mentioned again Johnson’s infamous comments about Black Africans, describing African children as ‘grinning pickanninies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’, as well as his infamous Torygraph article attacking the burka. He described those women, who chose to wear it as looking like letterboxes or bin bags. This caused a storm of outrage from the Tories, who accused Blackford of unparliamentary conduct and Blackford did get a caution from Bercow as a result. But as Mike showed today on an article in his blog, very many ordinary Brits on Twitter agree with Blackford. Johnson is a racist, and indeed, so is his party. This was also made very clear by a post about Johnson and his noxious racism on Zelo Street. Johnson had been asked about his derogatory comments about Muslims. He responded by saying that he was mistaken, and apologised, but he felt that people wanted someone who talked straight about these issues to be their Prime Minister. This drew massive applause from the Tories. The article pointed out that the article wasn’t mistaken, it was racist, and by applauding him and supporting his leadership bid, the Tories were showing that they supported and shared his racism.

Now there are stresses created by multiculturalism and the problems of adapting to an increasingly ethnically and religiously diverse society. One the one hand, there are fears that alienated Muslims and other minorities may create parallel societies away from mainstream institutions and values. On the other, many Whites do feel marginalised by the growth of non-White communities, with the ‘White flight’ from the multiracial urban centres to the suburbs or rural communities. A few months ago there was a documentary about the last Whites in the East End of London, which discussed how the number of Whites in this part of the capital was declining as they moved away and the older generation died off. Several of the people interviewed on the programme were Black and Asian, who lamented how the White members of their shared community were dwindling. One Muslim gent lamented that his son or children would not see any more White people in this area.

But the Tories don’t try to solve these problems constructively. They don’t try to bring people of different colours, ethnicities and religions together. They just try to exploit White, and particularly White English racism and resentment for their electoral advantage. 

The animus towards Scotland is a case in point. The poem’s recommendation that the Scots people should all be imprisoned behind a gigantic wall actually seems to me to be highly unoriginal. Apart from the fact that the emperor Hadrian did it with his wall, it was done again more recently in the horror flick World War Z. In this Hollywood blockbuster, the world is suffering from a zombie apocalypse. The whole of Scotland, or as near as makes no difference, gets infected, and so they’re sealed off from the rest of Britain behind a wall and an enormous part of gates. I did wonder what the great Scots philosopher and political scientist, Rab C. Nesbit, would have said about it all. Probably ‘What in the name of God! Govan’s no that bad!’

I don’t think the poem was by any means isolated. From what I can remember, it was probably part of a campaign against Scotland, the SNP and New Labour, and with the latter, specifically Gordon Brown. I can remember the Heil publishing a series of articles in which he more than suggested that Scotland was now far more privileged than England. Devolution meant that the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish now had their parliaments and assemblies, but the English didn’t. And while the English couldn’t vote on Scots issues, thanks to devolution, the Scots were voting on English matters. Moreover, New Labour’s leadership was dominated by Scots – Tony Blair, Derry Irvine and Gordon Brown. The attacks on the Scots were a very cynical ploy by the Tories to overturn Labour’s majority. Labour held the majority of British constituencies, but this depended on their seats in Scotland. If those were removed, then the Tories would hold the majority of seats in England. I’ve heard that during New Labour’s term in office, the Tories were on the verge of breaking up and that there were suggestions that the party should be dissolved and rebranded instead as the ‘English Nationalists’. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do remember reading articles in the Heil about the fate of the Tory party if Britain and Scotland went their separate ways. This seems to be the background to that nasty little piece of anti-Scots bigotry in the Speccie.

And the Spectator tried the same with Blacks.

They had to be more careful about this, as they couldn’t get away with it to the same extent as their sneers about the Scots. The Scots are largely White Europeans, rather than a race, nor a persecuted minority in the same way as Blacks and other people of colour have been, and so it’s permissible to make jokes about them or abuse them in ways that would be viewed as racist if done to other groups. But the Spectator tried the same tactics. Way back c. 2004 it ran an article, ‘Blackened Whites’, argued that Whites were unfairly accused for racism. This started out by saying that despite all the rhetoric of multiculturalism and pluralism, there was one group that wasn’t welcome in the streets of central London: White men. London certainly is a very ethnically diverse city, and the last time I looked at the stats over a third of its population were Black or Asian. But that doesn’t mean that Whites aren’t welcome in central London, or other areas where there’s a large Black or Asian population. It looks to me that the article was attempting to play up the resentment some White men feel about affirmative action programmes aimed at ethnic minorities and women. And in this the Tories were – and still are – copying the Republicans, who were deliberately targeting ‘angry White men’.

And this is apart from the Speccie’s contributor, Taki, the Greek playboy, who regularly made racist and anti-Semitic comments in his column. Most recently he caused offence once again when he published a piece praising the Greek Golden Dawn, a bunch of Nazis, who beat up immigrants and left-wingers. One of their leaders was charged with the murder of a left-wing activist.

There is also the deeply ingrained racism of the Tory papers the Scum, Depress and Heil. Or the scandal of institutional Islamophobia in the Tory ranks, as well as the long tradition of racism within the Tory party. Some of us can still remember the scandal caused by the Union of Conservative Students and their racist antics, including the demand that the Tory party should adopt racial nationalism – the ideology of the Nazi fringe, like the National Front and BNP – as their official policy in the 1980s. Zelo Street has also published a series of articles about the findings of one individual on Twitter or Facebook, who revealed the viciously racist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic posts by supporters of Boris Johnson and Rees-Mogge on social media.

Despite David Cameron’s efforts to modernise the party and clean up its image, the Tories are still very much a racist party, and so its no surprise that a sizable number of them are supporting Boris Johnson’s bid to lead it.

As for how we should deal with them, I remember the episode of Rab C. Nesbit in which Burnie, the younger of his two sons, decides he’s a Nazi. This ends with Nesbit grabbing Burnie’s ear to administer a suitable walloping while singing ‘Gettest thou to buggery, thou horrid little shite’. I don’t support cruelty to children, and we can’t do it to Johnson. Unfortunately.

But we can all recognise his racism and that of his vile party, and take our votes and our hopes for a better Britain elsewhere.

Radio 4 Series Challenging Stereotype that Religion and Science Are at War

June 12, 2019

According to next week’s Radio Times there’s a new, three-part series beginning on Radio 4 next Friday, 21st June, at 11.00 am, Science and Religion about the relationship between the two disciplines. From the pieces about in the magazine, it attacks the idea that science and religion are at war. The blurb for the programme’s first part, ‘The Nature of the Beast’, on page 131, says

Nick Spencer examines the history of science and religion and the extent to which they have been in conflict with each other. Drawing on the expertise of various academics, he begins by exploring what the relationship says about what it means to be human.

The paragraph about the programme on the preceding page, 130, by Sue Robinson, runs

Are science and religion at war? In the first in a three-part series, Nick Spencer (of Goldsmith’s, London, and Christian think-tank Theos) takes a look back wt what he terms the “simplistic warfare narrative” of these supposedly feuding disciplines. From the libraries of the Islamic world to the work of 13th-century bishop Robert Grosseteste in maths and natural sciences, Spencer draws on the expertise of a variety of academics to argue that there has long been an interdependence between the two. I felt one or two moments of consternation (“there are probably more flat-earthers [believing the earth to be flat] around today than there were back then…”) and with so many characters in the unfolding 1,000-year narrative, some may wish for a biographical dictionary at their elbow… I certainly did. Yet somehow Spencer produces an interesting and informative treatise from all the detail. 

We’ve waited a long time for a series like this. I set up this blog partly to argue against the claim made by extremely intolerant atheists like Richard Dawkins that science and religion are and always have been at war. In fact no serious historian of science believes this. It’s a stereotype that comes from three 19th century writers, one of whom was reacting against the religious ethos of Harvard at the time. And some of the incidents that have been used to argue that science was suppressed by the religious authorities were simply invented. Like the story that Christopher Columbus was threatened by the Inquisition for believing that the world war round. Er no, he wasn’t. That was all made up by 19th century author Washington Irvine. European Christians had known and accepted that the world was round by the 9th century. It’s what the orb represents in the Crown Jewels. The story that Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, in his debate on evolution with Charles Darwin, asked the great biologist whether he was descended from an ape on his mother’s or father’s side of the family is also an invention. It was written years after the debate by Darwin’s Bulldog, T.H. Huxley. A few years ago historians looked at the accounts of the debate written at the time by the students and other men of science who were there. They don’t mention any such incident. What they do mention is Wilberforce opening the debate by saying that such questions like evolution needed to be carefully examined, and that if they are true, they have to be accepted, no matter how objectionable they may be. Wilberforce himself was an extremely proficient amateur scientist himself as well as a member of the clergy. Yes, there was opposition from many Christians to Darwin’s idea, but after about 20 years or so most of the mainstream denominations fully accepted evolution. The term ‘fundamentalism’ comes from a book defending and promoting Christianity published as The Fundamentals of Christianity published in the first years of the 20th century. The book includes evolution, which it accepts.

Back to the Middle Ages, the idea that this was a period when the church suppressed scientific investigation, which only revived with the Humanists of the Renaissance, has now been utterly discredited. Instead it was a period of invention and scientific discovery. Robert Grosseteste, the 13th century bishop of Lincoln, wrote papers arguing that the Moon was responsible for the tides and that the rainbow was produced through light from the sun being split into various colours by water droplets in the atmosphere. He also wrote an account of the six days of creation, the Hexaemeron, which in many ways anticipates the ‘Big Bang’ theory. He believed that the universe was created with a burst of light, which in turn created ‘extension’ – the dimensions of the cosmos, length, width and breadth, and that this light was then formed into the material and immaterial universe. Medieval theologians were also often highly critical of stories of demons and ghosts. The 12th century French bishop, William of Auxerre, believed that nightmares were caused, not by demons, but by indigestion. If you had too big a meal before falling asleep, the weight of the food in the stomach pressed down on the nerves, preventing the proper flow of vital fluids.

The Christian scholars of this period drew extensively on the writings of Muslim philosophers, scientists and mathematicians, who had inherited more of the intellectual legacy of ancient Greece and Rome, along with that of the other civilisations they had conquered, like Persia and India. Scholars like al-Haytham explored optics while the Bani Musa brothers created fascinating machines. And Omar Khayyam, the Sufi mystic and author of the Rubaiyyat, one of the classics of world literature, was himself a brilliant mathematician. Indeed, many scientific and mathematical terms are taken from Arabic. Like alcohol, and algorithm, which comes from the Muslim scholar al-Khwarismi, as well as algebra.

There have been periods of tension between religion and particular scientific doctrines, like the adoption of the Copernican system and Darwin’s theory of evolution by Natural Selection, but the relationship between science and religion is rich, complex and has never been as simple as all out war. This should be a fascinating series and is a very necessary corrective to the simplistic stereotype we’ve all grown up with.